Published in The Daily Sun on Friday, 4 December 2015
Non-governmental organisations have played significant role in the fields ranging from poverty alleviation to raising the quality of education not only in the primary but also in the secondary level in Bangladesh. Their existence has been since the birth of Bangladesh and many more joined this procession in the subsequent years. And a silent revolution has taken place in the field of literacy, enrolment at primary level, increasing agricultural production, controlling many diseases which have been constant companions of the poor villagers and slum dwellers.
The overall change we notice now around us has been the result of joint efforts of the government and non-government entities. Think of our reserve fund. It is mainly the contribution of our expatriates who, frustrated with the state of affairs, cross the borders of the country. They go for receiving higher education also and get settled in different countries. Their remittance basically fattens our economy and the toiling garment workers add to this reserve as well.
The present trend of our economy have encouraged the government to declare that soon we are going to acquire the status of middle income country which the fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue Dr. Debapriya says a politically motivated declaration. The donors who have been our development partners in various fields have starting showing ‘goodbye’ and giving signals to move to more vulnerable regions of the world hearing this message. A report published in a powerful newspaper says, “A hurricane is blowing through the world of international development and when the dust settles, the landscape is going to look entirely different. At the centre of the storm is a mix of acknowledgement and fear around a simple principle, which is that to be effective and meaningful in the 21st century, NGOs have no business continuing to hole up in headquarters in the north.” It gives the signal of shifting NGOs.
A press briefing on ‘UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries(LDCs) Report 2015–Transforming Rural Economies, recently held in Dhaka, released the fact that among the 48 LDCs, Bangladesh ranks first in agricultural land productivity, fourth in employment in industry, sixth in real GDP per capita growth, and 15th in net primary school enrolment rate. However, Bangladesh ranks lowest (at 48th) in land and labour ratio, 22nd in growth of service exports, 20th in agricultural labour productivity, 16th in youth literacy, and 16th in primary completion rate among the LDCs.
“If Bangladesh wants to get out of LDC list, it has to wait until 2024, whatever its current income level is, as graduation from LDC status requires more things,” remarked Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya.
When this is the case, expecting change in NGOs’ current role seems to be over ambitious. NGOs should work with the same pace till 2024 as they have done till today since the birth of Bangladesh. Change may be taken into consideration as the economy and other development indicators have seen different than ten years back but hinting to have a paradigm shift of NGO role does not seem realistic.
Let me cite some lines written by Anu Mohammad, economist and a professor of Jahangirnagar University. He says, “Bangladesh has made striking progress on a range of social indicators over the last 15 years, an achievement widely credited to the country’s pluralist service provision regime. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have significantly expanded their services during this period and have shown that it is possible to scale up innovative anti-poverty experiments into nationwide programmes. Notable innovations that were expanded include delivering credit to the previously “unbankable” poor, developing a non-formal education programme to cater to poor children, particularly girls, and using thousands of village-based community health workers to provide doorstep services. The fact that poor women constitute a large proportion of NGO beneficiaries, despite the persistence of strong patriarchal norms, also testifies to the institutionalisation of a large segment of NGO beneficiaries. The unique role of the NGOs is not confined to the delivery of social services and pro-poor advocacy. They have developed commercial ventures in order to link poor producers with input and output markets, as well as to develop a source of internally generated revenue for the organisations. As we look forward, the 2005 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) views the NGOs’ role as an integral part of efforts to achieve national poverty reduction targets, particularly by delivering and facilitating pro-poor services.” This clearly indicates that the work of NGOs must continue as they are the genuine partners of our national development. When we learn that Bangladesh could graduate from the status of a least developed country (LDC) in 2024 we strongly feel the necessities of NGOs and their hand in hand work with the government till this period.
Education programmes of NGOs are absolutely donor funded which will see a great setback when the funding for donors gets stopped. The people of underserved areas received the status of enrolment in primary schools, the neglected rural secondary schools enjoyed educational material support with particular emphasis on teachers’ training. They enjoyed these support not only free of cost but also received some amounts as pocket money from the NGOs. If these groups are asked to pay for the supports they will receive from NGOs, will it be practical? Yes, for quality people are willing to pay. When the tradition has developed in the country whatever our students produce in the scripts, they are rewarded with higher pass marks in the name of GPA; teachers’ extra quality, skills or capacity development may not have any extra value in this scenario. So, why they will receive NGO training at the cost of their money can be a valid question and so the quality of teachers will be a subject to fall.
At least two of the three criteria — income, human asset index (HAI) and economic vulnerability index (EVI) — must be fulfilled to graduate from the LDC status. The next review in 2018 will use the statistics of the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. If the two consecutive triennial reviews meet at least two of the three criteria, then a country can normally qualify for graduation from the LDC status.
“So, if Bangladesh achieves the two criteria, it will be listed for graduation in the 2021 review. For the next three years, it will remain under observation. So, we will finally graduate in 2024,” CPD Research Fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan informed, while presenting the report highlights.
Bangladesh was included in the LDC list in 1975. According to the most recent review of the LDC list in March 2012, Bangladesh is still an LDC. In 2013 per capita income of Bangladesh was $900 while Human Asset Indicators (HAI) and Economic Vulnerability Index were 32.4 and 54.7 respectively — all of which were below the graduation threshold. Against the backdrop of this scenario, the roles of NGOs must be pumped into veins of economy, education and health of Bangladesh.
The writer works for BRAC Education Programme