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Civil Society in the world

The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme, a large, non-governmental effort against poverty in India. The PACS Programme is a seven-year (2001-2008) effort to empower millions of poor people living in many of India's most backward districts. It seeks to achieve this by strengthening civil society organisations (CSOs) working for the poor. The programme today covers 17,000 villages in 93 districts of 6 states through a network of over 615 CSOs.

The PACS Programme stems from the overall aim of the UK's Department For International Development (DFID) to reduce global poverty and promote sustainable development.

In particular DFID is committed to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world by 2015.

In India, DFID is working in partnership with the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh on a variety of programmes.

The PACS Programme was conceptualised to help the very large number of poor people living in other regions of the country.

To achieve maximum long-term impact over a large area in an effective and manageable way, the PACS Programme focuses on strengthening the awareness and capabilities of poor people, so that they can demand and exercise their rights - political, economic, social and human - to improve their own lives. In other words, the programme focuses on the demand side, rather than on supply side activities such as building infrastructure.

Focused on 108 of the poorest districts of India, the PACS Programme seeks to build the capacities of poor people to:

  • influence policies, and
  • demand services and entitlements that can improve their lives.

This is the primary objective of the programme. The programme seeks to achieve these goals through a network of civil society organisations (CSOs). CSOs have been deliberately chosen as agents of change. In many of the poorest areas they have a far more effective reach than governments or market forces.

The secondary objective of the programme is to strengthen the capacity and role of Indian civil society and CSOs working for the poor. This will ensure that the benefits of the programme are sustained over the medium term.

The long-term goals of the programme are:

  • supporting the poor to help themselves as well as demand their rights
  • influencing government to adopt successful methods for reducing poverty
  • making government at all levels more effective and accountable, and
  • making society more responsive to the problems and aspirations of the poor.

The programme supports a network of civil society organisations (CSOs) working on projects aimed at increasing the capacity of poor people to demand and use political, economic, social and human rights, and services to improve their lives.

The carefully selected CSOs, including some large Indian and international organisations, usually work in partnership with other organisations.

The PACS Programme is currently supporting over 150 CSOs, known as programme partners. Including small and medium-sized organisations allied to these CSOs, the PACS Programme network extends to around 562 non-governmental organisations.

All the programme partners work within the scope of clearly defined and rigorously appraised project proposals. To know more about partners and their projects, click here

PACS Programme partners are currently working in around 80 of India's poorest districts, to ensure that the poor
● can access entitlements through advocacy
● have opportunities to create and generate sustainable livelihoods
● do not suffer from a ‘poverty of opportunities' due to social exclusion, disability, sex or age.

The most effective strategies to do this include:

Strengthening Panchayati Raj: The voice of the poor is best expressed through Panchayati Raj institutions. The poor need to be made aware of their power to exercise democratic control over local representatives and public services.  

Empowering women: PACS Programme partners are encouraged to make women aware of their rights and capacities, particularly the importance of their participation in local governance, income-generation and decision-making.

Reducing social exclusion: PACS Programme partners work to increase awareness of rights and catalyse change in institutions and policies to reduce discrimination against tribals and dalits, the landless, women, children and minorities. Partners encourage peaceful and cohesive approaches to securing rights.  

Advocating policy changes: The absence of relevant and effective government policies compounds the problems of the poor. In other instances, pro-poor policies exist but are not implemented. PACS Programme managers and partners are working on advocacy efforts for the formulation and implementation of policies in favour of the poor at the state and national level. 

Generating livelihood opportunities: For the poor to work towards the long-term outcomes listed above, it is essential that their immediate, basic needs be met. Therefore, PACS Programme partners support the generation of alternative and sustainable livelihood initiatives through individual effort or self-help groups (SHGs). SHGs also provide a platform for addressing other key issues.  

PACS Programme partners implement these strategies in an integrated manner through over 75 regular activities broadly falling into these categories:
● Awareness generation through meetings, rallies and camps
●Communication through media like wall paintings, posters, puppet shows and  newsletters
● Initiating and building the capacity of community-based organisations through training programmes, exposure visits and promotion of income-generation activities
● Advocacy through public hearings, media exposure and protests
● Strengthening linkages with government departments and other agencies
● Monitoring and supporting smaller CSOs involved in the programme.    

Within the framework of its broad objectives, the programme has created a space for CSOs to work in a focussed manner on critical areas like:
● Land rights
● Community based flood preparedness
● Child rights
● Livelihood promotion for disabled
● Short and long-term drought management

Source: http://www.empowerpoor.com/

author : Mohammed Ibrahim al-Helwa, Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Saudi-owned), London, England, Dec. 9, 2003

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia about civil society....It seems that all this discussion...is strongly linked to the project of political modernization announced by the Saudi leadership in recent months. Within elite Saudi circles, debate grew as to whether political modernization had to come before setting up civil society, or whether it was possible to leap directly to civil society and the beginning of political participation through general elections....

In Arab and Islamic states, we hear about general elections and read about the diversity of political parties. But at the same time, we hear about a journalist arrested or detained because he published an article contradicting the government's position, and about another citizen whose money has been confiscated and who has been imprisoned with his family after being accused of taking a position that diverged from that of the party or government. Why is this so? Because we have jumped straight to the civil society stage and have ignored the simple facts of political modernization....

In his study of the Algerian experiment, "The Problem of Legality in Arab Political Regimes," Khamees Wali concluded, "Any change to achieve democracy has to take into account its intrinsic link with the nature of the state, its level of growth, and the degree of its preparation....The problem is that the nature  of the state in the Arab world cannot yet sustain democratic  diversity, as entrenched partisan factions have not yet been absorbed into the melting pot of the modern state and society."

What will bind these factions to the modern Arab state, eliminate the causes of strife in Arab society, and transform various Arab groupings into a cohesive society is the rise of civil society....Passing over the demands of civil society could lead to our falling into the abyss of political crisis....The Saudi citizen, more than anything else, needs to have his basic rights and freedom of expression guaranteed. He wants a more profound membership in the state and his role in social and political participation strengthened, so he can feel part of an inclusive order, not a state of alienation. Summarizing the harmful results of this [alienation], Ahmed Saleh wrote: "It leads some into seclusion, and others into rebellion, crime, and excessive religiosity, which in fact means withdrawing from life, rejecting it entirely, and taking hope from the afterlife."

The author is a member of the Saudi Shura Council, a national advisory chamber empowered late last year to propose legislation.

source: February 2004 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 51, No. 2)

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