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Conference on Hunger and Poverty - Discussion Paper 1.- (September 1995)

Empowerment of the Poor


...the replacement of a system of peoples' participation in public-initiated development by one of public participation in people-initiated development...


1. Poverty is a multi-faceted phenomenon, defined (and explained) as a situation in which a person lacks the necessary capabilities and entitlements to satisfy his or her basic needs and aspirations. From this point of view, the fight against poverty must consist in establishing entitlements that will allow the poor access to the material, social, and spiritual means to develop their capabilities.

2. Thus, it becomes necessary to focus on empowerment of the poor as the crucial requirement for a sustainable solution to poverty and hunger. Empowerment is defined here as the ability of people, in particular the least privileged, to: (a) have access to productive resources that enable them to increase their earnings and obtain the goods and services they need; and (b) participate in the development process and the decisions that affect them. These two aspects are related; one without the other is not empowerment.

Access to resources

3. A key requirement for any escape from poverty and hunger is access to productive resources. For the rural poor, land and financial resources are of foremost importance, but technology, seeds and fertilizer, livestock and fisheries, irrigation, marketing opportunities, and off-farm employment are also essential. The Discussion Paper will present some of the major policy issues as they relate to the actual and potential role of civil society and its relations with other actors. For brevity's sake, we will concentrate on access to land and credit, while technology and extension services will be the topic of another Discussion Paper.


4. Enabling the rural poor to have access to land - whether through land redistribution or resettlement, or through changes in the nature of the rights and duties that underlie tenure - remains a crucial element in the quest to eliminate poverty and hunger. However, for various reasons, the experience of agrarian reform during the last 30 years has been less positive than had been hoped. Landholding is too deeply embedded in other social processes - kinship, politics, religion, history, and often subtle forms of symbolism - for land to be treated solely as a resource to be allocated. The vested interests of politicians, bureaucrats, and local elites, have militated against implementation of agrarian reform policies, even when written into law. Agrarian reforms have often had unintended impacts, frequently including a worsening, rather than its improvement, in the distribution of holdings.

5. Agrarian reform, then, seems to work only when a series of specific conditions are met. It needs to be accompanied by access to technology, credit, and infrastructure (markets, roads, health services, education, etc.). Successful land reform requires not only committed public institutions, at the national and the local levels, but also strong and committed organizations of the intended beneficiaries, that are capable of acting as countervailing forces against powerful groups opposed to the reform process (indeed, these organizations might have been the prime movers in putting pressure on governments to enact land reform legislation in the first place).

6. However, this still leaves a number of important unanswered questions. First, how to make agrarian reform work better? What can we learn from successful examples of legislated land reform? What should be the role of civil society? Are there alternatives to government-sponsored agrarian reform, e.g., cases of successful civil society-originated improvement in access to land (or other productive assets)? What is the record of "traditional" village institutions, for example, in this respect? What about market-based agrarian reforms, currently advocated by the World Bank 1/? Are there positive experiences we can learn from?

7. A second crucial question relates to the enhancement of women's access to land - and for that matter to all productive resources. As a result of factors as varied as population pressure, economic development, privatization, legal impediments, or separation from their husbands, many women have been losing whatever access to land they had. Often these women are heads of households: loss of land dooms them and their children to extreme poverty. Given the patriarchal nature of most societies - and of most governments, aid agencies, churches and NGOs - any change in this situation will in all likelihood come about only as the result of organized pressure from women themselves. What are the positive experiences we can learn from here? What should be the mix of community-based solutions and legal reform?

8. Finally, the third important question concerns common property resources, so important for the survival of the poor. How to stop common property resources from being lost, due to "open access" practices or privatization? How to manage them effectively, protecting their value, avoiding overuse, and providing equitable access to their benefits? Clearly, the answers must involve the poor themselves, as well as the local institutions with which they interact. What are the experiences with strengthening community-based management and regulation of common property resources? Are "traditional" civil society institutions better equipped for this task than "modern" ones? Can the successful community-based management of forestry and water resources documented in some cases be replicated elsewhere?

