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Thursday, 01 October 2015 00:00

Disability inclusion at BRAC

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Chevron Bangladesh today announced the launch of an 18-month pilot for an enterprise development programme. The initiative, to be implemented by BRAC, will be for the communities of the Bibiyana, Jalalabad and Moulavi Bazar gas field locations where Chevron operates. It is part of the five-year Bangladesh Partnership Initiative (BPI), a $10M commitment that was formally launched in September 2014 to support economic development. The ceremonial event held at a local hotel was graced by the presence of Energy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, Bir Bikram, and the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, who attended as Chief and Special Guests respectively. Also present were President of Chevron Asia Pacific Exploration and Production, Melody Meyer; Senior Director of Strategy, Communications and Empowerment at BRAC, Asif Saleh; Managing Director of Chevron Asia South Ltd Brad Middleton, and Chevron Bangladesh President, Kevin Lyon.   

It is anticipated that the programme will reach approximately 20,000 beneficiaries, and up to 1,500 enterprises will be established during its lifespan.

Mr. Lyon said in his remarks, “We feel privileged that BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, is partnering with us on this important journey. We’re confident that their tremendous knowledge and vast experience will help us significantly improve the socioeconomic standing of our communities. BPI is a five-year programme, but I hope that its impacts will be sufficiently far-reaching to continue beyond its lifespan and beyond Chevron’s intervention. We want to be a part of the success of our communities, and I’m excited that the launch of this pilot will be a key step in that direction.”
Mr. Saleh said, “The project focuses on inclusion, sustainability and self-dependence. BRAC’s strength is working in the rural Bangladesh focusing on holistic development and the partnership with Chevron will have a bigger impact in generating livelihoods for the target group. We hope our joint work can give people the tools to climb out of poverty and lead them towards prosperity.”

Chevron Bangladesh entities are subsidiaries of Chevron Corporation, one of the world's leading integrated energy companies. It produces natural gas from the three fields of Bibiyana, Jalalabad and Moulavi Bazar in North-Eastern Bangladesh. In areas where we operate, we invest in activities and programmes that focus primarily on economic development, education and health care, collectively reaching nearly 37,000 people. We work with our communities across our operations, building long-term partnerships that foster social and economic development.


By Maria A. May, special to Humanosphere

Earlier this summer I wrote a response to the constant attacks from microfinance haters that are trending this year. It was a nice surprise to see that a piece referencing Taylor Swift could be taken seriously!

Obviously the hardcore haters are a small minority. More frequently I encounter the more moderate “post-microfinancists”: people who staunchly supported microfinance in the 1980s or 1990s but now consider it obsolete. Many of us left in the market find ourselves constantly having to argue that we’re not being left behind, focusing on the new innovations we’re trying instead of the model that accounts for most of our portfolio.

It wasn’t always this way. At one point microfinance was seen as almost a silver bullet of poverty elimination. Its popularity probably peaked around 2006 when Mohammad Yunus and Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize. His work in Bangladesh, on which BRAC drew substantially in its development of a microfinance model, inspired widespread adoption globally of a group-based model accessing savings facilities and small loans with a repayment of small, consistent installments on a weekly basis.

But in the age of mobile money, many question whether this type of standard loan, with proper regulation and safeguards, continues to provide a valuable financial service to poor people. While there is scope for improvement, many of the most common critiques from the post-microfinancists have flawed assumptions.

Here are three that I hope we can reexamine:

“Microfinance is too rigid to meet the needs of the poor.”

One of the factors of the sector’s success to date is the traditional simplicity of the product design: for example, a one-year loan with weekly installments of equal amounts. It’s a product that clients can understand and plan around. There’s virtually no fine print “terms and conditions.” It’s the same year after year. Regular, frequent repayments also create a sense of discipline and typically minimize the burden on a family’s consumption.

Many institutions, BRAC included, are thinking about ways to better segment clients and customize to their needs, but it’s often harder than it looks. As demonstrated by financial diaries, the poor often combine a number of financial instruments, formal and informal, to manage their money. Many have developed innovative strategies to smooth their incomes. For example, in Bangladesh it is very common for tenant farmers to also cultivate vegetable gardens or poultry and livestock, which offer a steady stream of income to supplement the seasonal harvest. Efforts to customize payment schedules around cash flows are often rejected by clients, who find it easier to deal with constant small payments than arguably better-timed big ones.

“We need to move from microfinance to pro-poor financial models.”

What does pro-poor mean, if not empowering people through more opportunity, ability to improve their financial situation, and minimize vulnerability to outside shocks? By these standards, microfinance is a powerful tool because people can apply it in so many ways. Because people understand the basic product, they can become sophisticated users, able to mold the product to their own pressing needs. Clients may take their first loan or two to invest in their business, but often their third or fourth loan goes towards other purposes, such as repairing their house, financing a household solar system, or buying a fridge. There are creative uses that we see too: people take loans to pay off their higher-interest debt with local informal money lenders. Loans for medical emergencies, to cover school fees, or even just to smooth consumption when times are tough. Part of the beauty of the standard microfinance loan product is that it’s reliable and quickly disbursed, so people can breathe easier knowing that they have access if they need it.

