ARTICLES Interactions Between Field Workers and their Clients and...
Interactions Between Field Workers and their
Clients and Superiors in Non-Governmental
This article deals with the interaction between the field workers and their clients
and between field workers and their immediate superiors. This discussion is im-
portant for three main reasons. Firstly, it is important to know how field workers
interact with their clients and their immediate superiors. Secondly, from a 'devel-
opment' point of view, it is important to see how policies and decisions are fil-
tered down from the top to the field workers and how field workers pass them on
to their clients. Thirdly, it is very important for the NGO management to know
how or whether the problems or opinions of the clients are taken into consider-
ation in the short- or long-term planning of the NGOs.
Dr. Mokbul Morshed Ahmad is Assistant Professor, department of Geography
and Environment, Dhaka University, Dhaka, University.
I wanted to see what clients think about their field workers and what
field workers think about their clients. I also wanted to explore what
field workers thought about their immediate superiors and what their
immediate superiors thought about their subordinates, that is, the field
workers. With what type of clients do field workers prefer to work
with? What were the type of field workers that the clients liked? In
case of field worker-superior interaction, I sought to explore the pref-
erences of the field workers and superiors with regard to each other. I
also wanted to explore the perceptions of the clients with regard to the
services of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The article will
discuss what clients want that field workers cannot give, as well as the
achievements and failures of the field workers. These are important

464 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
aspects of the interactions between the two because a major role of the
field workers is service delivery.
Field work for this study was conducted between September 1998
and May 1999. The methods of inquiry of my study were predomi-
nantly ethnographic and/or qualitative with limited quantitative work.
These included in-depth case studies, structured discussions with se-
lected field workers, managers of NGOs, clients, as well as documen-
tary search. One hundred and nine field workers were interviewed by
a questionnaire to get basic information. This information was ana-
lysed by using stata software. Every effort was made to collect NGO
statements and documents with respect to their policies for recruit-
ment, promotion, posting, training, and other aspects related to their
field level personnel, as well as their policies regarding leave, pension
and other fringe benefits for field workers. The documents, which
field workers used in reporting or recording their activities, were also
collected and analysed. This gave me an idea of their load of pa-
per-work. I verified with the workers whether these policies are im-
plemented or not.
1. MCC International first came to Bangladesh to assist the sur-
vivors of the great tidal bore disaster of 1970, centred at
Noakhali, south-east of Dhaka. Now there are three main foci
in the MCC programmes in Bangladesh: agricultural and fam-
ily development, employment creation, and emergency assis-
tance. MCC Bangladesh has 141 full-time staff and about 10
thousand members. I worked in Noakhali.
2. Proshika is one of the largest NGOs in Bangladesh. Since its
inception in 1976, Proshika's efforts have centred around en-
gendering a participatory process of 'development'. It claims
to have succeeded in pioneering an approach that puts human
development at the centre. Proshika works in 10,166 villages
and 654 urban slums, with nearly 1.3 million men and women
from rural and urban poor households, organised into 68,897
groups. This translates into a total programme reach of over
7.1 million individuals (Proshika, 1997). I worked at Sakhipur,
central Bangladesh.
3. Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS) is one of the oldest
NGOs of Bangladesh Working in northern Bangladesh, with
around 2,00,000 households, the RDRS has an employee

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 465
strength of about 1,500. Originally a branch of an international
NGO, Lutheran World Federation, it became a national NGO
in 1997 (RDRS, 1997). I worked in the Kurigram district,
north-western Bangladesh.
Save the Children (SCF), UK, is one of the leading international
NGOs of Bangladesh. It started its work in Bangladesh soon after its
independence in 1971. One of the major activities of SCF (UK) is to
enable its beneficiaries to cope with floods, a major natural disaster in
Bangladesh. SCF (UK) has Coping with Flood programmes in some
flood-prone districts in Bangladesh. In Shariatpur, SCF (UK) decided
in 1996 to hand over its activities and resources to local NGOs due to
high operating costs. Twenty-two former SCF (UK)f field workers
formed three new NGOs and are working as 'partners' of SCF (UK).
The 'partner' NGOs have around 1,800 members. Their work is now
all in micro-credit, despite SCF (UK)'s published preference for em-
phasis on social problems in Bangladesh.
Jackson (1997) emphasises on the cooperation between the field
workers and their clients and the necessity to have an amicable rela-
tionship. This makes the work of the NGO easier and service delivery
improves. Throughout my field work, I tried to see and know how cli-
ents and field workers interacted. In most cases, field workers tried to
order their clients to get their work done. This problem has been exac-
erbated by the recent emphasis on micro-credit. In many cases, to re-
cover the loans, field workers abuse their clients.
From my observation and discussion with clients, I can grade the
NGOs according to their field worker-client relationship. When cli-
ents were asked about their relationship with field workers, 80 per
cent Proshika clients reported it to be very good. Sixty-eight per cent
SCF (UK), 65 per cent MCC clients, and only 52 per cent RDRS cli-
ents termed their relationship with their field workers as very good.
I would put Proshika at the top, and suggest that the main reason
for this good relationship is that until recently Proshika was a differ-
ent type of NGO, more interested in the motivation and organisation
of the landless. Now, though Proshika has joined the fashion for mi-
cro-credit and its training, some of its work still leave room for
greater interaction between field workers and clients. By 'some of
its work', I refer to the distinctive nature of Proshika's work in moti-
vating its clients for local and national political issues. Proshika still

