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Saturday, 26 March 2016 18:00

BRAC holds Frugal Innovation Forum 2016

Frugal Innovation Forum 2016

Frugal Innovation Forum 2016

BRAC held the fourth Frugal Innovation Forum from 23-24 March 2016 in Savar, Bangladesh with the theme of scaling resilience. The forum showcased financial, social, and technological innovations that non-governmental organisations and other implementers are using to strengthen communities that are facing the effects of climate change.

The forum was designed to explore effective innovations and create opportunities for dialogue among leaders in the global south. Speakers from organisations that are building resilience in innovative ways, such as GoonjiDE NepalThe Mojolab Foundation, and Medic Mobile  were featured in panel and plenary discussions. In addition, representatives from various grassroots organisations and thought-leaders on the subject including  Ainun NishatJaideep PrabhuRizwana Hasan and Arif Jebtik also presented and highlighted ways to build resiliency in the face of natural and man-made disasters.

“Resilience-building mindsets and creativity at the community and government level are necessary for communities to not only cope when faced with disaster, but to thrive,” Jaideep Prabhu said during the opening session. Mr. Prabhu said that top-down policies need to be balanced with grassroots, bottom-up solutions to build resiliency ahead of disaster.

The major sessions included financial innovations to foster household resiliency, innovations in adaptive livelihoods and agriculture, and also explored how policy can strengthen communities ahead of natural disasters in South Asia.

The two day long forum ended with a session with BRAC founder and Chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed moderated by Mr Prabhu.  The discussion mostly focused Bangladesh’s growth in the last few decades. Highlighting some of them Sir Fazle said that Bangladesh’s life expectancy at birth is higher than that of Pakistan and India although both the countries have higher per capita income than Bangladesh. But unfortunately, the country has a long way to go in terms of ensuring gender equality and meeting the growing demand of urbanisation.

 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016 18:00

Queen Mother of Bhutan visits BRAC

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Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck of Bhutan visits BRAC on her first trip to Bangladesh. As President of the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF), Her Majesty is here for a five-day study trip to explore possibilities for collaboration between BRAC and YDF.

On Tuesday, 15 March, Her Majesty met with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder and chairperson of BRAC, at BRAC Centre. Admiring Bangladesh she said, “I am very impressed to see Bangladesh’s growth. I can see the discipline and it’s phenomenal.” She added, “We are very keen to collaborate with BRAC. It is remarkable that BRAC has touched so many lives and we have so much to learn from BRAC’s success.”

Thanking Her Majesty, Sir Fazle said, “Bangladesh is on the path to increase development growth rate. Last year it was 6% and we are hoping this year it would be 7%. But still 20% people live in poverty and BRAC is working to eliminate poverty and provide equal opportunity to all. We will be happy to collaborate with YDF”

In the evening, Her Majesty met the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Gonobhaban.

Her Majesty and YDF officials visited BRAC’s Ayesha Abed Foundation production centre and the Aarong Flagship Outlet on 16 March, Wednesday.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother was accompanied by Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck, the Vice President of the YDF, Ambassador of Bhutan to Bangladesh Her Excellency Pema Choden, YDF officials, and officials from the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Dhaka.

Thursday, 17 March 2016 18:00

Two BRAC officials abducted in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan-abduction

BRAC Afghanistan's staff KM Sirazul Islam (left) and Mohammad Showkat Ali (right)

 

18 March 2016, Dhaka. It is with great regret that we announce that Engineer Mohammad Showkat Ali, Chief Engineer, National Solidarities Programme and KM Sirazul Islam, Regional Accountant, Girls Education Challenge (GEC) project were abducted on 17 March 2016 from Shenowari of Baghlan e Markazi district under Baghlan province in Afghanistan. The incident happened when they were returning to Kunduz province BRAC office from a scheduled field visit.

BRAC is fully engaged in dealing with this crisis. BRAC Afghanistan authorities are in constant communication with the law enforcement agencies and the local administration and also has dispatched a team to Baghlan to coordinate the rescue efforts. 

In immediate response, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh and Ministry of Interior of Afghanistan have assured their full cooperation. 

