NGOs Have a Thankless Job

NGOs can reach out to the poorest of the poor /DHAKA TRIBUNE

NGOs have done some great things, and the government should acknowledge them

If our government respects the role of NGOs in the development of Bangladesh, it will surely not make the mistake of looking down upon them based on an individual’s advice.

Yes, NGOs received money from donors, they built their infrastructure, they generated employment for the educated middle class, and the poor. There are, of course, anomalies in the way NGOs are run, there is corruption there as well, but such anomalies are part and parcel in any form of organisation.

If, despite all the weaknesses in the governance of our country, I, as a citizen of Bangladesh, can still be proud of the bold decisions this government has made, still feel compelled to vote for them, how can they turn a blind eye to all the good that our NGOs have done for out nation?

When our children pursue their higher studies in the US, UK, Australia, or other developed nations, they search for two things: A good university, and scholarships. If they manage to get a scholarship, their parents proudly make an announcement as if it’s a good thing.

Why exactly?

Why don’t these well-to-do parents say: “My child will not be asking for financial aid/scholarships, instead I will pay all of the tuition fees for my child’s education”?

They do not say so because most students from the upper-middle/upper class seek scholarships, financial aid, or some form of tuition fee waiver. In this scenario, if the rich ask for money/waiver of fees, how is it not considered begging, then?

When the poor do it, then it’s begging. How is that fair?

Why does money always favour the rich? How are we still so far from formulating a system that ensures equal distribution of wealth among all strata of society?

In 1973-74, the poverty headcount ratio in Bangladesh was 70%, in 2017 — 44 years later — it came down to around 30%. One can assume that there was almost about a 1% decline every year.

I am neither a researcher nor an economist, but from my programmer perspective, roughly, around 20 million rural and urban poor are clients of micro-finance in Bangladesh today. MF operations grew bigger and bigger over the period of 40 years.

Why does money always favour the rich? How are we still so far from formulating a system that ensures equal distribution of wealth among all strata of society?

The correlation between population growth and the growth of MF is insignificant — MF, rather, grew big because of its unique features.

Poor people needed money on easy terms, and they received it from NGOs. It was not the Krishi Bank staff who went to the doorsteps of poor farmers to make their life easy or help them save transport costs, but the staff of various NGOs.

The delay in the disbursement of Krishi Bank loans actually created problems for farmers, whereas the efficient and timely disbursement of NGO loans helped them. These are not simple tales of noble NGO deeds, but hard facts.

The most successful and the most effective targeted livelihood programs to address extreme poverty in Bangladesh were initiated by NGOs.

Apart from income poverty, data from the 80s and 90s tell us how many villages in the country did not have government primary schools, and how many of the poorest kids across villages were blessed with NGO-run, non-formal primary education, which are still operational.

NGOs have made unprecedented contributions in improving the country’s livestock, dairy, poultry, fisheries, and agriculture — and our government advisers are well aware of that fact.

I’ve worked closely with the government’s livestock department for 20 years while implementing livelihood programs for the poorest, and nothing has left me more frustrated.

It was around 2011 or 2012, an associate professor from DU sought my appointment with whom I had no previous acquaintance.

She said she was carrying out a study in Patuakhali district.

For that purpose, she visited some remote chars in Patuakhali where she saw no government or non-government services except an operation set up by the Targeting the Ultra Poor (TUP) program of BRAC.

So she came to me to request (as I was at the steering wheel of that program in BRAC at the time) an expansion of the TUP program operation further and not to withdraw that operation from those remote places because the poorest there had no other alternatives.

She came to my office only to tell me that, we did not discuss anything outside that topic, and, after that day I never saw her again, but she left an everlasting positive impression on my mind.

The impact of the government’s acknowledgment of the combined effort of the private sector, NGOs, and the government itself to catapult our country to the future will be immense. But, alas.

I believe it is high time for the government of Bangladesh to start thinking of how to make the best use of the well-organised, skilled, and professional platform of NGOs, and strengthen the government-NGO partnership to truly create a skilled workforce that leads us into the global market.

By: Rabeya Yasmin

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