BRAC deeply mourns at the demise of Mr Faruq Ahmed Choudhury, former adviser and governing body member of BRAC. He passed away on May 17, 2017 at 4.30 am, in Square Hospital, Dhaka at the age of 83. He left behind his wife, a son and a daughter.
Mr Faruq Ahmed Choudhury, was born in January 4, 1934 in Assam, India. Throughout his successful career, he served the Bangladesh Government for two decades and occupied the roles of foreign secretary and ambassador.
He joined BRAC as an advisor in 1992 and continued to work with BRAC until 2006. His contribution played a key role in BRAC’s expansion and growth. He was also a governing body member of BRAC, a trustee board member of BRAC University and the chairman of Delta-BRAC housing company.
As an eminent columnist, he received popularity for his publications on socio-economic and political issues. He received IFIC Bank Literature Award in 2014 and Bangla Academy Literature Award in 2016.
At a recent event held in BRAC Driving School (BDS) in Dhaka, speakers stressed the urgency of ensuring international standard drivers training for all professional drivers. They also stated that such training would improve the attitude and skills of the drivers resulting in safer roads for all.
Earlier in April, ENA Transport Company, which is one of the biggest bus operators in Bangladesh decided to train 200 of its drivers by BRAC Driving School. These drivers are being put through a three-day residential training called Shurakkha. This is a defensive driving training course for in-service bus and truck drivers and focuses on modifying their attitude and behaviour.
On 18 April, M Mashiur Rahman, who is both secretary of National Road Safety Council and chairman of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority visited BDS to observe this training and distributed certificates to the successful participants. In his speech he urged upon all transport companies to help the government in reducing road crash by training their drivers. "Think about your families when you drive. It will encourage you to drive safely." he said to the participants. He urged that in-service drivers should consider driving training from institutions like BDS after expressing his contentment on Shurakkha.
BRTA's director of Road Safety, Mahbub e Rabbani and director of training, M Sirajul Islam, director of BRAC's road safety programme, Najmul Hussain and the managers and trainers of BDS attended the event.
Since 2012, BRAC Driving School has been offering Shurakkha. The course was developed by BRAC with support of Hubert Ebner - an organisation specialised in drivers training.
A study by BRAC reveals that the training not only improved safe driving skills of drivers but saved 30 per cent of transport operating costs. Shurakkha is provided in two formats - a three-day residential training and the other is a two-day residential and practical road test using vehicle mounted P - Drive system that grades drivers on their attention to safety, driving, attitude and behaviour.
BRAC will support 50 thousand families over the next month to cope with the immediate impact of the floods on their crops and livelihoods.
The non-governmental development organisation had already begun its regular relief efforts immediately after the floods hit. With the fast deterioration of the situation and spread of floodwaters, it is undertaking added emergency relief activities. A long-term rehabilitation programme will be launched in coming months, depending on the needs of the changing situation.
The emergency relief programme will be carried out in four districts; Kishoreganj, Sunamganj, Habiganj and Netrokona, in coordination with local government authorities.
Gawher Nayeem Wahra, director of BRAC's Disaster Management and Climate Change programme said, 'The situation has rapidly deteriorated in the last 48 hours. A new crisis has also emerged as fish and ducks are also dying, in addition to the widespread flooding of crops. This effort will support families to cope with the immediate crisis’.
Sir Abed holding his gift after he was named Respected Elder of Tanzania by BRAC in Tanzania Staff
It was a special day for BRAC Tanzania, as the long awaited arrival of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed finally took place on 4 March 2017. His last visit was four years ago and since then a lot has changed with the addition of many new faces, most of who has only read stories of the great leader.
