Working Paper 89-16. December 1989-July 1990.

By Elizabeth W. Moen

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado, Boulder

This paper was written with a small grant from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado. Funding for the Consortium and its Small Grants Program was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The statements and ideas presented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Conflict Resolution Consortium, the University of Colorado, or the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail:

Copyright (C) 1990. Elizabeth W. Moen. Do not reprint without permission.

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'Sociology should ultimately show the way out of the social system by analysing the process of transformation'[1]


If I am in charge of our country, I will take proper steps to erradicate poverty. I will enforce the land ownership act. According to the act no one can possess more than 15 acres of land. The ceased lands will be distributed to landless agricultural labourers. I strongly feel that the planning should come from the village level because the village people are more aware of their problems than the outsiders...Suitable indus- trial policies can be ammended to introduce cottage industries in rural areas, according to the availabili- ty of raw materials and marketing viability. People will be educated in the proper way to understand their way of living and to pave way for their own development. Health facilities will be improved in the vil- lages and protected drinking water will be arranged for the rural people. Peoples committee will be established from the bottom level and planning will reach the top with the approval of the local people. Very strong measures will be taken to erradicate traditional leadership and harassment [by] local elite. Peoples movement will be strengthened and equal importance will be given to improve the social status of the women folk.[2]. Socioeconomic development efforts undertaken since World War II via a centralized top-down approach have not been a success; absolute poverty and inequality of income and opportunity have increased among most of the lower income nations as has the gap between the lower and higher income nations. Consequently, in the early 1970s ILO, World Bank, and other international development organizations began to focus on the basic needs of the poorest households. But with essentially the same centralized strategy, this approach has not succeeded either. Now, around the world, development theorists, planners, policy makers, and donor agencies are turning to grass roots development workers (GRDWs) in local nongovernmental development organizations (NGDOs).[3] We know very little about how local NGDOs analyze the situation and operate, especially the smaller ones working closest with the participants.[4] If develop- ment theory, strategy, and policy that would enhance the success of local NGDOs is to be formulated, we need to learn about them and from them. As part of a larger project, I have studied thirty three small NGDOs in Tamil Nadu, India. In Moen (1989a) I establish the context of the NGDOs' work and my research, and from their analysis of the situation, derive and system- atize a partial theory of poverty and underdevelopment. Moen,(1989a) also contains the background, perspective, data, and methods of this research, as well as considerations about the quality of the GRDWs' analysis, the possi- bility of generalization, and grass roots development ideol- ogy. In this paper I derive and systematize the GRDWs' definition (goals), metatheory (what to do to achieve these goals), and strategy (how to do it) of development, make comparisons by the NGDOs' orienting perspectives, and again raise questions about generalization, quality, and ideology. Because we know so little about NGDOs and GRDWs such as these, and to facilitate greater understanding between grass roots development workers and policy makers, considerable detail is included.[5]


It was found in (Moen, 1989a), and will be demonstrated further below, that these GRDWs do not think in tidy, mutu- ally exclusive categories. Instead, accepting complexity, they tend to think holistically and in terms of interrela- tionships. They are not rigid, often drawing from many sources of inspiration, and they are not homogeneous in their membership; Christians are in Gandhian organizations; Hindus in Christian; and members of secular organizations may be deeply religious. Thus NGDOs cannot be neatly boxed, but rather they are categorized according to their primary orientations:

Secular: Not emphasizing religious or Gandhian philosophy.

Christian: Motivated by Christian scripture.

Gandhian: Emphasizing Gandhian philosophy (which itself is a synthesis of Hindu, Christian, and other philosophies).

Conventional: Generally following the mainstream.

Left: Emphasizing the need for equitable structur- al change.

Socialist: Advocating government or public ownership of the means of production.

As seen in Table 1 (in descending order), two of the NGDOs lean toward secular socialist; 17, secular left; 3, Christian left; 4, Christian conventional; 2, Gandhian socialist; and 5 Gandhian conventional. Although the ideo- logical spectrum is quite wide, none could be categorized as liberal or conservative, because all advocate some form of structural change. Moreover, none of the NGDOs identified themselves as Hindu or Moslem, and none were associated with a political party. Of the secular socialist organizations, one is Marxist and the other advocates `...equal opportunity to all; education reform, self sufficient programs... all land becomes government land, all property government property, everyone should work, all property distributed equally ' in a `...Great communist form of government' (NGDO 8/C). The Christian left organizations (two protestant, one Catholic) speak in the manner of liberation theology; con- ventional Christian organizations are more likely to speak of charity, and consider this work their Christian duty.[7] The Gandhian socialist organizations, make a wide departure from Gandhi by advocating government ownership of all land; whereas conventional Gandhian organizations in general are often criticized for being uncreative and stuck in dogma. Other than these, apparent differences among the NGDOs are not great. Conventional Christians may sign their letters 'Yours in our Lord Jesus'; left organizations may sign theirs'Yours in solidarity', but what they do, what they propose to do, and what they say is important to do (summa- rized as program emphases in Table 1), are not related to orienting perspective [8] Thus what was begun as an analysis of NGDO differences, was completed as a synthesis of their similarities.


We strongly believe and work with our faith that development can only come from `within' and as outsid- ers we can help but insiders must do the Job. We believe in total development of a total man and solu- tions to the problems, issues, and needs of the rural communities can be found by people themselves by their collective actions with solidarity (NGDO 12/F). Although each NGDO has its own fix on development, and ultimate goals may differ (especially regarding land owner- ship) strong, common themes emerged regarding what develop- ment should be about:


'Projects should be felt, designed, implemented by the people (NGDO 24/F).[9] It may take some time before the 'culture of silence' (NGDO 12/F) is overcome, but the goal is development of and by the people, not for them.


