OPINION

Sustainable Rural Development - An Idea For a Book

July 30, 2006
Shirazi

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is sustainable. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of "needs", in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and the future needs.

Ironically, the term Sustainable Development is not understood in its true sense. It is being used to warn the society about short term and short sighted success only or to keep the priority of the status-quo or the economic-viability instead.

Basic Error

The development of the early industrialized nations paved the way for prosperity. That happened rather quickly and was successful in spite of the basic error; it was limited in scope to western civilizations alone. Increasing difficulties in creating the politico-economic relationship made it necessary to expand the system to more and more regions while passing the error to other regions. Result: in context of the complexity, speed and uniformity, more populous regions are at a disadvantage where poor people start believing that they are in competition for a better life.

Demography

Majority of population still lives in rural areas despite fast growing trend of urbanization. Dichotomy of the rural population is the contradiction between its humility to be able to cultivate and sustain their living independently on one side and the inferiority complex towards the urban population on the other, which is exploited by the urban people on the basis of so called improvements in their standards and quality of life. In fact, it is not the rural folks that needs the urbanites but it is other way round. Like developed countries need the developing countries. This is the subject for another intellectual discussion in itself.

Cultural Conflict

Life in cities has lead to basic changes in social structure; sizes of the family, behavior, needs and wants as well as lifestyle have changed over time. One knows about these irreversible changes only when it is too late to take corrective measures and revert back. In the meantime, basic errors keep multiplying with each problem speeding up the change. What is more, the short term success often hides the real problems.

The city cultures look towards modern time measures (more energy, wider roads, higher buildings and better education) to solve the problems. But industrially emphasized education is not in a position to address the basic issues and find independent answers for which multiplicity and time are important preconditions.

Any NGO in rural areas have to build up on the roots of traditional culture because that is where lie the strength, power and uniqueness of durable and comfortable existence instead of moving to urban areas only adding to chronic problems there.

Doll Village

Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka (TGD), internationally famous as the
Doll Village, is a small hamlet in the backwaters of Punjab. Residents of the TGD lead simple rustic life. This in part is due to the location and tedious approach to the village. This shows that it is not infra structure which is helpful to a local NGO but the intentional separation from outer influences that allows NGO members and village community to grow together slowly.

The slow pace is expressed in the day to day and step by step developments of the NGO. That is why NGO Anjuman-e-Falah-e-e-Aama (AeFeA) stands in sharp contrast to the usual help methods and common NGO projects in which success is measured in quantities and industrial approach - concepts not suitable for the development in rural areas.

Villagers and NGO

The village life has always been characterized through limited social contacts in all the cultures. The tasks to be carried out have been regulated through centuries of conditioning. The NGOs established today, in contrast, are a result of developments of the early industrialized societies of the nineteenth century.

NGO work can be a success provided social infra-structure is available. This needs balance between too much and too little of the task distribution. Which is why the work of any NGO with an aim of generating additional income for rural folks should begin with a careful evaluation of capabilities of the villagers? For this one has to sacrifice luxury and be physically present in rural areas and still be satisfied.

Rhythm of Rural Life

Traditional values are a basic component of an NGO. There will be no identity of NGO members without basic values. Therefore no NGO can ignore the traditional rhythm of the rural lifestyle.

In this case, traditional handicraft capabilities of the villagers were evident to AeFeA to start with. The rustic folks who live in TGD have been making stuffed dolls, embroider textiles and thematic toys since ages. AeFeA recognized the indigenous talents and proceeded to develop using non-conventional methods, time and analytical capacity. The resultant success may not be compared with the success of an industrial concern though.

Coaches

The inclusion of foreign experts (coaches) and the possibility of participation by the local members are important for the accomplishment of results by any NGO project. External experts are useful as an outside influence and to have an opportunity to witness the effects of NGO work without becoming dependent on them. This lets honorary foreign experts to be accepted as the leader of the community within the community and be viewed as an embodiment of exceptional management qualities outside, which one may learn to a very limited extent at a university.

Singular Productions

NGO totally depending upon financing from outside can not be successful according to the "theory of NGO work". The correct relationship between the ideal and the material is of paramount importance and like commercial venture money must be earned from the market through sale of products.

NGOs in rural areas can work together and share their resources. But they must have a philosophy of their own. Production has to be compatible with the rural culture to allow traditional field work and household occupations. It can not be rigid line 9 to 5 job. Work practices have to be highly flexible; working together or individually, working from home, work sharing.

Similarly, the delivery schedules of high quality and singular products also have to be flexible. Dead lines can only met by commercial organizations with heavy investments in machines and organizational channels. The often surfacing objection is to increase the production by including other villages. This shows the widely spread way of thinking. There are over ten thousand villages in Punjab alone and one cannot copy the idea blindly. Capabilities of each community need to be analyzed first.

Quality Control

NGOs create additional income by producing total quality controlled items in limited quantities. This is essential to satisfy customers within and outside the community and whole-sellers as well as to strengthen relationship with them. Given the small production quantities, only the quality and the uniqueness of the products can make it possible. The uniqueness can be reinforced through participation in notable events.

