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The BRAC WASH programme began in 2006 and has provided more than 37 million people in Bangladesh with hygienic sanitation and more than two million with access to safe water.

This report documents the proceedings of a learning workshop that brought together donors, government, and national and international NGOs to examine the outcomes of the BRAC WASH programme second phase and emerging challenges.

The first part of the report starts with a review of the programme’s achievements and main challenges, with a special focus on the innovation and learning partnership between BRAC and IRC and what the sector should adopt from BRAC WASH. This is followed by responses from BRAC WASH staff to questions from the floor about issues including financing, sustainability and data sharing. In the next section there are short reflections from the programme’s donors including the Embassy of the Netherlands, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Splash, as well as the Bangladesh government, IRC, NGO Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) and others.

Part two of the report documents discussions on three new areas of work that BRAC intends to focus on: sustainable integration of WASH in other BRAC programmes, WASH in urban areas and water security in coastal areas.

Download the full article here.

 

 BRAC-Workshop-Picture-2

September 10, 2015
Every year 4-5 lakh people leave Bangladesh for other countries to work as migrant workers. Currently 95 lakh Bangladeshis are working in different countries around the world. Many migrant workers after their return try to take up jobs and settle at home. But in many cases they face complications in pursuing their new jobs. The added problem for women returnees is that they often face social stigma and lack of respect from the community. They also struggle with discrimination as they try to get jobs. Many of them suffer from different physical ailments and mental stress. Many still lack clear knowledge about how to best utilise the money they earned abroad. The biggest difficulty in this regard, however, is that the government does not have a specific policy to guide the reintegration process of returnee migrant workers.

The keynote presentation sketched the plights of the returnee migrant workers at a workshop organised by BRAC today on Thursday in the capital. Supported by UN Women, the workshop titled ‘Lessons learned on establishment of reintegration and referral services for returnee migrant workers project’ was held at the BRAC Centre.

Md Hazrat Ali, additional secretary, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, was the chief guest at the event, while Shamsun Nahar, director general, Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, and Christine Hunter, country representative, UN Women, were the chief guests. Sheepa Hafiza, director, Gender Justice and Diversity and Migration programmes of BRAC, moderated the session. Tapati Saha, programme coordinator, UN Women, and Aminul Islam, senior manager, migration programme of BRAC, gave the presentation.

Md Hazrat Ali in his chief guest’s speech stressed three points in this regard. He said there should be counseling services for those who went abroad with many dreams but had to return for some reasons, and now face difficulty in their job. There should be assistance for returnee migrant workers to help them reintegrate in the society. Assistance should also be there for those who are facing problem in employment.

Christine Hunter emphasised equal employment opportunity for all irrespective of their gender identity.

In her introductory speech Sheepa Hafiza described BRAC’s programme and planning for safe migration and proper reintegration of returnee migrant workers.

Sajjad Hossain Khan, assistant director, BMET, Hassan Imam, programme head of BRAC Migration Programme, Sadrul Hasan Mazumder, programme coordinator, Advocacy for Scoial Change, BRAC, Ishrat Shamim, programme coordinator, Centre for Women and Children Studies, Keramat Ullah Biplob, additional chief reporter, ATN Bangla, also spoke at the session.

 

Monday, 21 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable Development Goals: Partnership

Partnership

We believe that in order to make real impact, we must forge strong partnerships and strategic collaborations.

 

Here is a story we would like to share about Partnership

Nazmul

Together to make a difference

When Nazmul migrated to Oman to find a more secure future for his family, he never imagined he too would fall prey to fraudulent middlemen. Nazmul found himself on the streets and without a job when he reached Oman. It took him a few months before he could find work as a cleaner. Out of stress and physical exhaustion, Nazmul suffered a stroke and was admitted to the hospital. His employer refused to cover the costs of his treatment. When Nazmul finally came back home, he was paralysed and unable to speak, with no money for his own treatment or his family.  Migrant workers sometimes suffer great injustices that affect them physically and psychologically. BRAC’s project with UN Women aims to provide socioeconomic reintegration support for returnee migrant workers. Through this successful partnership, Nazmul received a grant to fund his treatment costs so he could start afresh.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and BRAC today signed an agreement, in connection with a strategic partnership, which will allow BRAC to acquire a lead equity stake in Industrial Promotion Development Company of Bangladesh Limited (IPDC).

