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The NGOs Role In Poverty Alleviation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5444 words Published: 4th Aug 2021

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In this section of the thesis this researcher will be looking at a specific theory that assesses NGOs and their functions. It must be pointed out at the onset that there is no explicit theory that assesses or analyzes the roles of NGOs as it relate to poverty alleviation; however, there are many that expound on their relevance in society. The importance is as a result of the roles that these NGOs play or are expected to be playing and as such the two are interconnected. Similarly so, it is unfair to analyze the roles of NGOs in poverty alleviating especially from a theoretical background without mentioning theories of poverty. It should be noted that the reasons for this is to discuss some other the reasons given by scholars for their explanation of the causes of poverty which was the need for NGOs participation in today’s society. Therefore researcher will have to discuss in brief some theories and their approaches to the concept of poverty. The social transformation theory of poverty, Conflict theory, and Structural perspective/Institutional Discrimination theory and their approaches will be of importance. Also, another important theme in this researcher work is that the researcher has hypothesised that NGOs are faced with many challenges in the dispensation of their work as a result of this; the interdependency theory is another theory that researcher will used to examine the challenges.

This chapter of the thesis is been divided in to three phases.

  • The first phase will discuss the poverty related theories.
  • The second phase will examine the argument raised between the Realist and Neorealist view of institutions which in this case will be referred to NGOs and also discuss the importance of NGOs and their functions which appraised their roles.
  • Phase three in this chapter will then discuss the interdependency theory under which the challenges of NGOs would be analyze.

The theory being applied and analyzed is the Transnational Theory taken from the Neo-Realist perspective. Nevertheless, this researcher will look at both sides of the coin, that is, those who propose like structural realists and oppose like the traditional realists NGOs and their importance, so as to create a good balance. After which, the link will be made between the importance of NGOs due to the roles they play in society.


The issue of poverty has global phenomena. Poverty is not only a pandemic, but also a cancan worm that is eating the heart of humans. This piece of work tend to illustrate the various perception that theorist held about the concept of poverty, the various approaches toward poverty alleviation.

There have been divergent views on poverty concept based on individual analysis and interpretation of this epidemic. Therefore four theories connected to the interpretation and analysis of poverty alleviation will be presented in this work. For the purpose of this research work, the four theories which are linked to poverty alleviation, and who gave their opinions and views of poverty include the following: The Conflict Theory, the Institutional/ Structural Theory, The functionalist Theory, and the Social Transformation Theory.


According to Daniel Offiong (2001:124), argues that” poverty” is a “function and persists because it performs certain functions to certain groups of people”. This means that though poverty largely is negative, but somewhat have some positive spin-offs like: provide for low wage salaries for workers, persons willing to work in undignified jobs, and both leading to cheap labour cost or low wage cost which the rich and developed nations turned their backs on, but however help support their businesses. However, government intervene in other to alter the labour law, environmental and worker protection laws of these developing countries in order to ensure that these developing nations maintain wages of workers at a minimum cost as well as keeping the workers right.

On the positive in the broader spectrum of things, is the allowance of dumping of low quality products by rich countries to poor nations. Profit is obtained by the former and cheaper products retrieved by the later.

Poverty also creates the mobility of human capital. There is also the mobility of human capital thus making the world one big community.

As it’s relate to the negatives Offiong states that at the international level poverty functions to cover poorer governments to the will of the rich therefore allowing the rich to richer and the poor get poorer.

On a social level, Offiong illustrates how the poor are responsible for their own poverty by rich countries .Poor countries seen as lacking not just in resources, but also habits that are “created for the economic development of the west”. This viewpoint then supports the rich countries economic and political coercions and forms a bench mark for moral superiority.

Poverty functions to exacerbate the differences which exist between the poor and the rich. With this , the researcher would agree with the writer in his assumption that “the function of poverty are far outweighed by its dysfunctions, which include for example the suffering ,violence and waste of human and material resources” (Offiong 2001:128).

The prevalence of poverty is created by the positive functions it serves a rich few, and also by the cyclical effect of reduced options, opportunities and quality of life for the large numbers of poor. The continued reliance on poverty to smooth out the tribulations of an ill-defined and ill-systematized political economy ensures its propagation and the servile state of many to a few. The political economy is also designed so as the economic prosperity of one is inevitably tied up with the impoverishment of another. However, this phenomenon can be seen in both rich and poor nations.

In this system where the economic success of one seems to be tied up with the impoverishment of another, development strategies need to be created so as to not submit to the current system of continued oppression and poverty but find alternative methods where the capitalist structure provides for equitable distribution of wealth and resources.


