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Sunday, 07 July 2013 18:00

Innovations in youth skill development

08 July 2013, Dhaka. A round table discussion on 'Innovations in skill development training for youth: effective planning and implementation’ was held on 7 July at Spectra Convention Centre organised by BRAC Education Programme. The discussion focused around understanding the achievements of the government’s and the NGOs so far, in the skills development training initiatives for the youth, and future prospects of scaling up.

Participants included representatives of Bureau of Non-formal education, national skill Development Council, ILO, FBCCI and concerned partners. S.M Ashraful Islam, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Primary and Mass education emphasised that “skills training should now be more focused on demand driven then supply driven”. He also mentions that overseas job opportunities should also be explored when speaking of skills development for the youth.

Jibon Kumar Chowdhury, CEO of National Skills Development Council, raised the concern of a lack of certified assessors in the country, who can efficiently validate the skills of development trainees in order to certifying them. NSDC is currently working on capacity building of assessors so that trainees could be certified through proper authority.

Dr Mahabub Hossain says, “according to the projected population dividend, youth will be more dominating in our population. Without proper skill development training we cannot expect to have an efficient workforce which would help the country to become one of the middle income countries by 2021”.

So far BRAC’s Skills Training for Advancing Resources (STAR) initiative, in partnership with GoB, ILO and UNICEF, worked with 1000 youths in the first phase, of whom 992 have successfully completed their respective skills training and of them 968 have been placed in proper jobs. STAR now is at its second phase and hopes to cover 3000 and more youths, with the support of the government and BRAC’s self initiatives, by the end of 2016.


03 July 2013, Dhaka. The country’s largest development organisation is now offering health insurance to its large workforce in Bangladesh as part of its efforts to improve workers’ benefits.

Regular and contractual employees of BRAC from head and field offices, Aarong and enterprises will be able to claim up to BDT 1,00,000 a year for hospital expenses for themselves, their spouses and unmarried dependants up to the age of 25. The new initiative by the world’s largest and recently top ranked anti-poverty group began this month and will cost employees nothing. BRAC will pay the monthly premium of BDT 150 on behalf of its staff.

BRAC decided this move was necessary to ensure staff were not overwhelmed with the emotional and financial pressures that comes from hospital treatment. Ten per cent of cost must be borne by the employee and any costs above BDT 1,00,000. For example if a hospital bill is BDT 30,000, the employee would contribute BDT 3,000 and BRAC’s scheme would reimburse BDT 27,000. If the bill comes to BDT 1,20,000, the employee would bear the first 10 per cent (BDT 12,000) and the remaining cost after BRAC’s health insurance’s contribution of 1,00,000, which would be BDT 8,000 more. Up to BDT 50,000 can be sanctioned while admitted to hospital, with permission from the respective deciding committee.

To qualify for the scheme, applicants must be current BRAC employees under the age of 65.


24 June 2013, Dhaka. BRAC reiterated its commitment to assist Bangladesh in attaining the Millennium Development Goals and vowed to make lasting changes in people’s lives based on a grassroots survey conducted this year. BRAC’s executive director Dr Mahabub Hossain presented the findings of the survey, followed by the official launching of the 2012 annual report and an open discussion session aimed at taking a closer look at the upcoming development priorities in the development agenda and BRAC’s role in it. Looking ahead to the post-2015 agenda, BRAC surveyed 30,234 grassroots voices on high priority development interventions. The findings from the survey surmised that gender justice, prevention of child marriage and dowry, reduction of poverty, food security, universal primary schooling, greater employment generation, safe drinking water and good sanitation for all, and ensure safer roads are the high priorities for the grassroots people.

M M Akash, professor at University of Dhaka, expressed his surprise at some of the findings. "For stopping violence against women and preventing child marriage and dowry to be the first priority for rural people is noteworthy and surprising considering how prevalent it has been in Bangladesh in the past." He added, "This says something about grassroots people."

Badiul Alam Majumder, country director of The Hunger Project, commented on BRAC's findings, "People are increasingly becoming authors of their own futures."
Present during the occasion was Managing Director of BRAC Enterprises & Investments Muhammad A (Rumee) Ali, BRAC Group CFO S N Kairy, BRAC International’s Executive Director Faruque Ahmed, Senior Director of Strategy, Communications and Capacity Asif Saleh, Senior Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Disaster, Environment and Climate Change Dr Babar Kabir, Senior Director of Aarong, BRAC Dairy and Ayesha Abed Foundation Tamara Abed, and all the directors of BRAC’s various programmes.