Under the agreement signed today, BRAC, Ayesha Abed Foundation and RSA Capital Limited will acquire an equity stake in IPDC from AKFED and assume the role of lead managers, subject to approvals from the Bangladesh Bank and from the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission.

This strategic alliance is expected to enhance IPDC's capacity for growth and for its product offering in the large, medium and small-scale industrial, retail and consumer market segments in Bangladesh.

Speaking on the occasion of the signing, the Chairperson of BRAC, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG, said: “It is an exciting opportunity for BRAC to enter into a strategic partnership with AKFED in taking IPDC to new levels of growth and expansion by providing socially responsible financial services to the people of Bangladesh. This is a common goal of both BRAC and AKFED.”

The Director of AKFED, Mr. Sultan Ali Allana, stated: “We greatly value our strategic alliance with BRAC and we remain committed to strengthening IPDC as it progresses and grows by increasing its product offering and its outreach to encompass a wider population base in Bangladesh. We hope that we will be able to expand our strategic alliance, in the coming years as we pursue common values and objectives."‎

Industrial Promotion and Development Company of Bangladesh Limited (IPDC) was the first private sector financial institution of the country.  It was established in 1981 by a distinguished group of shareholders, namely International Finance Corporation (IFC), USA, German Investment and Development Company (DEG), Germany, The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), Switzerland, Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), UK and the Government of Bangladesh.

Since its inception, IPDC has played a pivotal and pioneering role in reshaping the private sector industrialization of the country through innovative financial products and services. Today IPDC is a diversified financial institution with a wide range of products and services covering corporate finance and advisory services, middle market supply chain finance, retail wealth management and retail finances.

 

Introduction

Ready school is an essential component of children’s school readiness. Children have to be supported by early schooling across various developmental domains, such as: physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and language-literacy, to achieve success in later academic life. At school, children must be in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment. This allows them to be successful in exploring and learning about their world. Children benefit from enriching, responsive learning experiences [1]. Providing an appropriate literacy and numeracy environment is at the core of school’s readiness because early literacy and numeracy skills are two important components of early school success.

This issue has been further explored, in this report, in the context of Bangladesh, through a classroom observation conducted in a pre-school classroom of Nobodhara School, which is a for-profit school run by BRAC University – Institute of Educational Development.

Observation Time and Setting

On  that  particular  day  of  observation,  in  the  vibrant  kindergarten  classroom  of Nobodhara school, there were 24 students present out of 30. The observation started from 8:30am and continued up to 10:45am. Although most of the students were present in the class by 8:30am, few were late and the last student arrived at 9:00am.

Physical Environment of the Classroom

The classroom was a rectangular room with two big windows and one glass door leading to a balcony allowing plenty of light and air in the class. The entire floor was covered with a carpet and had furniture for sitting, a computer on a computer table and a table right next to the board for use by the teacher. There was a board in one wall facing the direction where children were sitting. A class routine was written on the board with a marker along with the total number of children, number of children present and the date. The classroom also had lights and fans and a shelf in one corner for keeping books and materials. The detail observation of the physical environment of the class has been organized in the following sections.

Sitting arrangement: There were five round wooden tables and about thirty chairs available for the children. 5/6 children occupied one table. The tables and chairs were age appropriate. These furniture took most of the spaces in the classroom leaving little room for other activities or materials.

Play area: There was a small space in front of the board for activities or play inside the classroom. The space was very tight for having all children involved in any large group activities.

Corners: There were three corners that could have been identified during the observation. There were a book corner consisting four story books, a corner for personal belongings on two opposite walls beside the sitting areas and a corner shelf for blocks, play materials and exercise books.

Materials: There were different types of age appropriate materials available in the classroom. There were charts on the walls including charts on numbers with pictures, vegetables, alphabets, wild animals, vehicles, community helpers, healthy eating charts and cheer charts to encourage well behavior, discipline and healthy eating habit in children. However, the use of these charts could not be observed during the observation period and the charts were not hung at the eye level of the children. There were four story books available for the entire class in the book corner. There were also flash cards on words and pictures, pencils, colors, papers, chart papers, exercise books, coloring books and blocks available in the corner shelf.