'Modern society is so concerned with economic aspects of development that spiritual and moral values are apt to be neglected'(NGDO/10 F). GRDWs do not think of development entirely in terms of economic and material growth; instead they speak of the full realization of human potential; the development of body, mind, and spirit; the release of physi- cal, economic, and mental power; the transition from pater- nalism to emancipation.


Integrated, not piecemeal, comprehensive, healing the divisions in society.


NGDOs talk of family welfare, and an adequate standard of living; they do not talk about consumption, consumers, shops full of things, or accumulating possessions. For many it is a question of `having or being'.[10]

Bottom-up/decentralized/small scale

From the village, from the people, not directed from the top, mass movement. 'Development needs are determined by those at the apex. Local needs and preferences take a back seat. Perceptions of local needs and wants are not necessarily correct. Elite values are imposed on the common man'(NGDO 21/F).


GRDWs say that India only has ballot-box democracy and even that is a hoax when '...the concentration of political power goes along with the concentration of economic power' (NGDO 3/N), so that landlords, loom owners, money lenders etc., can expect those who depend on them to vote as told. `People are not using their voting power without fear. This fearness comes because they are weak in their economical positions' (NGDO 10/F)[11].


'We must fight injustice with all our might but with mercy and compassion for both the exploited and the exploit- er' (NGDO 11/N). NGDOs call for mass movements: most speak of nonviolence; however at least one wants to '...empower the people to carry out their own desire to revolt'(NGDO 18/F).

Not charity

While some of the conventional Christian organizations include general charity in their work, the great majority of the NGDOs advocate charity only for those who are unable to participate in their own upliftment.

Revolutionary process

'Development projects create a base to revolutionize the minds of society and establish new social values and new social order'(NGDO 17/F). 'Political and economic destiny should not be trifled away by a few who happen to be at the helm of affairs' (NGDO 12/N). GRDWs call themselves social workers, or social servants, but consider themselves social change agents. There is not consensus regarding how much economic, political, and social restructuring is necessary to achieve a just society.


GRDWs seek an Indian mode of development, not westerni- zation. However, they know this goal is problematic since much of the injustice in the society is justified, maintained, and enforced through the culture (see Moen, 1989a).


For the past four years we mainly concentrated on awareness programme. In every village after our aware- ness programme landless labourers movement have been formed and a collective leadership formation have been formed among the men and women. Through the movement the people have organized so many procession, hunger strike, to get their basic needs like drinking water, road, street light....In some village they have organ- ized wage strike to get their minimum wage. For the first one year our area women are organised separately to form their own movement. In every village now women felt that they must have their own movement to fight for their rights (NGDO 25/F).

There is considerable consensus among the NGDOs regard- ing what should be done to accomplish their goals and how it should be done. In a major, heavily emphasized cluster are six elements: awareness/consciousness change, empowerment, social restructuring, income generation, education, and health. Ideally all elements of this cluster should occur, and most of the NGDOs try to include them in their work. There is less agreement about which might be essential or what is the most advantageous order of occurrence. A minor, much less emphasized cluster consists of infrastructure, technology, and the environment. Although these factors are also considered important (see Moen, 1989a), there are a number of reasons why these NGDOs do not place greater emphasis on them. First, these GRDWs consider themselves social workers with a mission to directly serve people. Moreover, as in the U.S., government is more likely to deal with infrastructure and technology, than human services. Thus even remote, poor villages with no teachers or health care workers, may have electricity and even buildings for school and health care. There is also the implicit assump- tion that if development of the people comes first (the major cluster), the rest will follow, but not the other way around.

It should be kept in mind, that as the GRDWs talk about them, these nine categories are not tight and distinct. Instead, each contains aspects of the other, and they are interactive and mutually synergistic. Below, each element of the major cluster is discussed regarding its purpose (metatheoretical aspect) and the means of achieving it (strategic aspect). Also discussed, and summarized with the major cluster in Table 1, are three general strategies employed by the NGDOs, emphasis on children/youth, women, and rural areas. Finally the elements of the minor cluster are briefly reviewed. As previously noted, Table 1 does not reveal patterns of relationship between metatheory/strategy and orienting perspective.


The first step is to meet with [participants] to create unity and understanding and get rid of jealousy, greed, and narrow mindedness. We must create a cooperative mentality, through the understanding of common suffer- ing and exploitation. At first there are barriers; we must keep going back (NGDO 3/N). The purpose of this 'cornerstone of any reform is understanding of social evils of the existing system and to develop a climate for change over'(NGDO 20/F). Because 'oppressed masses...have accepted poverty, misery, and disease as their fate and part of their lives' (NGDO 18/F), awareness aims for understanding of self in the community and self/community in society, building community orienta- tion and a sense of justice 'where all have the dignity of human person' (NGDO 2/F), and the realization of a deeper unity-'This is one world, one people, we are all brothers and sisters (NGDO 2/F).

Most awareness building is done through formal and nonformal education classes (employing conventional and experiential methods), and community organizations called sangams (see below). NGDOs also use puppet shows and street theater (peoples media), movies and videos, community forums, debates, and role playing. They focus on the realiza- tion of individual and group strength, the possibility of solving personal and community problems from the inside, alternative ways of doing things, citizen rights and respon- sibilities, the political and economic systems, and social 'evils' such as dowry, untouchability, bribery, alcohol, wife beating, superstition, expensive festivals, and lavish gift giving.

