A Huffington Post article
By Zunaid Ahmed Palak and Safiqul Islam
The Bangladesh Prime Minister this week launched the latest addition to the country's digital curriculum to reach 20 million primary school students, continuing to revolutionise one of the most under-resourced education systems in South Asia.
As governments worldwide scramble to cultivate a generation of tech-savvy children, Bangladesh is continuing to push the boundaries of digital learning through interactive multimedia content. Even in the remotest corners of the country, the newest generation will now be using computers from their first year of school.
On 14 February, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched interactive lessons for Grade 1-3, a joint initiative by the Government of Bangladesh, BRAC and Save the Children in response to the success of content previously developed by BRAC for Grade 6-10. By mid-2016, interactive lessons for Grade 1-10 (primary, junior and secondary education) will be accessible online on any device.
"Getting tech-based education to every corner of the country is a high priority of the government. Digital content contains lessons for all of us; it makes us all into teachers and we all become students," said the Prime Minister.
The 'tab school' in the slum
Korail, one of the largest slums in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is home to an estimated 40,000 people. It is never quiet. There is one building that has recently become particularly loud though. It is a rough tin shed, which rings with the sound of students laughing, talking, and singing their multiplication tables, along with animated voices for hours every day.
The shed, one of tens of thousands of schools run by BRAC, is known as the 'tab school'. In selected schools, BRAC has already started using tablets to access interactive multimedia digital learning content. Nur Nahar, the teacher in the school, laughs when she explains that her job is not only teaching, but also being taught. Her classes now revolve around digital media, which, prior to their introduction in her classroom, she had never even seen before.
"Digital content makes learning happen much faster," Ms Nahar said. "I have never seen many things in the world, and I never will. My students definitely have not either, but now they can see anything in the world in my class. Many topics, like mathematics and science, are hard to explain using just text. With pictures and videos, I have lots of new ways to show them why things happen and how. I had never heard of a tablet before this class. I was scared to use it but now I use it every day to explain things."
"Children are coming to school earlier and there are fewer students dropping out," she added. "Since this programme began, learning does not stop when class ends. It continues, every day, for so many more people than just my students. Children go home and show their families and everyone they know what they've learned on whatever device they can find. Every morning they come back knowing more than what I taught them so I have to work much harder than before to keep up."
A gender-responsive, modern, secular curriculum for Digital Bangladesh
Digitising the national curriculum is acting as an impetus for reviewing and updating content. As lessons go online, a team of educators, policymakers and child psychologists ensure that all content is age-appropriate and children can identify with the animated characters.
In public schools, the content is being accessed on computers that the government has already placed in more than 5,500 digital classrooms across the country as part of its Digital Bangladesh initiative. In BRAC schools, where 1 million students are currently enrolled, the content is starting to be accessed on tablet devices.
Congratulating the government, BRAC founder and chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, KCMG said, "We introduced computer aided learning in 2005 to bring technology into the education sector. We appreciate the government taking it all over the country - it will change the future of education".
From Satkhira to Silicon Valley
The benefits of digital learning for Bangladesh's next generation will stretch far beyond the walls of Nur Nahar's classroom. In a country where students in developing countries like Bangladesh, the potential for information technology is huge. Approximately one in every four people live below the poverty line in Bangladesh, but more than 80 per cent use a mobile phone, and one in every three are online. The country is gearing up to move from manufacturing into the knowledge economy and IT is predicted to become its biggest source of foreign revenue. Bangladesh is already the home of, BKash, the service which Bill Gates himself now invests in, saying it will revolutionise banking for the poor. With students becoming familiar with computer-assisted learning from the first grade of primary school, and mobile-enabled devices rapidly becoming popular across the country, digital learning boasts a similar potential; to revolutionise education in Bangladesh. Every screen can become a space for families to experience animated learning.
As the online learning ecosystem is exploding universally, and Digital Bangladesh is bringing internet access to even the most remote corners of the country, students will be primed to tap into global opportunities. With global poverty being compounded by national inequality in almost every country, learner-centric education will build the confidence and creative mindset that students need to build their own path out of poverty or unemployment. The ultimate tool for leveling the playing field, there will be nothing stopping children in a flood-prone corner of rural Satkhira from learning computer programming to the same level of quality as children born in Silicon Valley.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak is the state minister, Ministry of ICT, Government of Bangladesh. He is the youngest minister in the history of Bangladesh.