Classroom Activities

The teacher started the day with some warm up activity with rhymes for about 15 minutes to engage children. Then she started a literacy activity which was more sort of a “social emotional literacy” at 9am. At first she put a picture of “happy face” on the board. Then she tried to get attention of the children by moving from table to table and asking children “are you happy? Look at the board. Are you happy?” It was an English version/medium class and the teacher was asking this question in English. However, the teacher also used Bangla very often. Few children responded to the question, but most of them were busy in settling down after the rhymes. Then she gave the children paper and color pencil to draw happy faces. After about 6 minutes she started collecting the papers. Very few, about 2/3 children could finish their drawing. But most of them could not finish their work. They started demanding their paper back so that they can finish their drawing. One particular child did not work on it at all. However, the teacher did not seem to notice it.

Immediately after collecting the sheets, the teacher took a basket and ask children, “What is it?” the children replied, “Basket”. Then she put a ball inside the basket, and started asking the children regarding the position of the ball. She asked, “Is the ball inside or outside?” Initially the children did not respond immediately. Then the teacher herself gave the answer, “the ball is inside the basket.” The teacher then took the ball out of the basket and asked children the same question. Some of the children replied it is outside the basket. After that she drew a picture of basket and ball on the board and the same questions again to children. Some children were answering enthusiastically, but some were talking among themselves and not listening. Then she initiated an interactive activity to engage the children to understand these two concepts. She brought few children at the front and made a circle with them. Then she put one child in the middle of the circle and asked, “Is he inside or outside?” The children in the circle replied “Inside”. Then she put another one outside the circle and asked the same question and the children replied accordingly. This session ended at around 9:40am and the children went for tiffin break.

During the break the children were put in line first to be taken to the washroom to wash their hands. It took about 10 minutes to organize them for this activity since the children. After coming back from the washroom, the children settled in their seat and started eating their tiffin gradually. One child did not eat her tiffin and started eating from one of her friend’s. The friend started crying and calling the teacher. The teacher found out that the kid did not take out her tiffin box from her bag. The teacher went to find the child’s bag and with the help of another kid in the class she found out the bog and gave the tiffin box to the kid whom it belonged to when it was not even 5 minutes left to the tiffin break to end.

After the break it was time for the physical education according to the routine. But the physical education teacher was delayed due to some personal problem. Therefore, to utilize this time, the teacher started “story telling” in that period. She requested the children to choose one story book from the book corner which they want to listen. The children seemed very interested to listen to the story and they picked one of the story books that they wanted to listen to. All the children came to the front close to the teacher to listen to the story. The teacher started the story by showing the picture in the cover page. She also asked questions to the children as she told the story. The children replied and asked questions in return. Although most of the children were listening to the story, a couple of them were talking among themselves. Initially the teacher tried to engage them by asking questions, but later when they were not listening she just let them do whatever they want on their own. Eventually the teacher introduced “participatory story telling” by engaging the kids to tell what happens next. Some of the children came forward and told the next part of the story.

At the end of this session the physical education teacher came in. He called the kids at the front and started asking questions regarding school behavior and discipline. Later, he engaged children in physical exercises. As the children were doing the exercises one by one and giggling away, at around 10:45am, my observation period ended.

Limitation of the Observation

Although it was a comprehensive day long observation. There were a number of limitations which are worth mentioning before going further into the analysis. The limitations were:

• It was the beginning of the session and the class started only two weeks ago. Therefore, only a few literacy and numeracy activities were started. The arrangement of materials and classroom environment were also not fully in place during that time.

• The teacher of that particular class was new. She had been recruited in this session. She only received a short orientation; the full training was yet to be received. Therefore, the classroom management has been analyzed considering the lack of experience of the teacher.

• The class did not have an assistant teacher during the observation period which further reflected in the classroom management situation in that particular class.

Analysis of Observation Data Using the School Readiness Lens

The observation data has been analyzed in terms of two important aspects of the school’s readiness: i) Children-teacher interaction, ii) Literacy and numeracy environment/activities.

i) Children-teacher interaction: The interaction between children and teacher has been observed and analyzed considering the following aspects:

Overall classroom management: The teacher was struggling in managing 24 kids all alone without any assistance from an assistant teacher. She could not pay attention to all the kids when they were engaged in drawing the “happy face”. Some children were enthusiastically doing the work, but some were not interested at all and talking among themselves, when a couple of them actually did not attempt to do anything. Overall, the classroom was noisy all along. There was a particular group of children sitting in one table which I have named as the “enthusiastic group” because they were the hyper kids and was making most of the noises. The teacher attempted but could not manage that group efficiently. She also did not attempt to redistribute their sitting arrangement and putting them in different tables. However, during the story time most of the children were engaged and participating. The teacher introduced the ‘participatory story telling’ technique which worked effectively to manage most of the children to be engaged in the activity.

