Winner of the 1996 ESCAP HRD Award
A. THE ORGANIZATION
1. Organizational profile
The Sungi Development Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works on issues of policy advocacy and community development, was established in 1989. It began its work in the Hazara Division of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. In its primary stages, Sungi was started by a handful of committed young community volunteers working mainly on lobbying and advocacy of environmental degradation issues, including deforestation and forced resettlement triggered by the construction of large dams and other "development" activities. These phenomena appeared symbolic to the eyes of the founders of Sungi who felt that the poor in the North-West Frontier Province were left out of the benefits of development activities and that the well-being of the people deserved more attention in the process of the country's development.
The work of the Sungi Development Foundation as we know it today can be traced back to the devastating floods of 1992 in the Hazara region of northern Pakistan. After the floods had subsided, Sungi engaged the local communities affected by the floods in dialogues on the environmental and social issues which had arisen as a consequence of the unprecedented devastation. The experience helped to develop strong linkages with many communities and led subsequently to requests for assistance in planning and implementing rehabilitation and longer4erm development projects. This marked the emergence of Sungi's holistic approach to development work combining sustainable community development with advocacy.
Sungi has grown from only seven staff in 1993 to the present 70 staff members and now operates in four districts of the mountainous parts of Hazara in Haripur, Abbottabad, Mansehra and Battagram, covering more than 100 communities. It has developed over 150 community-based organizations, half of which are women 5 associations, and has nearly 5,000 volunteers. Sungi has achieved this expansion despite the severe geographical constraints of the region, which cannot be overemphasized. The Hazara Division of the North-West Frontier Province spreads over the plains of the Indus and is engulfed by the rugged foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. The area also suffers from a fragile geological stratum, which makes it highly prone to large-scale erosion and landslides.
Alongside these geographical constraints, it is important to note that Sungi works among a highly conservative people whose socio-cultural environment is feudal, conservative and religiously sensitive. The wealthy and politically powerful families (that is, the feudal elites and large forest owners) have throughout the history of Pakistan remained extremely influential and dominant. As in most rural areas of Pakistan, the feudal elites wield both power and influence and own the major portion of land. The majority of the rural poor are marginalized peoples caught in an age-old pattern of economic and cultural subservience held in place by a rigid caste system and pattern of subsistence agriculture. This conservative attitude also applies to gender roles and results in pronounced discrimination against women which, it should be noted, is extreme even within the context of the generally conservative social environment of Pakistan.
It is against this background that Sungi, which means "companion" or "partner" in the local Hindko dialect, operates offering a strong and effective partnership to small and marginalized farmers, forest users, rural women and urban and rural working and middle classes. In partnership with these local communities, Sungi conducts ambitious and challenging work bringing about policy and institutional changes in the social environment. By mobilizing the deprived and marginalized members of society, Sungi endeavours to create an environment in which they may transform their lives through the equitable and sustainable use of natural and human resources. Sungi seeks to achieve this through two major components of its programme, (a) community-based development programmes including training and action research, and (b) advocacy.
2. Goals and philosophy
Sungi's operations are based on the principle of participatory, equitable and sustainable development. Sungi believes that these principles may be achieved only through "advocacy-based development" in which advocacy and community development, two sides of the same coin, are integrated. Without this integration Sungi believes that effective transformation of the lives of the dispossessed will not take place.
This philosophy, the integration of social mobilization and development, is clearly reflected in its programme structure. The community development programme, which is considered a more "traditional" development service than its programme of advocacy, currently runs an integrated rural development initiative with a focus on natural resource management, human resource development and small enterprise development, health and sanitation. All of these programmes are conducted in partnership with community-based organizations on the principles of participatory development, that is, on needs prioritized by the communities themselves and managed by the community organizations through democratic decision-making processes.
Such a thorough engagement of community-based, participatory development processes is, in itself innovative in the Pakistani context. What makes Sungi unique, however, is its commitment to social mobilization and policy advocacy as a vital additional strategy in achieving the goals of participatory development. Sungi's commitment to the principles of participatory, equitable and sustainable development does not stop within the marginalized community but goes beyond to reach Out to the power elite itself both within Hazara Division and at the provincial and federal levels. Sungi recognizes the fact that no matter how "participatory" and "equitable" the process may be within the community, justice and development may ultimately not be achieved if the non-participatory and inequitable socio-economic structures are not questioned. Social mobilization and lobbying integral to its advocacy work are necessary in order to make higher-level political institutions, policies and laws "people-centred". While the advocacy role has not yet been fully legitimized for the NGO community in Pakistan, Sungi has taken a leadership role in challenging the conventional view of "development NGOs" as simply agents for the delivery of socio-economic services.
