3 May 2016, Dhaka
In celebration of BRAC’s founder and chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed’s 80th birthday, messages have been flooding in from all across the world to wish him a happy birthday. Global leaders such as Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of the UK, Desmond Swayne, Minister of State for International Development (DFID), UK, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister of International Development and the Pacific, Australia, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, are among the few that have been extending their best wishes.
In a message, Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, says, ‘You’ve helped millions of people in Bangladesh and beyond to escape poverty through the dignity of their own work. In doing so, you’ve revolutionised the way we all think about development. Luckily for all of us, you show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.”
Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, ‘We’ve had a great partnership with BRAC for more than a decade, and it’s made a huge difference. Through BRAC, you have changed the course of history for millions globally. For your vision and commitment to creating a better world, we salute you.”
“Abed bhai, happy birthday,” said Jim Kim, President of the World Bank. Having met Sir Fazle more than a decade ago, he says, ‘The scale and impact of what he’s done, and yet the utter humility with which he’s done everything, I think is a lesson for every single one of us who are working in development. For Abed bhai, everything has always been about making sure that women are empowered; making sure that children have education, even through informal systems.’
Wishes poured in from the global leaders in celebration of the 80th birthday of Brac Founder and Chairman Sir Fazle Hasan Abed on April 27.
Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the UK, Desmond Swayne, minister of State for International Development, UK, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, minister of International Development and the Pacific, Australia, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, are among a few of those who wished their best. Read More.
The many positive contributions made by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed testify to a life which has been eminently successful and a source of inspiration for others. A golden thread that runs through his range of activities is an abiding concern for bringing about change in the lives of human beings by affording them opportunities for realising their potential. His creative response to the challenge for change was as founder of an extraordinary NGO called BRAC. The institutions and activities sponsored and supported by BRAC reflect this concern, as these embrace, among others, education, health, human rights, the rule of law, and governance. Read More.
Brac Founder and Chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed yesterday spent a busy day at work despite it being his 80th birthday, carving out time to enjoy a 4D exhibition and a festive programme when a book containing articles about him written by noted personalities was also unveiled. Former diplomat Faruk Chowdhury, who edited the book, presented Sir Fazle with a copy and the latter cut a cake, said a press release. Born in 1936 in Bangladesh, Sir Fazle was educated at both Dhaka and Glasgow universities. He was a professional accountant in his thirties, working as a senior corporate executive at Shell Oil when the 1971 Liberation War had a profound effect on him, dramatically changing the direction of his life. He left his job, moved to London and devoted himself to Bangladesh's war of independence. Read more
New York April 19, 2016
BRAC and the LEGO Foundation have announced a $4.7 million, three-year partnership to promote the importance of learning through play for early childhood education in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda.
Designed to emphasize the quality of learning as a hallmark of strong early childhood education, BRAC’s low-cost, high-impact Play Lab project will reach more than 7,000 children, aged three to five, across the three countries.
BRAC, an international development organization, has a widespread presence in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda, with established education and poverty alleviation programs. The LEGO Foundation is recognized worldwide for its deep knowledge of children’s development and learning processes along with the training and tools that educators need to release children’s potential. The partnership marks the LEGO Foundation’s first major investment in learning through play in Asia and strengthens its efforts in East Africa.
“Play is now widely recognized as a key facilitator in the emotional development of children,” said Devon Ritzer, Education Program Manager for BRAC USA, BRAC’s US-based affiliate. “Children are able to explore different aspects of their identity and increase collaboration through play.”
The pilot will also include training for 480 adolescent girls as paraprofessional play leaders, sessions for 7,200 parents on the importance of play and the creation of 120 Play Labs.
Play Labs are spaces for children to engage in play. When used in tandem with a play-based curriculum, they help educators ensure children are learning while also fostering early childhood development.
The paraprofessional play leaders will be drawn from BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program, which empowers teenage girls socially and financially and provides safe spaces for them to socialize and receive mentoring and life skills training.
“Evidence continues to link play to the development of executive functions, resiliency, creativity, problem-solving, social skills and emotional well-being,” said Aline Villette, Senior Programme Manager at the LEGO Foundation. “Allowing children to learn through play provides a strong foundation for learning and for life.”
The Centre for Play at BRAC University’s BRAC Institute of Educational Development in Bangladesh will play a key role in the initiative. The Centre for Play will design both the safe play spaces and low-cost learning materials for children.
The planning and design process will include the participation of community members to ensure that play environments are created in homes and community hubs that lack play spaces.
The joint project will also establish a global network of play-based learning experts to gather and assess international best practices, adapt and develop curriculum and materials, build staff capacity and advocate for children’s rights to access quality learning.
To assure the quality of the spaces and age-appropriate effectiveness of the play materials, while also providing opportunity to innovate throughout the project, the collaboration will also spearhead research and help develop assessment tools to monitor and evaluate the Play Lab model.
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 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.”