NGOs In Poverty Alleviation In Africa

Assessing NGOs’ performance in poverty reduction is a difficult task. However, it is worth learning from other observations conducted on NGO performance in alleviating poverty.

NGOs have increased the scale on the type of roles they play. In this contemporary time, NGOs are helping government, institutions, and the rural poor in the fight against poverty in Sub-Saharan African.

The programmes of Non Governmental Organizations as development organizations represent a variety of poverty driven activities and orientations. As there are several issues associated with poverty and justified them means as causes of poverty, some NGOs deliver relief and welfare services to alleviate immediate suffering; during emergencies and provision of both food and non- food items and shelter quick medical facilities.

Many are seeing engaged in community development interventions to build capacity for self-help action. There are few NGOs, whose major aim is to bring change in the society. They seek to change specific institutions and policies in support of more just, sustainable and inclusive development outcomes. Other NGOs facilitate broadly-based people’s movements by social vision.

Although NGOs are appraised for their tremendous work, other scholars have opined that they do not see their essence due to the fact that many have fallen below expectations. In this Chapter, researcher’s task is to review the literature of other scholarly works relating to NGOs’ roles in poverty alleviation.

Today, many NGOs are seen as lobbyist as well as advocators for many purposes all geared towards poverty alleviation. Many NGOs their government to respond to people’s needs, challenging multilateral organizations like the Word Bank to operate more transparently and accountably, and demanding that some western based NGOs divest responsibilities to some locally Based NGOs, that already know the felt need of the people and resources that they have originally claimed in the name of Third World development, but seems to have been diverted into another use.

Desai (2005) mentioned that NGOs have an important role to play in supporting women, men and households, community groups, civil society groups and expected that they can meet the welfare.

She accounted some roles and functions for NGOs, such as counseling and supportive service, awareness raising and advocacy, legal aid and microfinance. These services help the people to obtain their ability, skill and knowledge, and take control over their own lives and finally become empowered and self-reliant. I agree with, because if a project like microfinance is enforced, the living standards of the people will be improved. This evidence will be seen in the next chapter.

Strom Quits (2002) has also noted three major functions for NGOs such as service delivery (e.g. relief, welfare, basic skills); educational provision (e.g. basic skills and often critical analysis of social environments); and public policy advocacy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Baccaro (2001), in his writing depicted how particular NGOs with a definite mission statements can promote the organization and “empowerment” of the poor, particularly poor women, through a combination of micro-credit, awareness-raising, training for group members, which is capacity building, and other social services, with an aim to reduce poverty among societies.

NGOs’ general aim is to alleviate poverty through activities that promote capacity building and self-reliance. Langran (2002) has mentioned that NGOs through capacity building help to sustain community development and assist government in the provision of basic social amenities. NGOs are often created in order to expand the capacities of people and government there by breaching the gap of poverty (Korten 1990).

NGOs are praised for promoting community self-reliance and empowerment through supporting community-based groups and relying on participatory processes (Korten 1990; Clark 1991; Friedmann 1992; Fowler 1993; Edwards and Hulme 1994; Salamon 1994).In Sub-Saharan Africa for instance where survival for daily bread is a major hurdle, NGOs have been seen as liberators of human sufferings. In Sierra Leone sixty percent of citizens’ survival depends upon donors.

Sustainable development, on the other hand, has emerged over the past few decades as an important paradigm for poverty alleviation.

Bradshaw and Winn (2000) have noted, sustainability is rooted largely in an environmental approach, particularly in the industrialized countries. But, the goal of sustainable development is to find a balance between three pillars – society, economy and environment – of communities (Sneddon 2000).

Hibbard and Tang (2004) in their study in Vietnam have noted the importance of NGOs’ roles in sustainable community development. One of the roles was that NGOs balance the social, economic and environmental factors in promoting sustainable development.

Another important role of NGOs that they discovered is decentralization of the central government which helps the local communities to acquire more power in order to make their own decisions. As in the case of Sierra Leone where civil society groups and other NGOs like MERLIN, Caritas and CRS, have succeeded in winning bills for decentralization in the Health Ministry. But, sometimes, the local communities lack specialists to do professional work and resources that are important for the particular projects. In this situation, NGOs assists local staff with drafting sustainable development plans that are functional under the umbrella of a central government policy.

Finally, they concluded that poverty alleviation is process-oriented, and it requires extensive community participation and relies on network to share resources, knowledge and expertise. From the literatures, it could be summarized that NGOs play an important function in fighting poverty via promoting sustainable community development.

