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Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, one of the world’s leading non-governmental organisations, has received the prestigious Laudato Si award during a ceremony at the Vatican City. The award recognises BRAC for its innovative approach to creating opportunities for millions of people living in poverty, achieving significant impact in Bangladesh and ten other countries.

BRAC was founded in Bangladesh in 1972 by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, and today is a global leader in developing cost-effective, evidence-based poverty innovations in extremely poor, conflict-prone and post-disaster settings. These include programmes in education, healthcare, microfinance, girls’ empowerment, agriculture, human and legal rights, social enterprises, a bank, a university, and the world’s largest mobile money platform. The organisation is known for its business approach to helping people in poverty, with 16 socially-minded businesses that enable the most marginalised people to access financial services and livelihoods. In addition, BRAC’s celebrated graduation programme helps the poor ‘graduate’ out of destitution, resulting in an income boost of up to 37 percent. Research has shown that it has the potential to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 1 by uplifting the poorest people and eradicating the most severe forms of poverty.


Laudato Si’

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote “Laudato Si’ meaning, “On care for our common home,” in which he calls for an international dialogue about how to approach and act upon an ecological crisis. In essence he explains that caring for our common home, and bettering our communities, means also addressing how international business practices have contributed to climate change, which effects the most marginalised people. The Laudato Si’ Challenge 2017 is developing and accelerating transformative, scalable, profitable businesses that have solutions to the most intractable problem of our time: climate change and human migration.

As part of the inaugural challenge, The Laudato Si’ awards recognise the innovators whose contributions are uniting humanity and transforming the way we approach impact and enterprise. The Laudato Si’ awards are a set of three prizes honouring those who are committed to answering Pope Francis’s clarion call.  Other award winners include Huda Abuarquob in the individual category and Sarara Camp in the enterprise category.

Sir Fazle expressed his gratitude for the award. “Forty-five years ago, I set out to change the conditions of my native Bangladesh permanently, by giving poor people the power to control their own lives and destinies. I founded BRAC based on the belief that poor people, if given the means to organise themselves, can change the course of history.

“We have achieved much, but there is more to be done. For the first time in history, the eradication of extreme poverty from the face of the planet is within our sight. Like His Holiness Pope Francis, I believe that proper care for the planet means proper care for the people who live on it, including the most vulnerable among us. My vision is of a world where even the poorest have the opportunity to lead lives of purpose and dignity.”

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BRAC in Sierra Leone was awarded the ‘Best NGO for Women’s Empowerment' for 2017 by the Council of Chief Executives, a leading association of business leaders in Sierra Leone that is committed to sustainable economic growth and human development.

The award comes in recognition of BRAC’s role in empowering women through its programmes, management systems and innovations.

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The award was accepted by the country representative, Rakibul Bari Khan, on behalf of BRAC in Sierra Leone. He described the award as "a great honor and recognition of our determination to empower the lives of women in Sierra Leone. Ultimately, we want to help the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the goal of attaining gender equality." He further noted, "In turn, the empowerment of women will help remove inequality and contribute to the eradication of poverty in all its forms."

80% of BRAC staff in Sierra Leone are women and over half of the programmes are run by women. The Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) programme is completely run by women while all community health workers under the health programme are women; 95% of microfinance staff and clients are also women.

BRAC opened its offices in Sierra Leone in 2008 and currently reaches 2.3 million people through programmes in health, adolescents’ empowerment, agriculture and microfinance. It follows an integrated approach to development, implementing programmes through 30 branches in 11 districts across the country.

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Lack of healthy diet puts more people at risk of death and diseases

Lack of healthy diet puts more people at risk of death and diseases in developing countries than things like air pollution, smoking and drug abuse. It has been reported that as a result of poor nutrition conditions, there was an estimated 11 percent drop in GDP of countries across Africa and Asia.

This, along with other insights, come from the new report on 'Healthy Diets for All: A Key to Meeting the SDGs' that was launched at this year's Global Panel meeting at a hotel on today in the capital. Zahid Malek, MP, Honorable State Minister from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, was present at the launching as the chief guest.