BRAC Sierra Leone in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Industry launched the Rebuilding Livelihood of the Ebola Affected Petty Traders project at Njala Venue, Freetown on 8 January. As part of the project, sensitisation sessions were rolled out in different parts of the country where the project will be implemented; briefing key stakeholders on the different components of the project and creating awareness.
The project is funded by DFID and executed by a consortium consisting of BRAC, World Vision, World Hope International and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). BRAC Sierra Leone will cover 12, 036 beneficiaries in 4 districts; CRS will cover 6,110 beneficiaries in 3 districts and World Hope International will cover 3,441 beneficiaries in 2 districts. The main objective of this project is to support 29,400 petty traders affected by Ebola through soft loan, start-up business capital and capacity building training. It also aims to recapitalise micro finance institutions to ensure access to finance by petty traders and also long term sustainability.
A Dhaka Tribune article by Hitoishi Chakma and Maria A May
In a recent Bloomberg interview, Bill Gates shares: “Banking is more fundamental than I realised. There have been attempts (at banking for the poor) by microfinance groups, cooperatives, but the transaction fees were always too high. Until we get those services down with very low fees and in digital mode, banking will only be for those who are better off.” In Bangladesh, where 95% of the population have access to mobile phones but only 20% have a formal bank account, the significance of such an opportunity for a banking revolution is even more pronounced. Indeed, since 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made over $21 million in grants and equity investments in bKash.
Bangladesh has seen one of the world’s fastest growing mobile money ecosystems develop in the past two years. This growth has propelled bKash to become the second largest mobile money provider in the world, only behind Kenya’s mPesa. Ideally, this growth in digital money is also an opportunity for pro-poor financial service providers such as microfinance institutions to significantly expand financial access.
We are only to look at Kenya’s M-Shwari, that gives users instant access to short-term credit and secure savings for inspiration. As of 2015, one in five Kenyan adults are active M-Shwari customers. With the use of mobile money picking up here in Bangladesh, it is fast turning into an opportunity to ensure that everyone can enjoy the full benefits of banking products. Mobile money fees in Bangladesh, when comparing small transactions such as Tk400, are among the lowest in the world.
Yet for all the adoption of mobile money we have seen in Bangladesh, there remains one key segment of the population that has yet to embrace it - women, especially poor women living in rural areas. Despite the rich history of women’s participation in microfinance and savings groups, when it comes to mobile money, over 80 percent of the mobile money users turn out to be men. What explains this lag and what can we do about it? Especially when poor rural women can benefit immensely from access to such services that would enable easier remittances, create new savings mechanisms, and even make purchasing airtime hassle-free.
Since 2014, through the Gates Foundation-funded Innovation Fund for Mobile Money, BRAC has been piloting different projects in providing digital financial services for the poor. This experiment with mobile money aims to see how existing BRAC services can be transformed into more effective and valuable solutions for the poor. Over the past one-and-a-half years, these experiences ranged from providing digital microfinance in remote communities to offering flexible school fee payments that allows low-income parents to pay in small installments. Overall, the projects have targeted women and girls, focusing on their needs in products and financial education.
However, as we have found from the pilots, it is not easy for a rural woman to master mobile money. These women often report that they are satisfied with the ability to simply receive calls and may lack the basic numeracy skills required to navigate the mobile money menus. This has prompted us to begin providing financial education, where we provide basic numeracy skills and develop financial management skills. In places like remote Hatiya, where literacy levels are low, it can take three to six months of financial education before a woman feels confident carrying out her own transactions.
While this is a lot of work, it is easy to assume that women are lagging behind in adopting mobile money because of an information gap. Certainly, limited information and literacy create challenges, but in fact, the barriers to adoption go much deeper.
