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Social development is concerned with the placement of people at the centre of development. Social development has been defined as the institution of qualitative changes in the framework and structure of the society in order to help it better and more effectively achieve its goals and objectives. As such, it is required that a commitment is made that development processes need to be centred on members of the society. International comparative research has established positive associations between social development and the other development outcomes (Indices of Social Development (ISD), 2020). Besides being one of the categories of development, social development has been widely acknowledged as crucial for the realization of broader development outcomes, including sustainable economic development. Development in general, as a process of social change rather than a mere set of programs and policies rolled out for certain specific outcomes, has experienced an astounding surge in acceleration and intensity. Social development instills in the society (and individuals) patterns of behavior, attitudes, feelings and understanding of others that enable them increase awareness that leads to improved organization, which in turn enables it perceive and develop strategies to successfully exploit new and better opportunities and achieve intended development outcomes (Cleveland and Jacobs, 1999; Jacobs and Asokan, 2009). Social development, like all other forms of development, is quite a broad concept that is governed and influenced by a number of factors, and also requires numerous resources, including human resource, capital, technology, supporting infrastructure and so on (MacFarlane and Van Harten, 2009). It also requires the involvement of and input from various key players and stakeholders, such as the government, organizations, society and individuals. For this essay, the focus will be on organizations (especially the non-governmental organizations- NGOs) and the role they play and contribution they make to social development. Of particular interest to the study is BRAC, whose contribution programming in Bangladesh will be examined.
Bangladesh is among the globe’s most densely-populated countries and its people are crammed into a delta of rivers that flow into the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh Country Profile, 2020). Bangladesh is a low-income country and despite being located on one of the world’s largest deltas, the country is marked by pervasive poverty, very high underemployment and unemployment levels, a rural-based economy, a high population growth rate, frequent natural disasters, and an overall low regard and status for women and girls. Bangladesh, which was formerly known as East Pakistan, came into being only in 1971 following the split of the two sections of Pakistan after the war in the neighboring India. For the 15 years following 1971, Bangladesh was under military rule, with democracy being restored in 1990, although the political scene still remains volatile nonetheless. The country, though traditionally tolerant, has also been faced with the increasing threats posed by the rising Islamic extremism (Bangladesh Country Profile, 2020). As of 2018, the country had an estimated population of 161,376,708, from 149,772,364 during the 2011 census.
Poverty is widespread in Bangladesh, although the country has over the years managed to improve health care services and education, and reduce population growth. The country, by virtue of being low-lying, is also vulnerable to cyclones and flooding and is prone to be seriously affected by a rise in the sea levels (Bangladesh Country Profile, 2020). Dhaka is the country’s capital and largest city, making it its political, economic and cultural hub, while Chittagong which is the largest seaport is the second largest. Bengali is the national and official language spoken in Bangladesh, with Bengalis being the largest ethnic group at 98%. The regional languages spoken in Bangladesh are Chittagonian, Sylheti and Rangpuri. Islam is the state and largest religion (over 90%), followed by Hindu, with Buddhism and Christianity combined making up just 1%. As per its constitution, the country is a de jure representative democracy, with a unitary parliament and universal suffrage. Bangladesh is the fifth largest democracy in the world, and the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the party with the most members in parliament, is invited by the president- who is ceremonial (Sectors- Commonwealth of Nations, 2020) to form a government after every five years (www.dw.com, 2020). As such, the Prime Minister is the head of government. The executive branch of the government is made up of a cabinet that is headed by the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary government serves for a tenure of five years. The National Assembly (Jatiya Sangshad) is unicameral and is comprised of 350 members of parliament, 300 of whom are elected and 50 who are appointed or nominated to reserved seats aimed at women empowerment.