9. It is increasingly recognized that access to water - whether to drink, to irrigate the land, to supply energy for industries, or to allow for fisheries - is in many communities becoming as crucial and difficult to guarantee as access to land, in particular when there is competition between use for livestock, crops and humans. The management of water has been a crucial function of many states throughout history; in other cases, important mechanisms of community management of water resources prevailed. As a result of increased demand for water, as a result of population growth, expanded agriculture, industrialization, and other factors, groundwater resources are being used beyond their replenishable base. This strongly affects the poor, and in particular women, civil society organizations and governments throughout the world have begun accumulating experiences in providing sustainable and equitable access to water for local communities, although research has sadly lagged behind on this matter. What emerges from these experiences is essentially the same as in the case of land reform: the importance of involving local communities and adapting solutions to the needs of the people affected; the need to overcome sometimes powerful vested interests through organization of the poor and the hungry; the importance of government policy, which in manifold ways affects the outcomes in this field. Clearly, there is a need to become more aware of the necessity to provide access to water for the poor and the hungry. Research and action are urgently required.

Credit and Savings

10. With few exceptions, experience with rural credit to the poor has not been very successful. Most commercial banks do not lend to the rural poor, but limit themselves to the urban, formal sector. State-run development banks have typically been expensive, loss-making, bureaucratic, and accessible only to the non-poor segments of rural society. Foreign-aid funded credit schemes targeted at the poor have suffered from the same risks of deviation to the not-so-poor, and have usually collapsed after the departure of the foreign funds. State-run credit cooperatives have often left only bitter memories for the poor, as clientalism, corruption and outright theft diverted the promised money. In short, for the poor, access to credit has proven to be difficult, costly, and often ineffective.

11. From the positive experiences of IFAD and other organizations, it seems that rural credit has a better chance of working if: (a) beneficiaries are involved in an organized manner in its design and management; (b) the credit delivery system is physically and culturally as close to them as possible; (c) collateral, credit disbursement, and reimbursement mechanisms are flexible and adapted to the needs and capacities of the poor (e.g., small loans, in cash or in kind, for productive or consumption purposes, with or without physical collateral, and with possibilities for joint guarantees and non-monetary reimbursement if necessary); (d) women have equal access to credit; (e) positive real interest rates on deposits and loans are maintained; (f) savings functions are provided together with credit; and (g) training is given to the leaders and members of the community.

12. Civil society organizations have been particularly successful at setting up such rural credit programmes. Sometimes this is their primary activity (the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh; the Savings Development Movement in Zimbabwe), sometimes it is an added service (BRAC and PROSHIKA in the same country, SEWA in India, and many African community organizations). However, these programmes, even if successful, remain small - often, after years of work, touching only 5-10% of the rural poor. To this day, the vast majority of the very poor still lack access to (formal) credit that fulfills their needs.

13. Hence, the first question is how to expand these successful programmes, so that they reach all the poor who need credit? This raises issues of expansion, replication, or integration within government structures. The Grameen Bank has systematically promoted flexible replication of its methodology throughout the world, including the United States. A few governments, such as those of Nepal and Nigeria, have followed along the path tested by NGOs and have developed national community-based credit systems. The recently created Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP) chaired by the World Bank, is devoted to promoting the same NGO-initiated model. How can NGOs promote effective government-based expansion of their innovative credit schemes? What would be the role of NGOs, and other civil society organizations, if governments and international organizations take over? How to encourage the private banking sector to enter the rural credit market?

14. A second important issue remains the one of the inclusion of savings in the operations of credit systems. The promotion of rural savings has been largely neglected so far; and where it has not, the savings have largely tended to flow to urban areas. Are there experiences in which successful community-based savings programmes have been created, and have managed to circulate money within the rural areas? Can insurance functions, so important to protect the poor against calamities and to improve their food security, be added to savings and credit systems? The most well-known successful rural insurance systems are cereal banks, mainly in Africa and Asia.