466 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
runs non-formal and adult literacy schools and seeks to increase mo-
tivation through an emphasis on national pride. I found Proshika
field workers to be required to observe national days; this is counted
in their staff evaluation. I found that all field workers and trainee cli-
ents, led by Area Coordinator, place a wreath at the Language Mar-
tyrs' Memorial at midnight on February 20. Very few NGOs in
Bangladesh give such importance to observing national days. In the
1980s, Proshika was engaged in motivating its clients to demand
state land and water bodies for the landless. Many of today's senior
managers of Proshika were trade union leaders or activists of the left
or centrist political parties before joining Proshika. In my experi-
ence, leftist political or cultural workers are good motivators. Many
senior and mid-level managers of Proshika lamented to me that as
the NGO moved away from this motivation, the amicable relation-
ship between the field workers and clients was gradually disappear-
After Proshika, the clients of the SCF (UK) 'partners' seem to have
good relations with their field workers. There are several reasons for
this. Firstly, the clients deal with their field workers with respect and
keep in mind the influence of their families. Secondly, the kinship re-
lation between clients and field workers is also a decisive factor. Cli-
ents told me that they liked their field workers because they were from
their own or neighbouring villages. One client told me of a field
worker, 'She is our girl. How good or bad she is, is of secondary im-
portance'. Thirdly, as I mentioned earlier, that SCF (UK) started work
in Naria as a relief agency and many people in that area gratefully ac-
knowledge the benefits they received then. There is a dark side to this
too. Here again, micro-credit programmes have cases led to bitterness
between the field workers and clients in many cases.
In the relationship between clients and field workers, I would put
the MCC in the third place. Firstly, the missionary nature of the NGO
and its activities is a major reason. All the clients described the MCC
field workers as well-behaved and punctual. As a policy, MCC puts
high importance on the punctuality and behaviour of its field workers.
Secondly, a major advantage of the MCC field workers over most
other NGOs is the low priority given to micro-credit and a different
way of working with it. So, they are removed from the bitterness of
working in this area. At the same time, the low priority of micro-credit
is also a disadvantage. Many MCC field workers told me that clients
wanted micro-credit and in some cases have left the MCC for

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 467
credit-giving NGOs. The MCC field workers cannot give as much mi-
cro-credit as their clients demanded.
Among the four study NGOs, I found the worst relationship be-
tween clients and field workers in RDRS. This NGO may organise
picnics and sports tournaments for its staff, but it clearly had problems
in the micro-credit programme. Besides, the RDRS has failed to reori-
ent itself successfully from a relief agency to a 'development' agency.
Clients do not like to accept that they must now repay RDRS for ser-
vices rendered. Also, a paucity of skilled field workers in many areas
has resulted in poor service delivery by the RDRS.
Apart from the issues discussed above, I found that clients wanted
field workers to be polite, cooperative and sympathetic to their prob-
lems. All women clients preferred to work with women field workers
(despite class differences) and the reasons are quite obvious. In many
cases, clients wanted something from their field workers which may
be very important but not obvious to outsiders. For example, women
clients generally wanted the field workers to be modestly dressed,
and, particularly in areas where the MCC was working, for them to
maintain purdah. Similarly, all clients (whether men or women)
wanted the male field workers to respect the elders of their commu-
nity and the purdah of their women.
There are certain things which motivate field workers to work better.
These include policies of the NGOs, how they are implemented, team
work among the field workers, and their superiors. All these affect the
field worker-superior relationship and the motivation of field work-
ers to work. These are enumerated in Table 1, which highlights how
NGOs should deal with their field workers and keep them motivated.
To study the assessment of the motivation of the field workers, a
five-point scale was constructed. The index values were equivalent to
the scale values. The index values ranged from - 2 , meaning not at all
satisfactory, to +2 meaning good facilities are available, which in-
cluded staff policies, salary and benefits, and so on. On this scale, the
MCC staff were most motivated followed by Proshika, SCF (UK),
and RDRS. Similarly, a five-point scale was created to assess the level
of job satisfaction, with the results being similar to that for motiva-
tion. If we see how NGOs can satisfy needs at different levels of
Maslow's hierarchy (Morgan, 1997: 37), it is clear that NGOs do not

468 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
feel it important to meet the needs due to the absence of job security
and prevalence of patronage in those organisations (see Table 2).
TABLE 1: Motivation of Field Workers
Code of Practice (positive)
Promotion policy and its
Transfer policy and its
Code of Practice (negative)
Grounds for job loss
Show cause notices
Criticism by superiors
Depends on Depends on Depends on Depends
case •
case on case
Head office visits
Team Spirit
Social events
National days
Help in emergencies
Moderately Accepted
Source: Field Survey.