NGOs to play a facilitatory role, for example by supporting the development of private sector retail outlets through training, identification of market needs, and promotion of links to manufacturers and wholesalers (Coote and Wandschneider, 2001). Again, this is an option that may only be feasible for larger (international) NGOs, which can afford the resources and skills for proper implementation and monitoring of such programmes.

In Sub Saharan Africa countries, availability of credit is often seen as the major constraint for production and marketing (Goodland 1999, Gordon, 2000). Given the range of additional constraints in operation, this view is certainly overstated or at best represents an over-simplification. In the case of agriculture, weaknesses in input delivery systems are an integral part of the equation. Lack of access to market information, weak transport systems, poor infrastructure and under-developed output marketing systems are other critical constraints (Goodland 1999, Gordon, 2000). Increasing credit supply in a context in which these structural problems are paramount may in most cases amount to a short-lived solution.

There is growing evidence that promotion of savings and institutional innovations in this field represents a much-needed development, especially for the poor and for disadvantaged regions (Gordon, 2000).

The NGOs are playing an increasingly effective role in extending social forestry activities in the country. There exists more than 100 NGOs that are very active in social forestry activities in Bangladesh (ADAB, 1992). The group approach is followed by most of the NGOs to provide their financial assistance and recovery for private forest management. Most of the NGOs are promoting afforestation as one of their many people oriented programs. This has resulted in substantial increase of private nurseries in the country. Some NGOs are emphasizing on homestead forestry in order to develop the socio-economic condition of landless farmers. The types of social forestry programs are being implemented by NGOs.

Some NGOs are emphasizing on homestead forestry in order to develop the socio-economic condition of landless farmers. Both local and national NGOs advanced much to implement agroforestry activities by the active participation of their organized group members generally in the forms of homestead agroforestry, strip plantation, block plantation, plantation on homestead area, marginal lands, forest land and on the fallow lands of the different institutions such as educational and religious institutions.

According N.G. Hegde (2001), has noted that the primary role of the voluntary organisation is to develop SHGs and village level farmers associations to have close interaction among themselves and plan for their future.

Identification of appropriate technologies for improving agricultural production, mobilizing resources for agricultural production and establishment of common facilities to provide necessary agricultural services to needy farmers can also be confidently handled by the local voluntary organizations.

Linkage of the local farmer’s organizations with financial institutions, market outlets and technology centers is another important role of the voluntary organizations. NGOs can also support the SHGs to set up the grain banks and handle PDS and provide moral support to fight against the versed interests. They should initiate various activities related to food production, storage and distribution by involving the people’s representatives’ right from the initial stage of planning. This will help them to work independently without external support in the long run.

The NGOs can also identify the backward pockets where the poor families have been often threatened by food insecurity and starvation and initiate various development programmes, under food for work. Such development works aiming at conservation of natural resources and improved agricultural productivity can help the local community to gain confidence and manage their resources for sustainable livelihood.

NGOs have an important role to play in the development of group vision and favorable group dynamics, based on democratic principles and wide member participation (Coote and Wandschneider, 2001). They are also well positioned to develop a facilitatory role once group operations are established. They can provide longer-term institution-building components, deliver production and marketing extension, and act as honest brokers in the development of linkages with other service providers and the private sector. Skill development in areas such as bargaining capability, organisation of savings capacity, and production and business expertise will be essential (Coulter, 1999).

Through the functions of providing microfinance, transportation, Environmental Conservation and Development, Food Security, initiating capacity building and self -reliance, peace building projects, relief services during emergencies, NGOs could help narrow the gap of income in Sub-Saharan African. Below are the reviews of NGO’s roles, functions and strategies they used to fight poverty.


Microfinance is an important area that NGOs have fully ultilised in reaching out to the poor. Their roles in this sector, has immensely contributed to alleviating poverty among the poor. Microfinance has a very important role to play in development according to proponents of microfinance.

In the 1990s, scholars have increasingly referred to microfinance as an effective means of poverty reduction (Rekha 1995; Cerven and Ghazanfar 1999; Pankhurst and Johnston 1999). The microfinance has long existed in Africa, but experienced a decline when government established banking institutions (Oxaal and Baden 1997). The World Bank found, in 1998, that the poorest 48% of Bangladeshi families with access to microcredit from Grameen Bank rose above the poverty line.

In People’s Republic of China (PRC), for instance, microfinance programs have helped lift 150 million people out of poverty since 1990 (UNHDR, 2005). Similarly in, in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, MkNelly and Dunford (1998) Mansaray (1998-99), found that microcredit beneficiaries increased their income by $36, compared with $18 for nonclients. Clients of microfinance generally shifted from irregular, low-paid daily jobs to more secured employment in India (Simanowitz, 2003) and Bangladesh (Zaman, 2000).