Also present were distinguished guests from several organisations, including Anisa Haq, Institute of Educational Development, BRAC; M M Akash, University of Dhaka; Bushra Binte Alam, World Bank; Susan Davis, BRAC USA; Naomi Hossain, IDS; Laurie Thompson, UKAID; Rubana Ahmed, Policy Research Institute; Ferdous Jahan, BRAC Development Institute; Shahrukh Safi, AusAID; and Badiul Alam Majumder, The Hunger Project.

Mr Saleh moderated the open discussion session, with participation from the civil society organisations, government officials, and BRAC’s senior officials.
Bangladesh has made significant progress in achieving the MDGs since 2000. Economic development, health, education, sanitation, gender, justice and social awareness programmes are some of the areas where BRAC, alongside the government, have successfully collaborated.

As of December 2012, Bangladesh has halved the rate of extreme poverty, and BRAC’s ultra poor programme has played a crucial part, serving 1.4 million households. In the education sector, the enrolment rate in primary education stands at 90 per cent, and BRAC’s ‘second chance schools’ have provided more than five million children with primary education. In 2012 BRAC’s health programme extended its maternal, neonatal and child health services to char areas of northern Bangladesh, contributing to Bangladesh’s success in meeting the MDG to reduce maternal mortality. BRAC also partnered with the government to combat childhood tuberculosis - a long-neglected scourge in Bangladesh. As part of their initiatives to provide safe drinking water, BRAC built water facilities in 175 sub-districts, providing an estimated 12 million people with safe drinking water.

The list of priorities which were the findings of the grassroots survey are all in sync with the proposed Bellagio goals submitted by the UN’s High Level Panel in May 2013, highlighting the people’s aspirations in Bangladesh are closely aligned with the global development agenda proposed by the Panel. While good governance, gender justice, and security and safety priorities and common goals which the people of Bangladesh have identified with the UN Panel, the people are still concerned will underdeveloped transport and power infrastructure, neither of which are included in the global agenda. Resonating voices across the world, people in Bangladesh also feel that income inequality, the root cause of many of the development problems, has not been addressed by the global agenda.

Dr Mahabub Hossain, responding to questions from the media and guests, said, "Inequality is a big issue that we obviously need to address and BRAC's programmes are working towards mitigating many aspects of inequality, injustice and discrimination."

Download BRAC annual reports here:


21 June 2013, Dhaka. The Word Bank signed a US$2.58 million grant agreement with BRAC today to implement a pilot project on Safe Migration for Bangladeshi Workers, with the objective of reducing vulnerability of migrant workers and their families. The pilot will be implemented across 80 upazilas in 20 districts and aims to benefit 864,000 potential migrants and their families.

The pilot project aims to develop and strengthen local information and support systems through Community Based Organizations (CBOs) for potential migrant families. CBOs will be strengthened to provide accurate and timely access to information and services for safe migration and ensure that potential migrants are well informed if they decide to pursue migration. Migrants’ family members will also be able to obtain information on more affordable ways to fund migration as well as manage remittances. Particular focus will be paid to female migrants. The pilot will also help to support and formalize local networks to facilitate information sharing on the migration process.

“While the economic gains from migration are obvious for both migrants and their families, migrants incur substantial costs, especially in the absence of complete information,” said Christine Kimes, Acting Country Head, the World Bank Bangladesh. “This project has great potential for reducing the vulnerability of potential migrants and their families by enhancing information flows about migrant rights, the migration process, affordable financing, and remittance management.”

Remittances from migrant workers in the fiscal year to date amount to more than US$ 13 billion and account for approximately 10 percent of GDP. Remittances are thus a major source of Bangladesh’s foreign exchange earnings. At the family level, they enable poor households to obtain better nutrition, education and health care for family members, and thus play a vital role in the fight against poverty. 

“During the recent past, there has been a significant rise in work-related temporary overseas migration for export of services. Migrant remittances provide direct, immediate and far reaching benefits to the country,” said Mahabub Hossain PhD, Executive Director, BRAC. “This project will help strengthen BRAC’s efforts to better prepare potential migrants for overseas employment while improving the “migration value chain”, including lower migration and remittance costs for families.”

