Empowering communities crucial for achieving SDGs: Sartaj Aziz

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National Convention of LSOs

ISLAMABAD: Community institutions, led by local people, are instrumental to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since communities living in different areas face diverse range of issues and challenges, and the local knowledge and context allows them to overcome such challenges in an indigenous way, it’s fundamental that they are being made part of development planning and implementation process at local level to achieve SDGs. This was said by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission of Pakistan Mr. Sartaj Aziz while addressing the National Convention of LSOs as the chief guest, here on Friday.

The convention was arranged by the Rural Support Progrmmes Network (RSPN), a network of eleven Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) working on poverty alleviation in 137 districts of Pakistan with overall outreach to a population of over 45 million. Local Support Organisations (LSOs) are the union council level institutions of the people fostered by RSPs and led by the local community members that form linkages with the government line departments and civil society organisations to undertake development initiatives well aligned with the local context. RSPN and RSPs have so far fostered 1457 LSOs with 394 women only LSOs. The National Convention of LSOs is a platform where representative from LSOs from across Pakistan, representatives of donor organisations, government officials, diplomats and development practitioners gather for experience sharing, mutual learning and showcasing development initiatives taken by the organised communities, the LSOs.

Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Ms. Marvi Memon, Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Pakistan His Excellency Mr. Jean-François Cautain, SDG Advisor to United Nations (UN) Pakistan Mr. Paul Dudley Martin, Country Director Asian Development Bank (ADB) Ms. Xiaohong Yang, Chairman RSPN Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan, representatives of the federal and provincial governments, chief executive officers of RSPs, and management and officials of RSPN and RSPs attended the convention.

Mr. Sartaj Aziz said that SDGs and their link to LSOs is of an utmost value as these community networks play vital role in achieving SDGs. He said that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a top-down mechanism and essentially a bureaucratic process. Therefore, many countries including Pakistan missed out on achieving MDGs. “UN and we all have learnt and then goals were increased from eight to seventeen in SDGs, with more focus on social sector and improving people’s lives,” he explained. He went on to say, “We couldn’t localize MDGs, but since SDGs is an international standard, we need to convert them to integrate with the local context. We have started converting SDGs into national goals. It’s equally important to convert them into provincial and local goals to enhance people’s understanding and mobilise them to achieve SDGs,” he said. Expressing great trust in the abilities of the community networks and LSOs, he said all could not be achieved by the government and it was need of the hour that organised communities come forward and take charge of their own development to achieve SDGs.

Ms. Marvi Memon said that she has witnessed the successes of LSOs, which are the small networks of the rural communities that created great processes and hence produced great results. She added that Pakistan is progressing towards achieving SDGs as all development programmes are now integrated with SDGs. She said that like LSOs, BISP beneficiary committees are also a silent revolution taking place. These networks have been empowered and particularly women are empowered through financial inclusion that is key to sustainable development.

In his remarks, EU Ambassador H.E. Mr. Jean-François Cautain said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN in September 2015 is the international community’s response to global challenges and trends in relation to sustainable development. The evolution from the MDGs to the SDGs reflected the changing approach to global development. He said EU is a major support to Civil Society Organisations in Pakistan. “We believe that sustainable development can only happen if communities at local level are taking charge of their own development, because only strong and well organised communities can demand quality services from the government and make officials accountable,” he maintained while adding, “In last 2 years, I’ve been visiting the rural communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan. I have witnessed that the RSPs work has unleashed the potentials of communities to undertake development initiatives impacting their lives.”

During his address, Mr. Shoaib Sultan Khan said that community institutions work as the social pillar to supplement and complement the political and administrative pillars of the state. And with the support of the federal and provincial governments, these institutions of the people, fostered through RSPs’ proven three-tiered social mobilisation approach to community driven development, have done miracles in combating poverty. “Empowering these LSOs is so important to achieve SDGs,” he added. Mr. Khan acknowledged the support of Mr Sartaj Aziz in setting up RSPs and supporting the cause of rural poor. He also appreciated Ms. Marvi Memon for her promise to collaborate with RSPs in graduating BISP beneficiaries out of poverty.

Mr. Paul Dudley Martin said that MDGs could not been achieved mainly because communities were not mobilised and local context was missing. He said that public awareness and ownership is important to achieve SDGs now, as mobilising communities is essential to achieve SDGs. He appreciated the RSPN and RSPs social mobilisation approach to community driven development. He said Pakistan is now integrating SDGs in policies and implementation process that is a step ahead. Planning Commission has also integrated SGDs in its Plan 2025, he added.

The convention concluded with theatre performance aimed to raise awareness on how organised communities can take up development initiatives by forming partnerships and linkages with the governments and stakeholders.