On his visit, Sir Fazle met with senior staff as well as the board members to discuss BRAC's role in Tanzania and the way forward. He had meetings with various potential partners, including representatives from UNICEF, and the Ambassadors of Canada, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Sir Abed getting briefing from Education team when he visited Play Lab project at Temekem, Dar es salaam
Sir Fazle visited different parts of Tanzania to visit our programmes. He visited the DFID funded Girls' Education Challenge in the Mwanza region. He met with teachers from public schools and students from our in-school mentoring sessions, and visited a newly established library, courtesy of BRAC. He met with LEAD producer groups and microfinance women’s groups. The chairperson was happy to see BRAC’s impact in these communities. In Dar es Salaam, Sir Fazle was taken to visit the Play Lab Project, our latest early childhood development project.
On the final day of the visit, Sir Fazle was honoured with a surprise declaration of a Respected Elder of Tanzania. Sir Fazle was dressed in the traditional maasai outfit, a sign of acceptance in Tanzania’s elderly community.
This one-day meeting will gather 200 experts and professionals, representing the public, private, academic, NGO and civil society sectors and aim at addressing four specific development challenges during solutions-oriented workshops. In each workshop, a multi-stakeholder panel will debate together and with the audience around potential solutions to achieve together a “Zero Exclusion, Zero Carbon, Zero Poverty” world, in the Myanmar context.
As a part of this day BRAC co-hosts a session about financial inclusion and poverty eradication in Myanmar. To this session we are happy to welcome Lewis Temple, CEO of BRAC UK, for a presentation on BRAC's Graduation Model as a tool for financial inclusion of the poorest. Following this presentation, a panel including regulators, Microfinance institution and a financial technology company will discuss the challenges and opportunities to down-scale financial inclusion in order to increase outreach.
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Introducing microinsurance for our microfinance clients
We have partnered with Guardian Life Insurance Limited to offer our first microinsurance product - credit shield insurance to our 5 million microfinance clients. The product is targeted towards the lower-income population of Bangladesh to protect them and their livelihoods in the event of death of a household member or the earner.
Our microfinance clients have been using credit and savings products to access opportunities, plan for the future, and cope with shocks. However, some events are hard to predict, and even harder to cope with.
Every year we experience more than 22,000 deaths of microfinance clients or earning members in their families.
For households that face this adversity, credit shield insurance fits in as an important safety net to provide an alternative to emergency strategies for protecting household finances and promote resilience.
When microinsurance was piloted a year ago, we learnt that insurance penetration is low due to negative preconceived perception towards it and lack of awareness. In Bangladesh, traditional insurance companies mainly focus on the upper and middle-income population leaving a large portion of the total population unserved. To fill that gap and best meet the needs of our clients and their families, credit shield insurance has been designed to be accessible, affordable, and easy to use.
Any of our microfinance clients can avail credit shield insurance when applying for their loan by making a minimal one-time premium payment set at 0.3 per cent of the loan amount for individual coverage or 0.7 per cent to cover dual members of a household. This insurance product comes with a cash benefit from BDT 10,000 (USD128) to BDT 20,000 (USD256) to cover the costs of funeral and other arrangements. Credit shield insurance also covers the remaining loan outstanding in full and allows savings to remain intact for the family to meet their emergencies.
To ensure hassle free, fast settlement of claims, only two documents of proof is required from the client end – the death certificate issued by doctor/local authority and a copy of National ID. Moreover, our dedicated team and customer service assistants are beside our clients to deal with queries and concerns every step of the way.
Commenting on the launch of credit shield insurance, Shameran Abed, director of BRAC’s microfinance and ultra poor programmes said, “Poor households are particularly vulnerable to sudden shocks, and nothing is more debilitating than losing an earning member of the family. With the launch of this product, we are taking one more step towards helping our borrowers become more resilient so that they can withstand such shocks.”
The service legal agreement (SLA) signing ceremony of BRAC and Guardian Life Insurance Limited was held at BRAC Centre on 12 January 2017. BRAC’s founder and chairperson, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed; executive director, Dr Mohammad Musa; senior director, Asif Saleh; director of microfinance and ultra poor programmes, Shameran Abed; chief executive officer of Guardian Life Insurance Limited, M M Monirul Alam, and managing director of Square Pharmaceuticals Limited were present at the ceremony.
