22 July 2011, Dhaka. Bangladesh’s first complete mobile financial service provider, bKash Limited, a BRAC Bank subsidiary, launched its operation yesterday. Bangladesh Bank Governor Dr. Atiur Rahman inaugurated the service at Radisson Water Garden Hotel in Dhaka. The Governor marked the occasion as a milestone event not only for the advancement of Bangladesh but also to celebrate a true partnership between banking and telecom industries.
bKash is designed to provide financial services via mobile phones to both the unbanked and the banked people of Bangladesh. The overall bKash value proposition is simple: a safe, convenient place to store money; a safe, easy way to make payments and money transfers.
The bKash mobile wallet, a VISA technology platform which is fully encrypted to ensure most secure transactions, will be the customer account into which money can be deposited and out of which money can be withdrawn or used for various services. Customers will be able to receive electronic money into their bKash accounts through salary, loan, domestic remittance, and other disbursements and eventually will cash out the electronic money at any of the hundreds of cash out agents which bKash assign.
In February 2011, mobile operator Robi Axiata Limited signed a partnership agreement with bKash to provide access to its services for Robi subscribers and extend the distribution of the service. bKash’s other distribution partner is BRAC which provides a local presence to offer the bKash service at the vicinity of the beneficiaries. bKash has already selected over 500 agents and is adding hundreds of new agents to its network every month. In addition, bKash has signed an MOU with LGD and A2I to use their 4501 Union Information & Service Centers to make financial services accessible to grass root people. “With the backing of leading players in the field, bKash has the scale and expertise to deliver a service that the majority of Bangladeshis desperately need,” said Kamal Quadir, CEO of bKash. “We will evolve with the needs of individuals, businesses and communities,” continued Quadir.
"bKash provides a wonderful opportunity for millions of unbanked people who have a cell phone to a have a bank account where they will be able to deposit, payout and transfer funds as they wish safely and securely", said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, chairperson and founder of BRAC, special guest of honour at the event.
“bKash presents a compelling business plan which capitalizes on a ripe economy to dramatically expand access to formal financial services, both as an extension of BBL and as a full- scale mobile phone-based payments switch. This will highly benefit the country as 83% of the population lives under $2 a day and access for finance can help in improving the economic situation,” said Rumee Ali, Chairman of BRAC Bank and Chairman of bKash.
Managing Director & CEO of Robi Axiata Michael Kuehner emphasized that this is the first time a dedicated mobile financial service provider has partnered with a mobile operator so the customer expects truly transformative payment solutions and services. “bKash will fundamentally change the way people now do transactions. Customers will not need to come to the bank, rather the bank will come to their places”, said Syed Mahbubur Rahman, Managing Director & CEO of BRAC Bank.
BRAC is a global development organization dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives. BRAC’s holistic approach aims to achieve large scale, positive changes through economic and social programs that enable women and men to realize their potential. BRAC was launched in Bangladesh in 1972 and today reaches more than 138 million people in Africa and Asia through its programs that address poverty by providing micro-loans, self-employment opportunities, health services, education and legal and human rights services. Learn more at http://www.bracusa.org and http://www.brac.net.
21 July 2011 Dhaka. On 16th July the final round of inter-school debate competition 2011 was organised by BRAC Education Programme in NAEM (National Academy for Educational Management) auditorium.
Students from 750 High Schools from 47 districts and teachers from 232 High Schools from 58 districts participated in this competition which started at the beginning of this year. Participants had to go through different levels of competitions: inter-school, inter-subdistrict, inter-district and lastly inter-divisional level. In the final round of the teacher debate Lohagora Pailot High School (Narail) beat Baksh Mahmud High School (Feni). Mollah Md. Moniruzzaman, teacher of Lohagora Pailot High School (Narail), won the best debaters (teacher) award.
In the student debates, Mohalchora Pilot High School (Khagrachori) became champion and Rudroboira Girls’ High School (Jamalpur) became runner-up. Chen Chen Nu, student of Mohalchora Pilot High School (Khagrachori), won the best debaters (student) award.
A welcome speech by Mr. Asif Saleh, Director of BRAC Communications kicked off the final round, while Dr. Safiqul Islam, Director of Education Programme, presided over the event.
Dr. Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury – Secretary of Ministry of Education was chief guest of the inter-school debate competition. Other high level government officials were present in the event.
This is the third time Mentoring Programme under BRAC Education Programme organised this competition around the country. The objective of Mentoring Programming is to engage high school students in co-curricular activities and grow leadership skills in them. It creates logical attitude among the debaters. They not only learn from textbooks, they need to go through national and international news, articles and books to prepare themselves on various issues of debate competitions. The process of debate allows participants to analyse the similarities and differences between differing viewpoints, so that the audience can understand where opinions diverge and why. Debate is also an excellent way to model the analytical and communicative processes that students are learning. It helps them to build up confidence level to speak in public fluently and effectively. Youth are the future of our country and well-being lies on the shoulders of them. To take our country forward we need to prepare our youth for the future.