• Dealing with the hyper children: In terms of dealing with the hyper children, particularly the most hyper one from the “enthusiastic group”, the teacher called her as the "leader‟ and gave her the task to make others quiet. However, there was no clear direction of how she was going to do this and there was no follow up on her task. As a result, after a few minutes the child was getting hyper again and disturbing other kids. The used to come again and tried to calm her down by calling her the “leader”.

Use of positive phrases: The teacher was very efficient in saying “very good”, “good job”, “beautiful work” and such praising phrases when some of the children were showing their work or being disciplined. The children seemed to be involved with the teacher and enthusiastically showing their work to her and also calling her when they were facing any problem.

Interaction during the snack time: During the snack time the children were putting their tiffin boxes with the help of the teacher. However, the teacher could not pay attention to all children and support them in getting prepared for the snack. As described in the observation note from classroom activity, one child did not put her tiffin out of her bag and started eating from her another kid’s tiffin which triggered a noisy situation when the other kid started complaining. The teacher also did not use the healthy eating chart during the tiffin break.

ii) Literacy and numeracy environment/activities: The literacy activities and environment has been analyzed in terms of the components of literacy that have been covered during the observation period. In the beginning of the class, the children were involved in literacy activities which were more sort of “social-emotional literacy” where the children were encouraged to recognize and label “happy face”. Emphasis on the knowledge of print was understood from the charts hung on the walls on alphabets, animals, community works etc. However, there was not any evidence of labeling the furniture or objects in the classroom, there was no calendar and no evidence on the use of the charts or other materials relevant to print knowledge. There were a few activities observed on vocabulary and language through rhymes and story-telling. During the read aloud of the story, the teacher showed the children the cover page, let children turn the page, talked about pictures, asked relevant open ended questions and finally introduced participatory story-telling, which was an effective literacy activity. Although it was an English version school, the teacher did not have effective English communication skill, and therefore, she was using Bangla most of the time.

In the observed class, the numeracy activities covered the understanding of spatial sense. The activities indicated the development of understanding of the concepts “inside” and “outside” in terms of developing the understanding of space. The use of basket and balls, and the use of making a circle and putting one inside and one outside the circle, are effective activities provided that the classroom is managed and children are engaged efficiently. There were number charts found on the wall and some flash cards and shapes available in the corner shelf.

Recommendations

The key recommendations in terms of the school’s readiness are as follows:

• Taking into consideration that the teacher is yet to receive the full training, my recommendation will focus on developing the teachers English communication skill.

• The teacher has to be trained to manage the hyper children efficiently, at the same time has to be trained to observe and support individual needs of children and on inclusiveness.

• An immediate recruitment of an assistant teacher since it is very challenging for one teacher to manage about 30 children.

• Reduce the number of children in each class for effective learning environment.

• There should be more play or open space for whole group activities and for music, drama and movement.

• There were only four story books available for the entire class. The number and variety of story books and reading materials have to be increased significantly.

• The furniture (chair, table, computer door, window etc.) could be labeled involving the children.

• The corners were not well defined and there were no materials found for dramatic play.

• The class routine was only written on the board with a black marker. The routine could have been well-structures, colorful and hung up on the wall so that the children could have identified their next activities and prepared accordingly with the support from the teacher.

• There was no clear indication of transition between the literacy and numeracy sessions. The teacher abruptly moved from one content area to another which made the children confused. There could be some warm up involving music/dance/song or relevant activities before transition to a separate content area.

• According to research findings, “rich language environments may support the development of early literacy and numeracy skills” [2]. The use of appropriate language, conversation and communication for developing literacy and numeracy skills is strongly suggested for this particular class.

Conclusion

The observation of Nobodhara pre-school has given a picture of the readiness of school in terms of literacy and numeracy environment and children-teacher interaction at the beginning of a school session which would contribute to the readiness of the child to cope and learn in the school environment. The concept of “Ready Schools” means that schools need to be ready to work with the diverse population of children that come to their doors with varying backgrounds and experiences [3]. School’s readiness must be seen as a two-way street. While children need to get ready for success in school, schools need to increase their skills in supporting all children to be successful [4]. In this regard, Nobodhara had a welcoming environment for all children irrespective of culture, ethnicity and abilities. It provided a vibrant literacy and numeracy environment and put its effort in making the classroom a joyful learning place for the children. However, there are still areas of improvement identified through the observation which has been reflected in the recommendation section. The school may take those suggestions into consideration for ensuring an age appropriate literacy and numeracy rich, at the same time joyful learning environment for all children.


