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close this bookVolunteer Participation in Working with the Urban Poor (UNDP - UNV, 64 p.)
close this folderIV. Programming concerns for VSAs and UNV
View the documentGuidelines for involvement
View the documentSuccess criteria for volunteer involvement
View the documentTaking the initiative
View the documentFlexibility
View the documentMeeting personnel and associated needs
View the documentChannels of operation
View the documentUnited Nations Agencies and their partners
View the documentFunding and other programme concerns

Channels of operation

In using a participatory approach, it is important that VSAs build upon existing forms of social organisation. Identifying channels of operation would be as follows:

(i) Identify and establish a relationship with selected Community-Based organisations (CBOs), who would serve as interlocutors between the VSA and low-income urban groups. This window would help to give voice to community expression of self-help initiatives.

(ii) Identify and establish a relationship with local NGOs, most of whom should have developed their own experience of supporting the communities and their CBOs with paraprofessionals and material inputs, or helped them to articulate their demands to the State. VSAs would provide support to communities through NGOs acting as intermediaries, or work to extend NGO capacity in outreach, skills training, advisory services, or scope of activities. In many cases, NGOs would be able to direct VSAs to the communities and CBOs with whom they could work.

(iii) A third channel for VSA activity involves national, municipal and local government. The main activity in which UNVs in this area could be essential involves linking community needs to the resources and policymaking power of the State. Unless this happens, community-initiatives in addressing their needs and concerns would remain small, scattered, and possibly transitory in nature. Once communities have organised themselves, defined their needs and planned initiatives, the time is appropriate to involve government as a partner in meeting needs and concerns. It is the municipal or local government, particularly if it is based on a democratic election process, which is likely to be the most fruitful partner. The risk, however, is its susceptibility to the influence of local elites.

In practice, all three channels are likely to be involved at some stage of the project life-cycle.

In selecting a channel for support, VSAs and other international organisations have several choices to make. The first of these concerns the extent to which governments can be encouraged (and supported with necessary external resources) to confront and respond to their obligations to individuals, as citizens entitled to goods and services, in low-income urban settings. This is especially relevant in light of greater sensitivity and responsiveness of NGOs and communities in undertaking programmes as part of a self-reliant process. It may be argued that this concern is a matter of timing rather than principle; that is, there may be an expectation that successful demonstration or pilot projects built on NGOs and community self-help groups can be presented to governments - at all levels - as proven models to be replicated on a wider scale through the application of budgetary resources and international assistance channelled through government agencies.

An additional choice concerns the relative value of investments in institutional strengthening - whether the delivery channel is the government or the NGOs and community groups. Many development organisations have encountered difficulties in implementing their programmes because of inadequate investment in government institutions. This includes low budgetary priority given to operational units, high rates of staff turnover, under-utilisation of trained personnel, bureaucratic inertia and inter-organisational conflicts, as well as restrictions on innovations and initiatives imposed by higher echelons on energetic subordinate staff. Similar or worse difficulties affect NGOs (e.g. financial or staffing problems). CBOs often have only rudimentary or ad hoc structures.

A number of governments have acknowledged that their resource constraints are inadequate to address concerns of low-income groups in the urban setting. They have encouraged, consequently, assistance from the private sector and self-help initiatives, especially for low income housing.

In the past, international, governmental and non-governmental organisations have tended to operate in a policy vacuum - in other words, there has been no comprehensive national development policy to address the concerns of low-income groups in the urban sector, especially in the areas of housing (including re-settlement and access to housing finance), employment and income-generation, health services and education. Even though there may be greater government acknowledgement of low-income urban sector needs in national Planning Ministry documents, respective Ministries have failed to produce formal, integrated policy or sectoral policies. In cases where the Ministry responsible for international cooperation is separate from-the Planning Ministry, there is an even greater likelihood that the needs of the low-income urban sector -although partially recognised in the national plan - receive low priority, particularly when equity considerations tend to be outweighed by a focus on applying development assistance to increased production and the demands of structural adjustment.

In countries where national policies do exist, there may be a lack of, incomplete, or even contradictory implementation of programmes. For example, it is not uncommon to find a national development plan which acknowledges the economic significance of the urban informal sector and refers to the need to strengthen its capacity to absorb labour and generate incomes; yet, in the same country, municipal government licensing procedures and or concerns for cleanliness or social control may result in harassment or even partial suppression of urban informal sector activities.

There is not always a choice between government or non-government/community group delivery channels when designing and implementing interventions targeting low-income urban groups. In some countries, NGOs and community groups may be the only effective and operational institutions with which outside organisations can work. This is particularly the case in countries where government indifference towards, or even suppression of, low-income urban groups has created distrust and lack of operational cooperation between government and local NGOs and community groups. In this situation, the links which NGOs and CBOs have forged with international private voluntary organisations are frequently essential for their survival and growth.