Social theory is one that emphasize Social conflict and saw it origin in the ideals of Karl Marx (1818-1883), he was as well-know a German theorist and political activist. Karl Marx approach to conflict emphasizes a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical method of analysis, a critical stance toward existing social engagements, and a political programme of rebellion or at political or social reform. Conflict theorists have many controversies on other theories more especially the functionalist theories with respect to poverty alleviation as functionalist view poverty as a “family structure” Murray (1994:35). According to this perspective, poverty exists because middle classes and upper classes want to exist. In any societal structure there are always structures that will distinguish between the rich and poor, therefore theorists of poverty argues that the working poor are exploited: the low level workers are always paid low wages of salaries and in return their employers are almost and always rich and live most affluent lives, through the huge profits the gain on the head of these low income earners. As the low- level workers earn low wages, so the unemployed do suffer too and are equally victims of the same system. In our society today, employers who are living affluent lives are anti-employment facilitators as their sole job is to advocate against unemployment programmes, simply because they fear the payment of taxes to support the low wage workers. They also oppose such programmes because the fear of unemployment helps wages down and workers docile. Thus, conflict theorists argue that the economic system of capitalist countries operate to create and perpetuate a high degree of economic inequality (James 1993:161).

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Conflict theorists approach toward poverty is based on the assumption that social life in society is a continuous struggle in which members of powerful groups seek to maintain the control of scare resources this include: economic, social, and politics .Conflict theorist using the Marxist approach believe that income inequality primarily results from capitalism and private ownership of the means of production. Under capitalism, men gain control over property (Kemp, 1994).


Physiological deprivation approach focuses on non-fulfilment of basic material or biological needs, which includes health, education, food clothing, shelter, inadequate nutrition access to good and safe drinking water and many more basic amenities. This approach is prominent in two different kinds of approaches to the issue poverty in our third worlds and developing world: the income/consumption poverty approach and some versions of the basics human need approach (Lanjouw, 1997).A person is consider poor in certain period of time if, and only if his or her access to economic resources is insufficient…to acquire enough commodities to meet basic material needs adequately (Lipton1996).

The physiological deprivation approach to poverty is used extensively in applied welfare economics. This approach combined two discrete elements first of all, well-being conceived of as preference fulfilment and represented in terms of “equivalent” income or consumption (money metric utility); secondly, an income/utilization poverty line is drawn which represents an adequacy level. Therefore, the poor are those whose income level falls below the poverty line.

This approach, thus, underlies the order of the poverty level. While there are different ways to derive this poverty line, two methods are in extensive use. The first, the food-energy least amount required to satisfy nutritional (caloric) requirements and then conclude the level of earnings/utilization at which this bare minimum is naturally met. The food-share method which is the second, estimates the minimum cost of a food basket which satisfies the food-energy minimum and multiplies this by the non-share in total consumption of a sub-group definition is classified as poor.

From the traditional view point of poverty, poverty encompasses not only low income and utilization, but rather considers low human development, such as in the field of education, nutrition and health. It however does not stop here but consider the following risk and vulnerability,

This concept of poverty is sometimes supported by the poor themselves as they know their felt needs which differ from the planners of their needs, philosophical and analytical means of arguing and viewing poverty and the experience of poverty in its social context. And driving this broadening is the prospect of new lines of inquiry that will expand our understanding of the causes of poverty and therefore of actions to fight the pandemic.

Since a person is consider poor because of the lack and inaccessibility of basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, and also the lack of safe and good drinking water.

The term “deprivation” is been defined as an inadequate access or lack of the different basic needs such as good medical health facilities, food, clothing , shelter education safe drinking water, and proper sanitation.

The traditionalist approach to poverty differs from the Physiological deprivation approach to poverty three different ways: first and foremost, it specifies a complete set of human wants and these include: nutrition, health, education, water or it related achievements such as (life expectancy, infant mortality rate), instead of depending on the indirect methods to determine social needs , similarly, the second aspect represent relevant aspect of human well-being regarding the various kinds of services that satisfy the basic needs( in some cases, is a composite indicator),but not in terms of equivalent income /consumption; and finally, it sets an adequacy level for each of the different necessities ,rather than specifying an income/consumption poverty line based on dietary energy adequacy.


