Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Julian Parr
New Delhi, India October 2010
Importance of NGOs, their Challenges and Limitations
Do you think that we need NGOs for supporting development activities around the world?
Well I would say yes because I work for an international NGO so I'm was going to say that! But I think the reason why say that is because civil society, a robust civil society, is hugely important in terms of both democratization and hearing the voice of the people. I consider a broad basis of civil society as a whole, that includes media. Freedom of the press for exemple in India, is one of its major strength. If you suppress freedom of press, freedom of media, the Internet, twitter, Goole. anything, you suppress development. So I have a much more inclusive definition of civil society, not just NGOs, and that is massively crucial for the success of a nation state.
What are the challenges ahead for the NGOs?
NGOs are really having to define their role in a new world order, particularly international NGOs, like Oxfam where we have traditionally capacity built south based organisations for 60-70 years. So the question for us is what is our role now. NGOs cannot continue to deliver services because they undermine the role of the state in doing so. So challenges for big NGOs like BRAC or Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is that they do an awful lot of service delivery that in fact government should do. So my own sense in working for NGOs is that we are moving much more to policy and advocacy and that is the real role we should be playing. We should be arguing to governments like India, that you should be putting in more than 1% of your GDP growth into health, for example, and that is where we have a strong and valid voice – it is about accountability and transparency of governments on how they operate, how they spend aid and where they invest for the future.
What are the limitations of the NGOs?
Well is whether they have an authentic voice. NGOs are very good at claiming of speaking on behalf of people; but they are not democratic institutions in their own right. So, in one way, we are critical about government, or the private sector; but when it comes to our own internal structure, our own accountability and internal structure, very often w do not audit ourselves externally very well. I can say that yes, we have some good programmes on the ground, but that is because it is me saying it. If I had the same sponsors like Cocacola, BP, Shell or even government, I would be highly skeptical about their figures and statistics. So, I think that is we are going to hold other stakeholders and other sectors, the private sector and the public sector to account, then I think we really ourselves have to be much more transparent and honest about our own structures.
What are the factors which generate poverty?
The failure for India, although it has made advances and taken good steps forward, is around equitable and inclusive economic growth. We are seeing a massive rise in the Indian economy but that growth is very uneven. It is about the Geni Coefficiency curve. If you see, there is a dip coming in that Geni Coefficiency curve which is very worrying. If you get that dip, you move towards highly unstable societies and you start getting high unemployment, less inclusion we start moving towards failed states like Afghanistan, Pakistan that is tottering on the brink as well. And this is because there is a huge dispossessed and disgruntled element of society. So you see some of the goals being met but in terms of infant mortality, maternal mortality – the numbers are really horrifying.
What kind of knowledge is required to remove poverty?
One of the biggest challenges that developing economies like India have, and South Asia generally, is that they have a huge young population where half the population is less than 15 years old. So, India has got to create jobs on a large scale - challenges it has never faced before. In order to do that it has to scale its workforce up. It has got to move them from the informal low-grade economy into the formal economy. India is at the moment famous for its intellectual exports around IT, medical...but that is just a tiny tip of the iceberg... so it is going to be about vocational training, access to the internet, only just about 5% of Indians have access to internet right now. It is getting that access to knowledge and resources that is a huge challenge.
Do you think availability of resources play a role in the generation or removal of poverty?
Access to resources, pro-poor policies, putting in place social services and social safety nets, etc. - make a huge difference. India is taking some steps in the right direction. Specifically concerning the MDGs, around access to water, for example, there have been positive steps. I think more people now have access to potable water in India. The wider issue, the wider problem for the future of the whole South Asia is going to be water. It is going to be a huge challenge for the region
Do you think that local communities have say in how the aid is used?
That is one of the biggest challenge, I would say. We get it badly wrong in occasion... because if you want to be inclusive and genuine then you need to work at very grass root level and you need to do you over a very long period of time because you want to include the voices of the most disfranchised. To get that authentic voice takes trust, takes time, takes investment... and very often agencies don't have that length of time to achieve the scope of goals they want to. The challenge of listening and being inclusive of community voices means that you have a much stronger solution to their problem... and I genuinely believe that all communities can actually find their own solution if you create the right space around them, the enabling environment and create the resources to make change, they can often come up with the right answers.
Do you think common people can influence policies taken in favor of building a Global Partnership for Development?
I think everybody not only can make a difference but has a right to make a difference and should make a difference. It is about how you leverage change. Everyone can do their little bit about the environment, recycling, using water more carefully and all that can add up to change. So for someone like me - who trained as a lawyer - I think I am most effective by holding systems to account. I like prosecuting governments to make sure they really work and are accountable- so around issues of sexuality, bonded and migrant labour, robust laws actually exist. It is just that they are not utiltised. Occasionally you get test cases up and challenge governments and go to the hearts of the institutions. And then only can you make a change on a larger scale.
I think that individuals can make a difference, can make a change, on a small very scale, in their personal choices, in the way they chose to live their personal lives. There are individuals who are community mobilisers, they are dynamic and inspirational. They can make a change. I think that by grouping my efforts around such individuals, like social activists and change makers, you can make a difference.
What is your perception of aid coming from an other culture an an other country?
It's a challenge, isn't it. You have to be very sensitive on how much you challenge and how much you assist countries to achieve MDGs. I think it is how you approach... is about dialogue, about communication, it is certainly not taking a dictatorial or accusatory attitude towards any country or nature.
What are the factors establishing Coherence for Development?
There is no point in putting together a very robust act or legislation to bring about change if you cannot implement the act. Equally if you don’t build institutions and the capacity of institutions to implement and have knowledge about the law of their own country, you will have blockages and breaks. At the same time, if you don’t educate a populous about what their rights are, they don't know that the law exists. You need to do all things simultaneously. You need to be able to educate the law makers, the law breakers and also the population.
If we put this into an example and look at the domestic violence bill against women - there is no point, for example, in educating a population about what their rights are if those rights are not supported and recognized by the local police station, by the local magistrates. If they don’t know how to implement the law, you have almost achieved nothing. In fact, you have given knowledge out but you have raised exceptions without any realization of change, and that will create frustration. So, the challenge is to work and look on both sides of this value chain... at the national and the state policies. But in order for them to be effective, you need to educate the public about what their rights and their access to rights are. And if you don't do one without the other, it is pointless.
- ⇒ The Gini coefficient
- ⇒ Poverty
- Millennium Development Goals
- The United Nations
- Declaration of Human Duties and Responsibilities
Global issues ⇒ Causes of poverty