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Introduction RBA and Its Principles

The field of development has seen three major approaches to dealing with social problems. The charity model is almost instinctive to all of us. When we see a poor or a needy person, we are always tempted to donate some money, or materials to help the poor and needy in our community. This model is called the Charity Model, or sometime we call it the Generosity Model. For thousands of year, this was the prevailing model for dealing with social problems. It is based on the assumption that the philanthropists (donors) know the needs of the poor and would just satisfy this need. Although the charity model is perceived as linked always to money or in-kind donations, it could take other forms. Take the case of a community that was stricken by a disaster and people need to find a problem to the housing problem that existed after were damaged in the disaster. The charity model will address this problem by sending building materials, and sometimes teams to build the houses for the inhabitants of this region.

Around the middle of the 20th century, development workers started to shift into a new model, the Needs-Based Approach. The Needs-Based Approach (NBA) noted that the Charity Model is not adequate to address the needs of the poor and needy. They concluded that the poor and needy continued to be poor and needy as they increasingly depended on the philanthropists to satisfy their needs. In addition, since they do not participate in identifying the real needs, they are not fully committed to changes in their lives that the donors expected them to adopt. The solution was to base the interventions on the needs as expressed by the poor themselves. This approach came with a very important assumption that the donors do not have the answer to what the poor and needy actually need. Rather, the poor and needy must participate in the process of identifying their real needs and the means to address these needs.

For decades, the needs-based approach to development prevailed in the social justice field. The needs-based approach was a good improvement over the charity-based one, the previously prevailing approach to social justice and development. At the time, needs-based approach was helpful as it helped in establishing a dialogue between the helpers and the needy and called for increasing participation of those in need. Although need-based approach called for participation, it stopped short of addressing the policies and regulations as it seemed like engaging in politics. Especially with the prevailing view that NGOs should not engage in politics, the overwhelming majority of NGOs including the large ones, shied away from anything that might seem like politics, including policy making processes and donor agencies did not want to be accused of interfering in these matters. For instance, CARE International, one of the largest international NGOs worldwide, till recently, avoided engaging in changing policies as “beyond the scope of [its] programs,” in the countries in which it worked (Sprechmann & Pelton, 20011)).

Needs-based approach had few shortcomings that hindered deeper and holistic approach to social justice. These shortcomings include

  • Kept the image of needy people as beneficiaries of other benevolent ones. Poor and disadvantaged, being the recipients of help from others, still begged for help in addressing needs;
  • Implied no obligations towards political circles and other influential stakeholders. It simply emphasized the benevolent approach of “let’s help those in need whenever we can” mentality.
  • Benevolent people, or governments met the needs of the poor and disadvantaged only if resources are available;
  • Carried interventions mostly at micro levels with minimal efforts at the macro levels, national or international; and
  • Caused frustration as it encouraged people to participate at their level, but discouraged them from participating at higher policy-making circles.

For half a century, developing nations were arguing at the United Nations sessions for the need to recognize the right to development as a human right. With a growing globalization process and several political changes around the world, and with increasing pressure from developing nations2), the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development, Resolution 41/128 of 4 December 19863)) . This declaration gave a strong boost to the rights-based approach to development and marked a new era of the development thinking.

“The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”

Declaration on the Right to Development Adopted by General Assemble Resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986. Article 1.1.4)

1) Sprechmann, Sofia & Pelton, Emily; 2001. Advocacy tools and Guidelines: Promoting Policy Change. P. 5. Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. (CARE). Atlanta,USA.
3) The full text of the declaration can be obtained at here
4) Declaration on the Right to Development Declaration on the Right to Development; Adopted by General Assembly resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986.

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