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NGOs often provide people with important welfare services, such as medical care, education and access to credit. This is known as 'service delivery'. Sometimes NGOs provide services for free, other times they charge users.
NGOs' services can make a major difference to people's lives: if people lack medical care, then a qualified doctor can be the difference between life and death (or between crippling hospital fees and a quick recovery).
Service delivery is not normally a long term solution to poverty.
It does not always change the basic structures that create and reinforce poverty. It can be paternalistic, not helping people to recognise and solve their own problems. It can also be expensive and hard to replicate at a national or international level.
Service delivery needs to be carefully planned, normally through existing local political or social structures.
If an NGO provides services that are not relevant for local people, or that use up people's time, or that are of a low standard, then they may be a distraction. Worse still, low quality service delivery can reinforce local power structures which impoverish poor people.
Working with beneficiaries
Some of the principles of good development practice also apply to service delivery: in particular, maintaining a dialogue and working respectfully with beneficiaries. Outsiders can suggest technical solutions to problems but cannot impose them.
Working with Governments
It is also normally important to work with national and local government. Governments have long-term responsibility for the welfare needs of their populations. Some governments may seem to lack the will or the capacity to meet their responsibilities. But they cannot be ignored when it comes to service delivery. Otherwise, the relationship between the government and the people may be undermined: one or other may focus their attention on external actors instead. This weakens a central process of development at the national level.
In some circumstances, welfare needs are very acute and the government cannot meet them. Then, NGOs can help by providing emergency humanitarian aid.