Despite its significance role in the social development landscape, the nonprofits across the globe have been grappling with trust deficit and stringent scrutiny measures by the government. In the backdrop of the geo-political developments in the region, Government of Pakistan had further tightened up the previously unregulated NPO sector in 2015. The regulatory and monitoring framework came into force to streamline the working and funding systems of both local and international NGOs. Subsequently, the stifling legal environment did not only hit the ease and autonomy of the nonprofits but also the growing procedural complexities, inordinate delays to acquire the NOC and compliance related reporting made things more challenging for them. Very recently, Government of Pakistan has, therefore, decided to issue the NOC to the INGOs for their projects relating to COVID19 emergency immediately, subject to compliance with the stipulated SOPs and guidelines. The condition of obtaining a prior NOC for the project is exempted for COVID19 relief work, in collaboration of NDMA / PDMAs for a period of six (06) months. For the INGOs, this must have been quite relieving even for a short while.
On the other hand, it’s time for a candid self-reflection. The nonprofits need to make a deliberate effort to re-evaluate their achievements and social impact. There have been humongous amount of interventions to put things right within the communities. From behavioral change to influence polices, reforms and practices, there have been repetitive promises and commitments of ‘ensuring’ sustainable solutions to the multidimensional challenges. Alleviating poverty and sufferings, addressing inequalities and injustices, enhancing participation and capacities, strengthening governance and accountability, engaging stakeholders, advocating rights, reducing dropouts and mortalities, creating livelihood opportunities and promoting women economic leadership sound very familiar jargon-laden goals and vision statements. The question arises, how a layman in a partner community of a nonprofit relates to it, interpret and own it.
People at large and the practitioners who have spent decades in the social development sectors are convinced that something has been really wrong either with the core philosophy, ideology, mission statements, approach, planning, designing of the projects, theories of change, logic models, implementation strategies, operational modalities, templates, tools and the systems or the mindset, internal ways of working, preaching and practice, and the organizational culture. The way problem is identified, context and stakeholder analysis is done, project management tools are used, donors’ strategic priorities are factored in, timelines are set, financial and human resources are allocated, outputs, results and outcomes are orchestrated, very feeble thoughts regarding exit strategy and project sustainability are written, the soul of the project gets evaporated amidst all this. Most of the project managers and field workers become compliance technicians and start focusing only on data collection and reporting which in most of the cases do not contain any critical analysis and substantive reflections.
The tall claims of being human-centric, change maker and architect of human and social capital development turn into dashed ambitions and hopes. The project beneficiaries as the prime recipient of aid start developing dependency syndrome. Every visitor who happens to be in the field with the project team appears to them as the prospective donor who is there to hand something over to them. A very little evidence of self-reliance, sufficiency and replicability of change is reported at their end. Based on their socio-economic and political factors and backgrounds, the communities are far more informed and brainy than the representatives of the nonprofits. They exactly know where the shoe pinches and why. They earnestly welcome the social mobilizers and locally hired project teams in their strong urge to find the localized solutions to their problems which could really work.
Sadly, creative, innovative and sustainable solutions do not always come from the nonprofits. They bring in a half-cooked plethora of activities which in most of the cases is very similar in nature, frequency and intended impact. Time and again, communities are walked through the same routine and a typical pattern of general body meetings, focused group discussions, participatory reflections, hopes and fear sessions, annual development planning, multiple capacity building sessions by a number of civil society organizations (CSOs) working in the same village and with the critical stakeholders in the district.
Within the four walls of the corporate style cozy offices of I/NGOs, many fancy things are discussed primarily by the Board members (mostly suffering from the delusions of magnificence) and senior executives from exploring mysticism to inspiring passion, harnessing the indigenous wisdom to global best practices but nobody really takes pain in the field to develop a one on one relationship of mutual trust and personal affinity which must go beyond the project timeframe and organizational affiliation. No one even bothers or dares to go back to the target communities again as soon as the project ends. The detached attachment from the day one continues to deepen the aloofness of the community and inescapable skepticism for the NGOs. Even the data extracted through multiple sources and so-called participatory tactics do not go back to the prime custodians of that precious information and knowledge in the form of simple and unstilted stories in the local language and expression. They remain totally clueless of the usability of the serious discussions and interviews which were taken place in their homes and community baythaks (gatherings).
Here the point is not to vehemently add fuel to already burning fire and underestimate the invaluable work nonprofits have been carrying out for the last couple of decades in highly challenging context across the country. The basic intent is to take the opportunity to rethink, redefine and recalibrate our organizational visions, core values and internal ways of working to recreate and broaden our space which has shrunken dramatically in the recent past. We can still build on the good work, best quality of our programs with demonstrated and undeniable evidence which must speak for itself and serve as a model for both public and private sectors to replicate. This is the right time to reclaim our forte which emanates from volunteerism and humanism backed by deeply ingrained social capital from local to global levels to pursue our goals of human and sustainable development.
Saeed ul Hassan is an educationist, policy analyst, campaigner, poet and entrepreneur. About two decades ago, his career began as a volunteer in a public sector office. He later rose to senior leadership roles in international and national nonprofit organizations. Saeed is a published poet. As a writer and public speaker, he talks on personal, organizational and social change. Twitter @saeedulhassan7