Panel members at the meeting included the Director of BRAC, Health, Nutrition and Population Programme, Dr Kaosar Afsana, Global Panel member Emmy Simmons, Global Panel Technical Advisor Professor Patrick Webb, Department for International Development (DFID) country director Jane Edmondson were also spoke at the meeting, BRAC, and Global Panel in collaboration with International Food Policy Research Institute and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) hosted this year's meeting in Dhaka on Monday, 20 November, 2017. The central agenda of the meeting was to engage policymakers at all levels and help them recognise the role of healthy diets in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The report presented six evidence-based recommendations, aimed at policymakers in low and middle-income counties, showing how 'diet quality' can be the key to help them unlock and accelerate progress on meeting their Sustainable Development Goals.

These six areas of focus include – paying attention to diet quality in developing SDG plans; adopting food systems approach to meet the SDGs; focusing on improved diet for infants, young children and women; addressing barriers and shocks impeding access to healthy diets; widening national policy approach to ensure well-functioning food systems; boosting efforts to collect and report data on diet quality.

Zahid Malek MP stated, "this is a country of 160-170 million people. Despite few natural calamities and man-made disasters, Bangladesh has maintained its sustained economic growth. We are turning from lower middle income to middle income by 2021 or earlier. Even then, 45 million people live in absolute poverty, 40 million are suffering food insecurity, 7.3 million children are stunted, only three-fourths of under two children accessed minimal acceptable diet and 70% of our diets are cereal based."

He emphasized on five points to solve these problems; urge all relevant ministries to act in their own jurisdiction for improved nutrition and healthy diets for all with a multi-sectoral approach, propose a minimal healthy diet affordable to the people, rigorous advocacy and mass campaign for healthy diets, continuous and serious dialogue with commercial markets to make them pro-people, nutrition-sensitive and supportive for healthy population and all stakeholders – government, NGOs, UN and private sectors must work together for community mobilization.

The consensus at the meeting was that one critically important policy area that connects many of the SDGs, is the provision healthy diets for all. Invisible in terms of SDG language and not mentioned among the many targets, healthy diets are a foundation underpinning successful progress toward targets in health, agriculture, inequality, poverty and sustainable consumption.

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Community radios to commence unique two month long campaign.

As part of the efforts to raise awareness on the issue of child marriage, community radios will start communicating a unique campaign from November until December. A total of 17 community radios nationwide will be responsible for disseminating critical information on 11 topics surrounding child marriage in various native languages.

A thought sharing session was held today, titled “Increasing Awareness to Prevent Child Marriages,” at the National Press Club where the campaign announcement was made. The participants at the event included Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Information, Md. Mosharraf Hossain, Programme Coordinator of Gender Justice and Diversity at BRAC, Nishath Sultana, and Director of Community Empowerment Programme, Gender Justice and Diversity, and Integrated Development Programme at BRAC, Anna Minj.

It is revealed through the event that the topics covered by the community radio shows will include: child marriage, father’s role in child marriage, role of teachers and community leaders, community engagement, role of local government, role of social media, role of NGOs, involvement of boys and sexual harassment among others.

The development of the magazine shows, necessary skills building and promotion related activities will be carried out in collaboration among BRAC’s Gender Justice and Diversity and Community Empowerment Programme along with Bangladesh Community Radio Association.

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Dr Chowdhury honoured for work in public health globally.

Dr Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Vice Chairperson of BRAC, was nominated by the American non-profit Ronald McDonald House Charities for its ‘Medical Award of Excellence 2017’ along with a grant of USD 100,000. The award was given in recognition of Dr Chowdhury’s outstanding contributions in the field of primary health care and community-based education across developing countries. The ceremony was held on 11th November, 2017, in Illinois, U.S.

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Among his vast body of achievements, Dr Chowdury is known for leading BRAC’s Oral Therapy Extension Programme that successfully stemmed deaths from childhood diarrhea by training mothers on oral rehydration solution (ORS) preparation. In addition to his role at BRAC, Dr Chowdhury is also the Professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and has implemented projects in countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, China and Ethiopia.