The ultimate goal is participants' realization that their condition is due to gender, class, and caste oppres- sion, not fate or karma; they have the right to a better life; and by acting in solidarity, they can soon make improvements in their condition, and eventually bring about a just society. GRDWs believe that major social change could occur if participants would get together to create and elect the right candidates: Whatever the educated elites motivations and self-absorptions, there is no denying the rising awareness of people's rights...but they are yet to grasp their power to bring democracy to their doorstep... We must kindle a fire already burning in the hearts of people. Enlightened people can change the power structure... [participants] will vote for good people...But we also have to mold the candidates (NGDO 10/F,N).


We help the members to form sangams before initiating development activities. The members discuss in the sangam meetings...about the type of programme that they need with a view of long-term benefits. The village level sangam had achieved in getting facilities like drinking water taps...Their collective attempts had helped in themselves a sense of confidence (NGDO 30/F).

`The landlord has no power without the consent of the people' NGDO 1/F). The primary purpose of empowerment is the elimination of dependency and thereby reducing the power of landlords, moneylenders, etc. Sub-themes are community self help, self determination, self reliance, and self sufficiency, via local infrastructure, dispute resolution, income earning capacity, savings, and credit. NGDOs enhance the empowerment process by helping the participants deal with the system, e.g., they may organize legal aid, and encourage government and bank officials to do their duty. The more immediate goals and strategies for empowerment follow.

Organization in solidarity

NGDOs advocate group efforts, people power, group identity, cooperation, communi- ty building, collective efforts, peoples movements, mass movement.[12]

Leadership development

'Eliminate traditional leader- ship and harassment by the local elite' (NGDO 5/N), foster leadership among the participants, increase local problem solving capacity and administrative skills. Leadership development is done through special seminars and camps, nonformal education, and as part of sangam organization.

Positive self image/action

Remove inferiority complex of villagers, overcome inertia, increase feelings of self confidence and dignity, gain assertiveness. The primary means means of organizing, developing leadership, and build- ing self image is through the formation of sangams, where much of the awareness work also takes place. Sangams may be community wide, but the GRDWs often begin with groups that share common gender/caste identity. Then, with increased awareness, people may become willing to meet and work in mixed groups. At some point NGDOs deny participation to those who insist on caste exclusivity.

Social Restructuring

'Opportunity for all for a fuller richer life' (a GRDW quotes Gandhi). For the NGDOs, the goal of restructuring the society via a `Raging but peaceful fire' (NGDO 4/F) is equal opportunity for all and social support for those unable to do for themselves. One of the Gandhian socialist GRDWs wants all social distinctions eliminated and all work to have equal value and equal pay. It is acknowledged, however, that equitable restructuring cannot occur unless there is greater unity among the participants. The more immediate goals and steps toward restructuring are land reform, decentralization, and cooperative self management.

Land reform

Since most of the participants own no land or not enough for basic subsistence, land reform is a top priority for restructuring. NGDOs work for the enforcement of land ceilings, but have had little success. Some have been given control over Bhoodan lands, government wastelands, and land that has been made available through the land ceiling act, where they organize collective farms, but these opportunities are also limited.[13] To reduce risk of land loss by small farmers, NGDOs fight high interest rates, seek alternative sources of credit, and try to revitalize or provide rural extension services. For the long run, social- ist NGDOs advocate government land ownership, whereas others promote private, collective, or community ownership.


In addition to landlords, capitalists, and money lenders, distant and indifferent officials who do not understand the participants' situation, and because of class and caste differences, often do not care it, are blamed for the participants' plight. NGDOs call for planning and control from the bottom up via sangams, and see their community organization work as an essential first step. Industrial policy must also change, with a movement from centralized, capital intensive, urban industry to decentralized, labor intensive rural industry.

Cooperative Self Management

'Co-ops run by the gov- ernment get corrupt; co-ops run by political parties give privileges to government officials, and parties take money from the co-ops; co-ops run by voluntary organizations should go nice' (NGDO 10/N).[14] The formation of economic co-ops is a central activity or goal of the NGDOs. Dairy, weaving, sewing, and fibre work are most common. Self-employment via the co-op is considered essential for self sufficiency, and the reduction of corruption and exploita- tion. In addition, when co-ops work, important skills are learned, costs, individual risk, exploitation, and debt bondage are reduced, and income is higher and more regular. In addition to work co-ops, sangams, especially women's, organize savings/credit co-ops to evade the money lender, and food-buying co-ops to save money. Some NGDOs organize housing co-ops where, after learning the skills, and even making the brick and tile, the particpants build their own houses and sometimes also also form economic co-ops.

NGDO17/F writes about its weaving co-ops:

Now-a-days the women handlooom weavers are exploited physically and economically. The sexual exploitation creates an unrest and other disturbance in their fami- lies. The indirect bondedness is also a reality....Due to lack of Union or Organisation at State level the weavers could not get the benefits of the State WeLfares like: medical care, minimum wage, provident fund, standing order, permanency and job security, environment safety, diseases and hazard safety...Now people have got confident in their life to struggle for their betterment through Cooperative and Community Action. Previously people thought that their Fate and Karma is the root cause for their poverty and out caste system. Now they could involve in the decision making and decision taking process in their activities.

Income Generation

'You cannot uplift women and children if they have empty stomachs'(NGDO 11/F). Some NGDOs believe income generation is a prerequisite for awareness and empowerment; most see them as mutually reinforcing; for instance the desire to read, write, and count becomes stronger when the benefits are linked to income generation, and at the same time, these skills facilitate income generation. The NGDOs' goal is a stable and sufficient income and freedom from debt, within the context of traditional Indian simplicity. The benefits listed by the NGDOs are increased social and self respect, status, autonomy, self reliance, confidence, security, health, saving, future orientation, and planning, plus reduced labor migration and infant/child mortality (which some link with reduced fertility). Income generation programs are enhanced by tapping into government programs (e.g. free sewing machines for the most destitute who have passed a tailoring course), the formation of co-ops and sangam credit schemes, the provision of low or no interest loans, and efforts to keep consumer prices down (e.g., sangam and co-op shops).