The grant financing is made under the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) financed by the Government of Japan and managed by the World Bank.

20 June 2013, Dhaka. A Consultation on Significance of Remittance: Poverty Alleviation and Livelihood Development in Bangladesh was arranged by BRAC Migration programme on 20th June 2O13, from 2.45pm to 5:30pm at Auditorium, BRAC Center Inn, Dhaka. Practitioners, Academics, Economists, Researchers, Government officials, Service providers, Media and activists were present at the consultation.

The key Note on the consultation was presented by Dr. Mahabub Hossain, Executive Director, BRAC and was moderated by Sheepa Hafiza, Director, GJ&D and Migration Programme, BRAC.

The participants discussed about the importance of remittance in the country’s economy and development and also the importance of developing proper policies to manage the migration and remittance flow and how to maximise the use of remittance to decrease the poverty and create alternative livelihood option.

The Key Note speaker Dr. Mahabub Hossain mentioned in his key note presentation ‘Migration is considered as essential, inevitable and potentially beneficial component of economic and social life of individual household, as well as for economic progress of both sending and recipient countries′. He shared findings from his researches done in 1988, 2000, 2008 and 2010.

Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud, MP and Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee, Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment said ‘remittance is a net source of income for us, because migrants are sending the money home which they are generating at abroad; we should re think about our  migrants workers security and benefit, they should be treated as hero but still we are not providing them the support we owe to them, we should ensure their safety and well-being and we need to provide them technical education rather than higher education to make them more equipped to work and earn better on migration More allocation should be kept in national budget.’

Zahid Hussain, Lead Economist, World Bank, Dhaka office, Bangladesh said, ‘Remittance is the no. 1 source of foreign currency. But as we generalize that migrants don’t invest in productive sectors, it’s not correct, they do invest on productive sector. Constraints of migration must be dropped.’
Zafar Sobhan, Editor, Dhaka Tribune said ‘We should not only be happy by considering the increasing amount of remittance as a success story but, we should also take it to account that, how the Bangaldeshi Migrants are vulnerable and victimized on migration and we should focus on how we can provide them more safety coverage and migration facilitation for them.’

Dasgupta Asim Kumar, Executive Director, Bangladesh Bank said, ‘Apart from Anti money laundering Act Bangladesh Bank has taken a lot of steps to increase remittance flow like establishing exchange houses, introducing mobile banking, establishing BACH, online banking, NPS. Now the beneficiaries’ are getting quicker remittance service and the remittance flow is increasing’.

Delivered at the 2013 Commencement of Central European University
13 June, 2013
Palace of the Arts, Budapest, Hungary

I’d like to begin by thanking the Central European University for bestowing upon me the Open Society Prize. What a great honour, and a wonderful opportunity to deliver a commencement address at this great university. 

I have recently been re-reading The Open Society and its Enemies, the book after which the Open Society Prize is named, whose author, Karl Popper, was the prize’s first recipient. I first read this book 50 years ago, when I was much closer in age to those in this graduating class.

It was a different time and place. My country, Bangladesh, had not yet achieved independence, and the world’s great powers were locked in a struggle between freedom and totalitarianism. But what strikes me today is how relevant many of Popper’s prescriptions still are – particularly for my own field, which is the alleviation of poverty.

To those about to graduate, it is likely that most of you, at some point in your lives, will question whether the path you have taken was the correct one. For me, this moment came following the cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1970, an event that is still considered one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

I was working at the time for a large multinational corporation, a valuable experience in its own right. I remember visiting coastal villages struck by the cyclone, seeing hundreds of dead bodies strewn on the ground. It seemed to me the life I was leading was completely irrelevant. 

After my country’s independence, I began working to try to help the poor in Bangladesh. My early colleagues and I initially thought that BRAC would be a short-term effort. But the realities of entrenched poverty soon changed our minds. We began working in a host of areas – agriculture, healthcare, human rights, microfinance, education – wherever the poor faced obstacles.

We found that poverty was so entrenched that only a long-term effort of social and economic transformation would uproot it. And this task became my life’s work.

I have learned much along the way. Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that when you create the right conditions, poor people will do the hard work of defeating poverty themselves.

I learned the importance of having lamps to illuminate your path, even when the precise course is unclear. For me, one of these lamps was Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator, who wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which had a profound effect on me. Freire's idea of conscientisation, or raising critical consciousness, informed us in our belief that poor people, especially women, can be organised for power, and that with right set of organisational tools, they can become actors in history.

