Wednesday, February 27, 2013

BRAC Uganda is on BBC World Service Radio

Listen to BRAC Uganda’s Salama Babu discuss our Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents (ELA) Programme on BBC World Service Radio’s ‘Your Money’ programme. Salama is Regional Coordinator for the ELA programme in Kampala, overseeing microfinance and club activities for 251 ELA clubs, including the Kireka club where the interview was recorded.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The motorcycle girl

Khadija’s story, posted in the features section of the BRAC site, shows how vocational training can break down barriers in traditional societies and ultimately lead to families lifting themselves out of poverty.

Khadija, a daughter in a landless family from Bagmara, a subdistrict in the north of Bangladesh, is a school dropout who has mastered the craft – unusual for a woman – of repairing motorcycles.

She’s part of a program called STAR, for Skills Training for Advancing Resources, which works with adolescents who have dropped out of school to give them vocational training. It’s a BRAC program in which shagreds (students) learn from an ustad (teachers), who is often an entrepreneur him- or herself, with the help of assistant teachers. 

The involvement of multiple interventions in creating opportunity for the poor showcases BRAC’s holistic approach to development. As this field report shows, in some cases STAR’s assistant teachers are recipients of BRAC's Medhabikash scholarship, awarded to talented students from poor families so they can continue their secondary and university education. All these elements tie together. 

Khadija herself comes from a “BRAC family”, in some respects: The mother now owns a cow thanks to BRAC, and her brother a student at one of BRAC’s primary schools. BRAC’s system of “nonformal” primary schooling has massive reach, with over 1.1 million students currently enrolled, making it the largest private, secular education provider in the world.

But as we have found, just sending kids to school is never enough – just as microfinance alone, or health care alone, or jobs alone will not solve poverty.

Going to school costs money, even if school is nominally free. Sending a child to school is an opportunity cost for families that need help at home or extra income from working children. That’s why, unfortunately, Khadija had to drop out before finishing fifth grade to work as a domestic helper.

Khadija was chosen as a learner for BRAC’s STAR project. As per her father’s choice, Khadija started her training on motorcycle repairing. Initially, she was discouraged by many people from pursuing this trade, who raised doubts such as, "How can a girl work in a marketplace? Can she be able to make anything out of this trade?"

Khadija proved the doubters wrong. She now dreams of freeing her whole family from the bondage of poverty by with her motorcycle repair skills.

Peer mentorship plays a strong role in these success stories. "These students are from similar background as us,” says one of the assistant teachers at a STAR program that teaches adolescents how to repair mobile phones. “We have come out of this poverty trap and I feel it is our obligation to help them as well.  We have now become friends."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Our proudest moments from 2012

Dear fans and friends,

Enjoy this compilation of some of our proudest moments from 2012:

This new year we look forward to inspire and be inspired by you.
Thank you for an amazing 2012 and have a prosperous new year.

BRAC Communications

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Tale of Homeland and Beyond

Observing International Migrants Day, 2012

Moksedul, a Bangladeshi migrant worker who resided in Qatar for three years, almost believed that his voice was never to be heard; that his stories would remain untold. In fact, it almost came as a shock to him when he was asked to get up on stage and speak up, and speak up he did. “I saw how the migrant workers of our country are ignored and have to go through adverse conditions. Hence just observing or celebrating this day is never going to be enough for the sake of changing the entire scenario. By highlighting the importance of this day, support and favour from the government must be increased and a secured life should be assured for those of us who are contributing to the economic development of Bangladesh by sending billions of US dollars as remittances every year”, he said. Moksedul also announced his request to the prime minister of Bangladesh to have the migration process to Malaysia wiped free of politics and to keep special seats for a specific group of migrants who had to return from Libya. The above occurrence took place at the seminar observing International Migrants Day on December 18, 2012, in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh. Many other seminars like this were hosted nationwide and many other migrant workers like Moksedul could have their voices heard on the platform created by the hosts observing International Migrants Day in Bangladesh.