Social Deprivation Approach

This approach uses a wide conception of deprivation, which include lack of autonomy, lack of self pride and self respect/dignity vulnerability among others. The social deprivation theory differs from the physiological deprivation approach in two main different perspective and they include: rejection of the representation of the various relevant aspects of human well-being in terms of equivalent income/consumption that fulfil the basic needs; it also denied and reject the specification of an adequacy level in terms of basic physiological deprivation in two different approaches. However, in reality and in practical terms, these two critiques combine the two because reliance on non-physiological components of well often precludes exclusive reliance on a physiologically-based adequacy level (UNDP, 1996).

The social deprivation approach is mostly applicable to the third worlds and developing nations. This approach states that it is the deprivation of basic needs of human lives that individual and people come to know that poverty manifest itself. Also “Poverty” involves not only the lack of basic necessities of human material well-being, but also denial of opportunities for living a tolerable life, and that life can be prematurely shortened.

Nevertheless, life can be made painful, difficult, stressful hazardous … deprived of knowledge and communication… robbed of dignity, confidence, and self-respect…All are aspects of poverty that limit and blight the lives of millions in the world today (UNDP, 1997).

The United Nations Development Programme in its Human Development Report for 1996and1997 advanced a more human poverty approach. This human development approach draws a heavily on the conceptual frame work provided by Harvard economist and philosophers Amartya Sen, Conceptualizes in terms of the absence of certain basic capabilities to function. Sen’s underlying idea is that poverty should include both what we are or are not doing (functions), and what we can and cannot dot do (capabilities) and both represent capabilities and functions (Townsend, 1985).According to UNDP, capabilities used in this context means a capability to “lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self -respect and the respect of others” (UNDP, 1997:15).

The International Institute for Labour Studies at the International Labour Organisation very recently propounded the social exclusion approach. The social exclusion approach comes very close to the “relative deprivation” concept of poverty expounded by Peter Townsend a British sociologist early in the 1970s (Townsend, 1979 and 1985). Since poverty is the lack of basic human needs. The most important aspect and idea of poverty is that be it poverty or deprivation is best seen as lack of the resources needed to participate in society activities and enjoy living standards that are customary or widely accepted in society. Thus, the social exclusion approach connects poverty closely with issues of citizenship and social integration and their associated resource requirements.

According to Chambers,”…deprivation and well- being as perceived by poor … question the degree of primacy often attributed to income-poverty …” “Income matters, but so too do other aspect of well-being and the quality of life-health, security, self-respect justice, access to goods and services, family and social life…”(Chambers,1995).

The participatory approach conflict with the former approach as it argues that deprivation and conceptualization should be an interactive process involving a participatory poverty assessment facilitator and must also involve the local community people engaged as participants in dialogue. the absence and lack of dignity, lack of security, justice ,and the lack of self -respect are some major elements of participatory approach. However, it should be noted that the participatory approach of poverty definition of the poverty term goes beyond the physiological definition of poverty .the participatory approach throw more weight on the social than to physiological elements of deprivation.


NGOs are Non-state and non-profit professionally-staffed organizations aiming at contributing to the reduction of human suffering via poverty alleviation and to the development of poor countries (Streeten 1997). The various means through which this goal can be achieve is by the following ways: e.g. by funding projects, engaging in service provision and capacity building, contributing to awareness, and promoting the self-organization of various groups (Baccaro 2001). Meanwhile, Desai (2005) has 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 role and functions for NGOs, such as counseling and support service, awareness raising and advocacy, legal aid and microfinance. These services help the people to achieve their ability, skill and knowledge, and take control over their own lives and finally become empowered and self-reliance.

On the other hand, Strom quits (2002) has 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 as this is the case with NGOs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Baccaro (2001) shows how particular NGOs can promote the organization and “empowerment” of the poor, particularly poor women, through a combination of micro-credit, awareness-raising, training for group members, and other social services. Empowerment is the ability of individuals to gain control socially, politically, economically and psychologically through access to information, knowledge and skills; decision making; and individual self-efficacy, community participation, and perceived control (Rappaport 1987; Zimmerman and Rappaport 1988).

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In the long term, the aim of NGOs is to promote sustainable community development and 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 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).

Furthermore, 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 suffering the evidence is in Sierra Leone were sixty percent of citizens survival dependent upon donors.

On the other hand, sustainable development has emerged over the past few decades as an important paradigm for community development.