This, to me, is the meaning of an open society – a society where everyone has the freedom to realise their full potential and human rights.

I’ve also learned the importance testing assumptions, of making sure your ideals correspond to the reality around you.

BRAC was founded with very high ideals, in part to fulfil the promises of our country’s liberation movement – the promise of freedom from exploitation. But if these ideals inspired us, we’ve always tried to focus on what works, rather than our theories about what should work.

This pragmatism has allowed us to translate compassion into action on a massive scale. Today, BRAC reaches almost 130 million people in 11 countries.

We’ve seen that without scepticism, scientific inquiry, and the constant questioning of one’s assumptions, the highest ideals will falter when tested against reality. In the words of Karl Popper, among the enemies of open society is the notion of “prophetic wisdom,” the type of knowledge that leaves little room for doubt. In contrast to utopian goals, Popper embraced “piecemeal social engineering” – solutions that are effective, even if they are not the most elegant.

There is an element of that in BRAC – in its willingness to adapt, in its constant innovation, and in its willingness to learn from its own mistakes. After more than 40 years, we are still a learning organisation.

The vision of BRAC is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination. I am sometimes asked if such a world is really possible – whether I believe that poverty can be truly eradicated. The truth is, I believe it can be.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can see today that poverty is on the retreat. Recent statistics from the World Bank show that in every region of the world, the number of people living in extreme poverty is dropping for the first time in recent memory.

But to borrow Popper’s phrase, there is no prophetic wisdom in this fact. The eradication of human poverty remains an ongoing and arduous task rather than historical certainty, and much work remains. And I invite you to bring your own creativity and potential to this task.

Therefore, is it with both optimism and humility that I accept the Open Society Prize, and I wish the graduating class my sincere congratulations. May you all find a meaningful path, illuminated by high ideals, guided by constant learning.

Thank you.

20 June 2013, Dhaka.

Habibur Rahman(middle) with the South Sudanese Minister of Education Joseph Ukel(Left).

BRAC family is deeply saddened by the loss of Mohammed Habibur Rahman, Regional Manager of education programme, who passed away on June 19, 2013 while travelling on official duty from Juba to Yei in South Sudan.

Habib served BRAC's education programme in South Sudan for more than three years. He joined BRAC in 1990 and worked tirelessly in the education programme for 22 years in Bangladesh before being posted to South Sudan in 2009. Habib was 45 years old and leaves behind his wife who is a school teacher and a son in primary school.

Habib's untimely death is an irreparable loss for BRAC. The organisation expresses its deepest condolences to the bereaved family and commits to provide full support to them to deal with this loss both in the short and long term.

BRAC is currently working with the country office in South Sudan to provide support for conducting a thorough investigation and bringing Habib's body to Bangladesh as soon as possible.


16 June 2013, Dhaka. Central European University awarded its 18th Open Society Prize to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of BRAC and the affiliated BRAC University, at a commencement ceremony that included more than 600 masters and doctoral students from nearly 80 countries last week in Budapest, Hungary.

Sir Fazle founded BRAC, formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, in rural Bangladesh in 1972. The anti-poverty organization now works in 11 countries, reaching an estimated 126 million people.

In his commencement speech, he told students, “After my country’s independence, I began working to try to help the poor of Bangladesh. My early colleagues and I initially thought that BRAC would be a short-term relief effort. But the realities of entrenched poverty soon changed our minds.”

“I have learned much along the way,” Sir Abed continued in his speech. “Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that when you create the right conditions, poor people will do the hard work of defeating poverty themselves.” In addition to BRAC, Sir Abed is also founder and chairperson of BRAC University, a Dhaka-based institution of higher learning launched in 2001 to train future leaders, especially those from developing nations.

Previous recipients of the Open Society Prize include Sir Karl Popper, author of The Open Society and its Enemies, after which the prize is named; Vaclav Havel, writer and first president of the Czech Republic; Richard Holbrooke, U.S. diplomat; and Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations. The prize is given “to an outstanding individual whose achievements have contributed substantially to the creation of an open society.”

Both the Open Society Prize and Central European University have close ties to visionary philanthropist and investor George Soros, who founded the university and currently serves as its honorary chairperson.

Read the full text of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed's acceptance speech.