15. Moreover, given the success of credit as a tool for the organization of the poor, can these programmes be used as entry points for larger social change? Many credit programmes involve the creation of lenders' organizations and, in so doing, increase the self-confidence and capacity of mobilization of lenders. Can these organizations be used to take on other activities? Interesting experiences may be noted where credit programmes have opened doors to the abolition of dowry, supported the fight against landlords, and promoted improvements in literacy or infant nutrition. All these have been initiated by NGOs. Can, or should, they be scaled up? Or should credit schemes seek to specialize and focus solely on savings and loans? Given that credit programmes work especially well with women, should the empowerment of women be one of their explicit objectives?

16. Moving one step beyond, some have argued that credit is not as important to many of the rural poor as is commonly held: the popularity of credit programmes is largely the result of the attachment by the development aid community to externally-based financial mechanisms. For those who hold this view, the issue of credit really distracts attention from more important questions, related to the retention of surplus production by households and communities, and to the general capacity of the poor to access market and public institutions. Both these bring us to larger questions of empowerment, which will be discussed in the next part of this paper.

17. No solution to hunger and rural poverty can be found without providing secure and gainful employment to people, whether on farm, off-farm (handicraft, trade, fisheries, etc.), or urban employment. Although this conference focusses largely on the rural areas where the bulk of poverty and hunger persist (although urban poverty is increasing), it is clear that there are many crucial linkages between urban and rural areas, foremost through employment, trade and migration. In this respect, it is important not to neglect the strategies of those forced into the informal sector. Informal sector employment is a response to the constraints encountered by the poor, especially but not exclusively in urban areas. The informal economy is situated at both sides of the border of legality: the informal activities of squatters, cocoa producers, or unlicensed street vendors, constitute strategies of survival in environments constrained by extreme poverty and state regulation.

18. Finally, a lack of public infrastructure facilities, particularly of roads and market outlets, may limit income-generating possibilities. As a result, even if potentially profitable activities are promoted, or if credit facilities exist, people can still be incapable of benefiting from them. The cost of providing such infrastructures is usually vastly beyond the capacities of poor communities and local organizations, necessitating state and donor involvement. As for maintenance, on the other hand, it seems that communities are able and willing to take charge of some infrastructures if the latter provide real benefits and if the people have been involved in decision-making from the beginning.

Conclusion: Access to Productive Resources as a Process

19. Facilitating access to productive resources - ranging from land and water, to infrastructure - for the poor is not a one-time event, but an institutional process, requiring permanent adaptation to changing circumstances of power, economics, and culture. Without the participation of the rural poor in the implementation of programmes, and without the establishment of effective organizations of the rural poor that act as countervailing forces to vested interests, it is unlikely that much progress will be made in increasing the access of the poor to productive resources. Throughout the world, organizations of civil society have initiated promising actions in this field - access to land, management of common property resources, provision of credit and savings facilities, access to markets, etc. They have clearly demonstrated that they have the potential to play a crucial and innovative role in gaining access for the poor to productive resources. Often, however, their actions have remained limited in impact, and unknown to people elsewhere, struggling with the same problems. There is a need to learn from these experiences, to see if they can be replicated and scaled up to reach the hundreds of millions of poor and hungry people.

20. The role of the State remains crucial. Only national governments possess the mandate and the resources to provide credit, market infrastructure, and other resources to all the poor, throughout the country. Only governments can establish positive, secure, and durable legal, administrative, and regulatory environments. Moreover, the financial, fiscal, and price policies of governments are crucial to the success of any programme of this kind: what good is credit, for example, if farmers cannot get renumerative prices for their produce? The issue, then, is to ensure that the voices of the poor and the hungry are heard by the State. This brings us to the next section, which deals with participation and organization by the poor.

