Community voices in recovery work
It is improbable there still exists a poor community in the civilized world at this time unreached by development programs of nongovernment organizations (NGOs). There are tens of thousands or more of these nonprofits in the least developed countries, which have been saturated with development aid since the 1944 Bretton Woods conference. This reality, coupled with sophisticated information and communications technology, augurs well for the value of NGOs in the post COVID-19 era.
The pandemic has virtually wiped out development gains, particularly in poverty reduction, through the years. Thus, the monumental challenge now for NGOs is to complement and supplement government initiatives to help the lives and livelihoods of the poor recover from the crippling effects of the pandemic. Decades of working in partnership with NGOs have capacitated many poor communities for development roles. There are now functional community groups that NGOs can readily mobilize. Unlike in the past, NGOs need not allocate time and money building the capacity of the poor and their communities for development purposes.
My work in development over the years brought me to several countries in Asia and elsewhere, allowing me to interact with the poor in tribal, farming, coastal, mountain, and slum communities. A poor community is the arena of development where programs, projects, and policies are carried out to help the poor help themselves. It is where the incontrovertible evidence of success or failure of development interventions can only be found.
I came face to face with all kinds of poor people from whom the target populations of development programs are sourced. I saw them in the flesh and in their milieu, and not as bullets in PowerPoint presentations. I learned how they rode out and survived economic and social dislocations. Thus, I strongly believe it is imperative to factor in native ideas and actions in developing programs in the post COVID-19 era.
Wherever they are, the poor are overly grateful for the help they get to meet their basic needs and ride out financial shocks in the aftermath of natural and man-made calamities. For them, there is only one definition of help, assistance, aid, or guidance. They do not break down results into short and long term kinds. They do not distinguish output, outcome, and impact from each other. In the vernacular, the results chain is nonexistent. Hence, they’re not on board with the Logic Model or Theory of Change approach in measuring change. They draw upon the past and the present to envision their better future.
However, they are also aware they must not be objects but subjects of development. Unlike in the past, the economically and politically powerful can no longer simply ignore them. To a certain extent, empowerment has gained ground in poor communities. They consider their participation in development programs as their counterpart effort. They put a premium on making both ends meet. They demand immediate results. Still, many do not see development through the lens of human rights. Development programs are there for them to meet their basic needs and to build their capacities, but not to realize their rights to food, shelter, education, etc. Only time will tell if this mindset will change.
The World Bank, United Nations, Asian Development Bank, etc. have already crafted their respective approaches to help countries recover as soon as possible from the COVID-19 pandemic. They are in consensus that social protection and welfare programs are essential to that rehabilitation effort. It is imperative, then, that approaches and modes that would allow for hearing and adopting the inputs of indigenous to poor communities are utilized. This will strengthen the quality of development programs crafted ostensibly for their benefit, and produce sustainable and measurable results.
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Nono Felix worked for more than 10 years for a foreign NGO as corporate planning, monitoring, and evaluation manager for Asia. He lives with his family in San Felipe, Naga City, Camarines Sur.
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