The success of one NGO shows the way to other NGOs, not fully aware of the concept, to copy the processes. But when NGOs start thinking in masses or copying others instead of creating their own specialties they actually act like industrial undertakings: producing inter-changeable products in large quantities. In the process, price levels destroy the small manufacturers who may start thinking that they too need to produce more to earn more. If the uniqueness and quality are maintained at a level, the products can remain attractive to the buyers and the additional income can be maintained indefinitely.

Learning on the Project

As opposed to cities, long-term free education is not possible in the rural areas unless yet another dependence is acceptable. The problems emerging from such an effort are covered up in cities because the consequences of an education for the sake of education do not appear to be recognized by the decision makers. A local NGO must therefore make each manufacturing project as a learning experience. This can only happen while producing in small portions, which is not known to urbanites, who are used to thinking in terms of quantity.

Activities Abroad

An NGO must establishment fine network home and abroad to maintain its permanence and to adjust to the given situation. NGO has to function like a company to do this, of course without mass production and sales channels. This should happen with smallest of staff (and avoiding "milking" by employees) and support from outside "coaches".

Creating a soft network of cooperation at different levels in order to be independent of the money flow is also necessary. Effort should be made to work together with similar institutions locally and abroad.

Local and international outsourcing of parts in small quantities is also possible to manufacture economically. It is however important to keep in mind the basic idea of the NGO works notwithstanding the factors like level of education, harvest time and climatic differences. Participation in special festivals, museums, international exhibitions and bazaars and active presence in different countries is to be realized with a minimum of financial expense. The eyes should be kept open all the time, because business relationships are never long lasting!Networking

Talking of any cooperation, networking is a common magic word these days. Cooperation has a very long tradition but "networking" perhaps refers to keeping contact with each other via the Internet? In this case the city people are at an advantage unless competencies are clearly defined in a rural NGO where the payments cannot be realized as it can be done in cities. A lot of work is voluntary in case of NGOs, which members of city communities may not afford because of the high costs of living and the fast pace of life there.

The difference between smaller and a bigger organization can be best expressed in the words "Small Is Beautiful" by Schumacher, whereby a smaller venture has to be better than a larger organization. As one GM of an international concern said, "The large ones will not eat the smaller ones; rather the fast ones will eat the slow ones". Here, the fast ones must act "wisely" and thereby more carefully.

Political and other Upheavals

NGOs in rural areas are directly effected by political upheavals in the country as well as abroad where they have sensitive business relationships. Change of governments, weapon tests, attacks on objects relating to other cultures, wars, terrorist acts and or riots have immediate effects on the NGOs. As opposed to private companies and public sector, NGOs not as flexible, hence they are more susceptible to negative effects.

Climate too has a big influence on life in rural areas. It becomes impossible to work in rural areas when temperature exceeds average values whereas city dwellers have ready solutions for improvement, which may be unrealistic when seen in context. NGOs should continue income generation uninterrupted otherwise they are destined to fail. The beneficiaries start asking themselves when the financial help is forthcoming when money flow stops due to any reason.

Cameroon, Colombia, Dubai

Anjuman-e-Falah-e-Aama has received invitations for sale of products from a number of countries. This is good case of effective use of modern media by small organizations. With the help of information on the Internet, various initiatives of women's groups could be supported and similar initiatives became possible in Cameroon (in 1998) and in
Columbia (in 1999).

These organizations work in similar manner, are located more or less in rural areas, and their members are differently educated and living in completely diverse cultures. As such factors cannot be measured statistically so they are totally overlooked by industrial concerns as if they are not there.

Each women group in Pakistan, Cameroon or Columbia manufactures its dolls and handicrafts separately. The mother project functions as supplier of raw dolls, where raw dolls could be manufactured but a higher cost, which would make the product more expensive for the buyers. This is also true for others projects in Greece, Iceland and
Germany.

Independence - Whys and Hows?

Independence is gladly propagated but is not possible as such, especially to larger extents. It may only be possible in small units, the price of which is a special type of dependence, provided there is a constant vigilance and continuous review of the basic values.

Alternatives

The development of NGO projects in rural areas with a vision to generate additional income in certain regions through handicrafts is a real challenge. Given the globalization euphoria, driven by city elites and strengthened by the people migrateing from rural into urban areas who are prone to fall easy prey to the propaganda of the virtues of automation and appropriate advertising, it becomes more difficult task. But it is all the more important to show alternatives when every one is running in the same direction.

The whole world seems to be moving in one direction. The prevailing system must collaborate, which eludes the participants, who can only judge it from a distance.

Without entering into discussion about economical, social and political tendencies, the results must lead us to describe the inefficiency of the growth-oriented economy to adjust to changes.This points out to the necessity of a behavior which needs to be corrected. Even if the change can hardly be expected from the urban world, the necessity of this change must be pointed through change in the work methods.

Choices

Human navigation system is based on the orientation towards opposites. This is how the difference between small and big, dark and light, hot and cold becomes natural to humans.

Either and or are two opposite poles with no room in between. This type of challenges may be necessary for the purpose of orientation but does not correspond to the reality in human dealings. Nature did not develop itself in this categorical way nor with such speed and without examination of the surrounding situation.

The choice should be therefore more like 'as well as' instead of the either and or in order to see the complexity of questions.


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