Participation and Organization

21. The level of community participation in development projects and programmes (mounted by donors or governments) has increased greatly over the last decade: people, and the organizations they form, are consulted during project design, involved in project implementation, and asked their input in evaluation. Community participation is now generally seen as providing several major benefits to project and programme managers, especially in times of budget distress and structural adjustment. First, it can lead to increased mobilization of financial and non-financial resources (labour, material, information, etc.) by communities. Second, it can make for greater effectiveness in planning and implementation of development initiatives, by adapting them to local circumstances. Third, it can help to improve the maintenance of assets and infrastructure through local resource contribution and management. Fourth, community participation can contribute to local experience in providing local services, and hence stimulate the development of other forms of local institutions. For example, successful local participation in the provision of primary health care could be extended to other rural development programmes. Fifth, it can enhance accountability and more equitable distribution of benefits by making local administration accountable to a more representative community.

22. The fourth and fifth points above go beyond the simple "beneficiary participation in projects" to a bottom-up, self-help, approach, in which the poor and the hungry, and their organizations, define and initiate their own development, where the role of outside aid and governments is to promote, support, and strengthen their initiatives. Consistent with this vision, David Korten defines development as "a process by which the members of a society increase their personal and institutional capacities to mobilize and manage resources to produce sustainable and justly distributed improvements in their quality of life consistent with their own aspirations 2/." This view also holds that poor people know more than the experts think, and are capable of doing more, if given the chance. Hence empowerment is also defined as "a process of conceding to disadvantaged communities the right to question and communicate alternative options 3/." What is needed is to give the poor opportunities to develop their own solutions, with outsiders in a support role. This vision amounts to the replacement of a system of peoples' participation in public-initiated development with one of public participation in people-initiated development - quite a reversal of the normal development professionalism 4/, as well as of power structures.

23. But participation in projects, or the creation of opportunities for self-help, will remain limited and unsustainable unless there are possibilities and mechanisms for participation in decision making and resource allocation, especially at the local level. This is now generally recognized. The World Bank's Learning Group on Participatory Development defines its object as "a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives, decisions and resources which affect them." And the World Summit for Social Development stated that "empowering people, particularly women, to strengthen their own capacities is a main objective of development and its principal resource. Empowerment requires the full participation of people in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of decisions determining the functioning and the well-being of our societies 5/."

24. Hence, there cannot be empowerment of a group if it does not have the possibility to participate in public life and decision-making processes. And its participation will be permanently limited and threatened if the group does not gain certain entitlements and generate certain rights. Participation includes both action and decision making. This requires changes at all levels of society. National governments must create enabling environments; local governments must provide opportunities for meaningful participation in decision making; and civil society organizations must scale up.

Local Governance

25. Local government is a crucial institution. It is at the local level that people can best define their priority problems and organize to deal with them. Moreover, the poor and the hungry interact almost exclusively with the local government, from which they seek services and support. Local governments are capable of providing public services, mobilizing community resources, stimulating private investment, expanding rural-urban linkages, adapting national development policies to local conditions, and investing in local infrastructure. They can also be a crucial source of empowerment, by offering opportunities for long-neglected citizens to participate in the local decision making process, acting as a voice for local needs at higher levels, and providing adapted support for local people's initiatives.

26. In the past, most developing country administrations were highly centralized: orders emanated from on high and were relayed down to the field through layers of national, regional, district, and local officials. Local administrations were simply the lowest levels in these systems, and they were under strong central control. This top-down way of doing things has failed in most countries. It has been expensive and inefficient, contributing to the financial crises faced by so many developing countries. It has also been heavy-handed and inflexible, allowing for very little input or supervision by the local people themselves.

27. The failure of this centralized approach has led to renewed calls for devolution of powers with more responsibility placed on local governments (as well as local communities) to achieve a more effective and sustainable provision of services. This reorientation took on greater importance as structural adjustment reforms cut down the size of the central State, in both its financial and human resources, and in the extent of its power. Increasingly, such initiatives are associated with those advocating improved local governance and increased popular participation in the management of local affairs.

