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Guest blog by Muddassar Ahmed, the founder and the Chief Executive of Unitas Communications Ltd; a London based international communications agency. He is also a member of the Young Atlanticist NATO Working Group.
In the global search for poverty alleviation and sustainable development, Pakistan’s ‘Rural Support Programmes Network’ remains little known, yet offers enormous potential for the eradication of rural poverty across the world today.
The power of a collective community vision is what Pakistan's little known 'Rural Support Programmes Network' (RSPN) has used to empower rural communities to alleviate poverty. RSPN, Pakistan’s largest rural development NGO, is one of the most effective rural poverty alleviation models of the previous three decades. Yet its secret is surprisingly simple - community organizing.
The Network consists of eleven Rural Support Programmes, or RSPs. Founded in the early 1980’s, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) was created to improve agricultural productivity and raise incomes in poor, remote northern regions of Pakistan. Building on the success of AKRSP, other RSPs spread across the country, out of which came the birth of RSPN in 2000.
Today the RSPs stand out for their unique approach and staggering success rates. They have delivered outreach to 4.5 million Pakistani households (out of a network of 35 million) and skills training to 2.21 million. The RSP’s driving principle is the recognition that there can be no long-term poverty alleviation without community empowerment.
As such, their role is essentially one of a facilitator; empowering grassroots communities into local action that reduces poverty. By focusing on social mobilization and training in almost all areas of rural manufacturing, management and basic services, communities have been able to enhance their access to education, health care and social protection. And because the model holds that poverty alleviation cannot take place in a vacuum, it places a significant emphasis on enhancing those social and local governance conditions which allow economic development to flourish.
I’ve witnessed firsthand the activity of RSPN’s partner Sindh Rural Support Organisation’s (SRSO) activity in Pakistan’s rural Sindh province. My most striking observation was of the programme's immense impact on the collective self-esteem and aspirations of remote rural communities. Take the case of Ghulam Bibi in the RSPN supported Sindhi village of Imam Bux Gabol. As a 40-year-old mother of five, she used to work only sporadically on other people's land to keep her poor family afloat. However, the SRSO introduced the ‘Community Investment Fund’ (CIF), an innovative form of community-managed financing, funded by the Sindh government and managed by the women of the village. With this Ghulam Bibi was able to invest in livestock.
Having for the first time been afforded the opportunity to be enterprising, she has today expanded the livestock’s size and value and created a thriving livelihood for herself and her family. And as per the RSP strategy, beneficiaries become the greatest advocates. She now routinely preaches the benefits of the programme to neighboring villages.This policy of investing in people as a conduit to investing in infrastructure ensures that RSPN/RSP programmes do not lose momentum as soon as funding ends, or once immediate goals are met.
Long before Barack Obama, as a presidential hopeful, expounded the transformative power of community organizing and local grassroots leadership, RSPN and RSP’s were applying similar principles across rural Pakistan. Together they established localised leadership and governance structures across 10 independent Rural Support Programmes (RSP) that still exist today.
But it’s not just advice and training that RSPN/RSP’s provides. Limited access to capital can still stack the cards against the world's poor. As microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus puts it: ‘it is the ability to control capital that gives people the power to rise out of poverty’. And in addressing this, the RSPs have become a leading force in supporting rural access to microfinance in Pakistan.
In summary, the RSP success has come from its unique ability to foster a vision for self-empowerment within rural communities. And in helping develop the skills, community structures, and access to capital to make such a vision achievable. The formula undoubtedly works, having reached three quarters of Pakistan’s districts, trained 1.06 million women and enabled the establishment of over 1,900 schools that generally outperform those supported only by the government.
Since its inception, the model has received widespread international recognition. The World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group noted the RSPN's "impressive record of performance”. It has also been described as the NGO encapsulating one of 13 development ‘Ideas That Work’. Founding RSPN Chairman Shoaib Sultan Khan was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for his work in "unleashing the power and potential of the poor". He has addressed the UN General Assembly to showcase RSPN's proven model of sustainable development.