A recent exploration of the problem using human-centered design techniques solidified these convictions. One of the central comments heard repeatedly from women is that they do not identify themselves with becoming users of mobile money, which is the domain of the businessman. Additionally, many women lacked confidence in their ability to use the service preferring to use cash instead. This shows that, like most of us, they are present-biased and seek to avoid the immediate difficulties associated with learning to use the service even though it would bring them greater benefit in the future. By simply relying on agents their basic needs were being met and many commented on carrying out transactions with agents as “fine.” Fortunately, these issues can all be addressed, but not through traditional financial education. Instead, this requires more creativity from mobile money providers and NGOs on how they design their services.
What inspires BRAC the most is the increasing number of women from Hatiya to Panchargarh who, despite all of these issues, are now expert mobile money users, confidently buying airtime, making deposits into their savings accounts, and managing their remittances. Their needs superseded their unfamiliarity and fear of technology. Many received significant support from BRAC’s staff and/or local bKash agents, who they trust and can access as needed. Given the challenges of reading the English menu, many used rote memorisation through mnemonic techniques to make these transactions.
Ultimately, necessity drives innovation. Till date, despite the potential present, womens’ demand for mobile money in Bangladesh has not been activated. Reaching these women is a must, if a banking revolution is to be ignited for the poor through mobile money.
The original article can be found at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/feature/2016/feb/15/mobile-money-bangladesh#sthash.52aJVlqt.dpuf
On 31 December 2015, the Inquirer newspaper awarded BRAC Liberia - the NGO of the year. This decision was based upon public entries sent to the newspaper along with the decision made by its editorial team. BRAC Liberia has been contributing towards improving the potentials of under-privileged people. It has been implementing development programmes in health, agriculture, poultry and livestock and microfinance sectors as well as scaling up reproductive maternal neo natal and child health services in the country.
BRAC’s migration programme is working to ensure the rights of migrants by providing an easy access to services that help them avoid exploitation as Bangladeshi migrants. Some of the underlying causes are limited access to information, inadequate services from government and non-government agencies at all levels, and lack of proactive policymaking and implementation. BRAC’s migration programme started in 2006 in 17 Upazilas with a pilot of safe migration advocacy and service facilitation programme. Now it has expanded its operation in 124 Upazilas with a goal to ensure safe migration of Bangladeshi migrant workers. Safe migration is an important issue in current context of Bangladesh and it is a vital part of BRAC’s overall strategy.
BRAC deeply mourns at the sad demise of Dr Mahabub Hossain, advisor of the executive director, BRAC and Distinguished Professor and Chairperson, Economics and Social Science department of BRAC University. He passed away on January 4, 2016, at 2.45 am (Bangladesh time) in Cleveland Hospital, USA at the age of 71. He left behind his wife, two daughters and a son.
In a life filled with brilliance, this eminent economist served as head of social science division of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Executive director of BRAC, and Director General of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). An inspiring figure, he will be forever remembered for his brilliance in articulation of macro- economic analysis, his path breaking research works, his leadership in agricultural innovation and above all his deep empathy for the marginalised people.
After completing his Masters in Economics from Dhaka University, Dr Hossain obtained his PhD from the Cambridge University. Besides the publications of many research articles in international journals, some of his seminal books are: Asian Rice Bowls A Returning Crisis: Rice Research in Asia: Progress and Prospects; Impact of Rice Research in Asia; Strategy of Development in Bangladesh; Rural Economy and Livelihoods Insights from Bangladesh, Bish Geramer Golpo, Leading Issues in Rural Development. The global magazine of politics and economics-The Foreign Policy featured him in their list of 500 most prominent individuals in the international arena.
He was suffering from heart disease for last two years. He went to USA on 15 December 2015 for treatment purpose. He took his last breath at the operation table last night.
On his demise, BRAC founder and chairperson, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed said, “Very few people globally had the depth of understanding of development issues like Dr. Mahabub Hossain. His life was a story of success against all odds and during his time at BRAC, he had a persistent focus on creating opportunities for the poor. His research over many decades on proliferation of innovation in agriculture and livelihood improvement of marginalised farmers has been path breaking. We, his BRAC family, mourn today this irreparable loss with his friends, family and many people he touched during his life dedicated to public service.”