28. However, none of the positive attributes of local government listed above come about automatically. Local governments in many instances are agencies controlled by local economic, political, or social elites. Land reform legislation, for example, has often been halted at the level of local government implementation, under the influence of landlords and elite interests. Without effective supervision, local governments can easily fall under the control of coalitions between bureaucrats and local elites designed to serve minority interests and foster corruption. Moreover, most local governments severely lack financial and material resources, as well as competent personnel that is respectful of the needs of the poor and capable of satisfying them. Whether local governments fulfill their potential will depend on the type of pressures and encouragements they receive from above (central governments) and from below (civil society).

The Central State and Enabling Environments

29. The promotion of empowerment necessarily passes through the State. The State can create an enabling environment that will allow the energies and creativity of civil society to be harnessed to eradicate poverty and hunger. There are at least five types of actions that the central government can take to contribute to this end:

i) the State can provide a general political, legal, and administrative framework supportive of civil society initiatives;

ii) the State can strengthen local governments that are accountable to the people. It can do so through decentralization and devolution of powers, and by issuing clear guidelines for local government reform, such as introducing measures to achieve cost-effectiveness, improve service provision standards, and increase transparency. The State can set standards of performance and accountability for local governments;

iii) the State can help improve the implementation of local revenue reforms by balancing reliability, efficiency and equity concerns and political and bureaucratic feasibility. The State can facilitate revenue generation to support programmes and infrastructures that benefit the poor and the hungry. The State can create mechanisms for regional equalization, ensuring that poor regions benefit from a minimum of resources. The State can devise tax laws that promote voluntary organizations;

iv) the State can collaborate with communities to provide services such as agricultural extension, environment and natural resource management, human capital formation and capacity building, etc., in particular where the private sector is weak; and

v) the State can facilitate local institutional development by providing economic and social services such as investment in infrastructure and research to promote long-term growth prospects in agriculture.

30. Of course, the State has other functions beyond creating an enabling environment: the promotion of broad-based economic growth, the assurance of justice and public safety, and the provision of basic social services. Recognizing these functions is not incompatible with an awareness of the importance of civil society. Seeking to create conditions for effective empowerment of the poor does not mean neglecting the State - quite the contrary. It is at the State level that some of the most important conditions of empowerment and development are determined. Hence the need for complementarity, a point that will be examined later.

The Scaling Up of Civil Society Organizations

31. A key condition for empowerment is the establishment and strengthening of civil society organizations acting for and representing the interests of the poor and the hungry. There is abundant evidence that participatory efforts are ineffective when they are pursued outside and beyond an organizational framework: participation has a collective dimension. By pooling their energies and resources, the poor can increase their economic, technical and political capabilities. They will grow increasingly self-confident, and realize their abilities to innovate, invest in joint infrastructures, promote local change, and participate in the decisions that affect them. No meaningful local governance can be envisaged without organization by the poor.

32. Currently, hundreds of thousands of civil society organizations can be found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: peasant associations, neighborhood committees, people's movements, alternative trade organizations, community initiatives, urban action committees, intermediary or support NGOs, producer cooperatives, women's associations, and consumers' organizations, filling the ranks of an "associative" or "third" sector (as distinct from the "first," or public, and the "second," or private enterprise sector). These organizations are increasingly active in all sectors of life, whether income generation, enhancing the access of the poor to productive assets, or the promotion of food security. They have different structures, mandates, procedures, members, and visions: the organizations of civil society are characterized by their diversity.

33. These organizations have great potential, and are already among the major promoters of social change in many of the developing countries. However, they also have limitations. They are intimately linked to traditional mutual help mechanisms and embedded in collective social institutions of allegiance, alliance, religion, power, politics, clientelism, money, and exclusion. In other terms, they are not necessarily or always consensual, inclusive, just, egalitarian, or 'progressive' (as usually defined in the development community). The challenge of securing rights for the least-privileged is by no means solved by all civil society organizations. They often profit elites more than others, or exclude minorities or women from their benefits, or are subject to debilitating internal dissent between different power groups, or between 'free-riders' and those who abide by the rules.

