| Helping small project from the distance |
In the mid-60s, when E.F. Schumacher wrote his famous book "Small is beautiful", he not only wrote about the merits of "small things". He advocated that small-scale action be also widely spread, for example by building a lot of small workshops instead of one big factory. "One million projects instead of a one-million project" - this play on words truly reflects everything Schumacher advocated and the goals followed by GATE, like many other organizations, since its establishment in 1978.
The numerous support activities GATE has undertaken in the past years had the common feature that they all aimed to have not one big impact but give numerous small incentives (primarily) for grassroot initiatives. The degree of success achieved was, however, varied. During practical activities, specific assistance models could gradually be profiled which were better suited to achieve the goal of helping people to help themselves.
A DSE workshop on "Participatory approaches in the promotion of self-help organization" held in April 1991 came to the following conclusion on the present status of self-help promotion:
- numerous cases exist where erroneous procedures have jeopardized the basis and development of self-help initiatives;1)
- a large number of successful self-help groups exist that receive no support from outside and often do not even wish to be supported;
- at the same time, numerous self-help groups need outside support in order to achieve success;
- several proven and pertinent support approaches are available today.
The self-help promotion approaches mentioned are characterized by the fact that they combine self-help and outside help in such a way that self-help is the primary and decisive factor and outside help only participates in order to close specific gaps in the group's self-help capability. The amount of outside help may vary depending on the given situation, although it should never reach a dimension which would allow it to achieve the set goals without the self-help initiative. Wherever self-help and outside help interface in this way the following actors are involved:
- the self-help initiatives
- self-help support organizations in developing countries (mostly non-governmental)
- non-governmental organizations in industrialized countries
- large development agencies in industrialized countries.
These four actors define the field of action in which self-help promotion can take place, although the actual type of assistance differs depending on how intensively specific actors interact.
Three self-help support models can be identified:
In MODEL 1 A development organization from an industrialized country supports the work of a local self-help support organization by various inputs such as training, organizational aids, know-how transfer or financing for small activities. The great distance between the donor and the recipient and the fact that the assistance provided only indirectly benefits the self-help initiatives are characteristic features of this model.
In MODEL 2 Different self-help initiatives receive direct assistance from a local self-help-support organization. The vicinity of donors and recipient and the large scale of potential support activities characterize this model.
In MODEL 3 A development organization from an industri-alized country operates a small-project fund to promote self-help initiatives in developing countries. As in model 1, a mediator organization is involved in this support; the characteristic feature is, however, that the support is not provided indirectly but made directly available as financing aid to a specific project of the self-help initiative.
GATE support to self-help organizations
In the past, GATE has gained positive experience with both models 1 and 2. The most well-known is probably the cooperation-partner program running since 1980 which provides support to more than twenty counterpart organizations through cooperation arrangements structured along the lines of model 1. Practical experiences with model 2 further confirm that self-help promotion can be particularly needs-oriented and effective as direct support to self-help initiatives in the immediate vicinity.2)
However, no answer could be given as yet on whether it is possible or expedient to support self-help groups from a distance. GATE has been able to collect experience on this third model since the end of 1986 with its small-project fund for the dissemination of appropriate technologies, and has processed some 150 applications for small projects to date. This form of self-help support has proven to be successful as long as the procedures and instruments used are carefully designed and applied.
In view of the results obtained, we wondered whether it would be wise to extend the areas covered by the GATE fund and increase the funds involved. GATE's clear focus on the dissemination of appropriate technology and restriction to 30 project support activities per year had proven to be an expedient framework. There are indeed no objections to setting up similar funds elsewhere, perhaps with a different subject focus. On the contrary, while small appears to be better in regard to the individual funds, for self-help support as a whole, it is better to have a lot of small-project funds than just a few.