Development needs to change. Bangladesh can show us how


  • The world is changing – and the way we approach development must change, too.
  • Bangladesh’s success story is a lesson in development for the modern world.
  • Here’s a guide to what worked well — and why.

Even in its most remote corners, the world is changing. Global upheaval, climate change and a growing refugee population are blurring the lines between development and humanitarian response. Migration to cities causes societal changes; Technology creates both opportunity and division; The financing landscape is undergoing a radical transformation.

To meet these challenges, development has to be done differently. The sector risks becoming irrelevant if it cannot adapt. Lessons from Bangladesh provide examples of how to stay relevant.

Since its founding in 1971, Bangladesh has emerged from a state of extreme poverty that was declared by the World Bank in 2020 as a “model for poverty reduction”. It had the highest cumulative GDP growth globally from 2010 to 2020 and is now on track to become a developed country by 2041. The paradox of Bangladesh is well researched, and the role of NGOs in this progress is well documented. What has not been adequately researched is why their approach works.

The traditional approach to development across the world has been somewhat one-sided; Designed and dictated by decision makers from the Global North. Implementation strategies are imposed on local partners, who are in turn accountable to these decision makers, who also decide how to measure impact. Aid recipients are seen as “beneficiaries” whose primary role is to be grateful for the assistance. Once a project ends, or donor priorities change, everything changes. Long-term development is short-change.

The approaches of international development organizations such as BRAC and microfinance lender Grameen have provided an antithesis to this model. They represent a fundamental challenge to the way development programs are designed, financed and scaled up. They have brought a sense of entrepreneurial fervor, courage and ambition to the sector, which has led to tangible results – for example, the Bangladesh Rural Development Commission has scaled up its work to a level where nearly every one of the 170 million people in Bangladesh has received services from him or one of its affiliates .

There are four main reasons behind this success in Bangladesh:

first in the first place first of allThere was a lot of room for NGOs in Bangladesh. Successive governments have seen and understood the positive results of the social innovations of NGOs, and that these results complement their work in delivering services to citizens.

This work prioritized simple, frugal solutions to complex challenges. It has benefited from the support of international institutions, governments and philanthropic actors, but the support has been directed to self-sustaining social programs and institutions that have been developed and entrenched in local communities.

Secondly, the key to the Bangladesh Rural Development Commission’s approach is its very different way of looking at people; It considers them active contributors to economic growth. The Bangladesh Rural Development Commission believes that the way to eradicate poverty and inequality is to invest in the potential of people living in poverty, and to address the critical market gaps that are failing them. Capitalism often looks at the base of the pyramid and sees millions of potential consumers. In doing so, you miss the opportunity to capitalize on their creativity, engage them in productive livelihoods, and connect them to markets – or create new ones.

ThirdTaking a problem-driven approach, rather than a suggestion-based approach, and looking at problems holistically, has produced a steady flow of innovations to meet critical needs in multiple societies of multiple dimensions. Crucial to this is the inclusion of women from those communities as catalysts for change, in positions such as teachers, health workers and craftsmen.

Last but not least, there is an tacit realization that true sustainable development is not a five-year project cycle. take time. Long-term development is about building capacity, raising awareness of harmful behaviors, and giving people the tools to change their future. Investing time in building depth in programming, being on the ground, and having a deep understanding of community dynamics is critical.

Does this long-term, interconnected programming mean greater outlays? No. This means a larger value. Until the UK brutally cut its foreign aid budget, which greatly affected the BRAC, BRAC’s strategic programming accounted for 17% of the UK’s global impact on extreme poverty and 13% of children completing primary education, while costing 0.5% of its annual development budget .

Long-term programming that focuses on problems and focuses on human capabilities is effective. BRAC’s Extremely Poverty Graduation Model has provided access to training and incentives for nearly 10 million people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and self-sustain. BRAC’s one-room school model, which comprehensively addresses all the reasons why parents do not send their children to school, has made education for 14 million children, the majority of whom are girls.

bKash from BRAC Bank, the first mobile financial services provider in Bangladesh, in just 10 years, has become a verb in Bengali spoken daily, handling nearly $2 billion daily. The Grameen Trust bet on mobile phones in Bangladesh in the mid-1990s, transforming the rural economy by creating Grameen Phone, the most popular mobile phone company in Bangladesh. Grameen and BRAC both have the most expanding microfinance entities in the country, providing financial services to nearly 15 million clients with one of the lowest interest rates for MFIs globally.

Long-term development is about building capacity, raising awareness of harmful behaviors, and giving people the tools to change their future.

– Asef Saleh, CEO, BRAC

This programming approach can also lead to the creation of social institutions that generate vital financing to tackle poverty and inequality. For example, BRAC Bangladesh’s annual spending on development programming is around $150 million, and BRAC itself is now the largest contributor to that. In Bangladesh, BRAC’s Aarong connects 65,000 artisans to markets to create the country’s most popular brand. Aarong Dairy connects farmers who often own only three cows to inaccessible markets; It now makes up a third of the country’s dairy market.

What does all this mean for the sector? At a time when development challenges are greater than ever and financial constraints are severe, development organizations need to be bold, ambitious and meticulous in identifying problems and solutions, like the private sector. We need to be patient, pro-poor, and focus on the human being, like the public sector. More than ever, we need to work strategically, alongside private actors and governments, to ensure comprehensive and scalable solutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased poverty and inequality around the world. NGOs in Bangladesh are providing crucial lessons for all. It’s time to challenge the status quo and do development differently around the world.



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