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Nepal’s Poverty Alleviation Fund employs radios

Nov 02, 2012

Poverty Alleviation Fund in Nepal is combining participatory approach with radio and telecommunications platforms to engage the communities.

The Government of Nepal’s Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) has integrated community driven development methodologies with feedback mechanisms supported by local radio as well as telephone and web platforms to empower communities to design, implement, and manage their own development projects that serve the poorest of the poor.

When the government of Nepal established the Poverty Alleviation Fund the country in 2004, the country was mired in conflict as Maoist insurgents fought a bitter gurella war with the government. The accruing political instability hindered the then Himalayan kingdom’s attempts to improve its economy and strengthen its governing institutions.

An uneasy peace, achieved with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2006 has yet to take roots. Moreover, challenges remain to address to equal access to resources.

“Substantial inequities existed along ethnic, caste, and geographic lines, resulting in excluded and marginalized communities in need of essential services and income earning opportunities,” says World Bank Senior Economist Gayatri Acharya. “The PAF was set up to support the poorest, most marginalized, most geographically remote, and most socially isolated communities in the country.”

Within these communities the social dynamics are often very complex. Disparities also exist among the poor, which has meant that those who are worse off may be unable to use project resources to climb out of poverty as effectively as others.
“While PAF has reached over 2.9 million people and reduced food insecurity, increased incomes, and improved access to services, PAF’s responsibility is to constantly evaluate the program to understand who is still being left out or why some communities may still not be able to make good use of these resources,” said Acharya.

The PAF approach puts beneficiaries in the driver’s seat by mobilizing them to form community organizations. These community organizations design and implement projects and also manage revolving funds. Telecommunications platforms such as internet and radio are used to create avenues of feedback that ensure accountability and transparency.

By combining national level data on poverty with participatory social assessment tools, the PAF identifies the poorest of the poor in communities throughout Nepal. PAF then partners with local government and civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide community mobilization and facilitation services,establish community organizations, and elect a committee representative. Regular community organization meetings ensure good communication regarding finances and setting project priorities.

The performance of the CSOs responsible for community mobilization and facilitation is evaluated by both PAF and directly by the community organizations receiving the support. The evaluation of CSOs by the community organizations counts for 50 percent of the performance evaluation. This ensures that the project closes the feedback loop and that the voices of communities are heard.

There has been significant growth in both the number and maturity of community organizations acting as viable, self-regulating bodies capable of performing autonomously and managing their own development finances.
“There is continuous confirmation from beneficiaries that there is value to the approach of empowering communities to develop institutions and income earning opportunities,” Acharya adds.

Lastly, women and members of lower castes that were previously marginalized groups in Nepali society are gaining recognition and a sense of agency through the leadership roles they have filled within the project.
Acharya says that this is visible from how the project is progressing across communities where it is being implemented.

“For instance, women initially wanted to invest in livestock such as goats, which they saw as a sensible first-time investment since it is a relatively small investment and in their control. Now they are asking to invest in bigger, higher-risk opportunities such as vegetable farming which also have higher income earning potential.”

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