Yet if the model is really so effective why has there not been an even greater transformation across rural Pakistan, especially given the high concentration of rural poverty? After all, the RSPN model has been widely replicated outside of Pakistan. In 1994, the UN Development Programme requested that RSPN Chairman Shoaib Sultan Khan set-up demonstration pilots of the model in Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The success of those pilots led India to subsequently launch a similar countrywide programme that benefited over 300 million poor.
One reason for this discrepancy lies in the very secret of RSPN's success; the RSPN model is an effective but long-term one, where significant results can only be gauged in the long-term over periods of more than a decade. As such, international aid agencies fail to provide the level of support RSPN needs to kick-start the crucial early stages of new programmes across different regions. These agencies have also failed to continue servicing current programmes before rural communities achieve some semblance of self-sufficiency.
Although a 2004 World Bank evaluation acknowledges that the long-term success of RSP is tremendous, it also notes that the short-term 'quick-fix' results sought by international donors, result in pressures to swiftly demonstrate aid money can lead to tangible outcomes in the short-term.
Despite the economic and political challenges of supporting a programme offering such long-term returns, it is precisely these long-term returns that are needed if sustainability is to truly be achieved. And it would be at the expense of other poor rural communities in Pakistan, South Asia and indeed beyond, if such a ‘bigger picture’ approach to rural development is not embraced and Pakistan’s poverty alleviation secret is not spread.
Forecasts by The Global Fund indicate that $1.6 billion of additional funding will be made available to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The forecast is a positive step towards combating some of the most debilitating diseases in the world. This is especially exciting news since just over six months ago the Fund was forced to cancel any new grants, due to lower than expected donations. So what happened?
According to Gabriel Jaramillo, the General Manager of the Global Fund, the forecast was “better than expected”. This reversal is in part the result of more donations and bigger donations from existing donors, as well as a restructuring of resources to countries most in need. Newer donors included countries such as Namibia, whilst greater contributions were received from Japan and Saudi Arabia to name two. However, this improved forecast is also due to internal changes and Board decisions which have enhanced methods of financial supervision, improved efficiency and encouraged new and existing donors to donate.
The Global Fund has already approved $7 billion in grants to be disbursed over the next 18 months and has set aside $616 million in funding for existing programmes. This additional $1.6 billion will go towards new projects, between 2012 and 2014. At the moment, the Fund operates in 150 countries, providing AIDS treatment for 3.3 million, anti-tuberculosis treatment for 8.6 million, and has provided 230 million treated nets for malaria prevention. One of its many initiatives includes supporting efforts to prevent HIV among street children in the Ukraine.
Earlier this year the Fund celebrated its 10th birthday; we reported on its achievements but also the obstacles it faced due to lack of investment.
The organisation is a public-private partnership and international financing institution, who work to prevent and treat all three conditions. Importantly, projects are based on the priorities of people from the country itself and implemented by them. This is why the Global Fund’s Board reaffirmed its commitment to continue working closely with civil society. To ensure efficiency, The Global Fund provides financing for these projects based on results and performance. This ensures that projects are collaborative, responsive to need, and ultimately more effective.
This extra funding will make a huge contribution towards combating some of the worst diseases on the planet and the outlook will remain positive if this momentum can be maintained. Despite this good news, there are still worries that pledges from donors are insufficient to allow the Global Fund to continue doing its life saving work. Todd Summers, chair of the Board’s Strategy Investment and Impact Committee, was excited that new projects could begin, but remained realistic about the continued investment needed, saying “I remind everyone that we need a lot more money than is currently pledged just to sustain current efforts. While we’re heading in the right direction, there still is a long way to go to meet the real need.”
We, alongside other organisations, have called on governments to commit additional investment so that the fund can continue working towards tackling these diseases. Hopefully a dinner during the September UN General Assembly session, hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will provide a platform for new financial pledges to be announced. The dinner is in aid of health-related development goals but will have a special focus on the Global Fund. Simon Bland, the Chairman of the Board of the Global Fund, remains optimistic saying, “If we continue to get the support we need, we can make an enormous difference”. We agree and continue to push countries to pledge much needed investment so that the forecast continues to look bright!