Income generation strategies include:

Agriculture and animal husbandry. Community forestry, fuel and fodder plots, dairy, goats, pigs, sheep, poultry, silk worms, training in animal care and artificial insemina- tion, and for those with land, credit, training, and co-ops for tools, repairs, and supplies.

Crafts and small industry. Tailoring and ready mades, embroidery, fibre work, shoe making, potting, spinning, weaving, book making, oil pressing, and manufacture of wire baskets, incense, soap, cleansing compounds, and matches.[15]

Services. Typing, printing, radio and shoe repair, simple wiring, product showrooms, small shops, bicycle rental and repair . By far, the most common income generat- ing strategies are clothes construction, dairy, fiberworks, and weaving (see Table 1).


It is good to establish parks and fruit gardens, it is BETTER to establish Drinking water ponds and faculties. It is BEST to establish Food Centers. It is WORTHIER to establish Temples-Above All It is one crore time[s...the] yield of RIGHTEOUSNESS if we make one poor man to learn. NGDO 10/F).

'Education is the entry point for development programs'. (NGDO 18 and 13/F) `Education is power' (NGDO12/F). Since most of the participants cannot read, write, or count they are at great disadvantage and frequently cheated. Although education is considered essential, NGDOs do not promote the kind usually provided in government schools, for it does not serve the participants' needs.[16] Instead, NGDOs educational goals are to foster the desire to learn, encourage independence, impart knowledge and know-how necessary for everyday life, and improve thinking skills. Problem oriented, experiential education, and participatory research are emphasized (See Fernandes and Tandon, 1981; Rahman, 1984; Hammett, 1984; Maguire, 1987). The NGDOs establish their own schools, libraries, and reading centers; hold `camps', seminars, and cultural programs; and organize `social games'. One has a school for 1000 girls and women.

The main method, however, is nonformal education (NFE; Kindervatter, 1979). Generally, two-hour classes are held five or six nights a week, with men teaching males and women teaching females in separate facilities. NFE is aimed at adults, but children of all ages come, some participating and some creating bedlam. Three generations struggling together over their slates is powerful, moving scene. After a NGDO has been established for three years, the government will train teachers, who should have finished the tenth standard, and pay their salaries of Rs 200/month, currently @ $13.[17] These teachers must follow the government sylla- bus according to which, the teacher should '...convince them and coach them with a view to make them good citizens...The scheme has been formulated with a view to make the adult illiterates help themselves in their life. They will be enlightened on the following:

1. Literacy [includes numeracy].

2. First aid medicines for day-to-day use.

3. Traffic Rules

4. Daily news from Newspapers.

5. Knowledge about Indian Constitution.

6. Home gardening.

7. Home and Village Sanitation.

8. Family Planning.

9. Small Savings.

10. Cattle Breeding.

11. Eradication of Social Evils such as untouchability, Dowry, Drinking habits, Social Litigations.

12. Child care.

13. Crafts.

14. Cooking, Improvements of food habits.

15. Neat Maintenance of houses.

16. Imparting lessons on simple living to suit our country.

Although the NGDOs find all of these topics worthwhile, many think the government syllabus and training are too weak on awareness, and so add their own components. If, under government supervision, they are not able to get teachers who will deviate from the syllabus, NGDOs that place great- est emphasis on awareness seek funding to do their own version of NFE.


NGDOs consider adequate health fundamental to develop- ment, and call for `total' health services-- education, preventive, curative, mental, physical. Health works most frequently done by NGDOs are:


The major health activity of the NGDOs, it includes special emphasis on maternal and child health, nutrition, alcoholism, and efforts to remove the stigma of leprosy.[18]

Diagnosis and treatment

This work is done through health surveys, door-to door outreach, mini health centers, dispensaries, maternal and child care clinics, leprosy rehabilitation programs, family planning and eye camps.


Part of health education and often a compo- nent of diagnosis and treatment, special efforts are made regarding vaccination, prevention of alcoholism, and the 'eradication of the evils of alcohol'.


These efforts include nutrition education (sometimes linked to income generation projects), assistance in home gardening, provision of nutritious food at NGDOs' child care centers, and sometimes distribution of food to sick and disabled people without other support.[19]

Organization and Training

NGDOs train health education teachers, and voluntary health workers to do prevention and simple health care; they also organize health committees to act as health advocates for the community.

Family Planning

As discussed in Moen (1989a), while fertility, population growth, and family planning are major issues in development theory and policy, they are not for these NGDOs. Only seven of the thirty-three specifically emphasized family planning or population education in mate- rial sent to RSWR, in discussion with me, or by holding special seminars and camps. However family planning educa- tion and services are an integral part of maternal and child projects, they are featured in some of the general health care services, and family planning is in the NFE syllabus. NFE students always respond `two children are best' when asked about desired family size.

Public health

Safe water and cooking facilities are the main goal (see 'minor cluster' below). Nonformal and health education generally includes information about vacci- nations, infectious disease, bacterial contamination, and sanitation, as well as instruction on building soak pits and latrines. One NGDO built community toilet/bath complexes and school latrines.