34. Moreover, civil society organizations often lack competent administrators and technicians, or financial and material resources. In the case of intermediary NGOs, with often unclear structures of accountability, their anchorage in local society and their legitimacy can vary greatly, and potential for abuse exists. Many NGOs are highly dependent on foreign aid, which often reinforces their already weak systems of accountability to those for whose benefit they ostensibly exist. Finally, civil society organizations are usually small, localized, and uncoordinated. They cannot control the large-scale variables of development, at the level of national policies or of the international economy.

35. Hence, one of the main challenges now facing these organizations, as well as other actors sympathetic to them, is the one of scaling up, i.e., increasing their impact in a sustainable and efficient manner. Doing so entails a variety of related but not identical processes. Concretely, we can look at scaling up in terms of structures, programmes, strategies or resource base 6/.

36. The first type is to be seen where a programme or an organization expands through increasing its membership base (in the case of grassroots organizations) or its constituency (for grassroots support organizations) and, linked to this, its geographic working area or budget. This is the most evident kind of scaling up, equaling 'growth' or 'expansion' in their basic meanings. It can be called quantitative scaling up. It happens when civil society organizations draw increasing numbers of people into their realm.

37. A second type process finds a programme or organization expanding the number and the type of its activities. Starting in agricultural production, for example, it moves into health, nutrition, credit, training, literacy, etc. This can be labelled functional scaling up. It takes place when civil society organizations add new activities to their operational range.

38. The third type refers to the extent to which organizations move beyond service delivery towards empowerment and seek to change the structural causes of underdevelopment - its social, political and economic environment. This will usually involve active political involvement and the development of relations with the State and the international system. This process is often referred to as political scaling up.

39. Finally, programmes or organizations can increase their organizational strength to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. This can be done financially, by diversifying their sources of support, by increasing their degree of self-financing through income-generating activities, or by securing the enactment of public legislation earmarking entitlements within the annual budgets for the programme. It can also be done institutionally, by creating collaborative links with other development actors, such as governments and the private sector, by improving the capacity of the staff, or by adopting flexible programming systems. This can be called organizational scaling up.

40. Some important questions need to be answered about scaling up. They concern, most importantly, participation. How can civil society organizations move beyond their original local constituency and have a larger impact while continuing to foster participation? Will enlargement lead to "diseconomies of scale", top-heaviness, and distancing from the grassroots? The second question raises the issue of external funding and self-reliance. Can donor support be provided in such a way as not to forfeit autonomy but rather to strengthen domestic institutional capacity? A further question relates to what exactly should be scaled up - the benefits provided to the poor? the civil society organizations working with the poor? the organizational capabilities of the poor themselves? Some or all of these questions are likely to arise in the process of scaling up, and answers to them will need to be found if effective progress is to be made.

Towards Complementarity

41. We need to move towards a larger role for civil society in development, all the while recognizing the contributions of central and local government and the private sector. The combination of private, community, and public institutions of various types is more likely to lead to development that serves the needs of the rural poor than an exclusive focus on one type of institution. Concretely, there are three ways in which a focus on civil society goes hand in hand with attention to the two other sectors of society, in particular the State.

42. First, for civil society to function properly, it is essential that central governments fulfill their irreplaceable role in the provision of basic social services and, especially, the creation of an enabling environment. Civil society empowerment cannot come about in the absence of conducive State policies. Indeed, better public policies are needed to foster local initiative and unleash the energy of communities.

43. Second, as explained before, empowerment of the poor and the hungry requires mechanisms for their participation in public decision-making and resource allocation, especially at the local level. In other words, organizations representing the poor should have the capacity and opportunity to influence the public policies that affect them. This can be done through formal mechanisms of consultation and participation; informal approaches, such as lobbying, advocacy, and networking, can also contribute to this process.