[1] Bruner, C. (2011). A project of the Early Childhood Funders' Collaborative supporting state efforts to prepare our children for success. Retrieved from Build Initiative: http://www.buildinitiative.org/files/resources/Bruner Four Ovals.pdf

[2] Robin Hojnoski (2014). What do the connections between early literacy and numeracy mean in preschool? Retrieved from  http://www.schoolreadinessblog.com/

[3] Early Childhood Colorado. (2008, July ). Early Childhood Colorado Framework. Retrieved from Early Childhood Colorado - Information Clearinghouse:  http://earlychildhoodcolorado.org/inc/uploads/CO_EC_Framework.pdf

[4] Buell, M et al. (2012). Kindergarten Readiness: An Overview of Components. Delaware Early Childhood Council. Issue Brief. Volume 1. Delaware: Delaware Early Childhood Council.


RAFIATH RASHID: Senior Manager, Education Programmes, BRAC International, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Saturday, 19 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable Development Goals: Justice

Justice

We work to ensure stronger accountability of local governments especially towards the poor, while challenging the idea that civil society has inherent limits.

 

Till 2014,

3.9 million women graduated from our human rights and legal education classes.
Legal aid clinics received 231,464 legal complaints.

 

Here is a story we would like to share about Justice

Afroza-Akhter

 

"My name is Afroza Akhter. I am from Gaibandha, a rural district in northern Bangladesh. My late husband had left behind a piece of land that he purchased about four years ago. After his death the three owners took possession of the land illegally.

My two sons and I could not afford to file a lawsuit against them. A teacher at a nearby school came to know about my crisis, and told me about an initiative that provides free legal assistance on land-related issues. Upon her suggestion, I visited BRAC’s legal aid clinic and learned about the property rights initiative. I did not know something like this existed. I immediately filed a complaint. BRAC representatives issued a request to the owners asking them to visit the legal aid clinic to resolve the matter. When they did not respond, BRAC’s panel lawyer on my request, filed a case.

Despite the court ruling the case in my favour, I could not take possession of the land. The  owners resorted to using their political connections and threatened us. Our lawyer filed another suit asking for execution of the court order. Finally, the police, along with government authorities, intervened and recovered the land from them.

I now farm on this land and am able to make a living. Sometimes I cannot help but feel anxious, but then I remind myself that along with legal support, I also have support from my community. And I feel more assured."

 

 

Thursday, 17 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable Development Goals: Prosperity

Prosperty

BRAC is about persistence, optimism, enterprise and values- the very things that can bring lasting impact for the world’s poorest.

 

We have distrubuted 22 million metric tons of high yield seeds to the farmers till 2014.
4.8 million people got access to microfinace loan in 2014.

Here are two stories we would like to share about Prosperity

Daw-Khin-Aye-Mu

Daw Khin Aye Mu

“When the programme organiser from BRAC asked us about how we can improve the lives of the people of our locality, it made us think in a way we have never done before.”

Daw Khin Aye Mu lives with her three daughters and a son in Bago, Myanmar. She has a home-based bakery business. Assisted by her oldest daughter, she bakes cakes and bread. She would earn about USD 4 (Kyats 4,000) per day. She struggled raising her children. “Before BRAC started its work in my community, there were no other microfinance providers. I heard about BRAC’s microfinance programme from a neighbour.” Daw Khin joined the microfinance group in her area following several discussions with the programme organiser. She began to attend the village organisation meetings.

Daw Khin took her first loan of USD 250 (Kyats 250,000) in 2014. She bought ingredients and other material for her bakery. “I never had an idea about savings. When the programme organiser explained the importance of savings, I knew I had to be better prepared for my family’s future. The income from my bakery business now helps me live a better life.”

Daw Khin is the president of her village organisation, the association of women BRAC forms to mobilise communities in various ways. She says, “It is an important responsibility and I work hard to maintain discipline. I feel proud about my work.”

