Non Government Organisation

Non Government Organisation (NGO) generally means any organisation not established by government. However, in the context of NGO work over the last three decades, the term now refers to social organisations, mostly of voluntary and non-profit character, that are engaged in development work. These include informal associations and formal corporations limited in character, as well as registered societies. Development NGOs engaged in broad socio-economic uplift of the poor in rural and urban areas is sometimes termed as Private Voluntary Development Organisations (PVDO) or Voluntary Development Organisations (VDO). Socio-economic programmes of development, advocacy, legal aid, environment and relief programmes are also taken up by development NGOs.

A new development strategy in developing countries is based on growth with alleviation of poverty, promotion of equity, and people's participation. This is envisaged to involve redistribution of economic and political power, integration of rural areas into national development efforts with expanded opportunities of employment and income for rural people, and development of farmers' associations, co-operatives and other forms of voluntary, autonomous, and democratic organisations of primary producers and rural workers. The problems in rural areas are so gigantic and complex that governments and public sector organisations often find it tough to deal with them without full support and involvement of the people. This implies that people's institutions should be set up or expanded and rejuvenated for cooperation with government development agencies. Such institutions may take the form of cooperative societies, unions, associations of farmers, workers, and women, as well as other private bodies.

There has been an accelerated growth of voluntary organisations in several developing countries during the recent decades. This is due to an increasing realisation in these countries that voluntary actions have a significant complementary role in social welfare and development programmes. The first generations of NGOs in Bangladesh were engaged largely in relief and post World War II rehabilitation and other charitable acts. This was soon followed by reconstruction work around the theme of community development.

The second generation of NGOs from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s emphasised the formation of credit unions, co-operatives, and other community-based development projects, giving more emphasis to micro-interventions in development. The third generation of NGOs in fact, the bulk of NGOs involved in agrarian reform and/or rural development programmes, sprang up in the 1980s. These NGOs were results of the initiatives to integrate micro and macro issues into a more holistic framework for tackling problems of ecology and the environment, debt and structural adjustment issues and policy issues, including agrarian reform and rural development.

Trends in development of NGOs show how they tried to adapt their mechanisms to the needs of the prevailing situation at different periods. NGOs include both intermediate and primary organisations. Mostly professionals staff some while others are exclusively voluntary. Some NGOs with roots in the developed countries are well-endowed, while a large number of them formed in the developing countries work with meager resources. Voluntary organisations concerned with poverty alleviation and rural development may be classified on the basis of spatial, functional and clientele basis.

Observations in spatial consideration suggest that majority of voluntary organisations in many countries are local in character. Each of these exists and operates in a village or few villages. These are small in size, limited in resources and simple in structure. There are also sub-regional and regional organisations, each of which covers a district or a cluster of districts with a large population. Regional organisations usually have local branches or local affiliates or both.

Functionally, some voluntary organisations undertake one or a few schemes covering fields such as agriculture, livestock, small rural industries, irrigation, forestry, and health. Others combine a few of these. Several organisations take up schemes on social activities such as primary health, sanitation, food, water supply, nutrition, adult and elementary education, vocational training, and family welfare. A few organisations try to mobilise public cooperation in environmental improvement-air, water, flora and fauna. There seems to be an increasing realisation among voluntary organisations that sectoral approach has only limited impact upon the wellbeing of the target groups or on development of an area. A suitably designed multisectoral strategy, in which each sectoral activity is meshed with others of allied objective, tends to optimise the impact on people and areas.

Voluntary organisations may be identified specially by their clientele i.e., the socio-economic classes and sub-classes of people for which they work. While some voluntary organisations may be concerned with development needs of all or most classes of people, others have orientation towards specific classes only.

The growth of NGOs in Bangladesh began in the aftermath of the war of liberation in 1971 when such organisations stepped in to participate in the massive task of rehabilitating a war-ravaged country. As the need for relief and rehabilitation receded, some of these organisations moved on to support direct interventions to promote social and economic empowerment of the rural poor. Now they form an integral part of the institutional framework addressing issues such as poverty alleviation, rural development, gender equality, environment protection, disaster management and human rights. The phenomenal growth of NGOs in Bangladesh is also attributed to the limitation of the government to meet the enormous challenges of poverty. It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of NGOs in the country because they are not registered under one authority and many of them operate even without any registration at the central level. A major institution that gives registration to NGOs is the Department of Social Welfare.

NGOs receiving or applying for foreign funds or are interested in receiving funds from sources outside the country are required by law to register with the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB), which was created in 1990 and is part of the Prime Minister's Office. As of January 2009, the number of such NGOs registered with NGOAB stood at 2484. NGOAB gave clearance to these NGOs to use a cumulative amount of 4.2 billion US dollars in various programmes. There are several apex organisations representing NGOs, and the largest among them was the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB) which was the apex body of local, national and international NGOs engaged in development activities in the country for many years. However, ADAB could not continue its activities effectively, and a new apex organization named the Federation of NGOs in Bangladesh (FNB) emerged a few years back.

Bangladeshi NGOs are known worldwide for their innovative approaches. Many successful models in microfinance, non-formal education and primary healthcare developed by the grameen bank, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (brac) and the Association for Social Advancement (asa) are being replicated in other developing countries.

A recent phenomenon in the evolution of NGOs is their role in lobbying and advocacy and in activities designed to influence public policies, plans, and projects, which are friendly to the interests of the poor or to the environment. NGOs actively assist the Education Commission and the Local Government Commission, create awareness for Local Government Election Schedule, and contribute towards developing policies related to agriculture and khas land distribution.

