Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN), Pakistan

Policy And Advocacy

The government of Pakistan has increasingly recognised the importance of social mobilisation and the role of RSPs as partners in combating poverty at scale. Four RSPs were set up with government seed grants (i.e. National RSP, Punjab RSP, Sindh RSO, GBTI and Sarhad RSP). Seed grants were provided to RSPs to undertake mobilisation work and to link communities to government line agency services.

All RSPs, however, are independent, registered non-profit entities, mainly registered under Pakistan’s Companies’ Ordinance 1984 (Section 42).

As per this law each RSP has an independent Board, albeit these RSPs have some government officials on them, in a minority. All RSPs work closely with government. At federal (mainly through RSPN), provincial, and local levels RSPs and government have partnered on project implementation for improved service delivery to rural people, through the network of community organisations fostered by the RSPs.

The scale of these projects is large e.g. the Federal Ministry for Livestock and Dairy Development has contracted RSPN to implement the Prime Minister’s Special Initiative for Livestock (PMSIL) in 80 districts, with RSPs sub-partnering with RSPN for actual implementation.

One of the central tasks of RSPN has been to influence public policy, to make this more pro-poor. It has done so by having a membership and presence on high-level government committees and commissions, largely with the Planning Commission and in numerous Ministries. Chairman RSPN has been head of a Planning Commission Special Committee on Poverty Reduction, Social Protection and Women’s Empowerment set up in 2008; he also headed the Working Group on Rural Development and Devolution of the Planning Commission for the Ninth Five Year Plan, in 2004. Resultantly RSPN has influenced key national policy frameworks as well as individual sector strategies and projects.

RSPN’s success on the public policy front has centred on convincing government to internalise the principles of social mobilisation by advocating and demonstrating pro-poor lessons from RSP work with rural people.

RSPN’s key public policy contributions have been

  • 2001: input into the Citizen Community Board Rules under the devolution plan, through the National Reconstruction Bureau;
  • 2004: Chairman RSPN headed the Planning Commission Working Group on Rural Development and Devolution. Under the framework of the MTDF 2005-2010, this Group provided tangible strategies to implement nation-wide social mobilisation programmes in future;
  • 2003 & 2006: Community consultations for the Pakistan Poverty Reduction Strategies I & II;
  • 2004: Due to RSPN advocacy through presentations and field visits, the Prime Minister announced a National Programme for Rural Development and Poverty Reduction intended to expand the then RSP coverage from 8 million to about 16 million poor, rural people;
  • 2012: RSPN (Chairman and CEO) are members of the government’s Economic Advisory Council’s (EAC) Sub Committee on the Social Sectors.
  • 2005-6: Due to RSPN advocacy with the federal Planning Commission and the Local Government Departments, the Planning Commission issues a Supplement to the MTDF, titled Participatory Development through Social Mobilisation. The Supplement puts ‘social mobilisation’ at the centre of official rural development policy of the government. The government went on to request the World Bank for a loan to expand the footprint of social mobilisation across Pakistan to a further 1.33 million households. This Participatory Development through Social Mobilisation project is currently being routed through the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, with RSPs as main implementing partners, working in 19 of the country’s poorest districts to put in place community organisations and their federations;
  • 2008: a Special Committee on Poverty Reduction, Social Protection and Women’s Empowerment, of the Planning Commission’s Task Force on Social Sectors, was chaired by Chairman RSPN. The Committee presented its report to the President in December, 2008. The report recommended a poor-targeted, comprehensive Union Council Poverty Reduction Programme to the government. This Union Plan was approved for implementation in an initial 35 districts of Pakistan;


The RSPN, with the RSPs, presented the Union Plan to all provincial Chief Ministers. The NWFP and Sindh provincial governments allocated funds to this Union Plan in 2009 and are currently partnering with the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (40 Union Councils across four districts) and the Sindh Rural Support Organisation (six districts).

The Union Plan consists of key components piloted by the RSPN e.g. poverty targeting through the poverty score card (also piloted by RSPN for the BISP), health insurance, community investment fund, federating community organisations and the use of community activists as social mobilisers.