21 December, 2015: As the importance of early learning gains support, there is a growing need to ensure that practice in the sector reflects this emphasis on whole child development and the skills and capacities children need to thrive. In light of this, the LEGO Foundation is pleased to announce a 3-year, 4.7 million USD partnership with BRAC focused on promoting the importance of learning through play in Bangladesh, Uganda and Tanzania.
Photo by: Alison Wright/BRAC
Over the course of this 3-year commitment, we will jointly develop and pilot the Play Lab concept, which is a model for integrating play-based learning into the lives of young children between the ages of 3 and 5. We aim to educate and impact both children and their caregivers. Our approach to program design and development ensures that we are able to reach the most vulnerable children and their families.
With this pilot project we aim to launch 240 Play Labs for 7,200 children; train nearly 500 adolescent girls as play leaders, and educate parents on the importance and value of learning through play. Additionally, we commit to design environmentally sustainable play spaces for homes and communities that otherwise lack play spaces.
To stay up-to-date on play-based education, we will launch a global network of experts who will gather best practices on learning through play, develop curriculum and materials, and act as advocates for children's right to play.
The project will be monitored and evaluated, so that we are able to establish an evidence-based model of scalable Play Labs that exemplifies a low-cost, high-impact intervention capable preparing children to overcome future challenges.
This commitment strengthens the LEGO Foundation’s efforts in East Africa and marks our first major investment in learning through play in Asia.
A Community Health Promoter (CHP) Appreciation day was held on the 18 December 2015. One hundred and thirty CHPs traveled from various parts of Uganda to Kampala for this event, which recognised and awarded fifty of the best CHPs for their outstanding service to their communities. The Chief guest, Assistant Commissioner of Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health Dr Paul Kagwa led other guests in applauding the health programme and the CHPs for their efforts to deliver basic healthcare services to the doorsteps of millions of Ugandans.
In his opening remarks BRAC Uganda Country Representative, Bhuiyan Muhammad Imran congratulated the CHPs for being instrumental in the reduction of mortality among under-5 children in areas where BRAC CHPs are active, based on research conducted by the Research and Evaluation Unit. The Coordinator BRAC Research Africa Dr Jenipher Twebaze Musoke gave a presentation that shed more light on the research work being carried out within the health programme followed by a presentation by the Health Programme Manager in Uganda, Sharmin Sharif and BRAC International Research Director Munshi Sulaiman.
Chief Guest Assistant Commissioner of Health Promotion at the Ministry of Health Dr Paul Kagwa expressed his gratitude to BRAC Uganda and the health programme for activities that are improving the lives of many Ugandans. He presented the best CHPs with certificates and gifts that included energy-efficient cook stoves and home solar-lighting kits.
17 December, 2015
A NextBillion article by Emily Coppel and Tarini Mohan
INDEX TRACKS WOMEN’S INVOLVEMENT IN AGRICULTURE TO IMPROVE PROGRAMMING AND IMPACT
Faruque Ahmed, executive director of BRAC International, recently wrote for NextBillion about the need for women entrepreneurs to bolster economic recovery in post-Ebola West Africa. One of the most effective ways to counter the repercussions of Ebola and specifically address food scarcity and the destruction of agricultural value chains, he wrote, is to empower female farmers. Here, Tarini Mohan and Emily Coppel of BRAC write about a new scientific method has the potential to change the way NGOs develop empowerment programs for female farmers and dramatically improve outcomes in West Africa and beyond.
“Data not only measures progress, it inspires it. What gets measured gets done. Once you start measuring problems, people are more inclined to take action to fix them because nobody wants to end up at the bottom of a list of rankings.”
– U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 2012
Women’s empowerment programs have surfaced as a key component of the international development agenda. Although many organizations working in international development make grandiose claims of their programs’ ability to empower women, with few tools available to actually measure empowerment, it is hard to tell if these claims are based on fact or whether they are an organizational appeal to funders.
Until recently, no major development agency had devised a mainstream method to track and measure changes in the level of women’s empowerment in any field, but particularly in agriculture, where it has significant potential to improve food security on a global scale.
