|Volunteer Participation in Working with the Urban Poor (UNDP - UNV, 64 p.)|
|III. Towards a community-based strategy for VSAs|
Keeping the unique characteristics of the CBOs and low-income urban communities in mind, the suggestion here is that VSAs, as well as other international organisations should identify viable CBOs through which they might support the initiatives of low-income urban communities. NGOs may be key in the process of identifying CBOs with which the VSAs could work. At some point of the development initiative, it would also be useful to include the State, both at the local and central levels, so as to enable the "upstreaming" of community concerns and needs into macro policy.
However, it may be difficult for most VSAs, unfamiliar with a particular low-income urban settlement, to identify and reach CBOs directly for a variety of reasons: initial mistrust of foreign VSAs and the nature of their association with the State (although outsiders may be preferred in other cases where there are strong factional forces at work); language and communication problems; even difficulties for the VSA to be informed of the scope and capacity of the CBOs operating there. Consequently, there will often be a need for a local NGO intermediary, both to introduce the VSA to the inhabitants, but more importantly to act as a partner throughout the period of association.
NGOs, which have been broadly defined as organisations which are non-government and non-profit, have an enormous potential here. There are NGOs which serve solely as public service contractors, undertaking programmes for foreign aid and government sources. Others are genuine voluntary and people's organisations which could act as development catalysts and actively promote a bottom-up process of participation: these NGOs also feel accountable to their local community associates. It is through this type of NGO that VSAs may be able to support effective community-based programmes of support.
In addition, NGOs are often key autonomous and active players with their own agendas, and may well have more in common with self-help groups of the low-income communities than governments. Because NGOs are often independent organisations which are not completely beholden to communities, they may be in a pivotal position to act as an intermediary in linking community concerns to policy levels. NGOs vary in their relationship to systematic change. VDWs could play a greater role in working with NGOs in a range of interventions in low-income urban areas.
There is no doubt that if links are not made with the policies, institutions and resources of the State at some point in the development process, community-based initiatives will reach a plateau beyond which they cannot expand. The point may be reached very early in the stage of a development initiative if there are conflicts on issues such as land and access to resources. Because of their own nature as organisations closely linked with governments (in UNV's case, as an inter-governmental organisation VSAs are suitably situated to act as an intermediary between CBOs or NGOs and the State.
The potential of VSAs to act as an intermediary would depend on the particular situation, the degree of trust that had been built up by the VSA with both sets of partners, and the historical relationship between the community and government levels. If the bottom-up character of development is to be maintained and strengthened, then establishing simultaneous links with government and communities could be a useful step in the long run. However, the community should build up its own institutional capacity and confidence in defining and prioritising its needs before optimum use can be made of connections with the State and other institutions.
Within this strong emphasis on community-based interventions, it is also possible for VSAs to be involved in activities through governmental channels. State roles are often weakened by the lack of adequate resources to tackle the enormous population increases and their growing needs. VSAs working within governmental institutions could be supportive of, and complementary to, facilitating community-level interventions.
Placing interventions involving low-income groups in a developmental framework, however, has presented something of a dilemma. On one hand, it is the government which is responsible for articulating development objectives and strategies; on the other, governments' resource constraints, as well as historic lack of priority in addressing problems of low-income urban areas, has combined to deprive the state of effective models for responding to their needs. The implication is that external resource inputs - including technical expertise in planning, management and administration - combined with the creativity of self-help initiatives and of NGOs, would facilitate the evolution of effective developmental processes.
How, then, can the VDW contribute to community-based initiatives in a durable, yet dependency-avoiding manner? If the role includes organisational strengthening, animation work, technical and managerial training, and providing access to resources and policy-making, then local partners, team members who either belong to the community or have a lasting relationship with it (as part of an NGO), are key. Financial support may also be necessary, and included in the intervention design. The appropriate niche for VDWs in working with low-income urban communities will be explored in more detail in the following chapters.