This is a guest blog by Eight19, a company aiming to develop the technologies and manufacturing processes that will bring off-grid solar power to a new generation of users.
Imagine - when the sun sets today you have no access to electricity: no light, no sight, a different life. This lack of energy access was the reality for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a young boy in post-war Korea. At the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January, Mr Ban recalled how “A simple light bulb illuminated a whole new world of opportunity for me, enabling me to study day and night”. His address marked the launch of the UN’s Year of Sustainable Energy for All Initiative which sets out to address some quite startling statistics.
1.6bn people lack access to electricity and often use kerosene-based lighting. This fuel-burning approach costs end-users $38 billion and has a carbon footprint roughly the same as a country such as Argentina. Even with the rapid rate of global development, the World Bank predicts over a billion people will still be off-grid in 2030 because the increase in electrification is unable to keep up with population growth.
With abundant sunshine in most developing countries, solar power is an obvious alternative to kerosene, candles or disposable batteries which light for light, cost over 100x the price of the equivalent energy in the West. This cost can represent as much as 30% of the net income of poor households. The challenge for a rural farmer is how to afford a $50 solar lighting system on an income of $3/day, roughly the equivalent of buying a car in the West on a Purchasing Power Parity basis.
Eight19, which gets its name from the 8 minutes 19 seconds that it takes sunlight to reach the earth, set out to bring affordable and clean energy to the off-grid market. By combining mobile technology with solar technology, the Indigo solar product is the world’s first mass-market “pay-as-you-go” solar lighting product for off-grid emerging markets. Users receive 8 hours of clean, carbon-free lighting for two rooms and also mobile phone charging, whilst halving their weekly energy spend from day one. By allowing the system to be paid off through the weekly purchase of scratch cards, the traditionally prohibitive high upfront costs of solar are removed. In Kenya, users spend $1/week and are saving about $2/week on kerosene and a further $1-2 per week on mobile phone charging costs.
Each Indigo system pays back in just 18 months, making it one of the most compelling applications of solar power in the world. At this stage customers can upgrade to a larger system to access more electricity through the "energy escalator” to grow from simple systems to full home electrification. Users move from a starting point as a disconnected rural farmer to an informed, connected one with the benefits of electricity. Like an escalator, users can get off at any point and so are not committed to a long-term debt. This “pay-as-you-grow” business model is unique in the industry, assisting users to earn their way out of poverty without hand-outs or charity.
Indigo systems were first installed in Kenya and are now reaching Zambia, Malawi and the world’s youngest country, South Sudan. The initiative is having a genuinely transformative impact on users’ lives. Time savings are made on charging mobile phones at the market or collecting kerosene. In South Sudan, women could spend up to 3 hours each day collecting grass to burn for lighting. With Indigo, customers value access to the “permanent light” (as opposed to kerosene which all too often is intermittent) that enables longer engagement in revenue generating activities and facilitates children’s studies. Four months after one family in Kenya purchased Indigo, one of their 10 year-old children was awarded a place in secondary school after coming third in his school’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam. The parents directly attribute this to having light. These collective knock-on effects of Indigo are crucial to its sustainable impact to stimulate economic growth at the local level.
Eight19 has demonstrated a way in which emerging markets can provide an economically sustainable business opportunity that helps alleviate poverty and brings many of the benefits of developed living to communities, while preserving a traditional way of life. Just as mobile phones removed the need for landlines, so affordable off-grid power can be more effective than waiting for the grid to reach rural communities. The company’s vision of the “un-grid” is one where developing countries can effectively leap-frog the grid and benefit now from the communications revolution of the developed world.
Blog about World Immunization Week 2012 by Dan Thomas, Head of Media and Communications at the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership which aims to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to vaccines in the world’s poorest countries.