Von Pisschke (1919) recognized that, poverty is contextual that is not static and it is relative. Micro credit loan was introduced as a mechanism for the poor to pursue Poverty Reduction activities which were within means and capacities. The knowledge behind this is that, poverty situation can be improved and a way of doing this is through giving micro-credit loans to co-operative groups, women’s Organization. Individuals, to actively engage in activities like small scale business, agricultural activities, which aid in the increase and improvement of diets as well as participating in the activities of their respective communities. This is evident in areas in which Local NGOs; International NGOs operate to reduce poverty in the society. A case study is the activities of Caritas and THP in rural areas and rural urban areas within the last twelve years.

A conceptual frame work is that, micro-credit or small loan recommended as a process for generating income through Agricultural activities. Literacy programmes, Skill training or through Small- scale business is widely a concept in the areas where NGOs and other societier Organisations operate. Caritas and THP will be the ones under investigation.

With regard to this issue, Khander and Kabeer (1998) discussed the idea that, NGOs and Donors were dictated on policies which specifically called for the increased in micro-credit loans to reach out to women and these micro-credit programmes did not limit their desire impact to poverty reduction only but extended it to achieve women’s empowerment.

Otero (1999, p.10) also illustrated the various ways in which “microfinance, at its core combats poverty”. She states that microfinance creates access to productive capital for the poor, which together with human capital, addressed through education and training, and social capital, enables people to move out of poverty (1999). With material capital provided to a poor person, their sense of dignity is strengthened and this can help to empower the person to participate in the economy and society (Otero, 1999).

The aim of microfinance according to Otero (1999) is to provide capital to the poor to combat poverty on an individual level; it also has a role at an institutional level. It seeks to create institutions that deliver financial services to the poor, who are continuously ignored by the formal banking sector.

Mayoux (2000) and Cheston and Khan (2002) have pointed out the importance of microfinance in empowerment, particularly women empowerment. Microfinance is defined as efforts to improve the access to loans and to saving services for poor people (Shreiner2001). UNCDF (2001) states that studies have shown that microfinance plays key roles in development.

It is currently being promoted as a key development strategy for promoting poverty eradication and economic empowerment. It has the potential to effectively address material poverty, the physical deprivation of goods and services and the income to attain them by granting financial services to households who are not supported by the formal banking sector (Sheraton 2004).

Microcredit programs provide small loans and savings opportunities to those who have traditionally been excluded from commercial financial services. As a development inclusion strategy adopted by NGOs through the provision of funds to both locally established groups and government and private institutions, microfinance programs emphasize women’s economic contribution as a way to increase overall financial efficiency within national economies. For instance, in Sub-Saharan Africa, women are said to be bread winners and care takers of their families.

It should be noted that women are always at mercy regarding social misshapes. According to Cheston and Khan (2002), one of the most popular forms of economic empowerment for women is microfinance, which provides credit for poor women who are usually excluded from formal credit institutions. This issue of gender discrimination in the microfinance sector has been researched and debated by donor agencies, NGOs, feminists, and activists (Johnson and Rogaly 1997; Razavi 1997; Kabeer 1999; Mayoux 2001; Mahmud 2003).

However, underneath these shared concerns lie three fundamentally different approaches to microfinance: financial sustainability, feminist empowerment, and poverty alleviation. All three microfinance approaches have different goals coupled with varied perspectives on how to incorporate gender into microfinance policy and programs (Mayoux 2000).

The microfinance empowers women by putting capital in their hands and allowing them to earn an independent income and contribute financially to their households and communities.

This economic empowerment is expected to generate increased self-esteem, respect, and other forms of empowerment for women beneficiaries.

Some evidence show that microfinance would empower women in some domains such as increased participation in decision making, more equitable status of women in the family and community, increased political power and rights, and increased self-esteem (Cheston and Kuhn 2002).

However, other scholars are not enthusiastic about the role of microfinance in development. Hulme and Mosley (1996), while acknowledging the role microfinance can have in helping to reduce poverty, concluded from their research on microfinance that “most contemporary schemes are less effective than they might be” (1996, p.134). They state that microfinance is not a total solution for poverty-alleviation and that in some cases the poorest people have been made worse-off by microfinance.

Wright (2000,p.6) states that much of the skepticism of MFIs stems from the argument that microfinance projects “fail to reach the poorest, generally have a limited effect on income…drive women into greater dependence on their husbands and fail to provide additional services desperately needed by the poor”. In addition, Wright says that many development practitioners not only find microfinance inadequate, but that it actually diverts funding from “more pressing or important interventions” such as health and education (2000, p.6). As argued by Navajas et al (2000), there is a danger that microfinance may siphon funds from other projects that might help the poor more.