About Guardian Life Insurance Limited
Guardian Life Insurance Limited (GLIL) started its business activities in 2014. It is the fastest growing life insurance company in Bangladesh. GLIL aims to provide the best insurance products and services to the people of Bangladesh. To know more about Guardian Life Insurance Limited, please visit http://www.guardianlife.com.bd/
BRAC, through their Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescent (ELA) project, has rolled out a plan to support 50 outstanding girls with sewing machines across four regions in Tanzania, namely Dar es salaam, Mbeya, Iringa and Dodoma.
The support was extended to girls who were trained by BRAC under the ELA initiative and demonstrated commitment to use their skills to empower more girls around their community.
The ceremony was attended by chief guest Ms. Anna Marika, a youth officer from Temeke Municipality where BRAC has established 10 girls clubs. Ms. Marika commended BRAC’s efforts to empower adolescent girls, and thanked the BRAC for supporting girls living in difficult environments. She encouraged the community to join hands in supporting girls’ initiatives since their economic liberation will be felt throughout the community, and how an empowered girl child is the best single investment any society should consider.
BRAC started the ELA project in 2013 to create safe space for girls in Tanzania where they can meet their peers and share experiences, challenges and discuss new ways to tackle them. BRAC is currently running 180 girls club in four regions namely Mbeya, Iringa, Dodoma and Dar es salaam.
The clubs provide adolescent girls the opportunity to learn new life skills which empower and support them to launch and implement their own business ideas. The girls are also given livelihoods skills in tailoring, hairdressing, and agriculture so they can choose a sector they are interested in. The ELA programme focuses on improving the quality of life of adolescents, especially vulnerable girls through two objectives of social education and financial empowerment.
The programme is designed to socially and financially empower vulnerable teenage girls aged between 11 to 19 years.
BRAC is going to scale up its investment in mobile app Maya Apa to ensure quality information and counselling service delivery for a greater number of people. Besides, BRAC’s urban development programme will implement a pilot project where Maya Apa app will be used to give services to 50,000 women garment factory workers.
This new BRAC-Maya initiative was announced today on Wednesday (February 15) with a signing ceremony organised at a hotel in the Dhaka city.
Maya Apa is a virtual platform that anyone anonymously can access any time for counselling and answers to queries on daily life issues including health, psychosocial and legal matters. Once the question is asked it is redirected to the profile of relevant experts and the answer appears within three hours maximum. Statistics show that since the app's launch in February 2015 around 150 thousand queries were received and answered. Currently, over 10,000 users access it daily.
Tarana Halim, state minister for posts and telecommunications, was present at the ceremony as the chief guest. Asif Saleh, senior director, strategy, communications and empowerment, BRAC, moderated the event while Dr Muhammad Musa, executive director, BRAC, briefed on the mission and objective of the partnership. Ivy H Russell, founder of Maya, spoke on the activities of Maya Apa. Dr Muhammad Musa and Ivy H Russell signed the agreement on behalf of their respective organisations.
‘Today's event is a stark example of how ICT in Development is the next frontier of sustainability. BRAC and Maya Apa partnership will help both organisations reach out to the millions in Bangladesh to provide wellbeing and healthcare at their fingertips’, said chief guest Tarana Halim. ‘I am very happy to be a part of this ceremony, especially seeing a women-led technology start-up like Maya Apa, pushing barriers to providing affordable healthcare and wellbeing, makes me proud. I would like to wish both BRAC and Maya Apa all the best for the future and hope that the telecom service providers come forward to help with services like Maya Apa’, she further said, adding, BTRC would always stand by such social initiatives.