With regard to the legal or justice system, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh is the top most court of the country, followed by the high court and then the Appellate Divisions. The judiciary is headed by the Chief Justice who sits at the Supreme Court. The judicial system functions on the premise of common law and acts of parliament are the major source of laws in the country (A Research Guide to the Legal System of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh- Globalex, 2020). Bangladesh has a very robust economy; it has the 39th largest economy in relation to market exchange rates, and the 29th largest (2nd only to India in South Asia) in relation to purchasing parity (ANON, 2020). The country is also among the fastest-growing economies and fastest growing middle-income countries in the world (Economic Reforms Can Make Bangladesh Grow Faster, 2020). A developing nation with a market-based mixed economy, Bangladesh is one of the Next Eleven emerging markets. Bangladesh has quite an active civil society as well as multiple other special interest groups, such as human rights organizations, chambers of commerce, trade unions, employer associations, professional associations, and non-governmental organizations (ANON, 2020). The civil society and special interest groups play a key role and are part of the driving force for development in Bangladesh. NGOs, in particular, have played and continue to play significant roles and undertake numerous activities aimed at developing the country and engaging in the wider improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the poor and vulnerable in both the rural and urban areas of the country. The main activity or task they perform is to organize the people they wish or target to uplift socio-economically, create awareness among them and support them to become development oriented. Some of the top NGOs in Bangladesh are: BRAC (the largest in the world), Caritas Bangladesh, Wikimedia Foundation, Oxfam, Care International, HEED Bangladesh, Habitat for Humanity (Habitat Bangladesh), Helen Keller International, Childreach International, Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh, CAFOD, among others. For the purposes of completing this essay, particular focus and attention will be paid to BRAC, whose contribution to social development in Bangladesh will be examined.
Lack of social development is a common problem and feature that many countries of the world, particularly the developing ones such as Bangladesh, have had to contend with for the longest time. This common problem unfolds in the backdrop of numerous efforts undertaken by governments to ensure achieve the highest possible level of social development. It is in this respect that recent years have witnessed the rapid emergence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in an attempt to complement government efforts so as to achieve long-term social development that would be beneficial to the society and people (Mohanty, 2012). This emergence of NGOs was followed by an increase in the amount of resources intended for development being channeled to and also through the NGOs working in all of the various sectors. The number of NGOs whose work revolved around the alleviation of poverty, improvement of social welfare and development of civil society, and which heavily depend on international donors has explosively grown in many countries (Rezaul Islam, 2017). International organizations, which date as far back as 1839, played a critical role in the ending of slavery (through the anti-slavery movement) and the realization of women’s suffrage (Desai, 2005). In more recent years, NGOs have also played an important role in demanding for the undertaking of development that is sustainable at the global/international level. Various campaign groups have driven inter-governmental negotiations on critical matters such as the regulation of harmful waste, ending of slavery and human rights abuse, and worldwide ban on land mines. However, the key reason behind the accelerated emergence of NGOs over the years has been to supplement the efforts made by governments to promote sustainable economic development and provide social development (services and programs) to their citizens (Watkins, Swidler and Hannan, 2012). Present in both developed and developing countries, NGOs have thus, served to supplement governments’ failure to effectively provide and deliver services and development to their people. In respect to their complementary roles and efforts, NGOs play an undoubtedly important function of ensuring that they promote good governance and goods and services provided by the governments reach the grassroots, as well as the disadvantaged, marginalized and poor members of the society in a just, equitable manner (Pearce, 1993). Therefore, it suffices to say that the neither the governments nor the NGOs can effectively work in isolation, leading to the important need of promoting their collaboration and the supplementary and complementary roles each plays in the delivery of service and development to the society (Spooner, 2004).
NGOs have positively impacted the realm of social development in the urban and rural areas of many countries. The growing influence and importance of NGOs has been brought about by the citizens’ increasing demands on their governments that have resulted in the impossibility of governments being the only provider of development and goods and services. It is this this reason (governments’ poor performance and inability to effectively meet the socioeconomic demands of their citizens) that (Mitlin, Hickey and Bebbington, 2007) attributed to the proliferation of NGOs. Citizens in developing country have, until recently, been depending on their governments to meet their socioeconomic quests and the governments, in turn, have had to undertake various activities and adopt a range of approaches or strategies aimed at promoting the individuals’ social development as well as that of the society in general. However, as has been mentioned above, governments alone have been unable to fully promote their people’s social development given the inadequacy of their efforts, resulting in the entrance of NGOs to fill this gap. Besides, supplementing and complementing governments’ social development and social service provision, NGOs also perform the function of monitoring, criticizing and advocacy. NGOs given their scope and international support, promote social change and have the ability to ensure the protection of human rights and freedoms by monitoring and criticizing governments and market