“We should be focusing on other types of financial products, like savings and insurance, instead of loans.”

Savings is very important and an area where access needs to be expanded greatly. As I point out in my earlier piece, in many markets regulators limit the ability of microfinance providers to accept deposits. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that most households globally have financial needs that can’t be met by solely by withdrawing savings.  

Insurance in most emerging markets remains nascent. Across agriculture, emergency, and health, efforts to date have either proved to be financially unsustainable or to have very low levels of uptake. Many are excited about mobile platforms as a tool for increasing insurance penetration, but the evidence of any impact is yet to be seen.  Insurance is a bit more complex than a loan and new to many poor households, so the education and support components will need to be significant for households to utilize it effectively. Consumer protection and good regulation on insurance may also take some time.

Bottom line: there remains a substantial need for credit, and thus far it has proven to be the most scalable and sustainable product in many microfinance markets.

Tweaking the model versus starting from scratch

There’s plenty of scope for improvement in microfinance.  As the head of research and development unit for the BRAC microfinance programme, I’m constantly thinking about how to better understand our clients’ financial lives and offer savings, credit and even insurance that meet their needs. And I’m very proud of some of the pilots that my team is running, including an innovative medical treatment loan and popular credit shielding product. In the next few months we’ll be testing out several new benefits for loyal clients, including more flexible repayment and pre-approval for emergency loans.

As providers, we can work on creating better tools, but making gains in financial inclusion is more about providing a few thoughtful, simple products than a overflowing marketplace of options. When provided responsibly, with adequate information, they can offer poor households financial flexibility and support, very important dimensions of empowerment.


MariaMayMaria A. Mayis the senior program manager for the BRAC Social Innovation Laband also oversees research and development for the BRAC Microfinance Programme. She is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She co-wrote Making Tuberculosis History: Community-based Solutions for Millions and regularly blogs on


Bangladesh International Women’s Day
Women march with lighted candles on International Women’s Day in Dhaka, Bangladesh last year. Photograph: Mamunur Rashid/Demotix/Corbis

Growing up in Bangladesh, Ratna loved her bike. She was a tomboy, a lively kid with a passion for learning.

But at the age of 14 she was forced into marriage to a man in his mid-20s. She went to live with her in-laws, miles from her family home. Her new family prevented her from attending school, not allowing her to leave the house, and subjected her to both physical and emotional abuse.

When the Guardian spoke to her on Skype last week, that tomboy was gone. Forced into marriage at the age of 14, before facing years of domestic abuse and other hardships, the most depressing thing about her story is that it is so common.

Bangladesh has the highest rate of marriage for girls under 15 in the world. According to figures from Unicef, 29% of girls married by that age, and 66% are wed by 18. By age 11, 2% of girls are married.

Child marriage was made illegal in 1929 with the passing of the national Child Marriage Restraint Act. But driven by enduring traditions, even more enduring poverty and inaction from law enforcement, the country is now showing worrying signs of regression. In July 2014, despite pledging to end child marriage by 2041, the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, attempted the lower the minimum age of marriage from 18 to 16.

The result has been a generation of girls married too young, their routes out of poverty through education and work blocked by overbearing and abusive in-laws.

Ratna became pregnant at 16, but worked in secret to complete her studies. When she sneaked out to take her final exam to complete her education, she was kicked out of the home.

Speaking through a translator, with the support of NGO Brac, Ratna, now 23, is clearly upset telling her story. At one point she breaks down in tears.

The Guardian speaks to another girl whose identity is undisclosed for her own safety. Like Ratna, her parents faced a battle to marry her off after she was sexually harassed by men living in her street. When neighbours complained that she was “not a good girl,” her parents decided they only had one option: arrange a marriage as soon as possible.

Aged 16 and similarly academically gifted, she will be married in a year’s time to a man seven years older than her, whom she has met only once.

A number of groups are working to address the issue. Brac uses grassroots political activism to campaign against child marriage and violence against women. Through offshoots like the Student Watch Group, the NGO helps students protest when they come across incidents of violence or child marriage in their classrooms.

Through a whole stream of community organisations, activists negotiate with families to persuade them to reconsider marrying off their children, as well as informing the authorities. Ratna herself has gone on to work with Brac.

But the obstacles to such work are tremendous. With 31% of Bangladeshis living in poverty and employment opportunities for young women lacking, families are often faced with child marriage as the only way to secure a future for their children. A dowry – a traditional, yet illegal, practice where the groom’s family make a payment to the bride’s relatives – is often the only way to make money.

