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Dhaka - 1212
Photo copyright: BRAC/Shehzad Noorani/Jake Lyell/Saiful Huq Omi
When the World Bank declared Bangladesh as a lower-middle income economy in 2015, some of us can remember its first president in Bangladesh Just Faaland and his joint work with economist Richard Parkinson. The duo saw what a difficult path awaited the new nation in The Test Case for Development (1976):
'It must be the fond hope of most educated people that man can control events and his own future. There is little to give credence to that view in the situation of Bangladesh … Nature, not man, is in charge of the situation in Bangladesh … All of this would not matter if Bangladesh were rich in natural resources and under-populated, if it were effectively governed, and if its social order and economic system were geared to growth, but none of these things obtain.'
Four decades after the publication, the World Bank once again discussed Bangladesh, this time for its success in alleviating extreme poverty. In recognition of the success, its president Jim Yong Kim was present in Dhaka for the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October. He observed, ‘Bangladesh has shown the world that a long list of hardships can be overcome… its people have shown that innovation, commitment, setting goals and visionary leadership can accomplish feats that few dared to imagine.’
The chief of the same global body celebrated a change that, forty years earlier, was unimaginable to his predecessor.
As Faaland-Parkinson rightly observed, Bangladesh did not have the adequate base of large-scale industrial and agricultural production or mineral resources of high value for taking the mainstream path to development. The nation therefore cut its own unique path, which closely tied social development with economic progress. Income generation for poor households through small initiatives, earning opportunities for families living in extreme poverty, huge migration from low-income groups for wage labour abroad, increasing the involvement of women in income-generation activities, increased disaster preparedness, around hundred per cent children enrolled into primary schools, reducing the size of the average family, a number of outstanding successes in health - including eradication of polio and smallpox, prevention of night blindness, controlling diseases like tuberculosis and diarrhoea – all these apparently smaller and unremarkable successes and achievements brought a sustained change in the life of millions of people living in poverty. The combined impact of the changes is reflected in national progress indicators, as well as in fulfilling the country’s MDG target of bringing poverty rate down to 29 per cent three years before the target.
The innovations and initiatives of normal citizens have played the most significant role in these changes. The government’s long-term policies and their fairly consistent spending in areas such as education and health have provided support, and not-for-profit social and development actors and the private sector have also played a big role. NGOs particularly played a crucial role of bringing innovation into rural poverty reduction, and in establishing platforms through which people living in poverty, particularly women, can access basic services and exercise rights.
Having reached this juncture, where Bangladesh is poised to make an even greater leap towards economic prosperity, some have argued whether NGOs have anything more to do in this country. The reality is NGOs are no less important in current Bangladesh than they were any time in the past. The USA, with all its prosperity, has more than 1.5 million active not-for-profits. With socio-economic changes, the nature of social problems will change shape. The key challenges we see now in Bangladesh are rapid urbanisation, quality education for the 21st century, climate change, youth employment, increasing inequality, huge lifestyle changes and their psychological consequences. The impact of these factors will only intensify in the coming years, and the nation will need to be adequately prepared to tackle them. Not-for-profit social organisations will play a big role in tackling them.
Financing has always remained one of the biggest challenges for NGOs. A large portion of NGOs draw their finance from international donors. Bangladesh’s preferred status as a darling country of choice by donors is changing with her steady progress though. In parallel, new crisis pockets which increasingly demand humanitarian relief are emerging globally. Donor assistance is now often directed to communities struggling with more dire situations such as war and famine. How can then Bangladeshi NGOs finance its activities with such dire constraints? Two major way-outs in this regard are:
BRAC's social enterprises have proved that intelligently-developed commodities and services can play a strong role in social good. Aarong, BRAC’s flagship social enterprise initiative, not only involves 65,000 artisans across the country, but its training centres have also provided a platform for thousands of skilled people to become independent entrepreneurs for the last four decades. Aarong’s profits are partly channelled for the growth of the enterprise and partly support BRAC’s other social development initiatives.
The basic concept behind social enterprises such as Aarong is to develop and sell high-quality commodities and services for the richer segments in society, and then spend the surplus on social development causes. NGOs facing a curb in donor funding will need to explore areas where market gaps exist and private sector players are reluctant to get on board because there are not enough profits.
Our government needs to bring NGOs as part of their Annual Development Plan implementation activities and for good reasons. The government's present target is to achieve the status of an upper-middle income country by 2030-31. This will require the per capita income to rise to an ambitious USD 4136. This target has to be combined with the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure equity-based progress. The government has planned the process out in the current seventh 5-year plan. Many challenges make this a tough target to achieve however -- the major ones being reduced donor assistance, bureaucratic hurdles, delayed implementation of projects and a lack of innovative models for solving social problems. Utilising NGOs' capacity of innovation, programme implementation and grassroots mobilisation can be an important tool for the government in ensuring equity-based development.