BRAC officials in Bangladesh have been in communication with the families of Showkat and Siraz, keeping them informed of the latest situation and providing all necessary support.

BRAC has been in operation in Afghanistan, the first country presence of BRAC International, since 2002 helping the country to rebuild after the war.  It currently runs programmes in health, girls education and is a partner of the Afghan Government in their National Solidarity Programme initiated to rehabilitate 5000 villages in Afghanistan.  Its total budget for 2016 is about 15 million USD and it has a staff of 857 with about 61 of its staff being from Bangladesh and rest being from Afghanistan.BRAC's Afghanistan operation has reached 5.6 million people so far. For more information on our Afghanistan programme, click here.

BRAC is working all out to ensure a safe and speedy release of its abducted staff members.

Saturday, 05 March 2016 18:00

Safe Spaces for Women at Workplace

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“Ensuring safety at workplace can help increasing women’s participation in the working sector” -said state minister of MoWCA Begum Meher Afroze Chumki, MP

State minister for Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA) of Bangladesh Government, Begum Meher Afroze Chumki, MP, emphasised on women’s safety at work place to increase women’s participation, at a national dialogue today. The dialogue titled “Safe Spaces for Women at Workplace” was jointly organised by BRAC and Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST) to mark International Women’s Day 2016.

As more women are participating in work outside home than ever before, ensuring safety for women at their workplaces has now become one of the most pressing agendas. Although the High Court issued a directive in 2009 to prevent and provide protection against sexual harassment at all workplaces, compliance with this directive is still not up to the mark. The dialogue was organised to start a conversation among private sector organisations to address the issue.

 Barrister Sara Hossain from BLAST highlighted the nature of sexual harassment and what are the barriers for women to complain against it. She also put emphasis on the high court directive on sexual harassment redressal in her presentation. She said, “Even after seven years of the high court directive on sexual harassment redressal, it has not been made a law. In addition to this, the conditions or exact penalty in case of non-compliance with the directive is still not clear.”  In her presentation she also stressed that the guideline only talks about the women, there is no mention of the third gender.

Maheen Sultan, visiting fellow of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development made a presentation on “Addressing sexual harassment in the garments sector: Good practices and findings”.

BRAC’s programme head of human rights and legal aid services (HRLS) Sajeda Farisa Kabir’s presentation addressed BRAC’s experience and learning in Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. BRAC has more than a decade of experience in addressing sexual harassment issues at workplace, providing support to its 112,934 national staff, working in 64 districts and more than 8,000 staff working in 11 countries.
 
Present at the event were representative from private sector organisations like Nestle Bangladesh, Afroz, Incepta. The dialogue was moderated by BRAC's executive director Dr Muhammad Musa.

 

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Fazle Hasan Abed in IMF Panel Discussion

BRAC's chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed joined a panel discussion today, 12 March, on Income Inequality, Demographic Change, and Gender at the three-day-long Advancing Asia conference in Delhi, India. He was joined by Milwida Guevara, CEO of Synergeia Foundation, Philippines, Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog India, Azeema Adam, Governor of Maldives Monetary Authority and Zia Mody, Partner, AZB and Partners, India. The session was moderated by Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Watch the session here.

Learn more about Advancing Asia Conference here.

 

We hear that girls in Africa don’t have the same opportunities as boys to get a decent education, that discrimination is shutting women out of the jobs and assets they need to provide a better standard of living for their families, that the benefits of economic growth are being wiped out because women are having too many children, and that thousands of women are dying in childbirth because they don’t have access to basic healthcare.  

While all of these things are true, they also hide something that you rarely hear – that Africa has been making significant progress and even has a thing or two to teach the rest of the world. read more

A computer whirs to life in a small shop in Bangladesh’s chaotic capital Dhaka. Outside rickshaw drivers bargain for fares and street sellers call out the day’s fish prices. The phone rings. Hasna Hena, 15, takes the call in one hand, her other flying over the track pad to open Photoshop. It’s another new client needing a poster design. read more

 Primary Schools in Bangladesh to Go Digital

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."

Reaching 20 Million Students

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.

 

rebuildinglivelihood

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.

Monday, 15 February 2016 18:00

Mobile money in Bangladesh

 

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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.

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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

 

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