Dr Chowdhury has worked as Senior Adviser and acting Managing Director for Health at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he played a critical role in setting up several institutions in the South-East and South Asia regions. These include the establishment of the Department of Public Health and Informatics at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, forming the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance (MBDS) network, and setting up of a center on non-state sector studies in Vietnam.

Past recipients of the Award included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Health Minister of Rwanda Dr Agnes Binagwaho and Queen Noor of Jordan among others.

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BRAC’s executive director, Dr Muhammad Musa said, “For education to be able to serve the future of our communities, we need to empower teachers, methodologies, practitioners and more importantly mindsets, in order to solve real problems with simple, frugal solutions, that include the under-privileged communities of the present world,” today on Saturday at the closing day of a 3-day international event on educational innovations organised at Savar, Dhaka.

Focusing on scaling up quality education, BRAC organised the programme titled ‘Frugal Innovation Forum 2017’ in 9-11 November 2017 at Savar CDM. The first day of the event was spent in the field, while discussions comprising 17 sessions were held in the next two days.

Primary and mass education minister, Advocate Mostafizur Rahman MP inaugurated the discussion sessions on Friday, which primarily focused on the potentials of different kinds of innovations to ensure quality education across the world. Educationists and innovators from Bangladesh, Australia, India, Nepal and South Africa presented 11 innovative models of quality education. Over 200 development activists, social entrepreneurs, educationists and researchers participated in discussions on the innovative approaches and projects adopted in the education systems of different countries around the world.

A special session on the education of refugee children titled ‘The displaced demographic: Classrooms for every child’ was held on the closing day. Abdul Moktader, Project Director, Save the Children Bangladesh; Jacqueline Strecker, Learn Lab Manager, UNHCR, and Mohammad Mohsin, ECD Specialist, UNICEF Bangladesh, were the speakers of the session.

Later on the closing day executive director of BRAC, Dr Muhammad Musa attended a session titled ‘Future of Education’. Dr James Tooley, professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle and Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser to the Access to Information (a2i) Programme at the Prime Minister’s Office, also spoke at this session.

Yesterday’s (10 November 2017) discussions focused on the changing trends in the education systems across the world. Dr Safiqul Islam, director of BRAC’s education programme, Ian Attfield, senior education adviser of DFID Education Policy Team, and Fathima Dada, global managing director of English and Schools, Pearson, were the speakers at this session titled ‘Shifting sands in global education across the world’.

Another important session from the second day called ‘Public private partnership in education - Lessons learnt from the region’ included Aashti Zaidi Hai, director of Global Schools Forum, Lee Crawfurd, head of research and evaluation of Ark Education Partnerships Group, Md Afzal Hossain Sarwar, policy specialist for educational innovation at Access to Information Programme at the Prime Minister’s Office, Bangladesh, and Shweta Anand Arora, director of The Education Alliance, as the speakers.

Asif Saleh, senior director for strategy, communications and empowerment of BRAC and BRAC International, gave the closing remarks of the event.

The BRAC Social Innovation Lab (SIL) has been organising Frugal Innovation Forum for the last four years (since 2013) with focus on pressing social issues. This year, the Bangla daily, Prothom Alo was the associate partner of the event while Global Schools Forum acted as the knowledge partner.

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According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), buses are responsible for 23% of all road crashes in Bangladesh. This is further evidenced by Accident Research Institute (BUET) led research which showed that 47% of road crashes in Bangladesh is caused by buses, truck and other heavy vehicles.

To address the situation, BRAC Driving School (an initiative of BRAC Road Safety Programme) has launched a road safety and defensive driving training for in-service bus and truck drivers called 'Shurakkha'. It focuses on modifying the attitude and behaviour of drivers towards road safety and driving.

Earlier in April this year, ENA had sent its first batch of 200 drivers to BRAC Driving School to undergo the training. Mr Khandaker Enayet Ullah, owner of ENA and General Secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association had pledged to send another 200 drivers. Today (November 5 2017), ENA enrolled another 200 of its drivers to undergo the training.