21 July 2011, Dhaka. BRAC and Bangladesh Youth Leadership Centre (BYLC) signed a memorandum of understanding on July 20, 2011 at BRAC, whereby BRAC will fully finance refurbishment of BYLC's new leadership training centre in Baridhara, Dhaka. The deal is seen as a significant step forward in the development of the first leadership institute in Bangladesh.
As an active supporter of BYLC’s work to catalyse positive change in society by training youth, BRAC has agreed to provide an institutional grant to BYLC to positively impact the quality of leadership across different sectors in Bangladesh.
Asif Saleh, Director of Communications for BRAC and BRAC International and Ejaj Ahmad, Founder and President of BYLC signed the agreement on behalf of the respective organisations.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, and Barrister Manzoor Hasan OBE, Chairperson of BYLC also attended the signing ceremony. "The future of Bangladesh depends on the investments we make in educating our young generation today, and we are pleased to offer assistance to BYLC, a budding organization, in training a new generation of ethical, responsible, and competent leaders", said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, while handing over the check to Ejaj Ahmad after the agreement signing.
Ejaj Ahmad said, "Our dream is to be at the forefront of Asia in ten years as the continent's most respected and trusted name in leadership education, and the support from Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and BRAC has laid a strong foundation for BYLC to strive towards its aspirations."
"BRAC focuses on inclusiveness and has a number of programmes aimed at promoting underprivileged youth of the country, and we are happy to be a partner of BYLC in equipping young people from different strata of the society with leadership skills", said Asif Saleh, after the signing.
The BYLC training centre will allow the organisation to centralize its resources and channel them toward executive and semester-long leadership programs. The training and office facilities in the new centre will also help to accommodate the growing number of students who are eager to participate in BYLC's programmes. As BYLC expands in the coming years, the new office will be a hub for innovation among Bangladeshi youth.
Generous in-kind support from the owner of the property at Baridhara, Shahid Khalek and Major Salek Bir Uttam Trust, is also helping to facilitate BYLC's youth leadership development work in Bangladesh.
18 July 2011, Dhaka. Government of Bangladesh recently adopted Bangladesh ‘National Eye Care plan' responding to the Vision 2020 - "The Right to Sight" - global campaign to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. The Vision Bangladesh Project, a joint initiative of BRAC, Sightsavers and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has been specifically designed in accordance with the Government’s national eye care plan with an aim towards eliminating avoidable blindness across Bangladesh by the year 2020.
BRAC and Sightsavers in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh have launched a pilot project to conduct surgery on 100,000 cataract patients in Sylhet division over a period of three years. The goal of working in Sylhet is to eliminate the backlog of treatable cataract blindness from Sylhet division by the year 2013. In January 2010, Vision Bangladesh began the first phase of this project with screenings and operations in Sylhet.
At a function held on Sunday, July 17 at a city hotel, the government formally signed an agreement with BRAC and Sightsavers to implement the project. The health minister Dr. AFM Ruhal Haque was present as the chief guest while Prof. Deen Md. Noorul Huq, Line Director-National Eye Care & Director-NIO&H, Faruque Ahmed, Director of BRAC Health Programme and Dr. Wahidul Islam, Country Director of Sightsavers were also present on the occasion.
The government would introduce eye care facilities under the project at 4 district hospitals and 33 upazilla health complexes in Sylhet division. Primary eye care training would also be provided to health workers of both BRAC and government community clinics through this project.
16 July 2011, Dhaka. MEJNIN - Meyeder Jonno Nirapad Nagorikotto (Safe citizenship for women) Programme of BRAC has organised a Human chain in front of the National press club, demanding exemplary punishment of Parimal Jayadhar.
The speakers called upon the authorities to implement the High Court guideline against sexual harassment in educational institutions and launch a complaint cell at every school and college to monitor any types of sexual harassment.
Activists of the different development organisations, students, teachers and guardians from different educational institutions of the capital have participated in the human chain programme.
Tahmina Yesmin and Selina Shirin and Chiroranajan Sarker from BRAC MEJNIN programme delivered their speech. Mahbuba Niru from BAWSE (Bangladesh Association of Women for Self Employment), Rehana Begam from CAMPE (Campaign for Popular Education), Hafizur Rahman, a guardian representative and Nargis Akhtar a student expressed their solidarity through this programme along with the students of Viqarunnisa Noon School and demanded exemplary punishment of the perpetrator immediately.