 

Reshma-Khatun

Reshma Khatun

 

Reshma Khatun lives in Bagerhat in southern Bangladesh. Her husband, a poor farmer could only earn enough for them to get by. Their only valuable possession was a small gher (pond-like structure used for fish cultivation) where they farmed shrimp.

Reshma Khatun was selected for training from BRAC’s agriculture and food security programme. Upon receiving technical and financial support, she joined her husband in farming more varieties of fish. “I began farming different types of local carp. I used the first grant for land preparation, stocking young fish, fertiliser and fish feed.”

The couple’s earning rose when they began to sell the cultivated fish in bulk at the village market. Also trained on advanced farming techniques, Reshma and her husband took the next leap- farming rice, vegetables and sunflower. In Reshma’s words, “This allowed me to earn more money as I was using the space I had more efficiently. My relatives and neighbours say they are inspired by my success. With the training I received from BRAC, I was able to take control and secure a better life for my family.”

 

 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable development goals: Dignity

Dignity

Making a real contribution in halving the population living below poverty line in Bangladesh.

 

From 2002 to 2014,

We trained 1.6 miilion ultra-poor women in enterprise development
523,425 women received productive assets as grant

Here is a story we would like to share about Dignity

Neela-Rani

Neela Rani was forced to marry as a child and her dream to continue education was forever gone. In 2006, after enrolling in BRAC's targeting ultra poor programme (TUP), Neela received training and land on lease so she could start her own nursery business. She went on to become a community health worker for BRAC. In 2011, people in her village urged her to run for the union council election at her hometown, and Neela won! She was appointed as the vice chairman. About her plans for the coming days, Neela says, “My son has finished his secondary school and I dream to give him the educational opportunities I was once denied. I will continue to work for my village and hope to be elected as the union council chairman!”

BRAC's TUP programme is an innovation that was created to graduate people who live for less than USD 0.60 a day.

 

Monday, 14 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable development goals: People

People

Listening to the voices of the grassroots, we reach out to socially and geographically excluded communities through holistic approach.

 

We have 111,272 community health workers in position
Ante-natal care provided to 1.2 million mother in 2014
1.5 million adolescent girls received counselling on nutrition in 2014
13,802 ward level institutions in position to empower women in the community
332,000 adolescent girls learning about social and health issues at BRAC ADP Clubs

 

Here is a story we would like to share about People

Shanti-Debi-Chakma

"My name is Shanti Debi Chakma. I live with my husband and son in a remote sub-district of Rangamati. Last year, my son Sujan suddenly developed a fever. We took him to a peripheral laboratory of BRAC located a few kilometres away.  He was diagnosed with malaria. He was weak but since his condition was stable, he was released with anti-malarial medication. It was during monsoon when the only mode of transport in the region is a boat.

Soon after reaching home, my son fell unconscious. We rushed him to a government-owned health complex where we found out it was a severe case of malaria. We were advised to take him to the Rangamati district hospital immediately. It was late at night with heavy rains and no transport available except for UNDP’s water ambulance, which we could not afford. Upon learning about the crisis, BRAC’s field officer knew he had to act immediately. He called his colleague, the district manager, who then made all necessary arrangements to get Sujon admitted to the hospital in Rangamati as soon as we arrived. He also informed the only civil surgeon available and arranged for funds. We travelled in the water ambulance to Rangamati where BRAC’s district manager was waiting by the river bank with an ambulance. The treatment started immediately and after four days, Sujan was back on his feet.

Without that timely help, I don’t know what my husband and I would have done. My son’s life was saved because of the sincere actions of BRAC’s staff."

 

Sunday, 13 September 2015 18:00

Taking bitter pills to cure the disease

The role of research and evaluation in development of an organisation is hardly debated. Unfortunately, however, the empirics on this count are very rare.  Recently, this writer came across a document that highlights the role of research in an organisation, and assumes that history could serve as a lesson for others too.

Journal of Development Effectiveness (Routledge, 2014) draws our attention to an important but very unconventional topic such as the role of research and evaluation in fulfilling the objectives of an organisation - be it government, NGO or private. Written by Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Andrew Jenkins and Marziana Mahfuz Nandita, the contents of the paper hover around an institution's commitment to transparency and accountability that is induced by internal mechanism of checks and cross-checks. While thread-baring on the issue, the authors take up the world's renowned NGO BRAC as a case study. They were possibly propelled by the notion that among national and international NGOs, only BRAC has a large fleet of researchers to support its development programmes. It also seems to drive home a point - saving lives of the teeming millions through development projects is not merely a function of the financial resources at hand; it is also of the use of human resources devoted to research and evaluation  in both pre- and post-project stages. Measurement matters in the sphere of development interventions, and imperfections in measurement could be counter-productive. There are many reputed organisations in the world which apparently neglected research and monitoring in the project life-cycle and thus were doomed to see the door.

