Engaged in poverty reduction Arthacharya is an organisation which focuses only on the poorest of the poor in the society. Also, it is definitely not yet another service delivery operation. Based on its Vision and Mission as well as the Goals and Objectives Arthacharya has carved a strategy to address poverty related issues of the poor.Whatever the activity that it is engaged in, when it is carried out over a period of time, it has always tried to develop and refine a replicable low cost model. Arthacharya has classified development interventions going on in rural, urban and plantation communities into three categories. They are:
Rural Development Approach
This approach has its origin in Europe more than a century ago. The uneven attention focused on rural areas following the industrialization that took place in urban centres brought the attention of policy makers to concentrate on rural areas. Replicated in Sri Lanka by the colonial rulers this approach focuses on a geographical or an administrative area. The target group is the entire community in the area irrespective of its socio-economic differences. Therefore, it covers not only the poor but also the middle and upper classes as well. In other words the community is treated as a homogeneous group. Interventions are generally technical with a focus on the increase of production, particularly the agricultural production of the members of the community. This approach has ignored the fact that the majority of the poor in rural settings are either landless or engaged in rainfed agriculture which is subject to the vagaries of seasonal rainfall. Therefore, the interventions which take place in the form of irrigation development and extension etc. benefit mostly the owners of fertile land. Attention paid to the sharecroppers, agricultural labourers, who constitute a significant portion of the rural population, and marginal farmers are only marginally benefited. Another key intervention of this approach is infrastructure development in terms of roads, water supply and sanitation, electricity, communication and other services etc. These activities benefit the entire community including the poor. However, since such projects are quite expensive it is mainly the government could plan and implement most of the infrastructure activities.This approach also covers activities such as rural credit and small and medium enterprise development which again focus on the groups above the poorest of the poor. A strong weakness of this approach is its top down nature where planning and implementation is done by the government and donors with some limited participation of the community at all stages. This approach is followed to date by the government with large sums of funding from major and bilateral donors through Integrated Rural Development Projects (IRDPs). Rural development approach is quite the opposite of the approach followed by the Arthacharya Foundation.
Community Development Approach
This is a more positive response to the rural development approach. Having its origin again in Europe, around the same period as rural development approach, this was introduced through non-governmental as well as governmental organisations in the early part of the 20th century. Though it follows a more radical bottom up and non-technical approach in contrast to the rural development approach, even the community development approach focuses on the community as a whole ignoring the socio-economic diversities in it. Again, the poor are mixed in this approach with the middle and upper classes, paying no heed to the fact that the economic and resulting power relations between the two groups in their daily affairs characterize those of master and servant relationships. However, it follows a more participatory approach despite the fact that the poorest of the poor may get marginalized when they are mixed with the more powerful. Many nongovernmental institutions as well as the civil society organizations formed by governmental institutions functioning at national level follow this approach. A key feature of this approach is its participatory nature which respects the needs of the community particularly the basic needs. Community development approach strongly believes that in satisfying basic needs the active participation of the community through the entire process is essential. Microfinance and microenterprise development are other strong components of the community development approach. Mobilization of the savings of not only the poor but also the middle and affluent groups enables this approach to make its microfinance operations financially sustainable. This is due to the fact that the upper classes are capable of depositing relatively large amounts savings,which can be used for lending. Arthacharya Foundation does not follow this approach either since it mixes the poor with the rest of the community.
Poverty Reduction Approach
This approach has its origins in South Asia with a significant input made by Sri Lanka’s Change Agent Programme in the sixties and seventies. Poverty reduction approach targets only at the poorest of the poor who are identified through participatory methods. Following their identification they are positively separated from the rest of the community through the formation of self-help groups, community based organisations and federations led by the poor particularly their women. The most marginalized sections of the community thus become the leaders and decision makers of their own programmes. Even in selecting communities Arthacharya’s priority is marginalization. It has projects in isolated dry zone communities, plantation Tamil communities, coastal fishing communities, internally displaced Muslim communities and urban slum communities. While Arthacharya Foundation focuses on more social activities such as environmental conservation through participatory waste management, nutrition for children and mothers, water supply and sanitation, suicide prevention, increasing food security as well as irrigation development its sister organisation Arthavida Foundation concentrates on microfinance.