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 469
TABLE 2: How NGOs Satisfy Needs at Different Levels on Maslow's Hierarchy

Encouragement of complete employee commitment
Job as a major expressive dimension of employee's life
Creation of jobs with scope for achievement, autonomy,
responsibility and personal control
Work enhancing personal identity
Feedback and recognition for good performance
(for example, promotions, 'employee of the month award')
Work organisation that permits interaction with colleagues
Social and sports facilities
Office parties and outings
Pension and health care plans
Job tenure
Emphasis on career paths within the organisation
Absent (except
Salaries and wages
Safe and pleasant working conditions
Source: Field Work; Morgan (1997).
The NGOs like MCC, RDRS or SCF (UK) started relief work after
natural hazards and initially worked as relief agencies. Clients still
perceived the services of their NGOs as free. In a culture of relief, it is

470 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
a problem in doing 'development' or developing self-reliance, and the
field workers blamed the NGOs for this poor planning.
Training is one of the major service provided by the NGOs to their
clients. The main complaints from the clients on training were poor
timing as well as some irrelevant training. Besides, due to the loss of
wages for the days or even weeks of the training, clients are unwilling
to attend training programmes. Regarding poor timing for conducting
training programmes, all the clients (both men and women) said that
there were times of the year when they could not afford to be away
from their work, for example, during the sowing and harvesting sea-
sons. The clients said that this problem could be overcome by simply
asking them (the clients) for the best time to conduct training
Some of the training programmes were very popular with the cli-
ents because they were useful, for example, home gardens, re-
cord-keeping, poultry rearing, and so on. On the other hand, the
clients also reported that some training programmes were not useful
and were a complete waste of time.
When I asked clients what they had learned from a training under-
taken six months or even a year ago, many could respond. Except for
the SCF (UK) 'partner' NGOs, all the study NGOs had regular train-
ing programmes for their clients. The SCF (UK) arranged for visits to
other NGOs, but this was for the field workers and Directors of its
'partner' NGOs. MCC and Proshika clients got transport and food al-
lowances and accommodation for training programmes, which
seemed to compensate adequately for their absence from work if the
timing was convenient. The RDRS clients had to pay Taka 25 for a
three-day training programme and Taka 50 for a training programme
lasting more than three days. All clients disliked this system and gave
me the examples of other NGOs. The RDRS clients told me that they
could not afford these training fees, and leave paid work or work in
their farms or homes, especially when they found it difficult to repay
their loans. Many RDRS clients told me that, very often, they were
forced by the field workers to go for training programmes. They also
complained about the poor quality of food in the training centres. The
RDRS field workers said that if their clients did not go for training in
large numbers, their district or head office demanded to know the rea-
son. So, they were sometimes pressurised to force their clients under-
take training.

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 471
A major complaint that clients had about their field workers was
their the lack of punctuality of some. Sometimes field workers came
late to group meetings, which annoyed many clients who had left paid
work or domestic responsibilities to attend the same. Though I found
field workers to be sometimes late for unavoidable reasons, in other
cases I found them to be not serious about the value of their clients'
time. Sometimes, even mid-level managers would be late for meet-
ings, leaving their field workers to face the criticism of their ag-
grieved clients.
I would like to close this section with a discussion on the opinions
of the clients about the services they need from their NGOs, in order
of priority. The suggestions require the due attention from the policy
makers of NGOs in Bangladesh.
All clients wanted advice and supervision from their field workers on
how to maintain unity in their groups. This seems like a good sugges-
tion because NGOs should work to make their client groups
self-sustaining as unity among the clients is essential. Most clients
told me that members do not join the groups with the same objective
and so it becomes difficult to maintain group unity when some people
join the groups only to fulfil their petty interests.
During my interaction with clients, all of them told me that to make a
living everybody needed money or to be more precise, a regular in-
come. The clients said that credit should be given due importance as a
service for them.
All clients reported that they wanted non-formal and adult literacy
services from their NGOs. They also said that after completion of
these educational programmes, there should be separate programmes
to retain what they have learnt; otherwise they would forget reading
and writing, which would then be a waste of time and resources.
Skill Training
Most clients (both men and women) gave high importance to skill
training. They said that to become self-employed or to use credit effi-
ciently, they needed to be skilled in their trades. So, clients needed
skill training for income-generation activities.

472 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
Gender Awareness Programme
All the women clients and even most of the men reported that the gen-
der programme of the NGOs could not be successful without legal
awareness programmes on the rights of women, the necessity of girls'
education, and awareness against the evils of child marriage and
dowry. These, they say, are not only necessary for women but for men
as well.
All clients reported that they needed health education programmes like
cleanliness, basic health awareness, the necessity of using latrines and
supplying them at subsidised prices, sinking tube-wells and making cli-
ents aware of the necessity of using safe drinking water, and so on.
So, with what type of clients do the field workers want to work with?
Overall, they tended to prefer women, the not-so-poor, the educated
and the obedient. Women are clearly more obedient than men as I
shall discuss below. My findings are similar to those of Rahman
(1999) on Grameen Bank. Table 3 shows the field workers' prefer-
ences for clients. The gender variation in selecting clients by the field
workers does not seem unusual. Clearly, all women field workers
would like to work with women clients. Interestingly, most men (63
per cent) field workers wanted to work with women clients and 26 per
cent wanted to work with both men and women.
TABLE 3: Field Worker's Preferences for Clients
13 (190)
42 (39)
33 (48)
36 (33)
SCF (UK) 'Partners'
15 (22)
29 (100)
69 (100)
11 (100)
109 (100)
Note: Figures in parentheses are per cent of total. Percentages are rounded so they may
not sum up to 100.
Source: Field Survey.
To elaborate on why women clients are more preferred to men
clients, the field workers' reasons2 are given below.
1. Same gender (for women field workers only).
2. Women are always available.

