Poverty and Development Division
last updated : 20 December 1999
A Replicable Model for Improving District-Level Coordination in Poverty Alleviation in South Asia
"SAARC Seven Sisters: district development coordination and improved poverty project design"
The project envisaged the creation and operation of district-level participatory forums, one each in the participating districts of the SAARC member countries. The forums were to comprise representatives of agents (government, non-government, community and self-help groups) and beneficiaries of poverty alleviation programmes being implemented in those districts. In addition, a conscious attempt was to be made to secure proper gender balance in the composition of the forums. The activities of the forums, which would function under the leadership of the respective chiefs of district administration, were designed to achieve two objectives: improved coordination among the agencies, as well as between the agencies and the beneficiaries; and the inculcation of a sense of empowerment among poor beneficiaries. It was expected that activities of the forums would help improve the effectiveness of poverty alleviation programmes. It was further expected that if the experiment succeeded, a similar modality could be replicated in other districts and countries.
In the above context, it was perceived that, given the similarity in the nature of the problem of poverty in South Asia and the considerable diversity in approaches and institutional arrangements to deal with it, there was scope for mutually beneficial sharing of experiences by the district forums. In addition, there was a need for a platform to discuss common issues and devise appropriate solutions. Taking those considerations into account, a subregional network of the forums (Seven Sisters) was created with the auspices of the project. Through the activities of the network, which served several purposes, it was possible to simultaneously create and operate all the district forums following common and agreed guidelines, exchange experiences, identify best practices, and jointly attract visibility and attention from national Governments.
The project was funded by UNDP, executed by UNOPS and implemented by ESCAP. One district forum, named the Committee of Agents and Beneficiaries of Poverty Alleviation Programmes at District Level (CABPAD), was created and made fully operational in each of the five participating SAARC member countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The forums were linked to each other through the creation of a subregional Network of Agents and Beneficiaries of Poverty Alleviation Programmes at District Level (NABPAD).
The project was one of the components of the UNDP umbrella programme, Regional Poverty Alleviation Programme for Asia and the Pacific (RAS/95/001). The Government of each of the five participating countries was requested to nominate a focal district with a high incidence of poverty and a number of ongoing poverty alleviation programmes, preferably being implemented both by governmental and non-governmental agencies. Subsequently, CABPAD were set up and brought into operation in the five selected districts with the assistance of the focal points nominated by the respective Governments (table 1).
Table 1.Countries, districts and their designated focal points
From the above table it can be seen that, with the exception of Bangladesh, the CABPAD focal points are chiefs of district/district administration. In the case of Bangladesh, the focal point is a senior official at the national level.
NABPAD was created with the backstopping of ESCAP, and it comprised all the nominated focal points and selected CABPAD members. The first activity of NABPAD was the organization of a workshop to launch the project and to collectively decide on the modalities for creating and operating the district forums, with the help of guidelines prepared by ESCAP.