Emphasis on Children and Youth

'You can help the poor by educating the children (NGDO 30/F). 'Help the poor not by giving them money , but by educating their children' (NGDO 9/F). Participant children are generally malnourished and diseased, and because of inadequate food, mental capacities may be diminished, perma- nently for some. Their spirits, however, are very strong. Children hold special possibilities for the NGDOs because they have not yet been beaten down by the system, they can influence their parents, and they represent the future. The NGDOs work to expose and end exploitive, illegal, and bonded labor of children and youth, and they also have programs especially for them:[20]


'Teachers are not paying proper attention to teaching and not coming sincerely to the schools' (NGDO 18/F). The major effort made for children, NGDOs emphasize independence, creativity, practical skills, and leadership which they believe are not adequately addressed in the government schools and too infrequently observed at home. Educational programs include nursery schools and kindergar- tens, nonformal and less frequently formal education, sup- plemental schools for students who need coaching in order to stay in school and pass qualifying exams, and special schools for drop outs.


This work is done through schools, sangams, and clubs. Awareness songs are popular, as they are today among U.S. youth (e.g., Tracy Chapman). By including any child, the NGDOs try to overcome prejudice, bring divided communities together, and reduce community violence. One device is to ask each student to bring a vegetable or some rice which they cook in a common pot and eat together. With that, a major caste taboo is broken and survived. NGDOs hope that from examples such as this, parents also will begin to overcome their prejudices.[21]


Youth and children sangams and clubs are formed, which not only provide education and awareness, but also one of the few opportunities for organized recreation and entertainment. NGDOs are especially concerned that children often must play in dangerous and unsanitary places.


Some NGDOs have orphanages, put on children's health programs in schools and health centers, take slum children to the countryside, or provide school gear to children who could not otherwise go to school. The major care giving activity is day care, for which government funds are available to NGDOs that have proven themselves. Often just a bare room full of little children, day care offers a nutritious meal and a safe place to be while par- ents are working.[22]

Youth service

NGDOs encourage young people to engage in service in their communities. Some NGDOs train youth to do nonformal and health education, put on cultural programs, and organize health and sanitation work in the community.

Emphasis on women

As seen in Table 1, great emphasis is placed on women, not only because they must bear the additional burden of gender discrimination, but also because NGDOs have found women to be more cooperative, responsible, creative, and hard working than men. Women are more likely to attend nonformal education classes, come up with new ideas, form sangams and co-ops, and manage their programs more success- fully. The possibilities and contradictions in the NGDOs work with women are discussed in Moen, (1989c).

Rural emphasis

NGDOs are concerned about urban and suburban slum dwellers, and some work with them. But most believe their efforts should be in rural areas where there are the great- est number of people in dire need, and the fewest opportuni- ties.

The Minor Cluster

Infrastructure such as housing, electricity, roads, water storage and distribution (for flood prevention and irrigation), wells, water taps, and waste disposal are considered in relationship to goals for health and income generation. As explained above, these NGDOs are not heavily involved with infrastructure but instead encourage sangams to organize it themselves when possible, and also lobby government officials for what is rightfully theirs. The main technological concern, open cooking fires (usually indoors, often with no chimney), is related to health and environmental goals because these fires are un- healthy and unsafe, and consume scarce wood and precious cattle dung that could otherwise be used for fertilizer. Solar cookers, smokeless stoves and biogas are considered good substitutes. NGDOs also promote small-scale technology for income generation programs such as oil seed pressing, banana and coconut fibre extraction, and spinning; to reduce household drudgery (e.g., in addition to cooking technology, ball bearing grain grinders, roof-water collectors); and to promote health, simple latrines, charcoal water filters, soakpits, food preservation by drying or evaporation cool- ing, and again cooking technology.)[23]

Other environmental concerns, mainly related to agri- culture and health, include soil and water quality, water sufficiency, and flooding. NGDOs are increasingly engaged in social forestry in order to slow deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification, as well as to improve soil and water quality and control flooding.[24] They focus on multi-purpose plants, such as subabul (Leucaena), whose roots fix nitrogen, leaves provide high quality animal feed, and rapidly growing trunks provide building poles and fire- wood. Projects include community fodder and wood plots and, supported by a federal government program, the growing of tree seedlings to distribute to farmers.


Give people fish and they will eat that day. Teach them to fish and they will eat for ever.

The NGDOs' definition, metatheory and strategy of develop- ment can be summarized as an explication of this metaphor for self reliance:

Don't beg for fish.Realize that there are fish to catch.Accept that if you study fishing, you can catch them. Gain the strength, energy, and time to fish. Learn to make fishing gear and be able to acquire that which cannot be made.[25] Learn how to fish. If you already know how to fish, realize that you don't have to fish for the elite, you can fish yourself. Teach others to fish. Share your fish with the unable. Organize fishing horizontally and vertically.[26] Bury your differences; elect yourselves to govern; don't let the elite continue to divide and conquer you, or you will lose your fishing gear and fish. Instead, teach them how to fish. Protect the water. Don't try to live by fish alone.

In Moen (1989a) I derived and systematized a theoreti- cal framework explaining the causes and consequences of poverty. Here the framework was extended to a definition, metatheory, and strategy of development for the alleviation of poverty and the fostering of the human potential. In addition to abstracting and systematizing a great deal of information, I have also tried to reflect the values which are the foundation of the GRDWs work-equal opportunity, justice, and compassion.[27] In this concluding section I will raise questions about the source, quality, and general- izability of the GRDWs ideas, the possibility of grass roots development ideology, and policy implications.

