A critique of participatory development in Pakistan

Ali, Johar

October 2005

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© 2005 Johar Ali. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This study, a critical analysis of participatory development, was empirically conducted within a participatory development NGO in Pakistan, namely the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP). It critically analysed participatory development in relation to micro and macro level forces, such as government, bilateral and multilateral donors and local power structures.

The study found the ideal of participatory development to be infeasible. The government undermined participatory development by controlling and co-opting the SRSP, which is a government initiated NGO, to perform its dictated functions. The government arranged funds for its activities from its own established fund, backed by bilateral and multilateral donors, namely, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.

Donor agencies impeded participatory development by requiring the SRSP to attain a pre-determined target in a given time. Donors' restrictions prompted the SRSP to follow the quantitative target by sacrificing its documented and idealized participatory development theory. Furthermore, at the micro level, the local power structure not only hijacked the SRSP's activities but also discouraged women and poor men from representing their actual needs. Hence, all these macro and micro-level forces, instead of adopting facilitative structural changes, reinforced each other and co-opted the SRSP for their own inherent objectives. The SRSP's position, constrained by the macro level forces in particular, made it a 'subcontractor' carrying out its activities without following the required process of structural transformation.

Furthermore, the study found that participatory development has lost its critical edge over the earlier development theories as a result of by being co-opted by the modernization theories at the theoretical level, and by donors, states and local power structures at the practical level. This co-option, under the neo-liberal agenda, at both levels, reduced it to little more than fashionable lip service.

Department of Sociology, The University of Hull
Johnson, Mark, 1949-; Clisby, Suzanne
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