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 473
3. Men create problems in repaying loans, women are better.
Men are more ingenious and difficult to control.
4. Women are committed to repaying loans, utilise loans prop-
erly, and usually do not waste money.
5. Women try to be self-reliant.
6. Women attend meetings regularly.
7. Easy to work with women.
8. Women are more united than men and groups do not break up.
9. Women are good savers.
10. Women are obedient.
11. The women who know that their husbands will misuse the
money do not take loans.
12. Women do not have the courage to flee the village.
The reasons listed above gives rise to several questions. An im-
portant question that strikes me is that not a single field worker
(male or female) reported that they preferred to work with women
because they needed 'development' or needed to be empowered,
perhaps reflecting a mentality which puts their own convenience
first. This also raises questions on the quality of training of the field
My findings also confirm the findings of Goetz (1995, 1996, 1997)
and Goetz and Gupta (1994), which questions the quality of the GAD
programmes of NGOs and government organisations where women are
used as a means to provide credit to a family. In a personal communica-
tion with Gupta in 1999, she said, 'If NGOs want to give credit to men
they should give it directly to men. Why are they using women as a me-
dium? The way NGOs give emphasis to credit programmes targeting
women seems, in most cases, to be a channel to give money to men.
Kabeer (1998) differs with Gupta and seems to be a supporter of the pres-
ent system.
The preference of field workers and mid-level managers for
women clients can be elaborated by an example. In Kurigram
Sadar Thana, the RDRS had around 4,000 members of whom 2,600
were women and the remaining men. The Thana Manager of
Kurigram Sadar told me (in 1998) that he had directed his field
workers not enrol any more men clients and to only enrol women.
He even told me that if men clients left the RDRS to join other
NGOs, the field workers should allow them to leave, but try to keep
retain the women clients.

474 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
The field workers' preference for not-so-poor, educated clients
could be linked to the micro-credit programmes of the NGOs. Even in
MCC, which does not work so much in micro-credit, the field workers
told me that for agricultural work clients needed some land. Many
MCC field workers expressed their concern for the landless people who
could not be reached by their NGO. Here I would like to say that it is
convenient for the field workers to work in micro-credit with the less
poor, and who are good re-payers. The preference of the field workers
for educated clients once again represents the problems of the NGOs
mentioned above. Educated clients understand arithmetic well, usually
do not create trouble over accounts, understand everything easily, and
can help in keeping the records of their groups. But if the NGO's prior-
ity is to target the disadvantaged and mobilise the poor, the preference
of the field workers for the educated and less poor clients raises a big
The main problems of working with men and women clients, as re-
ported by the field workers,3 are listed below.
• Husbands create trouble (do not allow the women to join
groups, come to the meetings, force them to ask for loans, and so
• Illiterate.
• Lack of interest in going for training.
• Difficulty in contacting by the opposite gender (for men field
workers only).
• Early marriage.
• Afraid of NGOs being Christian.
• Problem in coming to meetings due to child-care and other do-
mestic responsibilities.
• Hesitate to discuss family planning (for men field workers
• Do not repay loan regularly.
• Migration.
• Dishonest people create trouble.
• Misuse the loan.
• Lack of education.
• Afraid of NGO being Christian.

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 475
• Want quick credit.
The above list highlights some key issues. For example, there are
some common problems for both men and women like illiteracy, or
fear of religious conversion. The above list underlines the necessity of
educational programmes (both non-formal and adult) by the NGOs.
There are some typical problems in working with men like dishon-
esty, seasonal or permanent migration, and so on. Interestingly, the
problem in working with women clients are mainly caused by their
husbands or society — domestic responsibility, early marriage, and
so on. These problems could be changed by creation of awareness
among both men and women. Unfortunately, as most field workers
told me with evident frustration, that they had very little time or sup-
port from their NGOs for awareness creation.
There are certain materials and services which clients ask from their
field workers but who could not provide them. These services deserve
a mention because all field workers reported that they felt helpless
when they found some services essential for their clients, but could
not give them, due to the limitations of their NGOs.
All women field workers told me that they regularly got requests from
their women clients for contraceptives. There are several reasons for
this. Firstly, most women clients preferred temporary methods, but
due to purdah and other cultural constraints, women could not directly
buy contraceptives as these are sold by men. Secondly, the state fam-
ily planning workers rarely visited their homes. Therefore, the only
option left for the women was to depend on their husbands, many of
whom were not as interested in family planning as their wives (this
was more so if they did not have a son). Also, since many husbands
were not serious about family planning, they forget to buy contracep-
tives regularly for their wives. The women clients also felt a sense of
shame. Many women field workers reported that on many occasions
their women clients offered them money to buy contraceptives for
them and sometimes they (the women field workers) did so. But in
most cases, women field workers found it very difficult to convince
their clients that they could not provide free contraceptives or buy
them from the market due to constraints of time and limitations of