First, where are the GRDWs coming from? Instead of the conventional understandings of poverty and development, their ideas and programs reflect `new thought' (e.g., con- structive postmodernism and liberating theory), ancient thought (the perennial philosophy), as well as the more familiar Friere, Danish folk school philosophy, liberation theology, Rogers, Alinsky, Marx, the original Greens, and of course, Gandhi.[28] It does not matter if GRDWs' ideas are not original, and it is understandable that they would reject conventional thinking about poverty and development, given its failure. But it is important to learn how their ideas come about. Is their metatheory/strategy the result of trial and error? Are they just following trendy ideas about development?[29] Are GRDWs'ideas unduly shaped by funding-agency guidelines? (Funding agencies are often caught up in trendiness.) Would these results have been different if I had used the files of another agency?[30] Are the NGDOs promoting good ideas, which like others whose time has come, are springing up independently and spreading? These questions can be answered by careful discussions with GRDWs, as well as longitudinal and cross sectional studies of funding agency guidelines and received proposals.

Regarding the quality of the GRDWs' thought, the more fragmented versions found in development and social science literature are becoming increasingly popular. Perhaps this is a positive sign, but history has shown that popularity and quality are not necessarily related. The answer might be found through the evaluation of their work, however, the outcome of their work should not be used as the sole measure of the quality of their thought. (And it should not be forgotten that even small successes will be very meaningful for the participants.) First, since many of their goals are intangible, the more readily measured ones tend to be long- er-term, and if GRDWs are right, most of the major factors must be in place before any one will work well, it will be difficult to determine the timing and method of evaluation.[31] Moreover, GRDWs work under very difficult circumstances: money, know-how, and all other resources are scarce; they are stymied by government inefficiency and corruption; when they start looking successful, the elite begin to sabotage their work; and because these NGDOs are working with the very bottom of the social hierarchy, they may even be opposed by poor peasants. Thus it would seem that no matter how good the NGDOs' analysis and ideas, without concomitant change from the top-down, change from the bottom-up will be difficult to achieve.

Regarding the question of generalization, numerous other NGDOs operating from a similar though more fragmented framework in India and many other nations, have successfully achieved some of these NGDOs' goals (see e.g., Schneider, 1988), which suggests that their ideas are not idiosyncratic or context bound and should be useful beyond Tamil Nadu. In fact, on the other side of the world, Elvia Alvarado a Honduran peasant and labor organizer, has reached essential- ly the same conclusions, but goes beyond the Indian NGDOs by considering the international context of Honduran develop- ment. (Benjamin, 1987).

Another concern is ideology. As discussed in Moen (1989a) it is appropriate to question the motives and verac- ity of the GRDWs, and important to develop a theory of grass roots development ideology to discover if NGDOs and GRDWs are primarily promoting their own interests. Previously, questions were raised about NGDOs' exaggeration of the participants' condition, the faults of the government, and their own success. Here questions arise about hidden agen- das, specifically radical thought and drastic action. Since the socialist positions were most often revealed in discus- sion and correspondence, not in the donor agency files, it is not unreasonable to ask if NGDOs hide more radical thought from researchers and funding agencies, especially those in the U.S. Certainly such thought is not taboo in India, and in fact, many of the RSWR files contain heavy-handed class analyses. Since violence is commonly used in India to redress grievances, enforce tradition, and generate social change, concern about the use of more drastic meas- ures than the NGDOs explicitly advocate is in order. Many of the NGDOs spoke of nonviolent change, and in all of the material, there was only one hint that the use of violence might be acceptable. Would an NGDO that advocated violence admit it, say nothing, or talk about nonviolence? My pur- pose is not to pass judgment on radical thought or drastic measures, but instead to point out that it is important to consider the possibility of hidden agendas such as these in the study of NGDOs and GRDWs. Finally, is the question of policy. While the NGDOs offer many specific ideas and strategies that would not be difficult to incorporate into development policy, they also present a difficult challenge to those who design and implement it and are, in effect, asking them to start over. If development policy makers were to ask NGDOs for advice, beyond what has been presented above, they might say something like this: Development is more a matter of political will than money or technology. There must be a genuine commitment to the alleviation of poverty which will require revision of social structure and culture. The goal of development should be wholeness and emancipation, free and healthy people in community. Econom- ic growth and material consumption are only a part of the means, not ends in themselves. Equitable and just develop- ment will be achieved through unity and cooperation, not division and competition. Development requires holistic thinking, and the recognition of complexity, interaction, and interdependence; it will not be accomplished through reductionist analyses or piecemeal efforts.

In sum, the GRDWs present a comprehensive, integrated, and widely though partially validated definition, metatheo- ry, and strategy for grass roots development which parallels their analysis of poverty and underdevelopment. Although the source and quality of GRDWs' thought, their hidden agendas, motives and veracity remain open to question, it is only fair to say that I have been deeply affected by the lives, work, and integrity of many of these GRDWs. Thus from my own experience, I will add another piece of advice to development policy makers: If the alleviation of the dire circumstances of the world's have-not individuals and nations is to be accomplished in a nonviolent and environmen- tally sustainable manner, it will require emancipation of the world's have-a-lot individuals and nations through a refocusing away from economic growth, the acquisition of material wealth, and power over others, and toward personal and community growth, inner wealth, and mutual support for these difficult tasks.


1 Mukerji, quoted by Mukherjee (1986:73).

2 The nongovernmental grass roots development organiza- tions (NGDOs) quoted in this paper are referenced by their organization number and the source of the quote where F=files of a donor agency, Right Sharing of World Resources (RSWR), N=my field notes, and C=my corre-spondence with the NGDOs. See (Moen, 1989b) for de-tails. Quotes from files and correspondence are exact and 'sic' should be mentally placed after every use of the generic masculine; quotes from field notes are close but not exact. Commonly used words and prases are in quotes and unreferened. This quote is from NGDO 5/C.