There are already ample examples of GO-NGO partnerships in our country. The government's partnership with the ICDDR,B and BRAC to spread the oral saline formula to the grassroots is probably the best-known of these. In a more recent example, 23 NGOs are working in a government-led partnership to rid the country of TB.
These GO-NGO partnerships are happening only in the donor funded projects though. It is time to involve the social development organisations in the national revenue funded programmes also.
It is also important to note that NGOs are never an opponent of the government. NGOs, particularly the service-focused ones, are merely a sector that works through the policies and laws and under the guidance of the state in a complementary capacity. Social organisations are able do things quickly, because of the nature of the organisational culture, which the government sometimes finds difficult because of its structure and capacity. On the other hand, most NGOs do not have the capacity of working at a scale as large as that of the government.
It is the centuries-old tradition of working for the common good with a voluntary spirit that lies at the heart of forming NGOs or any other social organisations. Their necessity does not end with whatever great progress a nation or society achieves. The hundreds of NGOs that have been serving Bangladesh's people for decades are expected to continually adapt to the changing realities and needs. The government should also come forward to become part of the solution and embrace them to increase the effectiveness of both parties.
As one of the country's major development actors, our demand is equity-based growth for our country. To avoid the risk of Bangladesh’s economic growth creating massive inequity, NGOs will continue to be relevant. The question is whether we are willing to evolve and are ready to do such partnerships.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Royal Denmark and BRAC have signed an agreement to implement a 2-year project titled ‘Socio-economic reintegration of returnee migrant workers of Bangladesh’ to facilitate the reintegration process of the expatriate workers who have returned to their home country.
The objective of the project is to raise public awareness about the essential social and economic support our migrant workers need for reintegrating themselves into the mainstream society once they permanently return, facilitate skill training activities increasing their scope for better utilisation of the money they have earned abroad, and carry out advocacy with the government to undertake separate programmes for returnee migrants, focusing on the issue of reintegration.
Ambassador to the Royal Denmark Embassy in Dhaka Mikael Hemniti Winther and BRAC’s senior director for strategy, communication and empowerment Asif Saleh signed the agreement on behalf of the respective parties at a ceremony in Dhaka on 20 December (2017). Other officials of BRAC and the Danish embassy in Dhaka were present at the event.
The two-year long project will end in December 2019.
Ambassadors from four European countries visited BRAC’s food security and livelihood programme at Buchanan, Grand Bassa County on 28 November 2017.
The honourable group of ambassadors was Ambassador of European Union, Helene Cave, German Ambassador Hubert J. Jäger, British Ambassador David Belgrove OBE and French Ambassador Terence Wills. Alberto Menghini, Head of Cooperation Section of EU Delegation to Liberia was present along with the team.
The group of ambassadors visited BRAC’s poultry hatchery and feed mill at Neekrin Township, Buchanan. After a brief presentation, they discussed the feasibility, operation, business model and future plan. The hatchery and feed mill started operation in 2014 with support from Chevron and European Union. Since then it has successfully produced day old chicks and feeds for chicken. The team also visited a community-level farmer training session to see how communities are engaged with the project across various levels.
The training was organised by the European Union funded PRO ACT project which began in 2016. The main objective of the project is to improve the food and nutrition security situation of vulnerable population groups. This visit can start new collaborations in the development of agriculture and food security in Liberia.
Inadequate implementation of land related laws, lack of information, faulty land surveys and land records are some of the major challenges preventing delivery of proper land related services to the citizens. Along with these problems, lengthy processes followed in service delivery and complications and lack of transparency in financial transaction also perpetuate. As a result, the different initiatives taken up by the government to digitise and modernise the land management system are failing to bring expected benefits to the general people.
Speakers made these observations at a seminar on land services held by BRAC in the capital today on Thursday (21 December 2017). BRAC’s Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) programme organised the event titled ‘Strengthening public-private partnership to ensure easy access to land services and information’ at the BRAC Centre at Mohakhali. State minister for land and Member of Parliament Saifuzzaman Chowdhury was present at the seminar as the chief guest.
BRAC’s Advocacy for Social Change programme director KAM Morshed moderated the event, while chairman of Land Reform Board Md Mahfuzur Rahman, director (administration) of Department of Land Record and Survey Matin-ul-Hoque and director (survey) Md Shamsul Alam, and associate director of HRLS Syeda Farisa Kabir spoke, among others.
BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) programme organised the seminar as a part of its effort to facilitate delivery of better quality land services through collaborations between the government and non-governmental agencies.
State minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury in his chief guest’s speech said, ‘Once we carry out a complete digital land survey it will alone lead to reducing a lot of complications and land cases. That is why we are now giving highest importance on carrying out the digital land survey.’