476 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
their NGOs. Most women field workers pointed out that difficulties in
access to contraceptives for women is a major barrier to the family
planning programmes in Bangladesh. When I asked women field
workers whether they thought if their NGOs should start distributing
contraceptives, they responded that with the workload they had it
would not be possible for them to carry out this task as well. Instead,
they suggested starting an awareness creation programmes among
men for family planning.
Non-Formal Education
Among NGOs studied, only Proshika had a non-formal education
programme for children. Field workers of the other three NGOs re-
ported that their clients regularly asked them to start non-formal
schools for their children. Many field workers said that though cli-
ents had been made conscious about education, they could not get
this service due to lack of schools. When I asked the clients as to
why they did not send their children to the government primary
schools, they gave me several reasons. Firstly, clients and field
workers told me that the distance to the schools, poor infrastructure,
lack of seating facilities, frequent absenteeism of teachers, and unat-
tractive educational methods discouraged students from enrolling or
made them drop out. Dreze and Sen (1995) found a similar situation
in India. Secondly, although in theory, primary education is 'free', it
is not so in practice. Clients and field workers said that teachers
charged for books, examinations, school functions, and so on.
Thirdly, when children grew up and wanted to go to school, they
were ashamed to sit with younger children. Therefore, non-formal
schools are the only way out for their education. I found Proshika
non-formal schools to be free, the teaching methods attractive and
more life-oriented than in state schools.
Medicines and Salt for Oral Rehydration Therapy
Clients ask for these materials mainly for two reasons. Firstly, due to
the awareness created by NGOs, many clients felt that it was neces-
sary for the intake of saline4 when they were affected by diarrhoea.
They also thought that due to vitamin deficiency their children needed
to take vitamin capsules. Some NGOs had distributed free oral
rehydration therapy salts and vitamin capsules when they had got
them from donors. Ever since, many clients thought that their NGO
should provide them with free salts and capsules too. Sometimes, this
created misunderstandings between the clients and field workers.

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 477
Usually, state health workers were supposed to distribute the salts free
of cost, but did not do so. Many women field workers reported that
though they showed their clients the simple procedure of making
rehydration drinks with sugar and salt at home, the clients preferred to
get ready-made packets. All the field workers were against the distri-
bution of salts because they felt that it was very easy to make ORT
drinks at home. The field workers also said that provision of these ma-
terials would create dependency on the NGOs.
Tailoring Training
Except for the RDRS, the NGOs had no system of providing training
to their clients for tailoring. I found a well-run tailoring training
programme for women clients of the RDRS. Initially, the RDRS pro-
vided the sewing machines, cloth and other materials and training to
its women clients. After a three month training period, when the cli-
ents started to earn money, they began to repay the cost of sewing ma-
chines. Many field workers said that there were two main reasons for
this high demand for tailoring skills. Firstly, tailoring was a very con-
venient trade for women as they could work at home. This does not af-
fect their purdah and they can carry on with this activity without much
effect on their domestic responsibilities. Also, since women usually
liked their garments stitched by women tailors, they were assured of
an income. Secondly, tailoring training helped women get jobs in the
mushrooming garment factories in Dhaka and Chittagong, which
mainly employed women.
Requests for this service only came from MCC clients. The MCC field
workers reported that their clients asked for credit, citing the examples
of other NGOs and organisations like the Grameen Bank. Many clients
became frustrated when they did not get credit and sometimes disen-
chanted clients left MCC membership too. MCC operated its credit
programmes on a small scale from the savings of the clients. All MCC
field workers said that they tried to convince their clients of the dangers
of credit, by citing examples where clients of other NGOs or institu-
tions had to sell their cattle, ornaments or assets to repay their loans.
This is a costlier service than those discussed above. Most field work-
ers told me that during health awareness programmes, they motivated
their clients to use tube-well water. Many clients asked their field
workers to sink tube-wells in their villages. The RDRS subsidised the

478 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
sinking of tube-wells and SCF (UK) had constructed many
tube-wells. Interestingly, no field workers (including those from the
RDRS) liked the idea of providing tube-wells because they thought
that it could be done by the clients themselves.
There was another problem with the advice given regarding using
tube-well water. There was an outbreak of arsenic contamination in
tube-well waters in many parts of Bangladesh. Field workers, who
earlier used to encourage their clients to use tube-well water, now
have to advise their clients not do so. Most field workers said that they
had become laughing stock for changing their advice.

