The Community-Driven Development (CDD) Global Solutions Group (GSG) series “CDD Voices” highlights how CDD approaches are used throughout the world to benefit poor communities.
In March, we’re speaking with Imtiaz Alvi, Senior Rural Development Specialist and TTL of the Third Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF III). Approved in 2009, this third phase of PPAF invests $250 million to build institutions of the poor that can increase their capacity, savings and access to finance, and livelihood opportunities. PPAF is an autonomous society created by the Government of Pakistan that works with non-governmental organizations (called partner organizations or POs) to mobilize poor and poorest households and community institutions at the community, village, and union council levels.
Imtiaz has had a long career in international development, working on issues spanning environmental and sustainable development, civil society, and human rights across Pakistan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia before he joined the Bank in 2006. Since then, he’s worked on devolution, local governance, community driven rural development projects throughout South Asia.
Tell us briefly about how you got involved with CDD.
In 1993, I joined the National Rural Support Program (NRSP), Pakistan’s largest participatory development NGO, as a Program Manager. I spent considerable time in the field working with local communities and field teams and had the opportunity to observe and assess the strengths and limitations of participatory approaches.
After stints with various national and international organizations working on environmental and sustainable development issues, I headed a leading rights-based NGO, Sungi Development Foundation, which works directly with communities and village organizations on livelihood and natural resource management and policy advocacy, and served on the board of the Pakistan Microfinance Network and a women’s empowerment NGO. Just before I joined the Bank, I led the Asian Development Bank’s Decentralization Support Program, acting as the focal point to the civil society sector.
What are some innovative approaches of PPAF III that you feel could be applied to other CDD programs?
First, PPAF III built on decades of forming community organizations in Pakistan by federating these institutions by tiers—community- (first tier), village- (second tier), and union council-level organizations (third tier). These third-tier organizations are responsible for a larger area and give community organizations greater scale and influence.
PPAF III’s new approach also involves training institutions to create development plans that are framed around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These plans allow communities to discuss, decide, and guide what their needs are, bringing focus and ownership to their interventions. Previously, interventions were done on an ad-hoc basis and often driven more by the POs than by the community.
PPAF III enables this approach by strengthening institutions through extensive capacity building: providing members training on development plans, the MDGs, and administration, with a focus on citizenship. PPAF III also created a local cadre of community resource persons, trained in various sectors, to address knowledge constraints and services in communities. This frees communities from relying on visiting external trainers and experts to address a range of socioeconomic issues from how to run a business to childhood nutrition to civic and gender rights.
Second, PPAF III focuses on both public and private goods—livelihoods, productivity, and income—in contrast to traditional CDD programs in Pakistan that mobilize communities for and around only public goods. In many of those cases, community organizations dissolve once the public work is completed. PPAF III set up specialized institutions to promote livelihoods, employment, and enterprise development such as Naukri ya Karobar (jobs or business) centers, production centers, loan centers, and digital hubs. These are now functioning across the country and, more importantly, are all owned and run as enterprises by the communities themselves through the third-tier organizations.
Third, we emphasize the holistic and deep integration of interventions in communities compared to earlier iterations of PPAF, which kept a light footprint—involving less than 25 percent of a targeted area’s community. We needed to involve more people for real social and economic transformation and to ensure sustainability. To do this, we saturate target areas with interventions through an integrated multi-sectoral approach, mobilizing more than 50 percent of households.
Many CDD programs aim to make themselves sustainable through gradually becoming part of government institutions and structures. Could you talk about how PPAF III has gone about institutionalizing itself in Pakistan?
PPAF is an independent apex organization—an organization that channels funds to other institutions—and does not operate on a project-by-project basis, which helps with sustainability.
Since its formation, PPAF has helped shape Pakistan’s development sector, partly through building relevant institutions. For example, PPAF has led the development of the nascent microfinance sector to the point where it is now setting up a for-profit organization—the Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company—to mobilize and leverage more investment for the sector.
PPAF’s broad network also contributes to its prominence, with agreements with over 120 partner organizations working with communities in every district. Few other development organizations have as big a network or reach in Pakistan, particularly for CDD.
PPAF’s value is recognized by the government as well as other donors who work with it. As such, many government schemes are implemented through PPAF, such as the recent Prime Minister’s Interest Free Loan Fund. The CEO of PPAF also sits on the government’s Economic Advisory Council. PPAF’s influence and reach have helped it link with the government and other institutions in Pakistan.
Can you share with us your most memorable stories from PPAF III?
A group of women in a community in Sindh Province wanted to form a Common Interest Group for the handicrafts they made. This was in a community where the women told us they would never leave their homes, and the leader of the group received death threats from her own family members for pursuing the idea. Yet they went ahead and formed the group, and eventually made a display center. Now they travel across Pakistan showcasing and selling their merchandise.
In another community, a women’s community organization went to their mayor—who was from a highly influential political family—and asked that electricity be provided to their homes. After a few such visits where promises were made, but no action followed, they organized a sit-in at the mayor’s office, refusing to leave until their demands were met. Not only that, they now ensure that all community members pay their electricity bills, guaranteeing no theft. These stories speak to the empowerment from community mobilization and the transformation that is happening among the poorest and most vulnerable
I’ve seen disabled persons who were previously outcasts running their own businesses through PPAF III-provided assets and trainings. There are youth groups, formed through PPAF-supported social mobilization, advocating for social issues in their communities by embracing new technologies. I have many other memorable stories that I can tell from my time with the program.