How empowerment happens: devolving management to local people in Vietnam and Pakistan

Another one of the fascinating case studies dug up by Sophie King for my recent UN paper on ‘The Role of the State in Empowering Poor and Excluded Groups and Individuals’. This one looks at two examples of devolution that seem to work

Devolving forest management to local people, Dak Lak, Vietnam

This is from an FAO case study and an OECD paper

By the mid-1990s the lack of effective provincial forest management in Dak Lak province had resulted in extensive deforestation, as indigenous andDak lakmigrant groups cleared land for subsistence and commercial production. In 1997, the central government called on the provincial government to curb deforestation and uncontrolled migration. From 1997 the official German development agency GTZ worked in partnership with the provincial department of agriculture and rural development to introduce participatory and sustainable forest management. The programme involved technical assistance to the local government, developing capacity for land-use planning at the commune-level; and land distribution to ethnic minority households. Local people were engaged in developing village-level regulations for land use. Local households were given the rights to forest resources as well as long-term land titles, and families involved in managing the forests were granted a quota of timber and 6% of after-tax value of the timber logged once the forest matures.


  • Deforestation slowed down in devolved areas
  • Between 1999 (the year before devolution was introduced) and 2001/2, the total value of goods harvested from the forest grew by 170%
  • This harvest accounted for on average 67.6% of non-farm income for participating households
  • Indigenous groups’ land rights were strengthened
  • The programme was effectively extended to other forested provinces


  • The programme did not incorporate aspects of the customary forest governance structure of the local ethnic group
  • Local people had little or no access to justice in order to defend their new rights – farmers therefore struggled to protect their timber from illegal logging
  • Tensions remained with local state forestry authorities who experienced a loss of control and associated benefits

Drivers of success:

  • There was an urgent need for change because of the serious decline in forest resources under state management
  • Despite tension with the local forestry authority, there was political support for the reforms within the provincial government and strong political commitment from central government, including investment of financial resources
  • Availability of technical support from GTZ. This was particularly helpful as forest devolution was unprecedented in Vietnam.
  • The initial emphasis on training and capacity-building of provincial administration.

Responding to civil society initiatives – co-production of sanitation in Karachi

This comes from a 2008 study by Diana Mitlin

Orangi projectOrangi is a large informal settlement in Karachi, Pakistan. In 1982, residents suffered from high child mortality rates linked to appalling local living conditions. A local NGO called the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) developed an alternative model for sanitation: ‘the residents of a lane or street paid for the lane investment in sanitation while the municipality took on responsibility for the sewer network into which this fed, and also the waste treatment plants’. After initial reluctance, the municipality eventually agreed to this co-management arrangement and the idea of community-installed and managed sanitation spread rapidly through the settlement.


  • The process has strengthened local organisations and made them more likely to engage with formal political structures, rather than operating through clientelist networks
  • In Orangi, 96,994 houses  built their neighbourhood sanitation systems, by investing Rs. 94.29 million (US$ 1.57 million)
  • 20 years after the work began in Orangi, the city of Karachi decided that the strategy should be supported throughout the city
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2 Responses to “How empowerment happens: devolving management to local people in Vietnam and Pakistan”
  1. Gabe Ferrazzi

    I am a proponent of devolution – in general, but I have some concerns about the Pakistan case – although I do not know the particulars of that case. From my visits to several of these kinds of schemes in Nepal I noted that the most organized/well off neighborhoods (e.g., returned army veterans)were successful in getting the matching local government contribution. Some of the poorer neighborhoods could not come up with the substantial contribution (materials, but sometimes labour was a problem too). And lastly, where poor people made a big effort and the local government responded, their relative contribution was a huge percentage of their income, as compared to their better off neighbour’s contribution. Translated into a typical service provision context, this is equivalent to hugely regressive local taxation for local services.
    So yes, there may be something good in all that, but one has to be cautious…

  2. Jake

    Interesting as this is, perhaps it should be titled either ‘how empowerment happened’ or ‘how empowerment can happen’.

    As complex as empowerment work usually is, especially when dealing with systemic change, there are common factors that come out that these examples support:

    -clear need that comes from communities.
    -that this is an immediate need, which suggests the more context specific, the easier to achieve results (bad for big theories of change/good for better programme management)
    -That at early stages the process does need some support, probably from government be that in terms of resources or enabling environment.
    -That systemic change takes a long time (20 years after the inital work in Orangi, for example)
    -That empowering some will mean disempowering others, or at least this is how it will be percieved. Very difficult to make this otherwise. People with power generally like it!