Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

Role of Civil Society Organization in Community Development: Past, Present and Future

By Muhammad Panah

It is important to discuss the past and present role of civil society organizations in the community‘s holistic development, plan better for the future. The governance system transformation began after the formation of a faith-based institutions called local council at union council level in Hunza, in 1969. It was the first civil society institution within the autocratic system of governance in Hunza.  In the beginning the councils were criticized but with the passage of time people became aware of their importance.

In 1974, when the democratic system was imposed on the Hunza state by the federal democratic government, it was a breakthrough for the Hunza people. At that time, majority of the population in Hunza were supporters of the autocratic system, but some people realized that they were oppressed and at a disadvantage because of the taxation, and lack of social and economic justice. The transformation from autocratic to democratic governance created an ideological vacuum between democratic and traditionalist for several years. The unacceptance or misunderstanding of ideologies did not let the people to discuss their collective challenges and make joint strategies to overcome those challenges. The ideological clashes and lack of understanding maintained status quo in terms of political leadership , allowing members of the ruling family to emerge as political leaders under the democratic system also. Members of the Mir family, thus, won elections for consistently for three decades. Unfavorable political environment affecting the common citizens caused political leadership deficit in Hunza. That’s the reason Hunza lacks political leadership or power and Hunza remains a political orphan, in my opinion.

In 1982, Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) intervened in the area for the community’s holistic development. It was the second civil society organization’s formation initiative at grassroots level. Since then, communities have formed hundreds of village- based organizations to jointly work for their socioeconomic and governance development. These community- based organizations were run by the local people, but slowly the pace of progress turned to decline due to the absence of human resources. Lack of transparency and accountability and financial embezzlements affected many organizations, causing losses worth tens of millions, if not more. The community members (men and women) who had saved millions of rupees in these organizations for their children’s education and health, were left high and dry, as some nefarious and dishonest elements filled their pockets, stealing the hardly earned monies.

Such issues created drastic disunity, distrust and disharmony within the community; again, it took us back away from making development and producing leadership for a decade.

Currently, each village in Gojal-Hunza has registered at least one civil society organization to serve for the community’s sustainable development. Indeed, it is a credible initiative by social activists, intellectuals and leaders to foster unity with the aim of pooling and utilizing their resources for the community’s development.  But it seems that the current civil society leadership is not playing its due role in collective development.  The past civil society leadership had strengthened the organizations through saving and planning, but current civil society organizations leadership have different priorities, often to create conflicts and drag youngsters in different conflicts and send them before the honorable courts. There are tens of land conflict cases in the courts with communities spending millions of rupees to pay lawyers’ fee and logistics. The problematic individuals create disharmony, disunity and economic vulnerability among the ordinary people of society.

If such a dishonorable situation continues in the future also, then after some years we will be left with nothing. Our resources will be in the hands of others and we will struggle to find jobs as watchmen or waiters in our own land!

In view of the above discussion, it is important for civil society organizations to review their role, form new synergies and alliances and chalk out a more durable plan of action and advocacy for the future.

The following suggestions are being put forward for civil society organizations to address future challenges:

  • Forming networks of civil society organizations to work towards collective development
  • There are hundreds of extra ordinary students, who are unable to go to higher education institutions due to financial constraints. If they do not get an opportunity to get an education then they are involved in unethical activities, ultimately, the entire society from unethical actions. The civil society organizations should be proactively working to generate resources for these students
  • Formation of a think tank to utilize human capital for a prosperous society.
  • The energy crisis is the biggest issue for educated people, most of the professionals are engaged with online earning, but they do not get electricity to work from their homes. They go to down to cities to avail this facilitation by paying big amount. Communities have the biggest of water resources to install hydroelectricity turbines to generate electricity to fulfil the needs and sell it to commercial areas to earn a reasonable income. Hydroelectricity generation is the biggest business industry in the Gojal. Civil society organizations need to come together to advocate and work for energy generation and distribution    
  • Formation of collective credit society to pull scattered financial capital in one place to facilitate educated youth to establish their self-employment opportunities.
  • Advocacy for community medical colleges and technical institutions to produce human capital and to fulfil the needs of areas. 

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