The single most important element that links these two aspects of Sungi's work is the strong emphasis it maintains on the building and strengthening of social organization. A number of different types of social groupings, including village organizations (VOs), women's organizations (WOs) and cluster-based organizations (CBOs), serve as the institutional basis of people's participation through democratic decision-making and governance. Sungi's role as a "change agent" pursues the development and strengthening of the decision-making capacities of these organizations, enabling them to negotiate with the institutions of the state, ma king them more responsive and accountable in the delivery of their services to the community.
Through the integration of community development and advocacy, primarily implemented through partnership with community-level social organizations, Sungi hopes to increase people's understanding of their rights and obligations as citizens and foster clearer standards for judging the performance of politicians, governments and donor agencies. Such awareness also reinforces the people's belief in the values of their own development choices and efforts contributing to positive transformation of existing state institutions and policies, and the practices of legislative bodies. This power for social transformation both from the bottom up and from the top down is what the organization refers to as the "Sungi process".
In addition to its commitment to participatory development through advocacy, Sungi's philosophy towards geographical expansion of its programme is worth noting. Sungi and its Executive Director, Omar Asghar Khan, believe that it should not "scale up" in the traditional way through the creation of a province-wide, much less a nationwide, network of VOs, WOs, and CBOs in direct partnership with Sungi. Mr Khan argues that this sort of expansion of scale could well result in a watering down of the "quality of the process" which Sungi values most. A true participatory planning and management process at the grass-roots level requires the focused efforts of the Sungi/community team. The work, especially of social and political advocacy, has to be "rooted" in the community and this has to be done village by village. Instead of growth of its own Organization, Sungi seeks to expand its impact presenting itself as a "model" to other like-minded organizations and development practitioners through training and research. Sungi's longterm objective is to serve as a resource centre" for other NGOs and development agencies, offering its hard-earned experience as an exemplary pilot programme for replication in other parts of the country. Sungi constantly works to build a network among both domestic and international NGOs and now offers training programmes to personnel of other NGOs in Pakistan. This appears to present a new thinking for "achieving scale" without losing "quality".
3. Achievements and impact
In assessing Sungi's achievements and impact one has to keep in mind that it is, at eight years of age, still a young organization. Although it has achieved much, the full impact of its work may well only be judged over time and will depend upon what fruit it bears in the hearts and minds of the communities it serves. What makes Sungi's work unique is its work in mobilizating the poor and marginalized. When such human development is compared to more traditional community development and the delivery of services, the impact of advocacy is often less tangible. Nonetheless, Sungi's working philosophy of integrating advocacy and community development has already had a major impact on the notion of the roles of developmental NGOs in Pakistan.
In terms of quantifiable achievements, Sungi's community development activities through its Field Operations Unit, responding to community needs in health, sanitation, farmer training, savings and credit, and natural resources management, have had substantial and measurable results. Since its establishment in 1989, Sungi has started or strengthened more than 150 men's and women's village organizations, and primary training has been given to over 2,000 community members, 500 of whom were women. More than 500 farmers, including 100 women, have received training in agriculture, forestry development, sericulture, horticulture, animal husbandry techniques and small enterprise/local craft development. Sungi, with its partner VOs and WOs, has planned and implemented over 80 irrigation channels, link roads or footbridges, and other small infrastructural schemes aimed at environmental rehabilitation, improvement in the quality of life and the raising of farm incomes.
In order to understand the "Sungi process", it is necessary to examine the institutional building and management processes of both Sungi in itself and its partner community organizations (that is, VOs, WOs, CBOs). It is also useful to analyse how community development programmes and advocacy support each other in the "Sungi process" as exemplified in Sungi's natural resource management programme.
1. The institutional process: social organization-building and democratic management
There are two major management principles behind Sungi's operations: first, it operates on the principle of decentralized and participatory decision-making; and second, its programme is based on the understanding of "development" as a process in which people come to realize their own human, social and political rights.
(a) Social organization building
Sungi believes that the basis for implementation of "decentralized and participatory decision-making principles" is in the way Sungi has organized its networking with the communities and their representative organizations at the local level and within its own management structures. First, at the local level, all activities by Sungi are preceded either by strengthening existing local-level organizations or by helping to establish new organizations. This is done with the conviction that only an organized community gains the voice and strength to attain collective goals. Usually, Sungi first identifies a potential "cluster", which covers 15 to 20 villages or 10,000 people. Sungi identifies the "cluster" on the basis of a field survey, assessing various aspects of deprivation including geographical remoteness and ecological degradation, as well as the willingness of the villagers concerned to become partners with Sungi in the proposed work. Once these have been identified, Sungi works to strengthen the village-level organizations within the cluster. As these organizations identify and prioritize needs at the village level, they are assisted by Sungi gradually to develop the network to the multi-village cluster level. The executive members of the cluster are elected by the membership of the village organizations. The cluster, then, is the entry point for Sungi's operation, as well as its partner in programme planning, implementation and monitoring.