Speaker expressed that the incident at Viqarunnisa Noon School had exposed the extent of moral decadence in the society. They called for building up a strong social campaign against such evil activities.
04 July 2011, Dhaka. BRAC’s Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) Programme has taken initiatives to ensure the rights of poor women and marginalized men regarding property and has commenced efforts to increase awareness on land related issues in Rangpur and Gaibandha. Under the Property Rights Initiative, in association with BRAC USA and Omidyar Network. HRLS built the capacity of 32 of its Upgrade Sheboks from different upazillas across Rangpur who received a unique month-long training session on land measurement so that they may effectively handle land related disputes and activate demand for land measurement services. On Sunday, the 3rd of July 2011 the graduation ceremony celebrating the first batch of government accredited land measurers was held at BRAC Training and Resource Centre (TARC), Rangpur. Certificates and materials were distributed among the participants Dr. Faustina Pereira, Director of the HRLS programme chaired the event. Dr. Md. Mosharof Hossain, Additional District Magistrate attended as Chief Guest and Professor Moloy Kishore Bhattachria, Assistant Chairman of Udichi Shilpigosthi and Wadud Ali, General Secretary of Rangpur Press Club were present as special guests.
10 July 2011, Dhaka. BRAC organized a field visit for the policy makers to give them an exposure to the marginalised communities BRAC works with. The communities belong to the target group of our CFPR TUP programme, which targets those who are extremely poor, i.e. those who fall right at the bottom of the economic ladder. Academicians from the University of Dhaka, journalists and the Member of Parliament from Naogaon 3 took part in the field visits.
A session was organised to share experiences, ideas and recommendations of the participants about the situation of the marginalised communities and strategies to better their condition. The unified voice was to use strategies which target specific groups, involving the local elite and monitor the programme intensively. Executive Director of BRAC, Mr Mahabub Hossain presided over the programme while Ms Sheepa Hafiza, Director, Gender, Justice & Diversity and Advocacy moderated the session. Dr Akram Hossain Chowdhury, MP from Naogaon 3, professors from Dhaka University and directors from BRAC also took part in the session.
MP Mr Chowdhury stated BRAC’s work with marginalised communities has had significant impact in rural areas.
09 July 2011, Dhaka. At an informal opinion exchange programme with the journalists, BRAC's 2010 Annual report was launched today at the Jatri Auditorium. Addressing the need for accountability and transparency, BRAC's Executive Director Dr. Mahabub Hossain presented the report in light of national and millennium development goals. He stressed that BRAC is performing a complimentary role to the government in attaining the millennium development goal for the country and highlighted some of the success stories. Various questions from the journalists were answered by the Executive Director, BRAC International's deputy executive director Dr. Imran Matin, BRAC Group's chief financial officer S.N.Kairy, communications director Asif Saleh, director of education programme Dr. Safiqul Islam, Agriculture programme head Dr. Monoranjan Mondol, Disaster and Environment and Climate Change Director Dr. Babar Kabir, HRLS director Dr. Faustina Perrera, Community Empowerment Director Anna Minj, Associate director Health Dr. Kaosar Afsana, Associate Director Rabeya Yasmin and various other programme leads.
In this report, it was highlighted that there has been considerable progress in Bangladesh in attaining the millennium development goal. In this light, BRAC's performances in addressing the 8 MDGs were discussed. Particularly in the field of health and education and poverty reduction, the results have been very encouraging. BRAC's pre-primary education programme to encourage enrollment had almost 3,29,000 children. In primary education, the rate of primary school enrollment nationally is now almost 100%. BRAC is currently working on reducing the drop outs and reaching the areas which are hard to reach and have fewer government schools. Its non formal primary school in 2010 had almost 610,000 students. Similarly, in health in BRAC areas of operation of 10 districts the rate of maternal mortality has come down to 141 per thousand in urban areas and 157 in rural areas -- remarkably close to attaining the MDG goal of 144. TB detection rate in BRAC covered areas is 78% and recovery rate is 92% which is also well past the MDG target. In the poverty alleviation front, beyond traditional microfinance, BRAC has reached out to almost 80,000 extremely poor household through asset transfer and technical assistant. It has also extended low interest loan to almost 100,000 tenant farmers. BRAC is also working on climate change issues and researching on climate proof crops for the coastal areas.
Through these services of BRAC and BRAC International almost 138 million people throughout the world are within the reach of some kind of BRAC services. Outside Bangladesh BRAC has expanded to 9 other countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbeans. In Afghanistan and Uganda, BRAC is now the largest NGO. Outside Bangladesh almost 30 million people are within BRAC's reach. In terms of number of people engaged, BRAC is now the biggest development organisation in the world.