Director of BRAC Road Safety Programme Ahmed Najmul Hussain informed that the training course 'Shurakkha' has been developed by BRAC with support of Hubert Ebner which specialises in drivers training. The drivers not only become safer drivers, they also reported a reduction of 30% on repair and maintenance costs. 'Shurakkha' is provided in two formats - i) three-day-long residential training focusing on road safety, defensive driving, attitude and behaviour; ii) two-day-long residential and one day for driving test using vehicle mounted P-Drive system that grades drivers of their safety, driving, attitude and behavioural skills. ENA in this case chose to give their drivers the three residential ‘Surakkha’ training opportunity to amend their driving skills at BRAC Driving School.

Research on this training has found that as much as 90 per cent of ‘Surakkha’ trained drivers have experienced change in their mindset when driving. 95% of these drivers claimed that they mantain a safe following distance from the next vehicle in front while driving.

 

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35 Australia Awards South and West Asia alumni, representing seven countries, started pitching project ideas today in Dhaka as part of the Alumni Innovation Challenge, which was organised jointly by BRAC and Australia Awards.

The platform provides alumni participants with funding to implement development solutions in their native countries. Out of over 80 project submissions, 27 projects were awarded grants and mentorship support. The selected alumni participants hailed from countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Alumni Innovation Challenge, inaugurated by Executive Director of BRAC Dr Muhammad Musa and Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh (Her Excellency) Julia Niblett, let the grantees give their final pitch presentations to Heads of Mission from South Asia, officials from the Government of Bangladesh, international development agencies, fellow alumni, and other key stakeholders.

Praising the initiative, BRAC’s Executive Director Dr Muhammad Musa said, “BRAC and the Australian Government have a long standing commitment to achieving key development goals in Bangladesh. This platform provides a great opportunity for innovative individuals to network, collaborate and bring sustainable solutions to the existing challenges for their respective countries.”

Also present at the inauguration, Ms. Niblett said, “The Alumni Innovation Challenge will further enable us to respond to emerging global opportunities and challenges through innovation by drawing together some of our most inventive, creative Alumni across the region. It will also provide a unique opportunity for our Alumni to network and share experiences.”

The event will come to an end with an Innovation Tour, taking place on 2 November 2017, where participants will visit Australian Government-supported and Australian alumni-initiated development innovations within Bangladesh.

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The per capita income of the underprivileged people living in the haor areas has risen by 9 percent as a result of the work done by BRAC Integrated Development Programme. In addition to that, the rate of men and women, aged between 16 and 65, who became self-employed also increased by 10 percent and 6 percent respectively. Aside from that, spending by women in areas like health, child education, savings, purchasing land grew 14 percent when compared to the past.

These information were revealed at a workshop held in BRAC Centre titled “BRAC’s Operations in Haor and Flash Floods” today, Wednesday (November 1, 2017). The chief guest at the event, organised by BRAC Integrated Development Programme (IDP), was the Minister of Water Resources Anisul Islam Mahmud, MP. The discussion was led by BRAC’s Executive Director, Dr Muhammad Musa, where other key participants included the Head of Co-Operations from Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) Peter Bogh Jensen, First Secretary (Development Results and Evaluations) of Department for International Development (DfID) Bangladesh Yousuf Rafique, Director of Research and Evaluation Division at BRAC Professor Abdul Bayes and Director of IDP, Community Empowerment Programme and Gender Justice & Diversity Anna Minj. There were also several representatives from the government, humanitarian organisations, donor agencies and think tanks among others.

BRAC commenced its Integrated Development Programme back in 2013 to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged dwellers of haor region and indigenous population in the North West. Before that BRAC had started a primary survey in 2012 of 7,783 households across 16 upazilla, which came to an end in April 2016.

Key findings of the report on “A New Approach to Reducing Poverty and Vulnerability: Evidence from BRAC’s Integrated Development Programme” was presented by Jinnat Ara, Research Fellow for the Development Economics Unit at BRAC Research and Evaluation Division. The findings revealed that 5,183 households out of 7,783 were beneficiaries of BRAC’s Integrated Development Programme. Furthermore, the rate at which programme beneficiaries were accessing hygienic latrine facilities and formal healthcare services increased by 77 percent and 50 percent respectively. 63 percent of the beneficiaries had food security, while that rate was lower at 46 percent for those who were yet to fall under the umbrella. Women under the programme boasted a self-employment rate of 95.2 percent, while for men that rate was at 71.2 percent.