Sungi uses PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) as the primary mechanism for ensuring the fullest participation at the village level. Sungi's staff and the partner villagers work together to determine existing problems, prioritize needs and identify local resources available to solve the problems. Through formulation of a "village development plan" utilizing PRA techniques, the community identifies its needs, focusing particularly on human resources development to strengthen its institutional capacity to identify, plan, implement and monitor its own programmes and to do so in a sustainable manner. Sungi trained over 2,000 VO and WO members in social mobilization and conflict resolution; civic rights and responsibilities; organizational development and management; bookkeeping, and savings and credit. In collaboration with other agencies and various government departments, Sungi has endeavoured to train local para-professionals from the village level in forestry, livestock, sericulture, health and sanitation and productive physical infrastructure development such as roads, irrigation channels and bridges.
The immediate objective of Sungi's social Organization development is to involve people at the grass-roots level directly in the preparation and execution of projects that answer their own local needs. This effort leads in the long run to the strengthening of the institutional capacities of community-level organizations to implement their own programmes over time and with the full participation of their community. As a means of assessing the largely qualitative nature of achievements in organizational development, Sungi has developed an "organizational maturity index" consisting of 20 indicators that have been collaboratively developed with village organizations. Sungi has established an award for achievement for its member organizations based on the index.
When strengthened, these community-based organizations also play a substantial role in advocacy-related issues. The process of a community organizing itself helps to raise the general awareness level of grass-roots communities of their civic rights. Further, through the creation of V05, WOs and CBOs, village activists can be identified and trained. VOs coalescing into CBOs can be a powerful forum, effectively partnering each other in policy advocacy. For example, CBOs are organized to create community linkages with government forestry, agriculture and livestock departments for training and other services. CBOs can also provide a forum for communities to lobby for specific issues, such as land degradation, women 5 rights, and the control of child labour.
(b) Democratic management
Sungi's commitment to transparency and participatory decision-making is apparent in its own management structures. While the day to-day affairs are managed by a core group of staff members, more important and longer term management decisions, such as annual budget and policies, are formulated by the Board of Governors and then in the future by the General Body. The General Body will consist of 24 village representatives from within the Sungi project area who will meet annually. A nine-member voluntary Board of Governors meets as required and this is the body that ultimately governs Sungi. The Board presently consists of development professionals who are involved in community development work as well as representatives of the residents of the region. It is the intention of Sungi to further increase the weight of village-level representatives to replace the professionals on the Board in the future.
Sungi's governance and management are also gender-sensitive. In an evaluation by an external organization, Sungi was described as "one of the most gender-sensitive NGOs that is not specifically a women's NGO. It is ahead of many others in implementing policies, projects and creating conditions that make it easier for women to take on jobs there". Sungi works consciously and consistently to create a good working environment for its women staff members. Women at present hold positions at the senior management level. Sungi provides and requires gender sensitization training of all of its staff members and ensures that women are involved in all aspects of programme design and approval. It also provides services for its women staff members, making working conditions easier for them in the socially conservative North-West Frontier Province, such as "pick-up-and-drop" services to assist their commuting. Gender-sensitive management at Sungi ensures that its programme in Hazara will contribute to changing the prevailing social environment, an environment often hostile to women.
2. Programmes: synergy of advocacy and development service delivery - the case of natural resource management
Community-based natural resource management and environmentally sound practices focusing on afforestation to rehabilitate ecologically degraded areas of Hazara is a key Sungi development objective. It has been actively engaged in a campaign to involve local communities and the forest department together in a programme of forest protection. Deforestation in Pakistan is proceeding at one per cent of the total forest area per year owing to pressure on the tree cover by a rapidly increasing rural population and the insatiable commercial demand for timber. Sungi estimates that the forest cover in one area of Hazara has declined by almost 50 per cent over the last decade. The situation throughout Hazara, once a thickly forested area, will continue to deteriorate unless effective replanting schemes are introduced quickly. Deforestation is also speeding soil erosion, already a serious threat to rural subsistence agriculture.
Sungi believes that the sustained planning of natural resource management may be achieved only through the participation of local peoples in both decision-making and management. The local population, particularly the marginalized groups, rely heavily on the forest for livelihood, fuel, animal grazing and construction materials. However, the forestry cooperatives established after 1980 by the government to give local communities more control over forests were dominated by the often large landholders who had much to gain from commercial logging. Small forest owners and forest users did not have much say in forest management. Extensive illegal over-cutting of the Kaghan forests was the result, which in fact was considered a major factor in the disastrous floods of 1992.
