In 1989 The US NGO, PACT (Private Agencies Collaborating Together) hired me to be the Chief of Party of a USAID funded project called PRIP (Private Rural Inititives Program). All of these names were new to me, and on examination, many of them turned out to be confused and confusing.
PACT started as as a coordinating body for US NGOs working in development (in those days often called PVOs – Private Voluntary Organisations) but soon lost its original direction, became a PVO itself, seeking funds in its own right from USAID to implement development projects, and a few years after I joined, re-organised itself, became Pact (lower case), moved from New York to Washington DC, and became a PVO specialising in capacity building of CSOs, in which role it has continued to the present.
PRIP was one of its first stand alone projects, which it won from USAID Bangladesh in competition against its membership organisations (thereby accelerating the demise of Pact as a collaborating organisation – similar to International union for Child Welfare in South Sudan). The name PRIP derived from some previous thinking and became a bureaucratic fossil – once it became well known in Bangladesh no-one was further concerned with its actual name and it subsequently became The PRIP Trust. The purpose of PRIP (which was originally a 5 year USAID project) was the institutional development of CSOs in Banladesh, and this became focussed to the development of NGO Support Organisations (i.e. those NGOs whose purpose was to help develop other NGOs), and the development of NGO Networks (i.e. groupings of NGOs which had the same interests, or geographical coverage.
PRIP acted as a broker and convener between Bangladeshi NGOs – urging them to think beyond their own needs and about the value to all of them of developing the NGO sector. Not surprisingly this involved a lot of collaboration between the Government’s NGO Bureau and NGOs – coordinated by ADAB (the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh), and between large NGOs, small NGOs and Donors. PRIP was successful in getting NGOs to think of themselves as part of the NGO sector, and what they could do to develop this in Bangladesh. It continued to do this after i had left.
For the first time I understood the deep and debilitating dependence that most NGOs had on bilateral donors, and the meaning of being “donor driven”. USAID, having midwived PRIP, found that USAID’s usual way of doing business by telling NGOs what they should do to acquire USAID funds (and, if necessary, teaching them how to do this) was not so acceptable to Bangladeshi NGOs who wanted a much more NGO friendly apporach. The larger NGOs (BRAC, Proshika, ASA, CAMPE) were able to push their perspective because Donors needed them as much as they needed donors, but the smaller NGOs were very much at the mercy of the donors thinking on what they wanted to support.
During my time with PRIP changes were taking place in the non-government world globally. Solidarinosc and other new forms of organisation from the Soviet bloc were coming into being, and the large Earth Conference happened in Rio de Janeiro. Out of this came the new thinking and new nomenclature that proclaimed Civil Society (in contrast to Communist Society) and civil society organisations. At last those of us who welcomed the work of the non-government sector had a positive word to describe ourselves – civil society – rather than the negative way of describing what we were not – non-government organisations. Some Bangladeshi NGO people went to Rio and came back civil society people, and that thinking spread throughout the country. A flip side of this was that those who were old style communists (combined n the Communist party of Bangladesh with its different front organisatons) found, as the USSR collapsed, that their raison d’ètre also collapsed and they had to decide whether to continue as a épolitical party or become a civil society organisation. I have written about this in “Supporting Citizens Initiaves”.
Bangladesh, a country at that time often thought of in Henry Kissinger’s term as “a basket case” was immmensely strong in civil society organisations – which were innovative, creative, and pressing the borders of what was possble. it was a tremendous place to learn about the world of civil society, and all of the issues that are a regular part of that world – income generation, sustainability, staff development, organisational development, relations to government, entry into low level politics, vision, mission and mission drift, and donor relations. The CSOs, led by the hugely creative BRAC, taught donors how things could be done, rather than being told what they could do.
Apart from the usual work of the Bangladeshi CSOs in creating and strengthening organisatons of the poor and landless, they also had to deal with the regular and cataclysmic natural disasters that faced Bangladesh in the form of floods and cyclones. PRIP was not intended to be a disaster response organisaton, but it developed a useful niche in training CSOs how to move from disaster relief to development, using the opportunities presented by such disasters to reform society to be fairer and more equable. It is very easy to become completely occupied in the stress of disaster response – PRIP tried to help CSOs to see diaster response as a way of leading to better development. In this it was greatly helped by Mary Anderson’s book “Rising from the Ashes” and the subsequent training courses she ran on capacity and vulnerability assessment – emphasing capacity assessment and overcoming the idea that the local population were passve victims at times of natural (or man made) diasters. PRIP tried to get CSOs to think how they could help people prepare for the next disaster by learning from the successful tactics in the last one.
In the world of civil society and non-government initiatives, Bangladesh was famlous for (a) micro-finance, led by the Grameen Bank, BRAC, and ASA, and (b) Generating income from NGO owned businesses – led, above all by BRAC. No-one was saying that foreign donor funding was not necessary, but these orgasnisations showed that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and that infusions of foreign funding could become unecessary, once NGOs/CSOs had developed good ncome streams from a variety of useful businesses – one of which was providing loans to poor people.
All work done with civil society in Bangladesh was against the background of political strife. In some cases CSOs become mixed up in this, being accused by one party of supporting another party, and, depending on who held the power, being punished for it. Part of my time in Bangladesh was against the backdrop of the ousting of general Ershad, and the start of the antagonism of the “two begums”: but after i had left, and PRIP had been taken over by my earlier deputy, Aroma Dutta, PRIP (along with Proshika, and IVS) were victimised by the government of the time, and not allowed to receive foreign funding.
After 4 years of what was intended to be a 5 year project, USAID suggested that the 5 years be extended to 7, and that PRIP move from being a USAID funded project into an indigenous organisation. This was agreed, PRIP became the PRIP Trust, Aroma Dutta become the new Director, and Bangladesh CSOs continued to value its services. It became more difficult, however, to get funding for the PRIP Trust. Donors, rhetoric to the contrary, were not keen to support the civil society sector – they wanted to support their own projects usially dealing with one CSO or a consortium of CSOs.
- I helped to bring Bangladeshi NGOs to think of themselves as members of the civil society sector, with their own contribution to make to the development of their country, different, and in many cases better than the development being managed by the government.
- I helped Bangladeshi NGOs to consider themselves objectively, using the Organisational Capacity Assessment Tool (OCAT) and consider what a professional, competent, sustainable CSO needed in terms of competences
- I helped CSOs conceptually bridge the gap between disater relief and development
- I indigenized a project (PRIP) into an indigenous and sustainable local development organisation (the PRIP Trust)
Learning from Natural Disasters – Floods and Cyclones (pictures and Bangla text)
edited by Richard Holloway, PRIP 1990
Supporting Citizens Initiatives – Bangladesh NGOs and Society
Edited by Richard Holloway. PRIP. Publshed by Pact Publications 1996 and IT Publications 1998
This contains, inter alia, the following chapters:
- NGOs – what are they, and why do people get so excited about them?
- The prince, the Merchant and the Citizen – long live the citizens associations
- The great value of NGOs in Banladesh – an introduction for Parliamentarians
- Introduction to the Third sector of Society – the Voluntary sector – 9 one hour modules for training public officials
Pursuing Common Goals – strengthening realtions between Government and Development NGOs in Bangladesh
Co-authored by Richard Holloway. Produced by the World Bank 1995
Typology of Civil Society in Bangladesh
Appendix b Richard Holloway to “Civil Society in Asia and the Pacific by Issagani Serrano, CIVICUS 1994.