The International Migrants Day was observed in Bangladesh on December 18, 2012, as elsewhere in the world. Like every year, with the promise of protecting the rights of the migrant workers, BRAC has observed this special day in collaboration with the government through jaunty rallies, documentary exhibition, cultural function, seminar and debate competition, migration fair, reception in honour of Bangladeshi migrants and prize giving ceremony. In order to be a part of this at the national level, BRAC took part at the migration fair at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre, hosted by the government entities, where it won second place in best stall competition. Apart from BRAC, different government and non-governmental organisations observed the day with elaborate programmes.

Md Abdul Aziz, chairman of the Mekura Migration Forum who is working relentlessly to secure safe migration processes and raise awareness in grassroots level, attended one of the nationwide conducted seminars and spoke about addressing the migrants’ conditions. After coming up on stage, he said that, “Migrant workers are the seeds of economic development of our country, and in order to help them develop, the government, NGOs and civil society must play a vital role. We formed a Migration Forum with the help of BRAC’s migration programme and the people in our area.”

BRAC’s Safe Migration Facilitation Programme works to ensure the rights of migrants by creating easy access to services that help them avoid exploitation. Bangladeshi potential migrants often fall victim to fraudulent migration opportunities. The reasons behind that are usually limited access to information, inadequate services from agencies at all levels and lack of proactive policymaking such as social and economic reintegration plans for returnee migrants. It follows the PIM process - Participation, Interaction and Mobilisation. The programme aligns with Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality, combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS and ensuring environmental sustainability. It also supports the government’s existing plan and operation from grassroots to national level emphasising gender equality and gender justice at all layers of planning and implementation.

To contribute or know more about BRAC’s efforts to ensure migration friendly environment as well as long term benefits for the migrant workers, email us at

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Developing the New Generation of Public Health Experts

Knowledge and expertise on health equity is the guiding vision of the James P. Grants School of Public Health (JPGSPH) and it is conveying its vision once again by launching a new project to develop public health experts. Partnered by USAID Bangladesh, the new project is called “Developing the New Generation of Public Health Experts in Bangladesh”.

To expand the access of the Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree amongst deserving and under-represented students, the programme will provide financial support to 120 graduate students. The programme targets under-represented students, and provides a comprehensive scholarship opportunity designed to ensure successful acquisition of relevant competencies required to address priority public health problems. The four key components of the project are:
  • Increasing access to, and diversifying of, public health degree candidates through the use of scholarships/stipends/fee waivers
  • Increasing short-term training opportunities for working public health professionals
  • Increasing the quality, number, and diversity of opportunities for public health degree candidates and recipients through internships
  • Strengthening the capacity of public health teachers by improving their training and delivery skills.
The programme curriculum will include specialised public health training, managerial and leadership competencies related to the public health sector, governance and planning, public financial management, monitoring and evaluation, and procurement and logistics.

Faculties from different international universities such as Harvard University (US), Heidelberg University (Germany), Johns Hopkins University (US), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK)etc. will be part of a “global classroom” which is a staple characteristic of the MPH programme of JPGSPH, which boasts alumni from 21 different countries.

The launching event for the programme was held on 19th November, 2012 at Sasakawa auditorium, icddr,b, Dhaka. In his welcome address at the launching ceremony, Dr Timothy Grant Evans, Dean, JPGSPH, BRAC University, said that apart from scholarships for under-represented groups, the project would also create an opportunity for the faculty development of the school.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Richard Greene, USAID/Bangladesh Mission Director said that Bangladesh has been an important friend and partner of the United States, having a longstanding relationship. By producing a cadre of well- trained health experts, this programme will help strengthen Bangladesh’s health system at both the national and sub-national levels.

