Introduction RIGHTS-BASED APPROACH and Its Principles

The development field 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 needy person, we often donate money or materials to help. We refer to this model as the ‘Charity Model” and sometimes the “Generosity Model.” Charity has been the prevailing model for dealing with social problems for thousands of years. At the core of the Charity Model is the assumption that philanthropists (donors) understand the needs of the poor and that their contribution would satisfy these needs. Although we frequently think of money when talking about “charity,” it could also be in-kind, time, and/or expertise. Take the case of a community stricken by a natural disaster. The disaster usually comes with a host of overwhelming problems. For instance, people who lost their homes need to find shelters in the short term and new houses in the medium term. In the charity model, people will address this problem by collecting cash donations, sending tents and building materials, and contributing time, expertise, or temporary shelters for affected families. In another common example, whenever we hear of a poor family, we assume that the need is money, which is what we contribute. In brief, affected communities hardly participate in identifying their needs. They are mere recipients – or beneficiaries – of the philanthropy of others.

Around the middle of the 20th century, development workers started to shift into a new model: the Need-Based Approach (NBA). The NBA concluded that the poor and needy continue to be poor and needy because they do not participate in identifying their real needs. The “donors” assume the needs on behalf of the affected communities. Besides, affected communities increasingly depend on philanthropists to satisfy their needs and carry them by their charity. Since the affected communities hardly participate in identifying the real needs, they are not fully committed to the changes in their lives that the donors might expect them to make.

The NBA introduced a significant shift to the development process, which insists on the participation of affected communities in identifying the real needs and the viable solutions. This approach came with a very important assumption that the donors cannot answer what the poor and needy need. Rather, the poor and needy must participate in identifying their real needs and the means to address these needs.

The NBA hugely impacted the development field by emphasizing the importance of involving the affected communities in the development process. It was a step up from the Charity Model.

For decades, the needs-based approach to development prevailed in the social justice field. By emphasizing people’s participation, the NBA helped establish the necessity of dialogue between the helpers and the needy. Although the need-based approach called for participation, it stopped short of addressing the policies and regulations as it shied away from engaging in politics. Especially with the prevailing view that NGOs should not engage in politics, the overwhelming majority of NGOs, including large ones, shied away from anything that might seem political. Engaging in 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, 2001[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. ).

The NBA brought a lasting positive change to the field. However, it has a few shortcomings that hinder a deeper and holistic approach to social justice.

It kept the image of needy people as beneficiaries of other benevolent ones. Being the recipients of help from others, the poor and disadvantaged still begged for help addressing needs

● It implied no obligations from political circles and other influential stakeholders to change the situation. It simply emphasized the benevolent approach of the “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 were available. It carried interventions mostly at micro levels with minimal efforts at the macro or structural levels, national or international

● It caused frustration as it encouraged people to participate in their immediate surroundings but discouraged them from participating in higher policy-making circles.

For half a century, developing nations were arguing at the United Nations sessions about 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 nations [2]Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). 01/19/2007. , the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2 Declaration on the Right to Development, Resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986) [3]The full text of the Declaration can be obtained at . This 3 Declaration strongly boosted the rights-based approach to development and marked a new era of development thinking.


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.
2 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). 01/19/2007.
3 The full text of the Declaration can be obtained at