They state that governments and donors should know whether the poor gain more from microfinance, than from more health care or food aid for example. Therefore, there is a need for all involved in microfinance and development to ascertain what exactly has been the impact of microfinance in combating poverty. Considerable debate remains about the effectiveness of microfinance as a tool for directly reducing poverty, and about the characteristics of the people it benefits (Chowdhury, Mosley and Simanowitz, 2004). Sinha (1998) argues that it is notoriously difficult to measure the impact of microfinance programmes on poverty.

The micro credit sector of recent is faced with greater challenges. The whole process involves given out of physical loans to the less privileged in society, who struggle for daily existence, they there is the micro credit as means of livelihood, of course this is the general focus of every micro credit projects.


Capacity building is another NGO’s strategy and role that helps to bridge a gap between the haves and have not in society. Capacity building is an approach to development that builds independence. It can be: A ‘means to an end’, where the purpose is for others to take on programs. Is a process, where the capacity building strategies are routinely incorporated as an important element of effective practice (NSW Health 2001).

Langran (2002) has defined capacity building as the ability of one group (NGOs) to strengthen the development abilities of another group (local communities) through education, skill training and organizational support.

Capacity building is a strategy used to develop not a set of pre-determined activities. There is no single way to the build capacity of an individual or groups of individuals. Although experience tells us that there is a need to work across the key action areas, practitioners approach each situation separately to identify pre-existing capacities and develop strategies particular to a program or organization, in its time and place.

Before beginning to build capacity within programs, practitioners need to identify pre-existing capacities such as skills, structures, partnerships and resources. Frankish (2003) has counted a number of dimensions for community capacity including financial capacity (resources, opportunities and knowledge), human resources (skills, motivations, confidence, and relational abilities and trust) and social resources (networks, participation structures, shared trust and bonding).

UNDP (1997-2009) has introduced capacity building as the process by which individuals, groups, and organizations increase their abilities to first, perform core functions, solve problems, define and achieve objectives; and second, understand and deal with their development needs in a broad context and in a sustainable manner.

NGOs, through the provision of education, skills and knowledge, develop the capacity of community towards achieving sustainable development. In fact, NGOs act as a capacity builder to help the communities to develop the resources, building awareness, motivating to participation in project and finally improving the quality of community’s lives.

Inger Ulleberg (2009) has supported the view that NGO’s play important role through the provision of skills for the rural poor. He has maintained that through capacity building, NGO’s have been able to reach the poor, and has contributed to the development of the beneficiaries through skills training, the given of technical advice, exchange of experiences, research and policy advice which is key to today’s development. Through the case study of Afghanistan NGO’s, it suggested that these areas of interest have yielded fruit for the intended beneficiaries. The activities have usually strengthened the skills of individuals, as it was intended but have not always succeeded in improving the effectiveness of the ministries and other organizations where those individuals are working. This according to Kpaka (2007) considered it as a failure on the part of the implementers because of improper allocation of stratetigies and argues that they failed because of poor planning and poor implementation strategy.


Self-reliance is another strategy that affects sustainable community development. Effective community development sits on the foundation of self-reliance. The concept of self-reliance is strategically situated within the essence of community development and is related to other concepts like mutual-help, self-help, participation of the indigenous people and rural progress. Self-reliance encourages the necessity for people to use local initiatives, their abilities and their own possessions to improve their condition. Fonchingong and Fonjong (2002) have pointed out that self-reliance is increasingly being adopted as modus operandi for community development.

Therefore, to attain self-reliance, NGOs and community groups must discover their own potential and look for ways to innovatively develop such discovered potential to use as sources of wealth for the development of the community (Ife and Tesoriero 2006). Motivating and mobilizing people to be self-reliant and to participate in development activities become an important objective of the NGOs.

According to Kelly (1992), self-reliance means that the people rely on their own resources and are independent of funds sourced outside the community. Self-reliant strategy relies on the willingness and ability of the local people to depend on their own available resources and technology which they can control and manage.

A self-reliant strategy requires the optional use of all available human, natural and technological resources (Agere 1982). Although dependence on the state may be desirable in the short term, it should not be a long term objective, because the aim of the community development must ultimately be self-reliant. Mansaray (1982) has maintained that reliance on external resources will lead to the loss of autonomy and independence of the community, therefore communities should be bound to carry out autonomous programmes. This according to him, autonomous communities can flourish only in the absence of such external dependency.