The country’s vulnerability to environmental disasters also drives child marriage. Researchers from Human Rights Watch (HRW) found families marrying their daughters off in anticipation of losing their homes due to river erosion, when they wrote a report on the issue last year. Other families said that with natural disasters destroying their crops, marriage offered their children the best route out of a family that could no longer feed itself.

As Heather Barr, senior researcher on women’s rights for HRW, said at the time the report was published: “Child marriage is an epidemic in Bangladesh, and only worsens with natural disasters.”

As for the 16-year-old, her dreams of becoming a doctor will likely never be realised, no matter how supportive her new in-laws are.

“Most of the girls in our society don’t have the option of marrying someone they choose,” she says, through a translator. “I had a dream to be a doctor, or to work in business. The dreams I had in childhood are not possible now.”



Institute of Kabaddi became champions of the Aarong Dairy Federation Cup Women’s Kabaddi Tournament 2015 by defeating Dhaka Wanderers by a scoreline of 23—21 in the final.  The seven-day long tournament, organised by Bangladesh Kabaddi Federation saw the participation of six teams, including three clubs and three divisional teams. Shraboni Mollick of Dhaka Wonderers was adjudged the best player of the tournament, while Rina Akter and Kazi Saheen Ara Brishti of the Institute of Kabaddi won the best defender and best raider awards respectively.

Sport, and particularly women’s participation in grassroots level sport, has become increasingly tied in with developmental theory and practice, as an opportunity for young people to empower themselves. The necessity for the kabaddi players to direct their own bodies with confidence on the court, and the realisation that their exertions bring them a form of success, increases the women’s self-esteem and belief in their ability to advance themselves. Team sports like kabaddi also involve learning and practicing the skills of collaboration and leadership, training that is particularly valuable to young women who may not otherwise have access to public leadership positions. In addition, sport is vital to young people’s physical health, and for young women in Dhaka, who are subject both to oppressive norms and urban overcrowding, events like the Aarong Dairy Federation Cup Women’s Kabaddi Tournament offer an important space for play.

The tournament combined this intention for progress with roots to heritage, as kabaddi, despite being less popular than cricket and football, is Bangladesh’s national sport. Speaking at the occasion, Ashok Kumar Biswas, secretary of the National Sport Council, pledged the government’s continued support for kabaddi and asked other private and non-governmental organizations to follow the lead of Aarong Dairy and come forward to support the sport.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable Development Goals: Planet


Building resilience and perseverance among people vulnerable to climate change.


Till 2014,
36.9 million people were served with hygienic latrine
2.3 million people were served with safe drinking water


Here is a story we would like to share about Planet


Of loss and human resilience
Gender inequalities in South Asia leave women more vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Recognising this, BRAC in association with UN Women, builds resilience among women living in climate-vulnerable regions of Bangladesh. Moyna Khatun is a member of a women’s group in her village in northern Bangladesh.

Since she was among the few with primary education, her peers nominated her to receive psychosocial training. Moyna knows about the effects of climate change and how it is a threat for her drought-prone village. She now leads a 24-member strong group, helping them understand the deep impact of climate change and the ways they can cope with them. Many in her village face the risk of losing assets in the face of disasters. Many have lost their family members. Most of the time, they cannot deal with the losses and break down. The group offers women like Moyna a platform to share and support each other in handling psychosocial trauma that climate change-inflicted disaster may frequently bring. 

“It was very painful when my husband I lost all our crops due to drought and storm,” explains Moyna. She says, “I have learned the importance of opening up to each other. I want members of my community who have faced grave losses, to have the mental strength to cope with them.”


sanitation bangladesh image by brac 0

The BRAC WASH programme began in 2006 and has provided more than 37 million people in Bangladesh with hygienic sanitation and more than two million with access to safe water.

This report documents the proceedings of a learning workshop that brought together donors, government, and national and international NGOs to examine the outcomes of the BRAC WASH programme second phase and emerging challenges.

The first part of the report starts with a review of the programme’s achievements and main challenges, with a special focus on the innovation and learning partnership between BRAC and IRC and what the sector should adopt from BRAC WASH. This is followed by responses from BRAC WASH staff to questions from the floor about issues including financing, sustainability and data sharing. In the next section there are short reflections from the programme’s donors including the Embassy of the Netherlands, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Splash, as well as the Bangladesh government, IRC, NGO Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) and others.

Part two of the report documents discussions on three new areas of work that BRAC intends to focus on: sustainable integration of WASH in other BRAC programmes, WASH in urban areas and water security in coastal areas.

Download the full article here.