WHY IN AGRICULTURE, SPECIFICALLY?
No fewer than 27 different studies have found that male farmers achieve higher yields than female farmers. The yield gap is as high as 25 percent. This is not because women are poor farmers. It is entirely explained by the severe constraints women face in accessing productive resources, such as land, seeds, fertilizer, pest control measures, extension advice and mechanical tools.
Empowering female farmers and enabling equal access to inputs could not only increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, but also put more resources in women’s hands, which would strengthen their voice within the household. Empowering women in agriculture is a “proven strategy for enhancing food security, nutrition, education and health of children,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. “And better-fed, healthier children learn better and become more productive citizens. The benefits would span generations and pay large dividends in the future.”
DOES A SOLUTION EXIST?
In March 2012, USAID, along with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, developed the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) to track women’s involvement in agriculture. It monitors five domains of empowerment: decisions about agricultural production; access to and decision-making power about productive resources; control of income; leadership in the community; and women’s control of their time. A woman or man is considered empowered if (s)he has “adequate achievements” in four out of the five domains, or is empowered in some combination of weighted indicators that makes up 80 percent of the total adequacy score.
Practitioners can also look at the segment of women not empowered and identify in which of the five domains the problem lies. This helps practitioners to improve program design in a targeted way to better reach clients. Apart from the five domains, the WEAI also includes the Gender Parity Index, which compares the level of women’s empowerment to the level of men’s empowerment.
The most compelling feature of the WEAI is its international comparability. Women’s empowerment is by essence context-dependent; for example, how empowered a woman feels in society is largely driven by the socioeconomic, cultural and political features of that particular society. To address this, the WEAI was constructed after a review of hundreds of women’s empowerment indicators in more than 30 studies across several countries in subjects ranging from economics to psychology. The primary purpose of these indicators was international comparability and to construct an index that comes as close to universal applicability as possible.
WHAT DOES EMPOWERMENT MEAN?
The most accepted definition of empowerment – one that was developed by Naila Kabeer, professor of gender and development at London School of Economics and Political Science, is the expansion in people’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them. Thus, empowerment arises from some state of disempowerment.
Currently, the majority of international development organizations use proxies to measure empowerment – such as a woman’s education level or employment status – rather than measuring empowerment itself. For example, claiming that a woman is empowered if she already has access to credit would not be correct for two reasons. First, the woman’s access to credit represents a static state, rather than a dynamic one, if the time period being studied is one in which she always had that access. Secondly, resources like access to credit can be thought of as “enabling factors,” or important inputs to foster a good environment for empowerment to take place, not as measures of empowerment itself.
BRAC, the world’s largest development organization, operates programs in agriculture aimed at empowering women and the poor by helping them to build secure livelihoods for themselves. Through our sustainable agriculture programs, millions of women have gained access to markets, resources and financial services. These women, by existing measures, have been empowered, but using a formal index like the WEAI would help BRAC and similar organizations improve their programming and impact.
BRAC fosters an enabling environment to achieve women’s empowerment. It does this by operating programs primarily in rural areas, to combat food insecurity, financial constraints, inadequate healthcare, education and vocational training of a large pool of youth, as well as by focusing programming on and targeting primarily women. Being a part of the rural community, BRAC tried to identify the real needs of the communities and what would allow them to flourish; it identified food insecurity and unemployment as the most pressing needs. BRAC is aiming for a multiplier effect by running a last-mile delivery system through female community agriculture promoters and agriculture input distribution.
BRAC helps secure female farmers’ livelihoods, thereby elevating women’s importance in the household through trainings, providing access to information on crop production, credit services through BRAC’s microfinance program, and encouraging use of high-quality inputs (disease-resistant seeds, fertilizers and pesticides) at an affordable cost.
BRAC, to date, has measured enabling factors to gauge women’s empowerment levels. Its results have been positive, showing that women who participate in its programs have greater control over their income from farming and increased access to financial services. However, BRAC and many other development and agriculture NGOs would benefit by adopting a more systematic way to measure women’s empowerment using tools like the WEAI. It would not only be a more accurate measure of empowerment, it would also help to improve program design and outcomes.