Having welcomed BRAC’s ‘Bhumibandhu’ initiative he said, ‘Since BRAC works to benefit the marginalised people, I believe that its “Bhumibandhu” will also help the common people establish their just rights on their land property.’ He also suggested that BRAC should create a model of land service delivery by starting work with a single union.
Chairman of Land Reform Board Md Mahfuzur Rahman urged BRAC and other relevant actors about boosting advocacy activities in this sector. ‘To reduce corruption in land service delivery we have to reduce cash transaction,’ he observed, further emphasising the need for laws strengthening Go-NGO collaboration.
Director (administration) of Department of Land Record and Survey Matin-ul-Hoque said, ‘The majority of the land cases derive from conflicts on boundary and attempts to deprive women of their property rights. Most of these conflicts are occurring in the rural areas.’ He stressed digital land survey across the country to resolve the disputes on land boundary.
HRLS programme’s associate director Syeda Farisa Kabir said, ‘The objective of our “Bhumibandhu” is to deliver services with transparency and bring correct information and right advice to the people. We now need assistance from the government to take our effort further.’
The experts came up with a number of recommendations at the seminar that include, among others, bring change in attitude among the land officials, strengthen collaboration with the non-governmental actors, increase the number of staff at the department of land survey, boost public information dissemination activities and prevent corruption and lengthiness in delivery of land services.
The speakers informed the seminar that one in every seven people in Bangladesh endure hassles with their land property. In this context BRAC’s HRLS programme this year (2017) established four centres called ‘Bhumibandhu’ at different corners of the country as part of a pilot project to provide advisory services and other assistance to the public. The centres are located in Pakundia upazila of Kishoreganj, Trishal upazila of Mymensingh, Singra upazila of Natore and Sadar upazila of Panchagarh.
BRAC and the German Development Bank (KfW) on behalf of the German Government signed two agreements to set up a fund on climate change adaptation and climate-induced migration.
The project called ‘Climate bridge fund’ has been drawn through consultation between the two organisations with the objective of supporting the communities of Bangladesh vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The agreements were signed on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at the BRAC Centre in the capital. Asif Saleh, senior director, strategy, communication and empowerment, BRAC and BRAC International, Carla Berke, head of division, urbanisation and mobility, South Asia, KfW, Germany, and Regina Maria Schneider, director, KfW regional office, Bangladesh and Nepal, signed the agreement on behalf of the respective parties.
This initiative will provide funding to NGOs, social and private sector institutions to implement projects for strengthening resilience of the vulnerable people in urban areas who are either displaced or at risk of displacement due to climate change impacts. The fund, subject to government approval, will encourage sustainable operations and their scaling up, which traditional development projects usually cannot provide. More details on it will be published during the first quarter of 2018.
BRAC in Pakistan organised their the first Annual Performance Awards 2016 to recognise top performing credit officers in the microfinance programme from all the six regions. The awards ceremonies were held in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Sahiwal, Rawalpindi and Hyderabad, ending in July 2017. The top 36 performers were awarded with cash prizes based on outreach, number of clients, the quality and amount of portfolio achieved, and adherence to BRAC’s core values of integrity, innovation, effectiveness and inclusiveness.
The microfinance programme provides access to the financial support needed for people living in poverty, particularly women, to improve their livelihoods. BRAC uses an inclusive and client-focused intervention to extend financial and non-financial services across a wide number of underdeveloped areas in Pakistan. The loans are delivered at clients’ doorsteps through female agents.
BRAC is currently providing financial assistance to 55,000 borrowers through microloans, small enterprise loan and agriculture loan products. The microfinance programme is operational in 13 districts through 66 branch offices and six regional offices in Sind and Punjab province of Pakistan.
BRAC in Uganda, the country’s largest non-governmental development organisation, has been honoured as the Best Visionary Microfinance Bank 2017. The 5th Visionaries of Uganda Awards ceremony was held at the Kampala Serena Hotel on December 7, 2017.
The award was given to BRAC by the People of the Republic of Uganda for their outstanding contribution towards Uganda’s middle income status aspiration 2020 and Vision 2040, in a ceremony presided over by His Excellency, Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuka, the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda.
The Visionary of Uganda Awards was launched in 2013 by His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the President of the Republic of Uganda, to award institutions and organisations that contribute towards the social economic transformation of Uganda.
The awards were sponsored by various institutions including the National Planning Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, Mediciens Frontieres and Compuscan CRB Limited. The awards drew over 40 participants including both private and government organisations covering sectors such as health, education, agriculture, microfinance and banking.
BRAC in Uganda provides access to finance and livelihood development services to small entrepreneurs through small enterprise loans. These loans enable them to expand their businesses. These awards are confirmation that alongside growth, BRAC is putting emphasis on providing microfinance solutions to shape and uplift Uganda’s economy.