September 10, 2015
Every year 4-5 lakh people leave Bangladesh for other countries to work as migrant workers. Currently 95 lakh Bangladeshis are working in different countries around the world. Many migrant workers after their return try to take up jobs and settle at home. But in many cases they face complications in pursuing their new jobs. The added problem for women returnees is that they often face social stigma and lack of respect from the community. They also struggle with discrimination as they try to get jobs. Many of them suffer from different physical ailments and mental stress. Many still lack clear knowledge about how to best utilise the money they earned abroad. The biggest difficulty in this regard, however, is that the government does not have a specific policy to guide the reintegration process of returnee migrant workers.

The keynote presentation sketched the plights of the returnee migrant workers at a workshop organised by BRAC today on Thursday in the capital. Supported by UN Women, the workshop titled ‘Lessons learned on establishment of reintegration and referral services for returnee migrant workers project’ was held at the BRAC Centre.

Md Hazrat Ali, additional secretary, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment, was the chief guest at the event, while Shamsun Nahar, director general, Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, and Christine Hunter, country representative, UN Women, were the chief guests. Sheepa Hafiza, director, Gender Justice and Diversity and Migration programmes of BRAC, moderated the session. Tapati Saha, programme coordinator, UN Women, and Aminul Islam, senior manager, migration programme of BRAC, gave the presentation.

Md Hazrat Ali in his chief guest’s speech stressed three points in this regard. He said there should be counseling services for those who went abroad with many dreams but had to return for some reasons, and now face difficulty in their job. There should be assistance for returnee migrant workers to help them reintegrate in the society. Assistance should also be there for those who are facing problem in employment.

Christine Hunter emphasised equal employment opportunity for all irrespective of their gender identity.

In her introductory speech Sheepa Hafiza described BRAC’s programme and planning for safe migration and proper reintegration of returnee migrant workers.

Sajjad Hossain Khan, assistant director, BMET, Hassan Imam, programme head of BRAC Migration Programme, Sadrul Hasan Mazumder, programme coordinator, Advocacy for Scoial Change, BRAC, Ishrat Shamim, programme coordinator, Centre for Women and Children Studies, Keramat Ullah Biplob, additional chief reporter, ATN Bangla, also spoke at the session.


Monday, 21 September 2015 00:00

Sustainable Development Goals: Partnership


We believe that in order to make real impact, we must forge strong partnerships and strategic collaborations.


Here is a story we would like to share about Partnership


Together to make a difference

When Nazmul migrated to Oman to find a more secure future for his family, he never imagined he too would fall prey to fraudulent middlemen. Nazmul found himself on the streets and without a job when he reached Oman. It took him a few months before he could find work as a cleaner. Out of stress and physical exhaustion, Nazmul suffered a stroke and was admitted to the hospital. His employer refused to cover the costs of his treatment. When Nazmul finally came back home, he was paralysed and unable to speak, with no money for his own treatment or his family.  Migrant workers sometimes suffer great injustices that affect them physically and psychologically. BRAC’s project with UN Women aims to provide socioeconomic reintegration support for returnee migrant workers. Through this successful partnership, Nazmul received a grant to fund his treatment costs so he could start afresh.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and BRAC today signed an agreement, in connection with a strategic partnership, which will allow BRAC to acquire a lead equity stake in Industrial Promotion Development Company of Bangladesh Limited (IPDC).

Under the agreement signed today, BRAC, Ayesha Abed Foundation and RSA Capital Limited will acquire an equity stake in IPDC from AKFED and assume the role of lead managers, subject to approvals from the Bangladesh Bank and from the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission.

This strategic alliance is expected to enhance IPDC's capacity for growth and for its product offering in the large, medium and small-scale industrial, retail and consumer market segments in Bangladesh.

Speaking on the occasion of the signing, the Chairperson of BRAC, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG, said: “It is an exciting opportunity for BRAC to enter into a strategic partnership with AKFED in taking IPDC to new levels of growth and expansion by providing socially responsible financial services to the people of Bangladesh. This is a common goal of both BRAC and AKFED.”

The Director of AKFED, Mr. Sultan Ali Allana, stated: “We greatly value our strategic alliance with BRAC and we remain committed to strengthening IPDC as it progresses and grows by increasing its product offering and its outreach to encompass a wider population base in Bangladesh. We hope that we will be able to expand our strategic alliance, in the coming years as we pursue common values and objectives."‎

Industrial Promotion and Development Company of Bangladesh Limited (IPDC) was the first private sector financial institution of the country.  It was established in 1981 by a distinguished group of shareholders, namely International Finance Corporation (IFC), USA, German Investment and Development Company (DEG), Germany, The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), Switzerland, Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), UK and the Government of Bangladesh.

Since its inception, IPDC has played a pivotal and pioneering role in reshaping the private sector industrialization of the country through innovative financial products and services. Today IPDC is a diversified financial institution with a wide range of products and services covering corporate finance and advisory services, middle market supply chain finance, retail wealth management and retail finances.


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