Although registration is not mandatory for NGOs or associations, most development NGOs register themselves for the sake of legal recognition. There are two parts to the legal framework that governs NGOs in Bangladesh: one, laws for incorporation i.e., acts under which voluntary, non-government associations are incorporated and given a legal identity and two, laws and ordinances for regulating the relationships of such associations with the government. Laws and acts under group one relate to formation, management structure, and the responsibilities and liabilities of NGOs and they include the Societies Registration Act 1861, Trust Act 1882, Cooperative Societies Act 1925, and Companies Act of 1913 (amended in 1994). The laws of the second group are the Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Regulation and Control) Ordinance 1961, Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Ordinance 1978 (amended in 1982) and Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Ordinance 1982.

The ambiguities, inconsistencies and definitions of the types of activities allowed under the existing acts, laws and ordinances, however, create problems, particularly in terms of the scope of NGO operations. In addition, the rigidity of the Ordinances and Rules limits NGO capacity to respond to needs in a flexible and fully participatory way. The laws and ordinances, as their titles indicate, have in general, less of a facilitating role and more of a controlling and regulatory function. In 1993, NGOAB issued a circular entitled 'Working Procedures on Foreign and Foreign Assisted Bangladesh Voluntary Organisations.

Bangladesh is the pioneer of microcredit programme spearheaded by the grameen bank from late 1970s. Several NGOs have also been carrying out the microcredit programme, which are known as the Microfinance Institutions (MFIs). Microcredit placed Bangladesh in the World map when the founder of Grameen Bank, Prof Yunus and the Grameen Bank got the Noble Prize for Peace a few years back. More than 20 million borrowers are now under the Grameen Bank and other MFIs in Bangladesh. In 2006, the government enacted the Microcredit Regularity Authority Act to regulate, supervise, and develop the activities of MFIs (except Grameen Bank, because it is a specialised bank).

The government of Bangladesh has some limitations in trying to bring about sustained development especially, in the fields of poverty alleviation and social delivery services. It recognises the complementary role of NGOs in these areas. This recognition prompted the government to take several measures for promoting relations between the government organisations (GOs) and NGOs. Three such measures include the establishment of the palli karma sahayak foundation (PKSF), NGO Affairs Bureau and the Government-NGO Consultative Council.

PKSF was established in May 1990 as an apex financing institution that assists NGOs in expanding their poverty-targeted microcredit programmes. It is registered under the Companies Act 1913 as a non-profit organisation. Until June 2008, PKSF disbursed cumulative amount of loans of Tk 22708 million to its partner organisations (POs) which work throughout the country. The POs used this fund to provide loan to more than 7 million poor borrowers, more than 92% of whom were women. PKSF's loan recovery rate is 98%. It is the biggest and most successful apex institution for microcredit programme in Asia.

The NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) was created in July 1990 with the objective of ensuring quality performance of the NGO sector and its accountability to the state. NGOAB functions include registering NGOs, processing and approving NGO project proposals, disbursing project funds, approving appointment and tenure of services of expatriate officials and consultants, coordinating, monitoring, inspecting and evaluating NGO programmes, reviewing reports and statements, realising fees/service charges from the NGOs, and maintaining liaison with the NGOs and donor agencies. The creation of NGOAB significantly cut down bureaucratic red tape, requirement of paper work, and time taken for receiving project approval. However, in spite of such improvements lengthy procedures, together with lack of adequate manpower, continue to hamper effective functioning of NGOAB.

The Government-NGO Consultative Council (GNCC) was created in 1996 as a forum for open dialogue between the government and the NGOs. Its objectives were to identify and discuss issues which impede GO-NGO cooperation and develop and improve the policy and institutional environment for GO-NGO cooperation, suggest modalities for greater involvement of NGOs in national policy formulation and in implementation of government development projects, and propose measures for simplifying and improving the regulatory system governing NGO activities and for strengthening the monitoring and evaluation capacity of NGOAB. However, GNCC could not function effectively and became non-functional because of lack of policy support and other logistics problems.

The NGOs' initiatives in establishing income-generating activities proved to be an 'effective alternative to top-down government rural works programmes, but the low rates of return on such 'activities caused many to question their long-term sustainability. In fact, some NGOs in Bangladesh reject the idea of providing credit for income-generation activities in favour of organising the landless to strengthen control over assets such as land, forests and water-bodies and strengthening their claims on government services. Many larger NGOs continue to combine both approaches, arguing that there are important social benefits to income-generating activities over and above its direct economic value, particularly in the case of rural women.

Over the last three decades, NGO activities have been concentrated in a number of areas of intervention. Keeping in view their long-term objectives and visions these areas may be identified as: a) establishment of effective democratic process at the grassroots; b) poverty alleviation; c) women's rights; d) education; e) health and sanitation; f) family planning, and g) environment. The 'distribution and involvement of NGOs in Bangladesh cut across all sectors and virtually all areas of intervention with development agenda. These NG0s are known all over the world for their innovations. To mention a few of them, these innovations are the successful models in micro-credit, non-formal education and primary health care developed mainly by grameen bank, BRAC, and ASA. These NGOs are also constantly exploring new frontiers by venturing into new areas of activities and social life, experimenting with new interventions and spearheading ideas.

The flow of foreign fund to NGOs and rapid increase in NGO activities in Bangladesh are the sources of a concern of the government that NGOs become competitors to government in several areas. NOGs, however, can contribute significantly if they work in co-operation with the government. The issues of governance, transparency and accountability of NGOs have also come to the forefront, which the government and various stakeholders should address with right earnest. [Salehuddin Ahmed]

Bibliography Salehuddin Ahmed, 2003: Microcredit and Poverty: New Realities and Issues, Journal of Bangladesh Studies, Vol.5, No.1, USA; Economics and Governance of Nongovernmental Organizations in Bangladesh, World Bank Country Study, Published by the University Press Ltd., Dhaka, 2007;