The JPGSPH at BRAC University was established in August 2004 with the support from its two institutional partners, BRAC, the largest development organisation in the world, and icddr,b, a world class public health research institute based in Dhaka. In January 2005, JPGSPH initiated its flagship Master of Public Health (MPH) programme with the aim to develope public health leaders locally and globally. With classes having a gender ratio that is equally balanced, and students from a diverse background from all over the world, the MPH programme is here to stay and shine in the field of public health, creating opportunities and making a difference in the lives of people.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Frugal innovation at birth

The BRAC birthing kit is a small packet wrapped in plastic, about the size of a Pop-Tart, and it’s saving lives. This packet is an excellent example of jugaad, one of the buzzwords making the rounds in the business world.

Jugaad is a colloquial term in Hindi for an innovative fix or improvised solution – a frugal innovation..

In the developing world, life often runs on jugaad solutions. According to the authors of Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth, western businesses could learn a lot from the jugaad approach of innovation and radical affordability.

Development organizations, too, must create inexpensive and adaptable solutions to alleviate poverty. The BRAC birthing kit is one such example.

Founded in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC has grappled with the problem of high maternal and infant mortality in a country where the vast majority of women still give birth at home without a skilled attendant. Your response might be to build more or bigger hospitals; BRAC instead brought suitable alternatives to the women themselves, in the form of “birthing huts” in the slums of Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities, as well as the BRAC birthing kits.

A BRAC birthing kit contains the necessary tools for a safe and sterile delivery: gauze, carbolic soap, a sterile plastic sheet to go over the mattress, a thread to tie the umbilical chord and a surgical blade to cut it. That’s it.

It might not be the most elegant solution, but it transforms any home into a safe and sterile place to have a baby. The cost to the consumer? A mere 40 cents.

By slimming the product down to the bare necessities, the birthing kit is simple to manufacture and distribute. At the Sanitary Napkin and Delivery Kits unit, a BRAC social enterprise, the kit costs 28 cents to make. It is then sold to BRAC’s Health Program for 32 cents, the same price at which it is sold to BRAC community health promoters, or shasthya shebikas in Bengali. These women are trained by BRAC and, as part of a range of products and services they provide, sell the kits for 40 cents to their community.

Of course, it’s not enough to only have a birthing kit. A skilled attendant is still necessary to manage complications. You might think it’s time to send in the doctors, but BRAC learned that with a bit of training – and access to a network of qualified help should complications arise – women from the community can be trained to be skilled birth attendants.

BRAC has made headway in frugal innovation by providing products and services that are affordable, accessible, and – crucially – relevant to those being served. BRAC has already seen measurable results; meanwhile Bangladesh is well on its way to reducing maternal and child mortality by the 2015 deadline of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

When people can afford the tangible and intangible costs of basic services, they are better positioned to mobilize themselves economically and socially. Poverty is not unique to the developing world, but what is the west providing in terms of low-cost solutions? Perhaps the developed world can take a lesson or two from frugal innovation.

By Renée McAlpin
Program Intern at BRAC USA

Friday, November 9, 2012

BRAC Uganda Wins Top Prize in the 2012 Financial Reporting Awards

Accountants across various sectors of the Ugandan economy gathered yesterday evening at a ballroom at the Kampala Serena hotel, waiting for the announcement by the Council of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) of the Financial Report of the Year.

Nine members of the BRAC team attended the 2012 Financial Reporting (FiRe) Awards ceremony, including Tanwir Rahman, Director of Finance, BRAC and BRAC International, Jalaluddin Ahmed, Associate Director of Health, BRAC International, Abul Kashem Mozumder, Country Representative, BRAC Uganda and Daniel Businge, Country Head of Finance and Accounts, BRAC Uganda, who, along with Mr. Rahman accepted the top prize in the NGO category on behalf of BRAC Uganda.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Rahman thanked partners like the MasterCard Foundation for allowing BRAC to bring $100 million to Uganda for its development programmes and accepted the award on behalf of BRAC Uganda’s 125,000 borrowers.

