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Extension of basic services: Efforts to encourage people's participation in development

G. Surya Rao
Consultant to UNICEF, Hyderabad, India

Forty per cent of India's population live below the poverty line, having a consumption expenditure of less than Rs 70 per capita (US$1 is equal to roughly nine rupees) in 19771978. Of these, 118 million are children, who need adequate nutrition, health care, education, and a satisfactory environment to enable them to attain at least the legitimate growth rate of 90 per cent of normal standards in mental ability and 50 per cent in physical growth that is their right within the first five years of their Iives.

Another neglected group is women, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers, who are considered to be unproductive family members who do little worthwhile work.

Traditions and customs aggravate this neglect to the point of malnourishment and starvation, which ultimately raises the maternal and infant mortality rates. This group has little voice within the framework of limited financial resources, and if such neglect continues, the harm to the nation in the long run will be irreparable, ultimately leading to more miserable, stagnating generations in the decades to come.


Illiteracy, poverty, and ignorance contribute to a sense of hopelessness in the developing countries, making the lives of the poor more wretched. To poor people, the government bureaucracy is a distant entity, and their confidence and faith in it are limited. Several international agencies are trying to help the poor in every respect, but the situation remains problematic, evidently because of the following factors:

1. The population is constantly increasing, nullifying the slowly accumulating results.

2. The entire Third World is considered to be an identical entity with no differences in values, traditions, leadership patterns, political framework, etc., and some in the industrialized countries feel that the same formula for development can be applied everywhere, which is not always correct.

3. The idea that an expert or specialist can go into any slum or village and impart wisdom for overall development is wrong. The specialist's communication techniques are also often incomprehensible.

4. The bureaucracy tends to keep the poor and common person at a distance, preferring to deal through inter mediaries who save government officials from direct confrontation. The government servant prefers to go by established paths, not initiating any original action.

5. Expenditure is the key indicator for programme evaluation, and those few department that put more emphasis on community participation are ignored and undermined and are given little work and less responsibility. In a governmental programme, there are only givers and takers. All of these characteristics make the poor more suspicious of the validity of services rendered.

6. At least 75 per cent of the services and programmes can be implemented effectively by paraprofessional staff drawn from communities at little cost if they are suitably trained and given expert guidance and support when necessary. Many agencies, both local and external, have yet to understand that such an approach will also ensure extensive coverage from one end of the economic ladder to the other, thus reaching the really poor. These cadres of local forces can also bring experts close to the communities.

7. In the quest for maximum benefits, sometimes processes are made more complicated because possible adverse effects are not anticipated. With UNICEF assistance, a sophisticated factory producing ready-to-eat food was recently built in Hyderabad. The products are no doubt very palatable, made with little processing cost, and they have an excellent shelf-life. But the beneficiaries have no role to play except eating, which has created misunderstanding. To eliminate these misgivings and doubts, the urban community development department sent several women's groups to the factory, which has increased the acceptance of the food many-fold. UNICEF had originally intended to assist five more such units but, because of the community's adverse reaction, has decided to drop the idea.

8. Too much specialization has crept in. For example, a few years ago, a doctor in a maternity and child-health centre refused to examine an old man suffering from acute stomach pain, saying, "My services are restricted only to women and children." There is ample evidence of the ill effects of such segmental approches and sectorial development, where efforts are confined only to water, or health, or nutrition, or malaria eradication, etc., forgetting the ultimate goal of total community welfare.


1. Adequate opportunities must be provided democratically for every community to think, act, and accomplish goals with the people's participation. If properly harnessed, this vast human resource can be an invaluable asset, vital for a country's overall prosperity.

2. Money is a scarce commodity, and it has to be spent with prudence.

3. Extensive, and if possible total, coverage that reaches the poor should be the ultimate goal.

4. Illiteracy, an unhealthy environment, and poverty tend to erase all the benefits that the administration desires to extend through health, nutrition, or other such services in isolation. A comprehensive approach is desirable with a suitable coordinating agency, committed to its task.

5. To have maximum impact, an agency must devise ways to keep the community members as key participants in the total undertaking, offering necessary assistance and help at crucial points.

6. Communities can understand and learn more from peer groups; so it is necessary to train and make use of several persons at the community level as paraprofessional voluntary staff to motivate people more effectively and promote more rapid change.

7. The procedures must be simple, flexible, and spontaneous. Neither the organizations nor the people involved in the development process should be allowed to become fatigued or bogged down and ultimately succumb to the administrative evils that are common in any developing country.

8. The prevailing social structure and leadership pattern within every community must be given due recognition, and any agency working from outside must seek community co-operation, ultimately trying to integrate it within the new democratic organization that may develop.

9. The bureaucracy and its agents must feel that they are only aides to assist the regulated growth and development of the nation as a whole, not masters to harass and tame the public for their own selfish ends. Technology is no doubt a must for development, but it has to reach people in a receptive atmosphere. To convey a message effectively, the professional must avoid a condescending attitude and function as a field-level community worker in order to reach the people.

10. Projects of local interest and benefit such as a school, skills-training centre, primary health care clinic, or nutrition centre or activities such as sanitary or public facility maintenance must be discussed, organized, and maintained by a local community organization that is adequately trained and equipped in advance. If lump-sum grants-in-aid are given to support all such activities, they are more likely to become useful and help the organizations to build vitality and strength with responsibility to the community and nation as a whole.

11. For wider coverage, the change agent from outside must try to work with local organizations, which have to be organized and strengthened if not already in existence. A well-constituted and efficiently functioning voluntary organization can be an effective social bridge to bring people closer to each other and to channel the services of government and other agencies to all parts of every community.