Wood (1994) gave his opinion on the interaction between field work-
ers and their superiors in Bangladesh (compare Suzuki, 1998). Senior
and mid-level managers preferred obedient, sincere and intelligent
field workers. If I were in their (the managers') place I would have
said the same thing. For example, one SCF (UK) 'partner' NGO Di-
rector said that she did not like those field workers who do not get
their leave sanctioned at least two to three days in advance, because it
hampered her work.
Briefly speaking, the relationships between field workers and their
immediate superiors vary from NGO to NGO and from persons to
person. Overall, I found the relationship between the Directors and
field workers of SCF (UK) 'partners' to be the best, in the sense that
trust was greater and they were more sympathetic towards each other.
The Directors and most field workers were colleagues who had
formed their own NGOs and were from the same area. The relatively
flat structure of these NGOs could be another reason for the good rela-
tionship between the field workers and their superiors of the SCF
(UK) 'partner' NGOs.
The Proshika field staff-manager relationship is ranked next. This
might seem unexpected considering the huge size of this NGO. The
major reasons behind the good relationship between the Proshika
field workers and their immediate superiors was better management
at the top and mid-level, and the clear system of promotion. But I also
heard some examples of bitter relationships between Proshika field
workers and mid-level managers too.
I rank the staff-superior relations in MCC and RDRS at the same
level as I heard and saw many examples of bitter relationships in these

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 479
NGOs. I shall begin with the relationship between field workers and
their superiors where it is best and go on to the poorer relationships, in
order to show how relationships between field workers' and their supe-
riors become bad and how they could be improved. When I was talk-
ing to the mid-level and senior managers of Proshika they gave me
some suggestions for maintaining good relations between the field
workers and their superiors.
• If the superiors find any problem with the field workers they do
not report it to the higher authority(ies) or serve 'show cause'5
notices to the field workers concerned. I heard many complaints
of 'show cause' or disciplinary action taken by MCC and RDRS
mid-level managers against their field workers. Proshika
mid-level and senior managers took official action only as the
last resort against a field worker. They tried to solve the prob-
lem(s) through discussions with the field worker concerned. A
Zonal Coordinator of Proshika said that he did not even verbally
report any complaint against any field workers to his superiors
when he was an Area Coordinator. He always preferred discus-
sions and encouraged all his Area Coordinators to do the same.
• Errors of field workers can be corrected by discussing them in
formal and informal meetings without mentioning any names.
• Team spirit is the key element in a good relationship between
field workers and their superiors. Some mid-level and senior
managers told me they looked after the personal problems of the
field workers like accommodation, health problems or financial
problems. Woolcock (1998) reported that he found a mid-level
manager in the Grameen Bank assuming the roles of marriage
counsellor, conflict negotiator, training officer, civic leader and
a bank manager. Some mid-level managers of Proshika were
like this.
• Relations between field workers and their superiors can be very
good if the latter have a sympathetic towards them. I found
some mid-level and senior managers to be really sympathetic to
their field workers, and their generosity seems to pay-off (com-
pare, Palmer and Hoe, 1997).
However, I have also seen that most senior and mid-level managers
believe in the strict supervision of their field workers. I observed and
also heard about many cases of bad relations between field workers
and their superiors. The major causes appeared to be

480 Makbul Morshed Ahmad
• eagerness to discipline or control the field workers, which cre-
ated misunderstanding;
• withholding benefits from field workers and thus creates frus-
• not being sympathetic to the field workers' problems and griev-
• the tendency of many field workers to get new postings without
reference to their Area Thana Managers or the Thana Managers
(all the mangers that I spoke to said that they felt threatened when
they found their field workers using 'connections' at the Head
Office in Dhaka or District level offices for their transfers).
This problem could easily be solved through the enforcement of
strict management at the top level of the NGO. The mistrust and poor
relationship between field workers and their superiors not only affects
the smooth functioning of NGOs, but also the implementation of their
policies. The RDRS clearly exhibits these problems.
Making Comparisons
Many women field workers, particularly of MCC, complained that
their women superiors were not sympathetic. The conventional wis-
dom of recruiting women managers for the welfare of women field
workers can be easily challenged here. Some women field workers
told me that men superiors were, in many cases, better than women.
Many women field workers of MCC, Proshika and RDRS told me that
if their women superiors found them to be absent in the field or dis-
covered any irregularity, they never hesitated to send a memo asking
for explanations. On the other hand, men superiors asked for explana-
tions verbally, rather than officially.
So, what happens when field workers report their problems to their
superiors? Of course, when superiors are sympathetic and the rela-
tionship between field workers and their superiors are good, a solu-
tion to the problem is to be expected. When the superiors are not
sympathetic then problems start.
• When field workers spoke out about their problems, they were
identified as 'problem staff and were disliked by their superi-
ors. In many cases, these 'problem staff were harassed, and de-
prived of promotion or suitable postings by their superiors.
• Unsympathetic superiors told field workers, 'Other people are
working with it, if you cannot do it, then leave the job'. Field