However, as 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 – social, economic and environmental – of communities (Sneddon 2000). The Rio Conference interpreted sustainable development as a single process with three dimensions. In addition, the

Johannesburg Plan of Implementation defined it as three distinct processes, of “economic development, social development and environmental protection- as interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars” (United Nations 2002). These dimensions were originally introduced with the aim of identifying areas in which social, economic and environmental goals are interrelated (Holmberg and Sand brook 1992). However, these dimensions of sustainable development have done little to reduce the complexity of the concept and has itself introduced a contradiction. 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 NGO that they discovered was decentralization of the central government which helps the local communities to acquire more power in order to make their own decisions.

But, sometimes the local communities lack specialists to do professional work and resources that are important for the particular projects. In this situation, NGO assists local staff with drafting sustainable development plans that are functional under the umbrella of a central government policy.

Finally, they concluded that sustainable community development 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 promoting sustainable community development. Sustainable community development emphasizes on a balance between environmental concerns and development objectives, while simultaneously enhancing local social relationships. Sustainable communities meet the economic needs of their residents, enhance and protect the environment, and promote more human local societies (Bridger and Luloff 1997). As Bridger (1997) has mentioned, sustainable community development includes five dimensions. The first dimension emphasizes on increasing local economic diversity.

The second is self-reliance which entails the development of local markets, local production, local processing of previously imported goods, and greater cooperation among local economic entities. The third dimension involves a reduction in the use of energy, coupled with the careful management and recycling of waste products. The fourth dimension focuses on the protection and enhancement of biological diversity and careful stewardship of natural resources. Finally, the fifth dimension is related to the commitment of the sustainable communities to social justice.

Through the functions of providing microfinance, initiating capacity building and self -reliance, NGOs could promote empowerment among community members, and eventually community sustainable development which all are gearing toward poverty alleviation.


This section review and highlights NGOs, functions and the promotion of sustainable community development aiming at alleviating poverty. Specifically, the discussions are on the functions related to provision of microfinance, initiation of community capacity building and self-reliance programmes.

Eventually, sustainable community development will be achieved, particularly when community is empowered. The “bottom-top approach” in community development would likely bring about empowerment to the community and finally sustainable community development. According to

Finger (1994), the bottom-top approach emphasizes community participation, grassroots movements and local decision making. It argues that community participation and grassroots initiatives promote participatory decision making and local self-reliance (Panda 2007).In bottom-top approach, people are able to define their own problems and having ability and capacity to solve it through organizing and participating themselves.


During 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). Oxaal and Baden (1997) . 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). 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, microfinance programs emphasize women’s economic contribution as a way to increase overall financial efficiency within national economies.

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. Since the 1990s, microfinance institutions have addressed the issues of sustainability, participation and empowerment.

These issues have been research-ed 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). Well-being as an output of microfinance not only covers the economic indicators, but also other indicators such as community education, environment, recreation and accessibility to social services. It is related to the quality of life (Asnarulkhadi 2002). In order to gain economic sustainability, NGOs through microfinance help the communities to reduce poverty, create jobs, and promote income generation. In the developing countries, sustainability is linked more closely to issues of poverty and the gross inequalities of power and resources (Hamnett and Hassan 2003).

This is due to the fact that in the Third World countries like sub-Saharan Africa, the ecological system sometimes conflicts with the socio-economic needs of local people who depend on a local ecosystem for their survival (Nygren 2000). In contrast, in the developed countries, as Bradshaw and Winn (2000) have noted, more priority is given on environmental aspect of sustainable development. In these countries, since the wealth of the nation and of most individuals has reached a certain level, therefore sustainability has been fueled primarily by concern for such issues as climate change, biodiversity, the deprivation of the natural environment, and the over-consumption of natural resources -especially non-renewable (Hibbard and Chuntang 2004).


As mentioned earlier, capacity building is another NGO’s strategy and roles that helps to bring about sustainable community development. 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.

An ‘end’ in itself, where the intent is to enable others, from individuals through to government departments, to have greater capacity to work together to solve problems A process, where capacity building strategies are routinely incorporated as an important element of effective practice (NSW Health 2001).

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) has introduced capacity building as the process by which individuals, groups, and organizations increase their abilities to (1) perform core functions, solve problems, define and achieve objectives; and (2) understand and deal with their development needs in a broad context and in a sustainable manner. Furthermore, in terms of NGOs’ functions, 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 an approach to development not a set of pre-determined activities. There is no single way to build capacity. 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. NGOs, through the provision of education, skill 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.


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. Selfreliance 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.

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 maybe desirable in the short term, it should not be a long term objective, because the aim of the community development must ultimately be self-reliance. Reliance on external resources will lead to the loss of autonomy and independence of the community.


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