Another research was conducted among 1,845 households in 70 villages at 31 Unions across recently flooded areas of Moulvibazar, Sunamganj, Sylhet, Habiganj, Netrokona and Kishoreganj. As highlighted in the presentation on “Flash Flood 2017: Perspective in Haor Areas” by Dr Nepal C. Dey, despite almost 52 percent of the residents in haor areas being involved in crop farming, the number has significantly decreased to 13 percent as a result of flash floods. During the same time period the number of people getting involved in fish farming rose to around 24 percent, which is the highest compared to any previous year. Due to excessive flooding, nearly 21 percent of the people were forced to remain without an income source.

One out of every three households that participated in the survey were consuming two meals a day instead of the standard three. They were consuming 53 percent less food and 16 percent less nutritious content due to the scarcity. At the same time, one out of every three households were suffering from food shortage. It is being predicted through the research that a loss of BDT 2,918 crores were incurred from crops, poultry, dairy products and day labor in the surveyed areas. One of the many recommendations made at the workshop emphasised on improved water drainage systems and excavation to channel currently overflowing water. These systems include improving dam renovation, timely maintenance, proper monitoring, stronger relationship between government and non-government bodies, encouraging farmers to adopt faster yielding BRRI 81 as well as 28 varieties of rice, and creating alternative employment opportunities among others.

Anisul Islam Mahmud stated during the event, “These flash floods have been triggered by the overflowing of the waters in Brahmaputra and Meghna as a result of rapid climate change. The effects are not limited to the haor areas but nationwide. This is a significant barrier to our sustainable development goals.”

Peter Jensen said, “BRAC’s integrated approach is a practical solution to the current situation in the haor areas. We are enthusiastic to be a part of this initiative.”

Dr Muhammad Musa stated, “The recent floods have not only affected the crops but also the flow of life for many. This is why we are placing an importance on planning our integrated programme for the long run.”

It is important to note that BRAC’s Integrated Development Programme is providing involved in the areas of health, nutrition, population, education, community empowerment, human rights and legal services, safe migration, gender equality, safe water and sanitation, targeting the ultra-poor, micro finance and agriculture & food security as part of its interventions.

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BRAC’s executive director calls on global leaders to act against fastest growing humanitarian crisis

During the opening session of the pledging conference held today, Dr Muhammad Musa Executive Director of BRAC, offered insights into the plight of the forcefully displaced Myanmar nationals in front of ministerial level representatives from all of UN’s Member States.

Dr Musa highlighted the overall scenario in Cox’s Bazar and the continuing influx in his presentation. He also mentioned BRAC’s efforts to address the wide range of needs of the people within the settlements – ranging from building 10,000 latrines to establishing 100 child-friendly spaces. He emphasised on giving equal attention to host community needs, which are considerably different from the needs of the displaced people.

Looking into the near future, Dr. Musa spoke about the need to scale up services like offering a comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene package. This package will include additional solutions for garbage disposal, drainage systems, waste management and hygiene education. He also expressed concern about the threats that will be posed by the oncoming winter.    

Speaking about the coordinated response of the Government of Bangladesh, the UN and its implementation partners, which includes BRAC, Dr. Musa stressed that their success depended on cross sectoral involvement. He called for better synchronisation to achieve more sustainable results.

Along with Dr Musa speakers at the conference included Mark Lowcock, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency relief Coordinator, UN; Mr Filippo Grandi, UNHCR; William Lacy Swing, Director General, IOM; Dr Joanne Liu, International President, MSF.

Among the Member States present, Denmark has committed a total of USD 18 million to date and expressed its concern particularly for the women and children victims of the crisis. Norway made a pledge of USD 10 million and reaffirmed that they were willing to increase contributions if necessary. Sweden will be channeling funds worth of USD 24 million within the coming days, adding that they expect strong leadership from the UN.

The conference was co-organised by IOM, OCHA and UNHCR with support from the European Union and Government of Kuwait. The focus of the event was to mobilise much needed resources to tackle the ongoing crisis and show solidarity with the Government of Bangladesh and its host communities.