BRAC Uganda was recognized for achieving excellence in financial reporting among NGOs operating in the country. The FiRe Awards team, comprising the ICPAU, the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) and the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE) organised the annual competition to promote compliance with the best standards of financial reporting. The ICPAU accepts and encourages the use of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) among organisations operating in Uganda. IFRS is an accounting standard designed as a common global language for business affairs, allowing for understandable and comparable company accounts across international boundaries.

The FiRe Awards committee considers transparency, corporate governance, compliance with IFRS, and sustainability, among other criteria, in choosing the winners of the financial reporting awards. 47 organisations submitted copies of their latest annual report for review and BRAC Uganda emerged as winner in the non-governmental organisations category, taking the top prize in this category for the second year in a row.

Speaking after the ceremony, Mr. Businge, who manages a team of 180 accounts and finance staff at BRAC Uganda, said, “This award is recognition of our hard work as a team and validation of the values we stand on, mainly transparency. That this was clearly demonstrated in front of our peers and dignitaries in Uganda means a lot to us. Now other organisations are asking for consultations so they can learn from us. We are setting a standard that other NGOs can follow.”

Making the keynote address of the evening was the Hon. Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Ms. Maria Kiwanuka, who urged transparency and accountability in the profession and encouraged more organisations to adopt sound accounting practices.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Uganda’s Golden Jubilee

Uganda celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain on October 9th, with revelry on the Kololo Airstrip in the centre of Kampala, the capital city. Dignitaries from several African countries were on hand to join Ugandans for the celebrations, which ended with a free concert by the country’s top entertainers.

The following Saturday, girls from BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) clubs in Nateete gathered at BRAC’s training facility in Lungujja for an independence celebration/culture day.  BRAC staff from Uganda and Bangladesh celebrated alongside the girls, who entertained the audience with drama, mimes, poems and traditional dances.   

Following the independence celebrations, we asked people what independence meant to them and their expectations for the future. While some say they are better off now than they were before independence, others point to unemployment as stymieing progress.

Beatrice Nakabirwa, 53, Poultry & Livestock Promoter for BRAC Uganda, recalled her early years and the unavailability of many consumer goods.  She now has a bicycle, radio and many other modern-day comforts.  She thinks her country is better off today than it was pre-independence.  “We can now send children to school to get at least a primary education,” she said. “UPE [Universal Primary Education] has been a great thing for Uganda.”  

Young people, who comprise 78% of Uganda’s population, weighed in on the conversation.  They were not around pre-independence. They only know how things are today. Now in their productive years, their primary concerns are jobs and the future of their country. 

“Government should create more jobs for the youth; they are jobless and lack what to do,” said Judith Awor, 28, Livelihood Trainer for BRAC’s ELA Programme.  “Young people depend on parents beyond the age they should.” She continued: “Without money, there is no way to start a family because you need to cater for the children, feed them, clothe them and pay their school fees. Right now most people find that hard to do.” 

Albert Ssimbwa, 26, MBA student and Assistant Financial Analyst at BRAC thinks Uganda has come a long way since independence, mainly in terms of governance. “Governance has improved tremendously compared to prior regimes,” he said.  “However, corruption has increased because of impunity.” Despite this, Mr. Ssimbwa sees a bright future for Uganda. “In the next 10 years, Uganda can become the Malaysia of Africa if oil revenue is put to proper use and the government is committed to fighting corruption.” BRAC is also contributing to this goal, he said, by developing young people through sponsorship. Through ELA and ancillary programmes, BRAC is providing livelihood training and vocational training for teenage boys and girls across Uganda.

Salma Babu, 28, Regional Coordinator for BRAC’s ELA programme also thinks Uganda has made great strides since independence, citing improvements in education, jobs, and infrastructure.  “Many of the youth are now enrolled in different schools,” she said.  “There is diversity in the jobs available to Ugandans today and we continue to see developments in infrastructure across the country.”  

Looking to the future, she pondered what needs to happen to make Uganda great. “If more jobs are created, if we have better quality education, then our kids will benefit,” Ms. Babu said. “By the time we make 60 years, Uganda will be superb.”