Next year BRAC will celebrate its 40th year of operation. Innovation, Effectiveness, Integrity and Inclusiveness -- keeping these four values in mind, BRAC will continue to work in the coming days to bring the most disadvantaged back into the mainstream. In this context, the executive Director highlighted some future plans which included:
In the programme, the executive director divided BRAC's programmes in three key groups --- poverty alleviation, social security and capacity building and lastly community empowerment. BRAC also has social enterprises which started to address social needs but generates income for BRAC which is used for long term self sustainability of BRAC. Part of these profits is reinvested in the enterprises and the rest goes towards funding the development programmes. Approximately, 30% of BRAC's budget is from foreign grant and the rest of the fund is managed by BRAC.
25 June 2011, Dhaka. BRAC & Bangladesh Rice Foundation jointly organised a dialogue titled ‘Agriculture, Food Security and Social Security: An Analysis of Proposed National Budget 2011-12’ on June 25, 2011 at the BRAC Centre Auditorium. Dr. Mahabub Hossain, Executive Director, BRAC presented his analysis on the proposed National Budget 2011-12 while M. Syeduzzaman, Former Finance Minister, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Chaired the dialogue. The dialogue brought together the policy makers, bureaucrats, economists, academicians, lawmakers, businessmen and prominent civil society members as well as representatives from national and international NGOs who spoke about the proposed budget in relation to agriculture, food security and social security. All the speakers and the guests insisted in the proper implementation and utilisation of the proposed budget. They also shared their concern regarding transparency and accountability in implementing the proposed budget for the fiscal 2011-12. Following are the recommendations that come forward from the dialogue:
27 June 2011. Thirty-five years ago, thousands of school-aged children in Soweto, South Africa took to the streets to demand the right to a quality education and instruction in their native language. Over 100 of these children died, and more than 1,000 were injured. The Organization for African Unity (now the African Union) initiated the Day of the African Child in 1991 to commemorate this event. Since then, the continent has come together every year on June 16th to celebrate the hopes and needs of its children.
For this year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child, the focus was on the estimated 30 million street children across Africa. BRAC Uganda, in collaboration with UNICEF, took part in this event by hosting a visit from the Honorable Barbara Oundo Nekesa, State Minister for Karamojan Affairs. Many of Uganda’s estimated 10,000 street children come from the Honorable Minister’s region of Karamoja. As one of the poorest regions in the country, these children were forced to migrate due to severe drought, poverty, food insecurity, and decades of conflict that ravaged this area.
Since the cessation of conflict in Karamoja, renewed attention has been paid to developing this region. As part of this effort, BRAC Uganda launched 120 Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) clubs dedicated to the social and economic empowerment of young girls. In the morning, the clubs serve 25 pre-school children with care and stimulation through toys, games and support. In the afternoon, the clubs provide livelihood and life-skills training, as well as a customized microfinance program, for adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 20.
The Honorable Minister had the opportunity to meet and speak to many of the beneficiaries of the ELA clubs, many of whom are former street children. The Minister was particularly touched to hear the testimonial of one young girl who, due to poverty, was separated from her parents and forced to find employment away from her hometown. Her journey first took her to Kampala by bus, and from there, she moved from city to city and even ended up in Southern Sudan.
Throughout this time, she struggled to find work opportunities, slept on the streets, and was unable to find food. When she returned to Iriiri, Karamoja last year after the long journey back home, she was finally reunited with her parents and joined BRAC Uganda’s ELA club. She explained how BRAC’s programs are providing the necessary support to keep her—and many other girls—off the streets.
After meeting with beneficiaries, the Honorable Minister inaugurated BRAC Uganda’s programs by distributing the assets of girls who were awarded for their successful completion of vocational training. Those who undertook courses in poultry rearing received a chicken coop, ten chickens, and a month’s worth of chicken feed. Those who undertook agricultural training received a variety of different seeds to plant during the rainy season. Throughout the next few months, club mentors and trainers will work closely with these girls to ensure that they are able to fully utilize their new assets in order to earn an income for themselves and their families.
At the end of her visit to BRAC’s programs, the Honorable Minister gave a strong message of support to BRAC Uganda and its partners in Karamoja. She reaffirmed the Government's commitment to programs like BRAC’s that provide key opportunities and support to children so that they will no longer be forced to migrate from their homes.
This article was written with contributions from Dr. Nicola Banks. Dr Banks works with BRAC's Research and Evaluation Unit in Uganda. She previously worked for BRAC's Research and Evaluation Division in Bangladesh, before completing her PhD in Development Policy and Management with The Brooks World Poverty Institute, The University of Manchester. She remains an Honorary Research Fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute.