successful exit has to be built into strategy
from the very early stages of idea identification
and design. This informs the light touch
approach, and has implications for everything
that we do – how we invest the resources
available to us, the way we think and project
plan, and the way we interact with community
organizations and stakeholders.
Finally, an exit strategy should involve
learning lessons from experience – particularly
from the process of working with community
organizations, and the extent to which
empowerment, inclusion and practical needs
have been met. Honest consideration of
empowerment and inclusion processes, and
their impacts, is very often lacking in NGO
New ways of working
The principles and suggestions outlined above
may sound simple or even common sense.
We know they can work, because Practical
Action has seen them implemented, to
varying degrees, in several of our (and others’)
programmes. Nevertheless to truly pursue
an approach of sustainable, light touch,
facilitative partnerships with community
organizations throughout all our work, will pose
significant challenges to the way that we, other
NGOs, and donors, currently operate – raising
a number of questions for discussion.
The challenge to NGOs
Project proposals are often written to meet
donor and NGO interests, rather than to
respond directly to community identified
priorities. They are frequently written in
a rush, without time for substantial local
institutional analysis and consultation, in
order to meet deadlines. Even when time is
available, funds tend to be lacking to cover
the cost of pre-proposal appraisal. Projects are
typically funded for a period of three years –
where proposals have already committed the
implementing agency to a set of pre-agreed
activities and milestones for implementation.
There are tight pressures on project managers
to deliver activities and achieve targets. This
is the reality for most NGOs. The consequence
is that short-term, project-based interventions
may take precedence over community
empowerment, ownership and facilitative
It remains an open question: how can
NGOs, including Practical Action, prioritize a
Summary of key principles and
1. Facilitate empowerment and self-
2. Include and represent the poor.
3. Meet practical and strategic needs.
a. Carry out institutional analysis.
b. Work with existing community
c. Practise light touch facilitation.
d. Build capacity for visioning,
planning and managing collective
e. Support financial sustainability.
f. Encourage strategic links.
g. Check for processes of inclusion.
h. Plan for an exit strategy.
more process-oriented approach to community
development within the constraints of the
traditional project-based system?
One important response is for NGOs to
prioritize organizational strengthening as a
key element within any programme or project
proposal – and to build in the requisite time
and resources from the outset. NGOs need
to ensure that staff working in communities
have the necessary skills, flexibility and
incentives to pursue the light touch approach.
Staff should be recognized and rewarded
for these efforts, as much as for delivery of
more tangible objectives. The outcomes in
terms of community empowerment should
be monitored, to ensure continual learning
and improvement. More strategic use can be
made of evaluation processes to feed into new
In addition, NGOs can invest in having
longer term strategies in particular regions,
rather than working on a project-by-project
basis. Longer term programme strategies would
build up in-depth contextual understandings
and relevant institutional relationships in an
area, which can be drawn upon to propose
multiple project bids.
Finally, it is important for Practical Action