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 481
workers told me, 'What will we and our families eat, if we leave
the job?'
• Some superiors did not want to listen to the problems of the field
workers or help solve them. Instead, they (the superiors) blamed
the field workers for the problems, even though the)' were be-
yond the control of the field worker.
• Mid-level and senior NGO managers exploited the ignorance of
field workers. When one SCF (UK) 'partner' NGO field worker
asked me how many festival bonuses I got, I answered that as a
member of staff in a semi-state organisation, I got two festival
bonuses on two Eids, each equal to my basic salary, with the
non-Muslim staff getting the same. The field workers were sur-
prised, and angry with their superiors, because they had been
told that state employees got only one festival bonus each year
and therefore, they would also get only one.
I present before you a case narrated to me by some women field
workers of MCC.
A woman gender advisor (from abroad) came to visit the MCC and the
women field workers had shared their problems with her. The women
field workers told the advisor about their problems of child care and ac-
commodation arising out of the MCC rule to live within their working
areas. They has also told her about the lack of sympathy from some of
their superiors. Somehow, the superiors found out about this. The
women field workers were threatened by their superiors and forbidden
to complain to the advisor. The gender advisor asked the women to sub-
mit a written complaint, but due to fear of losing their jobs and lack of
unity among themselves, they could not do that. The two women field
workers who led the move were sacked on the grounds of 'lack of funds
to keep them' in MCC.
SCF (UK) 'partner' NGO field workers tole me that they did not
believe that 'higher operating costs' had led to the handover. They
blamed the misuse of money by the SCF (UK) management, giving
the examples of buying costly furniture unsuitable for remote rural ar-
eas, locating the office in an erosion-prone area, and so on.
Field workers gave me many examples of mistreatment by their su-
periors. Many MCC and RDRS field workers complained to me that if
their superiors come to the office or the field late, no action was taken,
even if they inconvenienced many field workers. However, if they
(the field workers) arrived late or left early, they were presented
show-cause letters. In some extreme cases, some field workers of
MCC and RDRS said, that their salaries were cut on the basis of hours

482 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
absent from the office or field. Strikes are a regular phenomenon in
Bangladesh.6 Most MCC field workers complained that, when politi-
cians or transport workers called for a strike, their superiors just
closed the office and stayed at home. If the filed workers did the same,
they were pulled up for doing so. All MCC field workers said that
though they felt this was unfair, they dared not protest for fear of los-
ing their jobs.
MCC compelled all its field workers to live in or near their work
area. All MCC field workers were unhappy with this rule. They told
me that their immediate superiors also had to follow this rule. This
rule was lifted for the superiors, which led to a lot of antagonism.
1. In cases of complaints of bad relationships between field
workers and superiors, there was always a lack of cooperation
from the superiors. Field workers not only wanted their superi-
ors to be sympathetic to them, they also wanted suggestions
and help in their day-to-day work. Where superiors were not
cooperative or did not help, the problems of the field workers
automatically increased. Many field workers complained that
their superiors were unwilling to listen to their problems and
instead of solving them, they were sometimes blamed for rais-
ing problems.
2. Most field workers of MCC, Proshika and RDRS told me that
they understood the problems of their clients, but when they
reported them to their superiors, they (the superiors) did not
listen to their (field workers') proposals. Some superiors made
no effort to grasp the field realities (because some of them do
not visit the clients regularly) and their suggestions were often
irrelevant. Sometimes, the superiors undermined the tacit
knowledge7 of the field workers, which made the field workers
very unhappy.
3. In some cases, the superiors created divisions among the field
workers in order to impose their own decisions. For example,
in the Kurigram Sadar office of the RDRS all the men field
workers asked their superiors to supply them with calculators
for their work. The Thana Manager and the Assistant Thana
Managers asked all field workers to sign an application for a
calculator. Though all the men field workers signed the
application, the women field workers refused (so as not be

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 483
disobedient to their superiors, according to the men field
workers). Therefore, it was decided that the field workers
would buy their own calculators.
This above discussion highlights how relationships sour between
field workers and their superiors. Some field workers told me they
had mixed feelings about their superiors. Many field workers had bad
relations with some of their superiors and good relations with others;
it varied from person to person. Some mid-level and senior managers
were really sympathetic to their field workers, while some were not.
Many field workers said that some of their superiors were driven by
their own self-interest and obsessed with the performance indicators
of their NGOs. This kind of superior was obviously unpopular among
the field workers.
All field workers were asked for an evaluation of their own work. Al-
though most policies were formulated at the top level of NGOs, all
field workers felt that there were certain services which they could
give or improve in quality.
MCC Bangladesh
MCC field workers mentioned achievements such as:
• economic upliftment of clients through the services provided by
• increase in poultry rearing, cattle-raising, homestead gardening
and vegetable cultivation and consumption among clients;
• increase in awareness of women's rights and health (though,
dowry was still a major problem).
MCC field workers reported that 50 per cent of their clients had
benefited from their services. When asked about the remaining 50 per
cent who had not, the reasons given were (a) the functionally landless
were not targeted, and (b) many of their clients remained vulnerable
to nature, social structure, and so on. All field workers said that they
felt devastated when they found their clients uprooted from their
homes and having to leave the village or take shelter on the embank-
ments due to natural hazards or exploitation by landlords or
money-lenders. They also felt helpless because they could not make
any structural changes in the society (compare Goetz, 1996).