3 Re top-down vs. bottom-up development, see Hollnstein- er, 1978; Bryant and White, 1982; Gran, 1983; Lewis,, 1988; Cernea, 1985; Schneider, 1988. Re fail- ure of community development, rural development and poverty reduction schemes in India, see Bjorkman 1979; Jain,, 1985; Neale 1985; Kurien 1986, Guhan, 1988. Desai (1986) concludes that poverty, unemploy-ment, stratification, discontent, repression, and curbs on civil liberties have increased in India during the last 30 years. Re grass roots developoment efforts in India see Sacchidananda, 1981; Allibard, 1983. Ac-cording to a recent register of rural development research in India (Satish, 1988), only a few of the 423 research efforts reviewed were concerned with local organizations and social movements.

4 The term `participants' includes target population and beneficiaries, i.e., those the NGDOs serve and those they seek to serve.

5 Briefly, regarding perspective, data and method: The research was guided by the `new paradigm' (e.g. Reason and Rowen, 1981), which, seeing knowledge as an inter- subjective process, seeks to heal the subjective/objec- tive split. Information about the thirty-three NGDOs comes from the files of Right Sharing of World Re-sources, a grass roots development donor agency as well as interviews and observation of the work of nineteen (plus correspondence with eight) of these; and inter- views with another five. Data are analyzed and sythe- sized via hermeneutic content analysis; see Moen, 1989b for details. RSWR is a program of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas.

6 By 'orienting perspetive' I mean the philosophy, knowl- edge, or set of ideas that underlies GRDWs' thought and guides their work. The term 'ideology' could be used, but I am reserving it for use in the somewhat different Marx/Habermas sense.

7 Given their small proportion of the population, Chris- tians are overrepresented in Tamil Nadu NGDOs. Since some of the larger Christian NGDOs in India actively seek converts, more than charity and duty may be in-volved; however the small ones such as those in this study do not proselytize.

8 I wish to emphasise that, while only a few of these NGDOs promote socialism, the great majority explicitly state the desire for an economy based on decentralized power, and collective ownership and management by the owner/workers. This not small scale capitalism as some claim, because it does not allow the exploitation of nonowner/workers, it is not state socialism, and it is not the form of communism where everybody owns every- thing in common.

9 For these NGDOs participation means participants taking control over their own destiny. Again it must be empha- sized that the GRDWs think holistically and in terms of interaction and mutual synergy. Thus, the odds are greatest for overall success or for one thing to suc- ceed when attention is given to all factors. Although in the literature, participation is said to be essen- tial for successful grass roots development, the con- cept is a subject of controversy, and its implementa- tion has been problematic and disappointing in develop- ment practice (Cohen and Uphoff, 1980; Bryant and White, 1982; Gow and Vansant, 1983; Gran, 1983; Cernea, 1985). Perhaps participation has not been successful because it has not been embedded in a fuller set of factors such as these NGDOs advocate, i.e.; reduction- ism does not work for grass roots development any better than has for other social policy.

10 Sufficency is tied to emancipation: 'People in affluent countries find it hard to imagine life without easy communications, innumerable gadgets, packaged food, ample furniture, and a vast choice of cosmetics. They feel sorry for those who have so few possessions, and think life would be better for them if they had more...The philosopher Erich Fromm, has written a book entitileed "To Have or To Be?" in which he maintains that two modes of existence are today struggling for the spririt of humanity, the "having" mode, which equates success with material goods, and the "being" mode which recognizes that the only value is what a person is. This teaching is as old as the Buddha, and it is the very heart of the Christian Gospel...This is why we refuse to count success in terms of increase in material goods, in buildings, transport or equipment...(NGDO 15/C). In a similar vein Friere concludes that for the oppressor, 'to be is to have, almost always at the expense of those who have nothing.'(1984:51). Thus liberation of the oppressed may first require emancipation of the oppressor.

11 See Srinivas (1986) about the benefits and conflicts associated with universal adult suffrage, established in 1950, and affirmative actionfor the lowest strata of society.

12 Hollnsteiner (1979) outlines the goals and process of community organization and compares it with community development.

13 Land holding limitations are set by each state. In Tamil Nadu they vary according to water availability, generally around 15 acres/person. It is not difficult to violate land ceilings by registering land in the name of family members.

14 Everywhere co-ops are well known for their promise and failure, for there are many problems such as corrup-tion, mismanagement, uncooperativeness, mistrust, and dishonesty. See e.g., Attwood amd Bavisker (1988), which includes a section on dairy co-ops in India. Perhaps cooperative efforts do not work because they are imposed from above or come from a reductionist approach to development rather than emerging out of a participatory process and a holistic approach to deve- lopoment. Should we expect oppressed and exploited people to behave any differently than the opressors and exploiters if they have not experienced awareness and empowerment? (See Friere, 1984).

15 Most NGDOs organize the production of goods to meet local basic needs at affordable prices, or seek govern- ment contracts such as for the production of .pauniforms. Some, however, are training women to make clothes for the middle class market, or connecting them with clothing exporters to do piece work at home or in sweatshops. The latter is especially censured by other NGDOs. It is a real dilemma, when the option may be no work at all.

16 Once day a group of village boys insisted that I help them with their reading, insisting that they just could not understand the lesson. No wonder! Their school book was an old text from England, and the lesson was about writing your landlord a complaint letter about the malfunctioning plumbing in your apartment.