44. Third, given the nature and scope of the problems facing the world today, it is essential that partnerships are developed between civil society and the public sector (and the private enterprise sector). Worldwide, experience provides evidence of successful partnerships between governments and civil society organizations, and convincingly shows that such partnerships have the potential to tackle complex, large-scale problems in new ways, marshalling substantial resources in the form of creative energy, community support, and a multiplicity of problem-solving perspectives 7/. Successful partnerships of this kind will strengthen governments' willingness and capacity to foster enabling environments.

45. However, such a vision of the potential and actual role of civil society, and its links with the contributions of other actors, is rarely met with in practice. The main actors involved in the development process - civil society organizations, the State, and the donor community - are generally not predisposed to pursue this partnership approach.

46. Many civil society organizations are distrustful of their governments, or have conflictual relations with them. In many cases, from the point of view of the hungry and the poor, the history of grassroots interaction with governments (and, often, international agencies) is filled with broken promises, indifference, corruption, and clientelism. Small wonder that new grassroots organizations are reluctant to deal with governments, often defining themselves precisely through their capacity to "go it alone." The first issue, then, is create on the one hand an environment that will render future interactions between civil society organizations and governments different from their past ones, and, on the other, governance structures that render governments more accountable to the needs of the poor.

47. Government predisposition, policies, and practices are frequently at odds, or at least vis-Ó-vis popular participation. Fear of political abuse and civil strife, lack of information about NGO programmes and functioning, past experiences of political conflict with civil society organizations, or suspicion with regard to the consequences of social engineering from outside, are often the source of government wariness. A persuasive dialogue based on demonstrating and publicizing the net benefits of participatory policies is required. IFAD experience has shown that in many instances central governments have welcomed and embraced the suggestions of the Fund for ameliorating the conditions of vulnerable groups through existing or newly established grassroots organizations.

48. On the donor side, there are now certain programmes which have been developed and dedicated to the construction of the civil society and to the promotion of empowerment processes - but not comparable to the massive intellectual and material resources devoted to the public and the private enterprise sector (e.g., structural adjustment, International Finance Corporation). Sectoral adjustment loans, for example, typically accord only minor roles or none at all to farmers' organizations. What is required is more forceful action, with ample resources and a long-term perspective and commitment, whereby the strengthening of civil society is treated as a complement to and on an equal footing with strengthening the public sector and promoting the private enterprise sector.


49. Improved access to productive resources by the poor is a crucial element of their empowerment. It is not an event, but a process, subject to constant change and constraints. To be successful, it requires: (a) extensive beneficiary participation in design and management, preferably done by institutions close to the population (such as local government); and (b) strong civil society organizations that act as socio-political forces promoting and monitoring effective policies.

50. As much as access to productive resources, the poor need increased access to decision making. This goes beyond the usual participation in projects, whether through consultation, provision of labour or money, or NGO implementation. Empowerment implies the ability of the population, in particular the least privileged segment of society, to participate in the decisions that affect its livelihood. Empowerment requires structures that provide for participation by the poor and the hungry in decision making and resource allocation, especially at the local level.

51. All this will necessitate important changes by the State. The latter needs to create an enabling environment, conducive to the creation and scaling up of civil society organizations. It also needs to create structures of participatory local governance, where the poor and the hungry are involved in the decisions that affect them. On the side of civil society organizations, this will require a willingness to scale up, to develop structures and procedures that allow for effective interaction with the State as well as for improved accountability to the poor and hungry that they represent. This will require democratic and professional management, processes of internal learning, an openness to constructive dialogue, and a willingness to work with the State. Only then will true partnerships between the public and the associative sector be possible, leveraging and multiplying the resources available to eradicate hunger and poverty.

1/ van Zijl, Kirsten and Binswanger, Policies, Markets

Discussion Paper 1: Empowerment of the poor
Discussion Paper 2: Enhancing technology generation and diffusion
Discussion Paper 3: Combating environmental degradation
Discussion Paper 4: Preventing disaster and reducing its impact on the poor
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