Have you ever been to the movies and seen a trailer for a film that you previously had no interest in seeing and then suddenly thought to yourself “That is a film I CANNOT MISS”?
That was the idea behind GAVI’s most recent production. It’s a three-minute film by a talented young American film maker called Ryan Youngblood that I stumbled across in Kigali one day and I think he and producer Doune Porter more than fulfilled their brief.
On April 26, during WHO’s first-ever World Immunization Week, Ghana will introduce not just one but two new vaccines into its immunisation programme.
The pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines will protect infants against the leading causes of the two biggest killers of children in Ghana and throughout the developing world – pneumonia and diarrhoea.
The GAVI Alliance and our partners UNICEF and WHO are working with Ghana’s Ministry of Health to plan a massive celebration in Accra at which the first children will be vaccinated.
On the same day, halfway across the world in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, our friends at the UN Foundation will be launching the Shot@Life campaign to encourage the American public to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save children’s lives around the world.
It’s such an exciting time to be working in global health and, as more and more power brokers embrace the value of investing in people’s health, we are literally seeing progress across the world on a daily basis.
As you can imagine, back in Ghana our colleagues are feeling more than a little pressure and this film brilliantly captures the careful, methodical planning process that is involved in introducing new vaccines into the national health programme.
It also portrays the skill, wit and energy that Ghanaian health professionals are investing in this extraordinary initiative.
Like the best movie trailers, our little film has all the right ingredients to make you want to know what happens next: handsome men, beautiful women, tragedy, suspense, despair, hope and raw determination!
Yesterday was Budget day, the moment our ‘Protect Point Seven’ campaign had been building towards for the past few weeks. It was the day the Chancellor outlined his plans for the British economy and whether he would honour the UK’s international commitments to support the world’s poorest people by spending 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income on aid by 2013. We are absolutely delighted that despite the difficult media climate on aid over the past couple of months, the budget confirmed that the Government would honour the 0.7% target and with it, continue the UK’s efforts to provide aid to the 1.4billion people still living in extreme poverty.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve asked you, our supporters and campaigners, to help ensure that ahead of yesterday’s budget, politicians knew just how much support their was for international aid across the country. Hundreds of you wrote to your MPs and many tweeted at them to tell them how important aid is to you and how much support it has in your communities. Some of our Global Poverty Ambassadors started a facebook page that reached over 5,000 people and inspired over 350 people to send in pictures of them thanking all three major political parties for their commitment to 0.7. We even went to parliament to give a personal thank you to the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Ivan Lewis MP and Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP.
The incredible effort, amazing passion and inspiring activism our supporters have shown in telling decision makers that there is real public support for lifesaving aid for people in extreme poverty made a real difference to political opinions ahead of the budget. As Andrew Mitchell MP, the Secretary of State for International Development told us in our meeting, “This campaign is a powerful reminder that people across Britain understand that aid can make a real difference”.
The 0.7% target has cross party support and by including it in the budget, the Chancellor has now paved the way for the government to bring forth legislation to enshrine the 0.7% target in law, a policy agreed in the Coalition Agreement. It will also allow the UK to demonstrate important international leadership on global aid commitments and to press other countries to fulfil their own pledges. As Elisha London our UK Country Director said yesterday after the budget:
“We warmly welcome that the government has honoured their commitment to protect the target of spending 0.7% of UK GNI on International Development, the figure needed to fulfil our commitments to the Millennium Development Goals.
By keeping our country's promise to provide support to the world’s poorest people, the UK will continue to save lives and support communities across the world to sustainably move out of extreme poverty.
At this time of economic difficulty we thank the Chancellor for keeping our promise to those living in the most extreme kind of poverty, wherever they live."
With the aid budget confirmed DFID can now continue its commitments to vital lifesaving programmes which will deliver real results for people across the world living in extreme poverty. Funding can be provided for programmes such as the global polio eradication initiative, which with only four countries in the world left battling with this disease, has a real opportunity to eradicate Polio in our lifetime. It is these types of life changing initiatives that our aid will fund, something we can all celebrate.