11 June 2013, Dhaka. BRAC’s founder and chairperson, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed visited Myanmar to attend the World Economic Forum held from 5th- 7th  June, 2013. The forum’s sessions were structured to identify the  lessons of leadership and innovation which are emerging from East Asia,  as the world looks to the region for resilient growth and new models of  regional integration.

On 5th June, Sir Fazle initiated the session Aligning Actors for Inclusive Growth and Development.The  session promoted common goals and activities already underway, and  identified opportunities for coordination and collaboration to create  further positive developments in the country. This session was held in  the presence ofspecial guests, Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairman of the  National League for Democracy (NLD), and Shwe Mann, Speaker of the House  of Representatives of Myanmar. Also in attendance were heads of global  organisations working actively in Myanmar, as well as representatives  from local businesses, civil societies, government and other  stakeholders.  Aung San Suu Kyi thanked him for sharing the Bangladesh  experience and stressed the need for skills development and education  for the people of Myanmar.

On 7th June, Sir Fazle,  sharing the panel with Tony Blair, the Middle East Quartet  Representative, addressed the interactive session titled Chasing the Next Big Idea, which  focused on the dimensions of investing in smart infrastructure for the  future, moving beyond low-cost manufacturing and further up the value  chain.  Sir Fazle stressed the need of focusing on scaling good ideas  rather than generate more new ideas.  Tony Blair also stressed the need  to focus more on enabling innovation and execution of the ideas.

In  an op-ed for the Myanmar Times, Sir Fazle wrote, “The country has the  opportunity to forge its own balance of partnerships and by opening up  to NGOs and industries it can experience more innovations which can  happen to scale”.

During the numerous sessions at the World  Economic Forum, Sir Fazle offered suggestions which can be achieved by  three sectors collaborating together: the government, by setting the  right policies so inclusiveness is maintained; the private sector, which  can create jobs and opportunities; and the social sector, which can  provide the services which are not provided by the other sectors.


10 June 2013. Dhaka. Mahabub Hossain, Executive Director of BRAC has been nominated as the member of a very high level global panel on agriculture and food systems for nutrition.

On 7 October, 2012 Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development, UK,  opened this "Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition" with the following members:

Sir John Beddington (co-chair), former chief scientific officer of the UK government; John Kufuor (co-chair), former president of Ghana;  Akin Adesina (member), federal minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria; Mahabub Hossain (member), executive director, BRAC, Bangladesh; Jane Karku (member), president of Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA); Rachel Kyte (member), vice president of World Bank and chair of CGIAR Fund Council; Mauricio Antonio Lopez (member) president of EMBRAPA, Brazil; K Srinath Reddy (member), president of Public Health Foundation, India; Jose Graziano da Silva (member), director general of FAO; and Roda Peace Tumusiime (member) commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union.

The panel, during their three year tenure, will provide technical leadership based on an assessment of the available evidence, guide country level investments and policies in agriculture and nutrition, and commission new research and evidence generation. The panel, supported by a secretariat located at DFID, London, UK, is expected to meet annually between 2013-2015 and report at least three times to the international community.

On 8th June, 2013, the UK government, as the chair of G8, convened a summit, "Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science" to harness commitment from national governments, donors, business communities, and civil society organisations to place a greater emphasis on proper nutrition in the global development agenda.
During the summit, UK Aid, Children's Investment Fund, and the government of Brazil initiated the "Global Nutrition for Growth Compact" comprising of the following goals for 2020:

a) To ensure that at least 500 million pregnant women and children under-two years of age are reached with effective nutrition interventions.

b) To reduce the number of stunted children under-five by at least 20 million.

c) To save the lives of at least 1.7 million children under-five by preventing stunting, encouraging more mothers to breastfeed, and increasing treatment of severe acute malnutrition.

The Global Nutrition for Growth Compact was endorsed by 90 stakeholders who attended the summit, including governments from 20 countries (Bangladesh was represented by the Minister of Health and Family Welfare), and 28 business and science organisations. The governments of 14 countries entered into a commitment to increase domestic resources invested in scaling up national nutritional plans. The donors pledged an estimated USD 19 billion to contribute towards improved nutritional outcomes from nutrition sensitive investments from 2013 - 2020. The Compact will launch an annual global report on nutrition from 2014, together with online annual publication of plans, resource spending, and progress updates.

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