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October 18, 2019

The power of partnerships

Opinion

October 18, 2019

‘The Power of Partnerships’ is the title of a recently published book authored by Kamal Hayat, the former CEO of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF). The book is an important empirical account of the institutional journey of poverty alleviation initiatives in Pakistan during the last two decades; it is by no means an autobiographical account.

Amidst rising poverty in Pakistan, the book is a timely meditation for policymakers to rethink the theory of change for those at the bottom of the development pyramid. In its journey of more than two decades, the PPAF has demonstrated in practice what the architects of social policy can aspire to achieve through an integrated poverty alleviation strategy. The interconnected role of individuals, values and institutions create an impact that is much larger than what individual contributions can achieve; the PPAF is a good example of how it happened in Pakistan. Kamal Hayat has succinctly summarized all this in an anecdotal fashion. The book, therefore, is a good addition to our scant resources of original development writings.

The Power of Partnerships is about the possibility of socioeconomic change if the government acts with commitment, dedication and vision for transforming the lives of the poor. Beyond the PPAF, it is a story of the usefulness and efficacy of public-private partnerships and the ability to translate the idea of collaborative change into action. The book is also a reminder of the dangers and challenges inherent to donor-assisted poverty alleviation programmes in terms of their sustainability and continuity in a volatile and uncertain world.

The cardinal principles upon which the PPAF was founded have clearly been spelt out in the book. These cardinal principles are: political impartiality, financial transparency, operational flexibility, model neutrality and sustainability. For two decades, the PPAF managed to cement well-functioning partnerships with civil society organizations based on these universal values.

It is perhaps the right time to contribute towards critical policy discussions when the country faces an existential challenge of social development. The book provides a firsthand account of the interplay of the real workings of policies and strategies and endeavours of human agency. Poverty alleviation programmes in Pakistan have been contested both on political and economic fronts in the broad-based policy debates with little empirical or factual substance.

In our policy debates we tend to downplay the significance of institutions and human agency in the process of socioeconomic transformation of societies, and generally focus on the opaque ideals of development in an essentially ideological framework. The framework analyses lead to a detached discussion around a set of ideology-induced questions of what needs to be done. This is where the book is a good read to provide some specific factual substance for the readers rather than creating a clichéd policy discourse.

The foreword of the book, written by Shoaib Sultan Khan, provides the conceptual linchpin for creating an apex institution for poverty alleviation in Pakistan. Driven by Friedrich Raiffeisen’s three fundamental principles of poverty reduction – self-help, self-governance and self-responsibility – the PPAF was predicated upon the idea of creating, strengthening and empowering local institutions of the people. The creation of local institutions with capacity and access to opportunities – what Amartya Sen calls ‘the functioning capabilities’ – was the prime objective of establishing the PPAF. Hence the principles of self-help, self-governance and self-responsibility were institutionalized by creating a vast network of community-based local institutions of the poor. The PPAF also provided technical and financial support to promote the local civil society and integrated rural support programmes for two decades.

The first chapter of the book outlines the ‘rules of engagement’ with a variety of stakeholders including the government, the World Bank, partner organizations, communities and the management team. The government encouraged relative autonomy for the PPAF to operate as a specialized agency for poverty alleviation. This allowed the PPAF to function independently with a lean team of experts rather than being subservient to an inefficient bureaucracy. The fund also enjoyed untied funding, operational flexibility and implementation support from the World Bank as its prime donor for three consecutive phases starting from its establishment till 2015. The rules for engaging stakeholders were well defined with an inbuilt institutional mechanism of financial transparency, programmatic accountability and social responsibility as key strategic pillars.

According to the author, there were four considerations which provided strong justification for the creation of the PPAF – while the macroeconomic crisis aggravated the state of poverty in the country. The first consideration was financial access for the un-bankable poor. The second consideration was about improving physical infrastructure at the local level which the government failed to undertake on a transparent and sustainable basis in the past. The third consideration was the creation of well-governed and viable local institutions of the people; local councils were marred by politics, inefficiency and uncertainty. The fourth consideration was to create an autonomous, flexible and specialized institution to help achieve the development objectives spelt out in the first three considerations.

Chapter two deals with the various programmatic components of the PPAF, and their relevance and interconnectedness in deepening democracy at the grassroots level and in overcoming chronic and intergenerational poverty. Drawing on the social mobilization and community development framework, the author refers to the works of early socialist thinkers like Robert Owen, and the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, Akhtar Hamid Khan and Muhammad Yunus. Social mobilization, engaging the local communities in their own development through their own institutions, provided the bedrock of all development interventions of the PPAF. Need articulation and development planning at the village level became the central thesis of the PPAF's integrated programme of social development. The chapter discusses the development role of core components like financial inclusion through microcredit, social sector development through investment in education and health, community physical infrastructure through innovation, cost-sharing and quality assurance through monitoring and evaluation.

In the third and fourth chapters, the author discusses some frontiers of the fund's work beyond its core programmes – including its pivotal role in relief and rehabilitation of the people affected by the Earthquake in 2005. The PPAF also ventured into building model villages, provision of renewable energy to poor households and fostering partnerships for knowledge production. In the concluding part, the author has also shared some of the lessosn learnt in terms of attaining institutional sustainability so that the PPAF continues to invest in poverty alleviation programmes.

With all its empiricism, the book has not provided sufficient analysis on the way forward for the PPAF – given the significant changes the institution has gone through in recent years. With the launch of the Ehsaas programme, will the PPAF be able to maintain its operational autonomy and will it continue to grow as the most credible poverty alleviation entity? The institution needs a strong quality assurance function to assess its impact and to chart out a strong way forward. Will this happen any time soon? These are some of the relevant questions the leadership of the PPAF has to ponder upon.

The writer is a socialdevelopment and policyadviser, and a freelancecolumnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76

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