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Poverty alleviation is a major priority of the government and can be seen to be directly and indirectly related to many of the government’s developmental programmes. Whether it is healthcare insurance or job creation, the goal of poverty alleviation and economic upliftment is always at the heart of the government’s efforts. However, the work of poverty alleviation cannot be achieved by any one stakeholder. Therefore, to help poor people, NGOs also play a critical role, by designing, implementing and scaling targeted initiatives and grassroots efforts. For someone curious about how to people poor people, it is important to understand the multifaceted role that NGOs play.

The role of NGOs

While the Government of India plays the role of an architect, creating and implementing a blueprint of large-scale economic policies and nationwide programs, NGOs can translate the government’s vision at the grassroots level. They can do this through initiatives targeting specific groups in focused geographical areas.  Their approach relies on close engagement with communities to understand their needs, barriers, and challenges, as well as precise opportunities that will bear impact. Armed with this understanding, they can design more relevant and localised interventions tackling the root causes of poverty in that community. These interventions include skilling programmes, healthcare assistance, counselling, and awareness campaigns, among others.

A deeper look at how NGOs work

NGOs, by operating within communities, have a better and more granular understanding of the distinct local poverty challenges. By conducting community engagement, and mapping all relevant government schemes and their gaps, they can conduct a needs assessment to define their next steps. They also identify key vulnerable demographic groups who will be the beneficiaries and participants in their targeted intervention, and leverage partnerships with government agencies to improve how they can coordinate and carry out work on-ground. NGO programmes have to be flexible, and keep evolving based on local realities and findings, including gender, age, and literacy levels; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to fighting poverty. Because, when an NGO team asks itself the question of how to help poor people – it begins a process of inquiry, discussion, and deliberation, and leads to a journey with a tight beneficiary focus for maximum community impact.

Finding solutions that work for people and communities

Based on an understanding of local variables, the solutions put forward can be diverse. For example, the issue of lack of education and skills can be addressed with local community classes offering basic literacy and vocational skills. Inadequate healthcare, another significant factor, is addressed with low-cost telemedicine clinics that bridge doctors with rural communities.

Group counselling or shared interest groups provide emotional support to those who need it. At the same time, door-to-door campaigns can educate people about available government benefits and how they can be accessed. Civil society organisations also provide micro capital loans and mentoring to promote small entrepreneurship and give a boost to self-help groups, thus seeding economic growth in local economies.

How to help poor people: success metrics that matter

No matter how well-crafted the solutions are, their uptake and success are not guaranteed. Instead, a set of success metrics can help NGOs measure how well they are performing and how they can course-correct their efforts. These include the interest and participation of the local community, long-term relevance to local communities, the ability to conduct consistent and long-term engagement with groups, and the simplicity and ease of the interventions being put forward. Each of the interventions also must be tracked, individually and holistically, to ensure that there is a return on investment.

Government programmes will continue handling large-scale poverty alleviation schemes at a policy level for the wider population. However, NGOs fill a huge gap through grassroots initiatives addressing deep-rooted barriers and challenges faced by specific vulnerable demographic groups in focused community pockets. Concerted NGO efforts over the coming years focused on enabling self-reliance and livelihood improvement rather than just immediate poverty relief present a promising path. For example, NGO Bal Rakshat Bharat (Save the Children) implements programmes of education, skilling and resilience across the country, that enable better outcomes for children, including lower exposure to poverty.

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