BRAC is giving serious thought to adopting the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index.
TO ADOPT OR NOT TO ADOPT?
To some extent, women’s empowerment will always be an empirical question, but adoption of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index is a step in the right direction, as it maps out the sphere in which corrective action needs to be taken.
Adopting this index is not as simple as this article may make it sound. It is quite a time burden on staff, and may distract from the overall initiative. However, once use of the index becomes routine, it could become the very basis for the agriculture program of various organizations.
A programme pioneered by development organisation BRAC, which aims to help households escape extreme poverty by supporting women to set up their own small businesses, not only works but its benefits increase in the long term, according to an evaluation(1) led by researchers at the International Growth Centre (IGC), based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). The research findings in published today in London.
BRAC’s ‘Targeting the Ultra-Poor’ programme has benefitted 1.6 million households in Bangladesh by helping the very poorest women shift out of low paid and insecure work, such as casual agricultural work or domestic service, into running their own small businesses. It does this by providing them with large scale livestock assets alongside two years of complementary training.
Researchers found that, four years after taking part in the programme, the women increase their annual earnings by 37 per cent.
Seven years after the start of the programme, the increase in the women’s spending on non-durable goods, such as food, is 2.5 times larger than after four years. At the start of the programme, only 10 per cent of beneficiaries have access to renting or owning land – seven years later, this figure is nearly 40 per cent.
Four years after the programme is implemented, there is an eight percentage point decline in the number of households living on less than $1.25 per day(2). Households who benefit from the programme continue to climb out of poverty at a steady rate seven years later(3).
Oriana Bandiera, Professor of Economics at LSE and one of the authors of the study, said: “Our study is significant because it is one of the most extensive and long term evaluations of these types of anti-poverty livelihood programmes. This allows us to see that that the transformative effects of BRAC’s approach are sustainable and therefore life changing for the ultra-poor households who take part. When you trust the poor with assets and train them with the necessary skills, they do better and better, year after year.”
BRAC founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed said, “It is our aim to meet the first sustainable development goal and end extreme poverty by 2030. Through this programme and the results of our ongoing research, we know this approach works to move the ultra-poor into sustainable livelihoods and help them increase their incomes. We are working this way in Pakistan and South Sudan as well as Bangladesh. Other organisations are also replicating this model, which is encouraging. I believe ultra-poor graduation approaches can make a major contribution to ending extreme poverty.”
The research also highlights a new finding about the nature of poverty – the poorest are neither unwilling nor unfit to engage in the same jobs as more prosperous women in their communities, but face barriers which prevent them from doing so. Before having access to BRAC’s programme, it was predominantly higher earning women who could access more stable and productive work such as rearing livestock. This work generates on average more than double the hourly earnings of the irregular and poorly paid jobs that the ‘ultra-poor’ are limited to such as casual agricultural work or domestic service.
On average, for every £1 invested in the programme there was a return of £5.40.The women who participate shift their working hours from casual wage labour towards rearing livestock and, in doing so, increase the number of hours they work and their earnings.
The researchers compared the employment opportunities and choices of the women who participated in the BRAC programme with women across different wealth classes. They tracked over 21,000 households over seven years, including 6,700 ultra-poor households and 15,100 from other wealth classes.
Aspects of BRAC’s ‘Targeting the Ultra-Poor’ programme have been replicated by other organisations across Africa, Asia and Latin America and have had very positive results in increasing consumption for the extreme poor(4).
BRAC has a strategic partnership with UK Aid and Australia in Bangladesh, providing large scale funding to BRAC’s ‘Ultra-Poor’ programme for many years. International Development Minister Desmond Swayne said: “The UK is proud of our partnership with BRAC and the Australian Government in Bangladesh. Over the last 5 years UK support has so far enabled BRAC to lift 580,000 people out of extreme poverty and delivered health, education, water and sanitation to the poorest and most marginalised. Earlier this year I saw first-hand the difference this work is making to people across Bangladesh. BRAC’s programme targeting the ‘ultra-poor’ is of great significance to development worldwide and the global goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.”