The situation was brought to Sungi's attention by a CBO in the Kaghan valley, Welfare Association Jared. Sungi's development activities in forest management started in 1992 in partnership with this CBO, promoting awareness among local communities, on the basis of collective interests, for the need for environmental rehabilitation through reforestation. Sungi aims at promoting awareness, establishing linkages between communities and the forest department, emphasizing protection of newly planted saplings and ensuring that this is spread throughout Hazara. To date, in collaboration with the Forest Department and local communities, Sungi has promoted the planting of more than 150,000 saplings of different species in various clusters. It has firmly established the idea of afforestation by forming tree protection committees amongst the village organizations. Such awareness-raising practices formed the basis for correcting the large holder-dominated forest management system.
To draw a holistic picture of Sungi's community forest management activities, its work has to be seen in the context of its advocacy activities to bring about change in forest laws institutions and policies. Sungi and its partner CBOs in Hazara advocate the sustainable use and development of forests, empowerment of the local communities vis-a'-vis forest rights, and the linking of forest development with poverty alleviation. Sungi's advocacy efforts primarily focused around evolving consensus among different stakeholders in multi-stakeholder dialogues. To this end, Sungi frequently arranges public consultations to discuss the issue of deforestation and to examine different possibilities of institutional and legal arrangements for collaborative forest management. These consultations have involved representatives of the Forest Department, representatives of NGOs, journalists, small forest holders and forest users, as well as other representatives of civic groups.
Sungi initiated the formation of an association of small forest owners and users to enable them to articulate their concerns independently of larger commercial interests. The association was created with the objectives of developing an approach to the sustainable use of forests and advocacy for the rights of all the forest users. A constitution was drawn up and the association, now called the All-Hazara Association for the Protection of the Rights of Forest Users, was ratified by its founding members. It is expected that the All-Hazara Association will play an active role in advocating the rights of forest users and will be able to make an impact at the policy level through regular dialogue with the concerned government departments.
Advocacy on an issue of this nature in which many vested interests are attached does not advance in a straightforward manner. Sungi and its community partners' "Save the Forests Campaign" faced threats from influential local commercial loggers. Networking proved an effective strategy in resisting these pressures. Sungi joined the Sarhad NGO Coalition, which urged the provincial government and legislators to support conservation efforts in the province, to check illegal commercial logging and to extend cooperation to NGOs and the communities that they serve working on forest protection and management issues. It also initiated a letter campaign requesting its friends and supporters to write to relevant federal and provincial authorities and launched a provocative documentary film, 'Vanishing Shadows',) in 1995 highlighting the state of the forests in Hazara and the relationship between forest users, forest owners, forest laws and institutions involved in forest management.
Internationally, Sungi has entered into a partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. This has resulted in a series of policy dialogues on relevant topics, such as "integrated watershed management" and "property rights in forests". Sungi also became a member of the Pakistan Chapter of the International Forest, Trees, and People's Programme, which advocates engagement of communities, NGOs and relevant agencies on critical forestry issues through dissemination of information, forestry training, networking, technical assistance and advocacy.
Sungi makes a point of keeping abreast of similar people's movements being pursued in other parts of world through its extensive international network. Sungi has been able to work in tandem with these movements, cooperating in the development of joint strategies, to strengthen its negotiating power with the authorities. The fact that Sungi's advocacy work is also supported by a large network of community organizations has led to the authorities, such as the Forestry Department, to strive to work with Sungi and to enlist the involvement of its supporters in joint reforestation endeavours. In November 1995, a joint workshop was organized by the Forest Department and Sungi, after which both have been working hand in hand in community afforestation programmes and in reforming the process of forest management.
Partly in response to Sungi's consistent lobbying against deforestation and for the rights of communal forest users, the North-West Frontier Province government prepared and circulated a draft of the 1997 Forest Act which is recognized as an improvement on previous legislation, and civil society is being consulted on the final draft of the ACT.
Sungi is a successful example of a local NGO that has, in a short period of time, built upon indigenous knowledge, local practices and local leadership to achieve significant advances in the rights and well-being of village communities. There is no doubt that it has gone a long way in helping the weak build alliances, working towards establishing justice and exploring the issue of "partnership" as an aspect of participatory development both with local communities, government and national NGOs. The highly participatory and dynamic Sungi process is a stunning departure from what most communities in the area are accustomed to. The integration of advocacy and community development work heralds the start of a new approach to rural development in Pakistan. Sungi is one of the pioneers in this approach and can be expected to play a leading role in the future in scaling up this approach in Pakistan.