Emergence of Bangladesh on 16 December 1971 through a bloody people’s liberation war has been a unique historical event in the Indian Sub-continent. The hopes and aspirations of the people living in this part of the sub-continent could never be met due to the fact that they, mostly in the past, were at the mercy of nature, being in the peripheral location and subject to domination, exploitation, suppression and oppression of local domineers, social hierarchs and the outside rulers. So, there had been a perpetual denial of normal entitlements, subjugation and deprivation of the majority of the common people.
Independence of Bangladesh ushered in an era for the people for their self-determination, freedom to decide, act and reflect for the wellbeing, development leading to self-realization under the provisions of the constitutional entitlements originally emanating from the declaration of independence—social justice, equality and human dignity. The period that followed immediately after liberation was that of relief and rehabilitation for the war-affected people.
The task was so gigantic that the government organization (GO) had been struggling hard to meet the challenges. NGOs, mostly international ones, began to provide relief support to the refugees and the concerned GOs of both India and Bangladesh. Of course, private initiatives were there in providing succor to the war-victims. Two of such initiatives after the war grew into two big NGOs—BRAC and Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK).
Creative way to sustainable human development is that art which enables to bring something into existence by putting the new idea into practice. It is essentially an approach to solving sustainable human development problems through the perception of existing varied situations and using innovative ideas. Human society is not homogeneous in terms of possession of wealth, gender, geographical location and so on. There are domination, exploitation, suppression and oppression due to prevailing economic classes, male-female relations and such other factors.
Therefore, perceiving the situation in terms of social heterogeneity and their mosaic appearance is very crucial. It has been observed that only the politically dominant voices are heard and tended to for problem solution. No-voiced or low-voiced part of the population is often pushed to the margin with the consequential non inclusion which is against the super-ordinate values like social justice, equality and human dignity. Leaving them deprived and excluded nurtures the seeds and their sprouting into social antagonism, violence and constant threat of instability and insecurity in the society.
Since the days of the liberation war, NGOs in Bangladesh have walked a long way and gained experiences from the situational diversity and heterogeneity for solving sustainable human development problems. After the relief, rehabilitation and welfare phase, they put into use the strategies like community mobilization, sustainable system development, people’s development movement and many other derivative ones like piggyback strategy by using delivery structures and product, conscientization and cultural transformation, etc.
NGOs have appeared as the trend-setters in socio-economic development of Bangladesh. In the nascent developmental stage, poverty was widespread and rampant. One of the very important reasons was the inaccessibility to financial resources by the poor and disadvantaged people. They were constrained due to the fact that they lacked money-income. Who does not know that money talks? In the then poverty-stricken society, it was possession of money to be powerful in the society. It was as if fuel for the vehicles to run.
In response to such needs, NGOs mobilized the poor and disadvantaged people by animating them to organize themselves into groups for their fitness and readiness to receive developmental inputs—financial, technical, managerial and so on. The groups were encouraged and activated to generate their own savings, save them into collective account for subsequent use by the group members. Initially, upon developing their cohesiveness and building capacities, they got themselves qualified to receive matching funds from their affiliated NGOs.
Through early trial and error over months and years, NGOs, by now, have transformed into NGO-MFIs (non- government organization-microfinance institutions) to provide financial inclusion services for the people once excluded due to absence of such institutions before. Now, it’s not a wonder to see that sustainable system has grown around providing financial inclusion services. The major actors in the emerged sustainable system are NGO-MFIs, PKSF (Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation), Micro-credit Regulatory Authority (MRA) and Credit and Development Forum (CDF).
It has been a long walk from microcredit to present financial inclusion. Of course, there has been clamor against the service charges charged by NGO-MFIs as high. But the service charges are subject to regulation (monitoring and control) and also revision upon decreased cost of services by the MRA—a powerful regulatory authority.
According to the recent (pre-Covid 2017-18) Bangladesh Microfinance Statistics, a total of 474 MFIs reported that they ( inclusive of Grameen Bank) had disbursed a total amount of Tk.1,405,858 million; had recovered Tk.1,303,716 million; had outstanding of Tk.814,398 million; and had loan overdue of Tk. 30,176 million. The total number of borrowers during the period was 31,479,974 and there was a total saving of Tk.399, 967million by the members of MFIs. This huge financial inclusion service aiming at the once excluded has been boosting social inclusion and stability, productivity, investment, savings, consumption and so on for a disruption- and shock-free economy of Bangladesh.
Likewise, NGOs have been doing developmental inclusion in education, health, environment, gender, legal-aid, etc. One example of creative way to arresting drop-out at the primary level by CDIP, one national NGO-MFI, has been successful in its running of 2500 learning centers in 1200 villages beyond normal school hours for the children from poor and disadvantaged families incapable of helping their children’s home assignments for the following day’s teaching-learning duration of 45 minutes in each class.
In such a short time, teachers do not get time to facilitate the learning of the children during the short class time. The worst victims of the situation have been the children from the poor and disadvantaged families. So, the learning centers have been playing the role of arresting dropout at primary level of education in rural Bangladesh. This innovation in education has been in replication by many NGO-MFIs funded by PKSF.
Thus, the creative way to sustainable human developmental inclusion will hopefully go a long way in the process of eliminating the entire gamut of poverty—both income and human—along with government and others for human liberation which is essentially sustainable human development. When the excluded in Bangladesh have a livelihood support, education for their sons and daughters and heath care support, it will be a real one Bangladesh.
The author is a columnist and vice-chairman of CDIP.