According to Korten (1990), the second strategy of the NGOs focuses on developing the capacities of the people to better meet their own needs through self-reliant local action. In the second generation strategy, Korten (1990) mentioned that the local inertia is the heart of problem in a village or community. There is a potential energy in a community but remains inactive because of the inertia of tradition, isolation and lack of education.

But this unwillingness on the part of the local beneficiaries can be broken through the intervention of an outside change agent, who supposedly is to be NGOs, whose role is to help the community realize its potentials through education, organization, consciousness raising, small loans and the introduction of simple new technologies. It is the stress on local self-reliance, with the intent that benefits will be sustained by community self-help action beyond the period of NGO assistance (Korten 1990). Therefore, NGOs, through the strategy of self-reliance, has facilitated sustainable development of the community through its participation in the community activities, project sponsorship, monitoring and evaluation processes.


NGO’s roles are extended to peace building in Africa. The crucial role played by NGOs in the restoration of peace in war affected zones is very important. Many African countries have witnessed wars and are still suffering from trauma of wars. Countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Somalia and many are witnesses of NGOs’ intervention in peace building. From the evidence of the current conflict in Afghanistan, Richard Barajas, Rachel Howard, Andrew Miner Jeff Sartin, Karina Silver (2000), have maintained that NGOs can play peace building roles. The presence of NGOs in Afghanistan according to them has led to the restoration of fair peace as their propagation of the human rights law, and their involvement in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, is fostering cooperation among the warlords.

I am in total agreement with them. The role of Peace Wing in Sierra Leone, for instance, justifies the effectiveness of peace building NGOs through their organizational strategies which were able to bring the rebels out of the bush and negotiate a peace talk rather using guns and bullets to cease war.

2.5. Role of NGO’s in Environmental Conservation and Development

 NGOs are playing crucial role in Environmental Protection, conservation and development. Sundar Vadoan (2007). NGOs have, in particular, played an important role in raising environmental concerns, developing awareness of environmental issues and promoting sustainable development. The encouragement of public participation in environmental management through legislation in recent years has also enhanced the role and effectiveness of NGOs in the globalizing world and Sub-Saharan African as a whole. In Sub-Saharan Africa, many countries wholly and solely relied on environment for their sustenance. The 21st century has seen a great deal of environmental issues, and many issues have emerged as a major concern for the welfare of the people. Mahatma Gandhi once said “the earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed”.

This saying implies that human survival dependent upon nature and all that encompasses in it. The role playing of NGOs in the conservation of our environment put more premiums on its usefulness to today’s generation. For the conservation of environment, several NGOs have focused the plans and resources in that direction. Today, in Sierra Leone, for instance, has created series of national based NGOs as environmental watch. The Gola Forest Conservation Concession, Animals for Life is all institutions created in a bid of conserving our environment.

NGOs activities now include environmental monitoring;    Promoting environmental education, training and Capacity-building; implementing   demonstration projects; Conducting advocacy work in partnership with the government; and     the promotion of regional and international cooperation on environment.    Many also get involved in the practical management of conservation areas, and     promote community or individual action and Campaign for greater accountability on the part of the government and corporate sector.

At the global level, international organizations have also created bodies for the conservation of environmental lives. In the United Nations, a general body has been set and all their activities are geared towards the conservation of environment.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is providing leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life of future generations. UNEP’s basic aim is to provide coherence and strengthen the varied environmental activities taking place throughout the world by the systematic functions of United Nations.

UNEP was conceived as a catalyzing agency for the entire United Nations family to help focus on environmental issues, monitor trends and facilitate coordinated international action to safeguard the environment. It has been described as the environmental conscience of the United Nations system given its mandate to motivate and inspire, raise environmental awareness and increase action, and to coordinate the environmental work of all the UN organizations and agencies, in collaboration with other national, local and international organisation; whose policies and activities merged with that of UNEP. To further strengthen their strives on environmental issues, and for countries to have a healthy and conserved environment, according to Sundar Vadoan ” there is a crucial vehicle for cooperation with the United Nations family is the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS). The UNEP has been encouraging in environmental issues while awarding with different outstanding names such as Sasakawa Environment Prize, The European Better Environment Award for Industry is a biennial award presented in 2000 by the International Chamber of Commerce, in 1987, Global 500 Roll of Honour to encourage individuals and community action in defense of the environment. Since its inception, 634 individuals and organizations worldwide have received the Global 500 award in the adult category”.

 Similarly in Sierra Leone, The Gola Forest Conservation Concession (GFCC), is a multi-national NGO, and is an independent, public interest organisation which aims to increase public awareness on science, technology, environment and development. The organisation was started in 1971. For more than three decades, GFCC has been working with community people and the bordering countries, Liberia and Guinea, for the conservation of

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