The organisers said, they aim at connecting the people of Bangladesh to the current digital revolution of the world. Anyone with just a mobile number can access Maya Apa. They can email their queries also. As a result, the users can easily keep themselves anonymous. Till now 60 per cent of the users are women, while the rest 40 are men. The service is available through any Android-based smart phone, web or SMS. The initiative will enable BRAC-Maya group to reach information and counselling services to people both in the rural and urban areas. The service can be accessed through download of this link https://goo.gl/LTW2OA
Having briefed the context of this partnership agreement, BRAC executive director Dr Muhammad Musa said, 'Our objective is to provide better quality services to more people. By integrating technology into our programmes we want to expedite the delivery of BRAC’s services to the marginalised people.'
Maya founder Ivy H Russel said, 'The Maya Apa team and I could not be more thrilled to receive this kind of commitment from BRAC. Aside from the investment itself, BRAC brings unparalleled expertise and reach in taking services to “last mile” users. Our team will now have the resources in place to drive greater awareness for Maya Apa as well as invest more heavily in improving the service by developing our capabilities in machine learning, natural language processing, and mobile user experience.'
Relevantly, a service titled 'Maya Apa Plus' has already been launched under a partnership with mobile operator Robi. Users will have their queries answered in ten minutes through this service.
VisionSpring and BRAC provided one million pairs of affordable eyeglasses to low-income customers, achieving major milestones both in scaling a social entrepreneurship model, and in expanding access to vision services in Bangladesh.
The Reading Glasses for Improved Livelihoods Programme, which began in 2006, has seen marked success, contributing to significant health and economic outcomes.
For low-income earners, eyeglasses are a simple, affordable tool that sustains productivity and earning power. Since the programme's start, it is estimated to have contributed to $110 million in increased income at the household level, based on an analysis of a study conducted by the University of Michigan. With a philanthropic investment of $3.50 per pair, the return on investment is significant.
Eyeglasses can prevent middle-aged workers from experiencing any drop in efficiency and productivity associated with the eye's natural aging. Without the ability to focus up close, mechanics, barbers, tailors, teachers, artisans, and many others whose work requires clear near vision, lose years of income earning potential.
BRAC and VisionSpring developed an innovative social entrepreneurship model to reach these low-wage earners, selling low-cost reading glasses through BRAC's network of community health workers (locally known as Shasthya Shebikas).
They offer free eye screenings, and have created a referral system for nearly 610,000 customers who need higher-level care for cataracts and other eye conditions.
Living in the communities where they work, the female health workers reach customers in the most remote areas of Bangladesh through vision camps and home visits, according to Marketwired.
Marketwired founded in 1993 and incorporated in the US in 1999, is a press release distribution service headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
For 90 per cent of customers, this is their first pair of glasses. The community health workers earn a modest commission from the sale of each pair of eyeglasses; since the programme's inception, they have earned a total of $450,000 in supplemental income.
"Partnerships are central to our success. Our collaboration with BRAC exemplifies the power of bringing together two organizations that share a common purpose and ethos and possess complementary core competencies. We feel honored and privileged to have found such a wonderful long term partner," Marketwired quoted VisionSpring Founder Jordan Kassalow in release on Sunday.
Meanwhile VisionSpring, BRAC, supporters, partners in the social enterprise, and global health community members gathered in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka on Sunday and celebrated the success of the partnership and honoured the health workers and programme organisers who had brought improved vision to people in 61 of 64 districts across Bangladesh.
Urban transport is still poor in developing countries compared with the developed countries. For a sustainable and green solution to the problem, it requires an integrated initiative between different stakeholders and beneficiaries – citizens, policy makers, policy implementers, researchers/experts and donors, writes Polin Kumar Saha
THE importance of greening the transport system is very crucial for sustainable development since commuting is an integral part of our daily lives irrespective of our social differences. Moreover, the troubles that one face in conventional transport system is a critical concern for developing countries. It is particularly concerning for a rapidly growing city like Dhaka. A broad range of sustainability issues including environmental sustainability (global warming, degradation, fossil fuel burning and emissions) and social sustainability (human satisfaction, road safety and health — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), and economic stability (cost and benefit over environmental and social violations) are also matter of our larger concerns. In fact, the transport sector is responsible for 23 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emission with over 90 per cent of all road transport depending on fossil fuel. Therefore, road transport majorly contributes in the total greenhouse gas emissions. The projection of this trend will increase in future if we don’t become adequately aware and incorporate green initiatives in our urban transport system.