RTI Act: Power to people

People of certain five Upazilas of Bangladesh have recently started writing much more applications than usual. In last one year, they have written more than 1000 application and that too seeking information from government offices. For a regular village of Bangladesh that is an unusual phenomenon. It all started with a new popular theatre show being staged in their area.

The drama was about villagers catching an engineer stealing money from village’s road construction project. The villagers were able to do so by receiving project information through the Right to Information (RTI) act. This show increased the interest of the villagers about the RTI act as they recognised it as a tool for ensuring justice for themselves.

RTI law has legally established peoples’ access to information from any institution involved with public affairs. The RTI act was passed in 2009 and has spurred much discussion on its possible implications for the poor. Bangladesh having literacy rate of around 54% and extreme poverty of 32% was posed with the challenge of having this law used by its people. BRAC started working in five Upazilas in July 2011 to find a sustainable solution to this problem.

BRAC’s initiative had a two way approach. It worked to create awareness about the law using existing networks and tools such as, popular theatre performances and ‘Polli Shomaj (community-based rural women’s organisation) meetings; and it created a cadre of 145 community based volunteers- trained as RTI infomediaries- to provide hand holding services through the RTI clinics. RTI clinics were held right after every popular theatre show; where infomediaries provided relevant information and assistance to the people. This created the high number of applications submission from these Upazilas. The model shows an effective solution ready for scaling up.

A case story of Dolly, an RTI infomediary, captures an event of poor benefitting from this act. A farmer sought her assistance in finding out the standard procedure for land mutation. The farmer was asked for BDT 10,000 by a land officer before. After submitting an application as per the regulations of the RTI Act, Dolly discovered that the actual cost for the farmer’s land mutation would amount to only BDT 252. This also shows that the proper practise of RTI law can ensure better service delivery and good governance for the people.

An assessment of this project by a Commonwealth Scholar from University of London, S. M. Shamim Reza, was shared at ‘National Seminar on Right to Information’. His study illustrated that the project has created interest and confidence amongst the rural communities in utilising the act. Mr Reza’s study also found that the aware service seeker has raised the accountability of government agents. The Information Commissioner of the Information Commission Bangladesh, Sadeka Halim was also present at the event and expressed her opinion.

The need of increasing government agents and service providers’ capacity was also identified from the projects experience. The government offices store information in hard copies making finding and providing information very difficult. The need of an improved information management system for government offices is felt both by the service provider and seekers. This law has created a scope of revolutionising the total public service scenario of our country. When need is felt, solution is found. Awareness on the RTI law has started to create that need.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Female Drivers Seeking Employment

25 female graduates from the first two batches of BRAC Driving School are now officially available to be hired as chauffeurs. These drivers, who have received extensive training on driving by BRAC Driving School supported by BRTA, have gone through full time, residential, two months long theoretical and practical training of International Standard. The drivers, having BRTA issued Professional Driving License complete with police verification of character and background, are not only capable of understanding communicative English, but are also responsible, patient and well mannered.

BRAC Driving School is an initiative of BRAC’s Road Safety Programme as a feasible measure to tackle the alarming increase of road fatalities over the years. A survey conducted on existing driving training schools in the private sector revealed that the quality of the training, the instructors, and the training aids used, are below acceptable standard and that only 58 out of some 350 schools have approval from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). BRAC engaged the services of Hubert Ebner, a driver training and road safety organisation with 30 years of experience in Europe and Asia, to prepare training materials and to conduct the training of driving trainers recruited by them.

Click here to view a list of the names and contacts of these skilled and certified drivers.

Anyone from the Government, semi government, foreign embassies, corporate houses, development agencies, NGOs and people who are interested to employ well trained and reliable female drivers are requested to contact:

BRAC Road Safety Programme
Tel. 9881265; Ext. 3116, 3117
Mob. 01713016258, 01714091367, 01730351050

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