12. This kind of programme needs workers of a special aptitude and zeal, who cannot be found by the conventional recruitment procedures and methods. Qualities are more important than formal qualifications or cadre experience.

13. The programme must be conceived as a joint venture of the people, the government, and other agencies combined, and none of these groups, especially the latter two, can lag behind at any stage if the programme is to be effective, with people's participation as its major ingredient.

14. For a government programme, the total budget is readily available; but when projects are undertaken involving local people's participation, the community is often expected to do everything, which is unfair. People's participation is not money alone. More than money, it is emotional and physical involvement in the total process, from identifying the problem to the stage of implementation, which creates in them feelings of "we" and "ours."

15. If an agency fails to enlist adequate local participation in any activity, the primary blame cannot usually be put on the people. We must blame the agency's own methods, procedures, and commitment to the project.

16. Development may be slow with the participatory approach in its initial stages, and it requires patience and perseverance. But it spreads like fire once it is accepted and adapted in a few communities, which can then act as demonstration models for wider replication.


All of the above attributes have been significant in the large scale implementation of an urban community development programme in the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, India, with UNICEF assistance since 1978.

Community development requires a deliberate, willed attempt to encourage people to make an effort by themselves to improve their lives, for both individual and community betterment. It is a process of community education and action that combines outside assistance with democratic, local initiative in an effort to fulfill the needs of the entire community.

Ever since the small beginning of the development programme in Hyderabad in 1967, its slogans and guidelines have been:

- Money is secondary.
- Education and motivation.
- Self-help and mutual aid.
- Start where the community is and go along with it.
- Community participation and voluntary action.
- Encourage and assist individual families to stand on their own feet, and adapt innovative ideas for a secure and healthy future.

These considerations are common for every activity, large or small, from a small soak pit to a beautiful house. Such activities appeared very strange to the local people at the beginning, especially because they grew from a bureaucratic segment, but very soon the people realized their importance and the fact that through them they could realize their role in the self-improvement and nation-building process. The programme has demonstrated the availability of vast human resources that are more potent and powerful than mere finances, and also has emphasized that human development and qualitative changes in society are the real indices of a developed nation, not just physical constructions.

Nutrition Programmes

The urban community development programme in Hyderabad did not consider a nutrition programme in isolation from people and their efforts. It motivated the local organizations, allowed each of them to enroll a certain number of beneficiaries from among the really poor, and advised them to nominate an organizer and a helper from their neighbourhood and select and make available a suitable rent-free building for food distribution.

Contrary to traditional departmental procedures, decisions were made overnight that were both democratic and humanitarian, based on facts readily available in the local organizations. Even drawing rooms and living halls were offered as places for running a nutrition programme. The centres thus started were disciplined and effective, with a competitive spirit. In a departmental centre, perhaps the organizer has to sit behind barred windows to avoid the chaos outside, but in the centres organized by the urban community development programme, the beneficiaries were made to feel at home and comfortable.

However desirable daily food intake may be, the budget provides feeding for only 300 days a year. These breaks in supplies have been combated through voluntary organizations by motivating parents to subscribe one or two rupees each month and giving locally available, nutritious foods when the organizations' supplies run out.

Such emotional involvement by local communities adds variety and avoids monotony, which is inevitable in a formal distribution programme where dealings are impersonal. Because people's involvement and participation in the nutrition centres was so successful, it was finally decided to make the urban community development programme the implementing agency for a total, city-wide nutrition programme.

The urban community development programme is attempting to correct lack of buying power and its adverse effect on the nutritional status of women and children by offering various economic betterment programmes to:

a. impart new skills in an informal way for the educated and uneducated as well;
b. strengthen their current occupations with loan support at low interest;
c. enable them to think of new and additional occupations for better incomes;
d. encourage them to spend their leisure time in a purposeful way for augmenting their incomes;
e. help them rethink their expenditure patterns and see whether they can dispense with any useless items;
f. make them secure in their life situation by helping them to have houses of their own in a clean environment.

Thus, urban community development is a programme:

a. for comprehensive and total development of families and communities;
b. to make the best use of human resources for community welfare;
c. to help other agencies and departments extend their services to better purposes and greater utility;
d. to enable various agencies to change their mode of functioning from a "cafeteria" to a community approach, and so become closer to the people;
e. ultimately to help people enhance their stature and participate as responsible citizens.


In Kerala, a south Indian state outstanding for its high literacy and low infant mortality rates, there is a composite programme for women and children implemented state-wide with UNICEF assistance, which is also a good example of a comprehensive approach with effective voluntary organizational involvement. The state has more than 10,000 registered women's organizations, which organize and run various programmes for the welfare of women and children. They include pre-primary schools, nutrition centres, economic betterment programmes, training in new skills, and cooking demonstrations, all in an informal, friendly atmosphere, using local know-how and expertise. About 80 per cent of children and eligible women benefit by their nutrition programmes, supported significantly by CARE.

"Nutrition programmes introduced in the past did not succeed as their implementation was not closely linked with other programmes like provision of employment, health, safe drinking water and improvement of environmental sanitation and hygiene. Besides, these programmes, which were implemented as ameliorative measures, did not produce any lasting impact on the community. Since the programmes to provide employment, safe drinking water, health services, clothing, housing and the public distribution system were not integrated with nutrition schemes, supplementary feeding programmes in isolation did not make any dent to improve the nutrition status of the communities. In the absence of their linkages with developmental activities, these schemes were reduced to mere 'charity' or 'dole' without making any contribution to the improvement of nutritional status."

- The Indian Sixth Five-Year Plan, 1980-1985

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