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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9, 2001

ADB opposition is helpful

By Robert Dobias
The Asian Development Bank's NGO network coordinator

As some nongovernment organizations (NGOs) stage a protest march against the Asian Development Bank in Honolulu today, it is as well to note that the ADB counts scores of NGOs among its valued development partners. NGOs are vital to our work and are involved in well over half of all recently approved ADB projects.

The ADB cooperates with NGOs to identify, design and implement development strategies and projects. We incorporate NGOs' expertise, experience and perspectives to ensure maximum sustainable benefit and the most effective use of resources. At the same time, the ADB helps through training programs to strengthen NGOs as players in the development process and bolster their relationships with institutions like the ADB, governments and the private sector.

To give an example of how much we rely on NGOs, take a rural health project in Vietnam that aims to improve healthcare for poor rural villagers — especially ethnic minorities, women and children — in 13 provinces. NGOs assisted in project design and will train community-level health workers. This will strengthen the sense of community ownership and ensure that the project is sustainable.

The Marine and Coastal Resources Management Project in Indonesia will rely on NGOs, working with local communities, to plan and implement small-scale natural resource management projects that can help to return more control over these resources to those who depend on them most for their subsistence and well being.

The ADB welcomes the advocacy role of NGOs. We recognize that NGOs work to influence the policies and practices of governments and development institutions such as the ADB. NGOs give voice to views that otherwise may not be expressed or given appropriate weight. This is important.

However, it is also important to recognize NGOs' vital operational role. The community of NGOs involved in development operations and service delivery is large and diverse and addresses the entire spectrum of human development needs. The ADB looks to develop partnerships and synergy with NGOs in efforts toward social and economic development and the reduction of poverty.

NGOs are often at the front line in delivering development programs, projects and services to people who need them most. This includes poverty reduction and welfare initiatives, emergency relief, and environmental protection and management.

A strength of NGOs that the ADB especially values is their capacity as intermediaries. NGOs can help articulate the aspirations of those on the margins of development that the ADB aims to assist — people who often do not have an opportunity to represent themselves.

The ADB's cooperation with NGOs is steadily increasing. The ADB undertook its first development project with NGOs in 1987. Today, more than half of all the ADB's projects involve NGOs in some significant way. Cooperation with NGOs similarly is increasing in other areas of ADB operations. In particular, the ADB is increasing its efforts to involve NGOs in policy and strategy development and the formulation of assistance plans for the ADB's developing members.

But we also realize that much remains to be done to ensure that NGOs, and civil society in general, play an ever-increasing role in the ADB's development assistance. Last February, we established an NGO network tasked with strengthening our cooperation with civil society.

The ADB is engaged with NGOs in a public debate on our policies, strategies and operations, and we certainly benefit from this dialogue. At the same time, we also are engaged with NGOs on the ground, in the cities and villages of Asia and the Pacific, in working to reduce poverty, expand livelihoods and improve the quality of life for people.

Both kinds of engagement are important and valuable.