Established in 1991, NRSP is the largest Rural Support Programme in the country in terms of outreach, staff and development activities. It is a not for profit organization registered under Section 42 of Companies Ordinance 1984.
NRSP's mandate is to alleviate poverty by harnessing people's potential and undertake development activities in Pakistan. It has a presence in 64 Districts in all the four Provinces including Azad Jammu and Kashmir through Regional Offices and Field Offices. NRSP is currently working with 3 million poor households organized into a network of 190,570 Community Organizations. With sustained incremental growth, it is emerging as Pakistan's leading engine for poverty reduction and rural development.
NRSP works to release the potential abilities, skills and knowledge of rural men and women, to enable them to articulate their aspirations and to effectively marshal the resources they need to meet their identified needs. The purpose is poverty alleviation - enabling people to break the cycle of poverty, which begins with lack of opportunity, extends to the well-known miseries of economic and nutritional poverty and leads new generations to endure the same conditions. The process is social mobilization - bringing people together on new terms for a common purpose. The conceptual tools are 'social guidance' (recruiting local men and women who will take on a leadership role), advocacy, capacity building and awareness raising. The programmatic tools are training, support to institutions, micro-credit, infrastructure development, natural resource management and 'productive linkages'.
Our purpose as an advocate for the poor is to bring the concerns of economically-marginal men and women to public consciousness and to affect policy so that the poor are brought into the mainstream of the economy.
NRSP's vision is manifested in expanded opportunities for income-generation; community schools which provide quality primary education, community owned and managed infrastructure schemes, improved agricultural productivity, and higher returns for labour and so on. From the widest perspective the vision is manifested as the first stages of a transformation of civil society.
As of August 2016 a total of 3,012,240 rural men and women decided it would be to their advantage to take part in NRSP's social mobilization process, believing it to be the best way to address the problems of poverty and under-development in their villages.
For both new and long-term CO members, participation brings about new levels of awareness concerning service provision and infrastructure development in their villages. CO membership also helps people to improve their asset base, by increasing both their income and their 'social capital'. This might be brought about by adding land to their holdings, increasing the number of animals they own, pooling economic resources to buy new and improved inputs and equipment for farms or businesses, or diversifying the stock for their small shops.
CO participation enables people to accumulate savings, perhaps for the first time in their lives. It gives the rural poor access to an affordable financial service (micro credit) that is designed specifically for them. It provides an outlet through which to invest their savings for household needs and community development schemes. For some of the very poorest and most vulnerable people, such as the former bonded labourers in the NRSP-ILO Project in Hyderabad, NRSP membership provides the possibility of achieving a foothold on a more certain and improved economic future.
CO membership enables rural men and women to greatly expand the purchasing power of their savings and other assets. The best example is NRSP’s partnership with the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, in which the CO’s contribution of 20% of the cost of a community physical infrastructure scheme is multiplied fourfold by the PPAF grant. As of August 2016 a total of 444,761 rural households benefited from these CPIs: in all, CO contributions of Rs 700,226,016 were parlayed into schemes worth Rs 3,880,427,579. Other examples of leverage are found in numerous small-scale partnerships between NRSP, COs and the private or public sectors.
M. H. Khan’s study of NRSP COs found that “ … there is a 7.5% additional increase in income over non-members leading to significant economic impact on the participating households in terms of their total and farm income, total expenditure, savings, consumer durable goods, and children in school and it tends to increase with time …”.
The fact that NRSP works in 64 Districts that encompass diverse socio-economic, geographical and cultural conditions is evidence that the paradigm of social development which NRSP embraces can be applied successfully anywhere in Pakistan. Wherever it operates, NRSP is always working to improve its performance, to reach more deeply into communities, to learn how best to respond to the issues people identify as their priorities, and to work more efficiently and cost-effectively to deliver the programme. NRSP is committed to continuously refining its development vision. Despite the complexity of the task, poverty-alleviation remains the purpose of NRSP’s existence.
The main objective of NRSP is to foster a countrywide network of grassroots level organizations to enable rural communities to plan, implement and manage developmental activities and programmes for the purpose of ensuring productive employment, alleviation of poverty and improvement in the quality of life.
NRSP is designed in such a way that it specializes as a support organization, which provides social guidance to the communities. The guiding tenets of NRSP’s philosophy are to organize rural communities develop their capital base at the local level through savings and credit schemes, support human development endeavors and link the communities with the government service delivery departments, donors, NGOs and the private sector. While interacting with so many stakeholders, NRSP carefully outlines its role as that of a facilitator. This leads the communities and other partners to maintain their relationship independent of NRSP.
The generic principles of NRSP’s philosophy prevent it from following a preconceived package approach. The whole quest is to identify and support whatever activities communities intend to do on their own according to their prioritized needs.
The only reliable indicator to assess a community’s willingness to achieve a particular goal is the intensity of its previous endeavors to accomplish that desire and the persistence and consistently towards the work.
To harness people's potential to help themselves
To mobilize people's willingness through the provision of social guidance, NRSP takes the following steps:
The core assumption of NRSP’s philosophy is that there is a tremendous willingness amongst the people to help themselves. However, people cannot harness this willingness on their own. There is a need to mobilize it. To achieve this, a support mechanism is required that can ensure the provision of social guidance to the people. Social guidance initiates a process wherein the communities learn to organize into socially viable groups, enhance their skills, expand their collective and individual resource base and optimally utilize their available resources. Experience has taught NRSP that in the process of social guidance, the availability of an honest local level activist is vital.