484 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
All Proshika field workers were happy that they had brought about
some changes in the lives of their clients and shared their goals for the
future. The positive changes were:
• the economic situation of most of the clients had improved, with
many of the clients managing three square meals in a day, when
earlier it was only twice a day.
• polygamy, and forced divorce by husbands had decreased.
• due to the voter awareness programme, clients voted in large
• health awareness had increased and the clients used peat latrines
instead of defecating in open places.
The failures, according to the Proshika field workers, were:
(a) The problem of early marriage of girls had yet to be eliminated
and all the field workers expressed their helplessness in the
face of societal pressure. All Proshika field workers expressed
a need for more awareness creation activities otherwise things
will remain the same.
(b) Dowry was still a major social problem among the clients.
The field workers felt that the best way to change their situation
was to convince the people that they themselves had to change their
lot. Many old Proshika field workers felt that Proshika should re-start
their campaign to get state land and water-bodies for the landless.
They said that though the disparity in society may not be eliminated, it
could be reduced by campaigning for land reform and mobilising cli-
ents to demand the basic minimum wages.
RDRS Bangladesh
The field workers of RDRS outlined their achievements as follows:
• Women have become more aware and were coming out of their
homes in large numbers.
• Marriages are now registered. Earlier marriages were simply
conducted by religious leaders and women could not demand
for their legal rights due to lack of documents in the event of a
divorce. The number of forced divorces by husbands had also
been reduced.
• More children are going to school.
• Preparation and use of oral saline has saved thousands of due to

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 485
• More households have latrines, a result of the health-awareness
programmes, and supply of peat latrines by the RDRS.
• Clients have got many income-generating opportunities and
more clients now rear poultry, livestock and do homestead gar-
Still RDRS field workers mentioned to me some of their failures:
(a) Dowry is still a major problem among the clients of RDRS. The
field workers said that though the RDRS had Comprehensive
Development Education Centres, which offered two-hour
teaching and discussion programmes, these activities were not
done very well.
(b) Although some progress had been made, field workers said
they felt shocked when many husbands did not allow their
wives to join the RDRS or attend group meetings saying that
they must perform domestic responsibilities.
SCF (UK) 'Partners'
The request for contraceptives by women clients has already been
mentioned earlier in this article. SCF (UK) 'partner' NGO field work-
ers said that they felt devastated when they heard or came across cases
of wife-beating among their clients. These NGOs had no policy to act
on this. Dowry was also mentioned as a problem.
The above discussion highlights that field workers know their
limitations very well and have good suggestions for the future
planning of their NGOs. This knowledge could be a major asset
for the NGOs. During the course of my discussions with the field
"workers, I was informed that this was the first time that they had
been asked about their relationship with their clients or superiors
and their failures and successes. This, once again, underlines the
necessity of discussions with field workers in any deci-
sion-making process of the NGOs. The bad relationship between
field workers and their superiors can be solved by the manage-
ment of the NGOs, which are increasingly becoming bureau-
cratic, state-like. This may put the superiority of NGO over state
functionaries into question. If this continues to happen at the field
level, policy-makers of NGOs will have to re-think their ways of

486 Mokbul Morshed Ahmad
Field workers of NGOs in Bangladesh are social pioneers because
they are bringing about changes in the lives of their clients and break-
ing the age-old social conventions by working in rural areas, riding bi-
cycles and motorcycles, and working in remote areas where
government bureaucrats or their staff would never go. With the explo-
sion in the number and outreach of NGOs, field work in NGOs is now
a profession in which educated men and women are increasingly join-
ing. Maybe they are accepting field work as a profession after failing
to get government jobs.
A major reason why field workers are treated like this could be
the saturated labour market for people with these skills in Bangla-
desh. Clearly, there is a moral imperative for donors and NGOs to
reduce poverty as cheaply as possible. Donors want their money and
resources to be utilised efficiently and reach the poor. This could be
a major reason why donors and NGOs are not concerned about the
welfare of the field workers. It is difficult to recruit good people in
any low-status, low-pay occupation, and very difficult to retain
them once recruited. This also frustrates the goal of empowering
their clients where the change agent is powerless. There are at least
three reasons why NGOs should reconsider their present policy of
attaching little or no importance to human resource management
1. It is important for ensuring justice to their staff, like employees
in any organisation.
2. It is essential to keep them motivated and improve their moti-
3. To improve the performance of field workers.
The NGOs seem to be far away from consulting their field workers
in formulating HRM policies, let alone allowing them to form trade
unions. The NGOs could pursue good consultative planning for
HRM. In the interest of a more stable, committed and motivated
workforce, all NGOs should pursue policies which promote staff wel-
1. There is at least one in every Thana town. The national days of Bangladesh are cel-
ebrated on March 26 and December 16, commemorating the start of the liberation
war and victory respectively. The functions of Language Martyrs day and the

Interactions between Field Workers and their Clients... 487
national days are usually organised by the state at all administrative levels and
other sociocultural organisations.
2. All these were mentioned by several field workers. Similar questions were asked in
the questionnaire survey and were noted down during the personal interviews. So,
the number of respondents could not be mentioned.
3. All these were mentioned by several field workers. Similar questions were asked in
the questionnaire survey and were noted down during the personal interviews.
Therefore, the number of respondents could not be mentioned.
4. Salts for ORT.
5. 'Show cause' is the disciplinary action taken by NGOs by asking their staff to de-
fend themselves in writing against activities like insubordination, corruption, ir-
regularity, misconduct, and so on.
6. Organised by political parties, transport workers, state-owned factory workers,
and so on.
7. The knowledge field workers gain through work.
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