17 NGDOs without government funding may pay less. It is not easy to find teachers. Villagers educated through the tenth standard are rare, especially women, and they must also be dedicated because the pay is so low that many of them must work in the fields too; sometimes they must provide slates, lamps, or oil, and since it is difficult to find facilities, those with the space may even hold the classes in their homes. Space for NFE classes may also be found in regular class rooms, halls, and temple porches. I recall a harijan NFE class far up in the hills--about thirty students sit- ting outside the village on bare ground. It was pitch black and they had only one oil lamp to light their slates. Students must also be dedicated; classes usually run from 7-9 or 8-10 p.m, and often they have worked in the fields all day. Since the women must carry water, find fuel, cook, and do other work for the family, they have gotten up early, and done more of this work between coming home from paid labor and going to night classes.

18 NGDOs are teaching oral rehydration therapy, but they know most of the participants cannot spare the money for salt and sugar, or the fuel to boil the water. Similarly, some village health workers said it really didn't matter how much they taught about nutrition because these villagers could never afford an adequate diet. 'We give them medicines and lectures, and soon they are sick again; we are doing it all wrong; we should be feeding them and getting them better work.'

19 More often NGDOs connect those who qualify for social welfare programs with the appropriate agency, however there are problems with mismanagement and corruption (see Moen, 1989a).

20 I was informed by faculty at a school of social work and at two universities that age 15 is the legal age to begin paid labor, but child labor is common in Tamil Nadu, starting at five, but especially around twelve years. At construction sites very young children are seen mixing and carrying mortar. Common places of employment for children are match factories and tanner- ies where thy work ten hours under hazardous conditions for no more than Rs 10 (@ $.70); restaurants where they make Rs 4-5 and get leftover food, often spoiled; and farms where they get the same pay as women, Rs 45/day. Children are frequently part of the unpaid family labor force, working at looms, in the field, rolling ciga-rettes, etc., under the same difficult, exploitive conditions as their parents. Girls start at a very early age carrying water; young boys tend animals.

21 At least one NGDO believes the elite need awareness too, especially college students who do not understand `How they are being duped by exams, job appointments, and dowry. This NGDO wants to start councils among college students because `In Tamil Nadu formerly the college students were very fond of politics. Now they have frustrated much about politics and became very fond of films (Cinema). They are not having any cher- ished goals' (NGDO 10/C).

22 Oten seen as an urban issue, day care is equally needed in rural areas of India. When money is scarce and work available, all ablebodied family members go, and young children may be left alone, or in the care of older children too young to do anything else. Children taken to the fields may get overheated, dehydrated, or se-verely bitten; other worksites may be equally danger- ous. I cannot forget a two year old who had been left alone all day in the family's tiny mud and thatch hut. It was extremely hot, and she had no water or food. She was covered by flies and filth, and her face was streaked by tears. The parents cannot be blamed, the GRDW explained, because they must grasp every opportu- nity to earn money for food.

23 NGDOs find biogas desireable because it recycles animal and human wastes into cooking gas and high quality, sterile fertilizer. Since biogas plants are expensive to construct and require a lot of manure, they need to be collectively owned and operated. This requires a high level of cooporation which has been achieved in China (along with a cheaper, easier construction meth- od), but not India. In addition, particpants in the vacinity of private biogas plants often have negative feelings about them since the owners now claim all the dung from their animals which the participants used to gather for their cooking fuel.

24 In other areas where there is more industry, NGDOs have taken the lead in raising consciousness about and organizing protests against toxic wastes.

25 This may be the stumbling block, and so important role for funding agencies.

26 This is the next stumbling block; when NGDOs' work starts looking successful, the elite often intervene.

27 These papers also lay the groundwork and generate many questions for further research. I will be addressing many of these issues when I continue this work in India December, 1989 through July, 1990 under an American Institute of Indian Studies research fellowship.

28 Since the NGDOs do heavily emphasize the environment- `sustainabile' is not part of their definition of development--it might seem strange to compare them with the Greens, but everything else fits. As noted in Moen (1989a) environmental concerns, especially the less local and longer term ones may seem like too much of a luxury for NGDOs working with some of the most desti- tute people in the world. More direct questioning about the environment may reveal a deeper concern.

29 The NGDOs' thought meshes well with the grass roots development literature. Are they following it, shaping it, or, following my perspective (Moen, 1989a), are they both the result of an intersubjective process ?

30 I don't think so, at least not for these NGDOs. Their proposals to other donor agencies as well as their goals and activities in general, as revealed in inter- views and annual reports, are consistent with their Lighthouse proposals. If I had used the files of a donor agency that focuses on agriculture or infrastruc- ture, rather than human and community development, the results probably would have been quite different.

31 There are many problems in the actual design and imple- mentation of the NGDOs programs, especially income generation.




The grass roots approach is becoming increasingly important in development theory, policy, strategy, and funding. Yet we know very little about the organiza- tions that carry out this work. This paper is based on the thoughts and practice of thirty-three grass roots development organizations in S. India. I derive and systematize their definition (goals), metatheory (what to do to achieve these goals), and strategy (how to do it) of development, and raise questions about about the source, quality, and generalizability of their ideas, about grass roots development ideology, and implica-tions for development policy .


I am deeply indebted and thankful to members of the Right Sharing committee and especially the staff person, Johan Mauer, for their encouragement and help; to the grass roots development workers and participants for their patience, hospitality, and example; to Cedna Wineland, Glenda Sehested, and Abigail Fuller for their valuable research assistance; and to Mary Downton and Tom Moen for being friends in deed. Travel support from the U.S. Information Agency and the University of Colorado, Boulder, College of Arts and Sciences enabled the field work. Data analysis and writing were supported by the Conflict Research Consortium and the Department of Sociology of the University of Colorado.

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