In this current context of urbanisation, what should we do to address the problem? The urban transport is still poor in the developing countries compared with the developed countries. For a sustainable and green solution to the problem, it requires an integrated initiative between different stakeholders and beneficiaries — citizens, policy makers, policy implementers, researchers/experts and the donors. Our experiences show that many technical solutions proved successful in developed countries are not suitable for our cities. In terms of greening the transport system, research shows that we have to review and rely more on non-technical solutions than the technical solutions. Here we can briefly elaborate these two dimensions of transport development in the greening process.
Non-technical review suggests that behavioural or attitudinal changes must be characterised by increasing walking space, cycling and the preferred transit mode. For environmentally friendly cities, these are the vital issues that contribute to the composition of a green transport system. The methodological approaches to work for a green travel style is to incorporate the mood of walking, cycling and transit which make up four strategies mainly: changing the pattern of land use in promoting the space for walking and cycling, giving priority to the public transport, restricting car buying and using, and implementing rules and regulations through good governance. It is true that we have seen already some good policies and strategies on these reviews, but more investigation is needed to assess our limitations and solve the problem by setting up priorities. Some policy areas of interventions include the restriction of private cars, encouraging group transport facilities for schools/institutions, restrictions on private use of car such discourage more than one car for a family, standardise public transport and availability to all classes of citizens, scheduling public transport in accordance with school, college and office schedules. Similar kind of policy initiatives has seen great success in Vienna, Austria. In the period between 1993 and 2014, Vienna was able to reduce car dependency from 27 per cent to per cent.
Contrastingly, in our country we are increasing our dependency on cars. Another glowing example is Vancouver, Canada. In 2007, the city decreased vehicle kilometre driven per person as they increased their awareness and practices in walking, cycling and public transit. The key to the success is a common understanding and changes in land-use policies that encourage an environmentally sound public transport system.
In recent years, environmentally friendly public transit relies on a green transport system for example green buses, bikes, taxis, trains. Green transport reduces people’s dependency on conventional fuel use in their vehicles and decreases pollution in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
Therefore, public transport should be prioritised. The noise and air pollution should be taken into account when designing and implementing public transport system. In our context, the following measures can be taken: electric vehicles, such as electric trains, bikes, buses can be promoted (but the electricity must come from renewable resources); introducing multiple occupant vehicles; introducing hybrid bus, taxies, commuter vehicles; developing road infrastructure including bus bay, footpath, underpass, overpass; introducing large capacity of public transport (big buses, metro, double-decker); introducing auto traffic signals and central monitoring systems for maintaining traffic rules and regulations and reducing traffic congestions through different initiatives. It is also important to shift political rallies, events, exhibition from the centre of the city. Dhaka city often face serious because of VIP movement and VIP offices. It is time that the office bearers take serious note on how their mobility city-wide transport system. For example, the location of Bangladesh prime minister’s office often makes huge traffic congestions. This, in fact proves how ill developed traffic system can harm the public not just economically by wasting their time, but also psychologically.
Taking into account the technical and non-technical measures to improve public transport system, it would appropriate to turn towards green technology and initiatives. A turn towards greening the system would also ensure the sustainability of the transport system. We have indeed many challenges to overcome. However, a coordinated effort between politicians, stakeholders, researchers and transport planners could make it happen. To summarise the issue, we definitely need to restructure and prioritise our transport network that includes walking, cycling, and public transport facilities. Every single step can push us unanimously to identify the improvement of our present situation.
Polin Kumar Saha is a senior research associate and sustainability professional at BRAC Research and Evaluation Division.