The idea behind the process of social guidance is to find out what people really want to do themselves and to assess whether whatever they want to do is possible while keeping in view the resource constraints. If it seems that the identified activity is practical, then NRSP assists the community in arranging the desired resources which may be credit, technical assistance, or specialized skill training for overcoming those constraints.
As a result of effective management, despite financial constraints, NRSP has managed to extent its programme outreach to twenty four districts of all four provinces and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK).
The problems of the rural poor in Pakistan are many. These include low production, low prices, low incomes, low wages, meager savings and unemployment due to which the rural populace struggle day by day to fight against the never ending abyss of debt and destitution.
In addition, over-population is leading to pressure on the capacity of natural resources, upon which the livelihood of the rural poor depends. Many millions live in abject poverty, marginalized from the mainstream and often hidden from the public eye. Apparently, the rural poor have no hope to improve their quality of life.
Development administrators of the ilk of Brayne, in colonial India, once held that the rural poor had only themselves to blame for their poverty and misery; ignorant, lazy and morally bankrupt.
An objective analysis of the rural poor has indicated that they are not a homogenous group but are differentiated with respect to socio-economic conditions, agro-ecological situations and religio-cultural patterns. They also have certain commonalties such as; landlessness or small subsistence holding, isolation from the main economy, unorganized and leaderless, lack capital and have no access to credit, and lack of marketable skills.
The late Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, an eminent development scholar of international fame called this the peasant mentality. In his view the poor in the sub-continent are mainly subsidy oriented, look for doles, are fatalistic and follow factionalism. These characteristic elements essentially translated into lack of capacity of the rural poor to change their own lot. These are remediable defects, unlike the impression Brayne had, of the shortcomings of the villagers being irremediable.
Among the lessons that can be drawn from past efforts and the current situation of the rural poor, we can say that:
Over the past decades, South Asian governments have taken various initiatives to create anti-poverty programmes. However, despite the allocation of large sums of capital and organizational effort, little seems to have been achieved on the ground. This failure at poverty alleviation can be attributed to the following major factors:
Following a development paradigm alien to the region, utilitarianism sectoral imbalances, conventional top-down strategies, ad-hocism, inequitable distribution of assets, inaccessibility to technological innovations and finance, lack of rural productive infrastructure, over-exploitation of natural resources, inadequate development of the social sector, the use of development resources as political patronage, and viewing the poor as a liability, therefore, to be shunned, ignored and disregarded.
This obviously led to the exclusion of a large number of rural poor from benefiting out of the government initiated programmes, hence increasingly marginalizing them.
One solution, held for many decades, to the problem of small scale farm operation was collectivization of the kind implemented in China and the former Soviet Union. The other one practiced in the capitalist world envisages rapid transformation of agriculture into a corporate system. Neither suited the rural poor of the Third World. A solution that was needed was one that preserved the private ownership of land; at the same time it called for pooling of resources and their cooperative management at the village level.
More specifically, it was felt that there was a dire need for combination of principles and implementation methods which have been employed successfully to organize the rural poor around their interests, and to service these rural organizations in a permanent and profitable manner.
The philosophy proposed for the working of NRSP was extracted from the experience of countries with flourishing small holder agricultural sectors. These are the principles of Raiffeissen used with success in the institutionally based development of German agriculture. The Japanese pursued the same principles. These principles of village organization were also adopted with successful results in Taiwan and by the Saemaul Undong movement in the Republic of South Korea.
In Pakistan, these ideas were first made the basis of a rural development effort by Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, when he initiated the Comilla project in 1959, in what is now Bangladesh. These ideas have further been tested and proved to be successful by the implementation of integrated development through a participatory approach by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in the Northern Areas, under the leadership of Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan during the eighties.
The lessons learnt from AKRSP proved that organization of the poor was the best means to alleviate poverty. Here community participation was broad-based and decentralized with homogenous organizations at the village and neighborhood level.
Broad-based and homogenous membership was extended to all the members and decision making was unanimous by all the members whose common economic interest was best served by working together. Decentralized participation meant that decision making was the responsibility of the local communities while supporting agencies, like government and other development agencies provided technical and financial assistance, but did not infringe upon the sovereignty of the community organization. In other words, community participation ensured development of, for and by the people.
The importance of a support mechanism for implementing the conceptual package is central. The programmes for the poor can only be effectively implemented if these are led by an autonomous support structure, committed to the creation of a participatory village level institutional framework. The traditional approach of establishing a large number of specialized agencies (for training, credit, input supplies and extension etc.) for reaching the poor has failed because they were hampered in their effectiveness by the absence of a strong and broad institutional base at the village level. Creation of a village level institutional framework does not fall in the purview of any of these agencies.
NRSP was therefore set up as a Rural Support Programme, which has taken the lead in the creation, promotion and support of effective and disciplined community organizations to manage rural development in Pakistan on a nationwide level. Wherever possible, existing or proposed organizations of the communities have also been used or incorporated into this effort provided that they were willing to operate in accordance with the principles and terms of partnership offered by NRSP.