  The beauty of BRAC lies in its four key measures of the programme covering as many as 12 or more major development areas. The programme areas include health, nutrition and population, microfinance, education, agriculture and food security, targeting the ultra-poor, water, sanitation and hygiene, social development, community empowerment, human rights, gender justice and diversity, disaster, environment and climate etc. In addition to these, social enterprises appear separately but are also being fed through constant research and monitoring.

BRAC International is another window to serve beyond the boundary of Bangladesh - in as many as 12 countries. By and large, all of these development programmes that BRAC adopt have to pass through a series of tests to get a final nod from top notches and once approved, have to face few rounds of checks and balances.

The first move towards transparency and integrity in BRAC is through monitoring and investigation carried out by a monitoring unit as part of BRAC's internal control mechanism. The unit's objective is to conduct periodic analysis, enabling the management to determine whether the key activities are being carried out as planned and whether they are having the expected outputs in relation to the target population. The second key element is financial control and monitoring, carried out by two independent departments, finance and accounts, and internal audit (in addition, BRAC is independently audited annually). The third key element is external project reviews, which is carried out by specially-recruited teams of national and international consultants, usually for mid-term and final project reviews, but sometimes also for annual reviews. A fourth key element is research and evaluation, about which we shall dwell at length in the following paragraphs.

The Research and Evaluation Division (RED) is an independent research division within the organization of BRAC. Research is integral to the NGO's development activity and has been so since inception. The founder of BRAC, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, is reported to reckon that constant research and evaluation is instrumental in designing BRAC's pioneering interventions. It is thus no wonder that RED came into being in 1975 - almost the same time BRAC was born (1972). Over time, the division has been playing an important role in designing BRAC's development interventions, monitoring progress, documenting achievements and undertaking impact assessment studies.

According to the authors, RED has produced nearly 1,353 research reports, 350 journal articles, 274 book and book chapters, 19 theses, 55 research monographs, 111 working papers, 24 volume of Nirjash - a research compendium in the Bangla language, 174 popular articles in newsletters and newspapers. As a multidisciplinary team, its reputation has spilled over the boundary of Bangladesh, and eminent organisations of the world have developed collaborative research with RED.  "It provides an analytical basis for BRAC's programmatic decisions, fine-tuning it for better performance and making development efforts evidence-based, effective and community-sensitive". Further, RED conducts programme-driven research in agriculture, applied and reproductive health, communicable and non-communicable diseases, education, environment, extreme poverty, food security and nutrition, microfinance and social development and human rights etc. The division also caters to issues of national and international importance independently and in collaboration with reputed academic institutions and agencies. The current Vice-Chairperson, current Executive Director, the former Executive Director as well as a number of the board members of the organisation are well-known researchers in their own fields. This has provided an added impetus for RED to take the job seriously.

The prime goal of BRAC is to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality. In a broader spectrum, its goal is to ensure 'development' through the programmes it undertakes. As a unit of BRAC, the goal of RED is also to alleviate poverty through a different process. RED shows the most cost-effective mode to reach the goal in a regime of scarcity of resources. It is in fact an idea that states that however small or big every NGO or development organisation, it needs to have its own research capacity.

The process followed at BRAC is to have a portion of the budget of any project allocated for research i.e., roughly 1-2 per cent of the programme budget must be stipulated for carrying out research and evaluation in pre- and post-project phases. BRAC wants to convince other NGOs and institutions that it is important that they have something in house to measure the impact of their works.

The results of research and evaluations anywhere are very easy to appreciate but very difficult to swallow. They are like taking bitter pills to cure the disease. The choice is between rejecting bitter pills and continue with conundrum and vice versa. The mindset of the person at the top of office matters most. As head of the institution, one has to accept criticisms, suggestions and even be ready to abandon the idea if research and evaluation stand otherwise. BRAC's top notches and programme heads seem to believe in swallowing bitter pills to get rid of the pains - as reflected by their emphasis on research and evaluation. One stitch in time saves nine - research and evaluation are just that.

The writer is a Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.

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