powers, as well as influencing policies and legislations- market or social (Matthews, 2011). This, depending on how the governments operate, can result in the NGOs acting against them leading to antagonistic NGO-government relationships. Monitoring, criticizing and advocacy is a particularly important NGO role in countries whose governments abuse their power and press down the rights of their citizens. In some countries, such as South Korea, certain Central European and Latin American countries, NGOs’ are seen to play the role of monitoring, criticizing and advocating more than that of service provision, given the prevalence of ‘cold war which was a major component of authoritarianism that was used to legitimize oppression’ and military dictatorship (Anheier, 2000). This has led the citizens in those countries to view NGOs as being against the governments. Kang (2011), in a survey he conducted in South Korea, found that the citizens perceived the NGOs’ criticism of government and advocacy for alternative policy (33.8%), and protection of the excluded people’s rights (31.6%) to be their more important roles than provision or delivery of social services (13.8) and promoting the participation of citizens in community solidarity (4.2%). These findings serveType equation here. to demonstrate that the people’s or citizens’ perception of the importance of the roles played by NGOs vary from country to country and these roles are influenced by the countries’ governance style and other factors. NGOs are characterized by a number of features and attributes. They demonstrate variance and diversity in their scale- in relation to time and resources, fields of operation, activity processes and methods, target beneficiaries, values, strategies, missions, ideologies and structural forms. These factors impact on how they address and meet the different needs of the different people in various circumstances or situations (Banks and Hulme, 2012. In terms of scale, NGOs could, for example, be operating at the grass-root, local, national, regional or international level, while the various fields of action in which NGOs specialize could be environment, development, youth, women, peace, human rights, poverty alleviation, anti-corruption, social and economic justice, refugee relief, welfare, international aid, consumer rights, and so on (Panda, 2007). The various activities undertaken by NGOs, which also underlie their characteristics, are monitoring, service provision, assessment of needs, training, advocating, coordination, education, policy assessment, petition, policy recommendation, funding, campaign petition, among others. NGOs are distinguished from other non-state entities and organizations by the fact that they are not profit-seeking (Bidet, 2002). This means that while they have money-making undertakings, including fund-raisings, small-scale business-like programs, publications, etc, they money they make from these programs is used to offset staff, rent, managerial, operational and other costs. Being non-profit attracts a number of stakeholders to NGOs, such as governments, profitable organizations and the general public that express their support to them in various ways, for example, time and money (Williams, 1990).
NGOs assume greater importance and significance in societies and developing countries by virtue of their centrality to social development. The activities of NGOs and their contributions to social development have been explored by multiple researchers and organizations, and a positive association has been made between NGOs and social development (Mohanty, 2012). NGOs have taken part in numerous social development activities and processes worldwide, and their participation in this realm has often been as being of great significance being that it assumes the complementary and supplementary position to the activities taken and efforts made by governments to ensure social development, as discussed above. The activities of NGOs in developing countries cannot and should not be dismissed as irrelevant or inconsequential since it is a widely acknowledged belief that the absence of NGOs and their activities would simply result into an obvious lack of social development for the people (Gao, 2009). The activities of NGOs are usually targeted at the poor, marginalized, disadvantaged and neglected sections of the population in both urban and rural areas, and sometimes more so in rural areas. Earle (2005) acknowledged NGOs’ ability and effectiveness in working with the segments of the population that are ignored, bypassed or marginalized by the often large-scale government development projects and schemes, and who are not affected by the liberal reforms or wealth increase. NGOs have undertaken activities that have significantly contributed to the empowerment of the disadvantaged and marginalized (for example, women, youth, and people living with disabilities- PLWDs) at personal, group and societal levels. Through their efforts and activities, NGOs have helped and enabled the disadvantaged members of the society to break away from their helplessness and take charge of their individual development (Mercer, 2002). Empowerment of individuals and society is a key theme and concept in the NGO world and is core to social development. NGOs usually use the concept of empowerment as it has been shown to promote their legitimacy, acceptance, popularity and support among the people and societies within which they operate (Nikkhah and Redzuan, 2010). Empowerment emerged due to the increasing need for NGOs to strengthen their local capacity as a way of promoting social (people-centred) development (Ulleberg, 2009). Empowerment, which arises from the root word power (that means ability or capability), according to World Bank (2002) came to be widely associated with improving the conditions of women and poor and defined it as ‘the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control and hold accountable institutions that impact their lives.’ As a consequence, the ultimate goal of empowerment is to improve the conditions of the poor and marginalized individuals, who are deprived of their social, economic and political rights.
BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) was established in the year 1972 with the aim of providing humanitarian support to the tens of millions of Bangladeshis who were affected and were suffering as a result of the independence war and later due to natural disasters, such as flooding and cyclones. Later on, the organization shifted to developmental work, and has over the years evolved to become the largest NGO delivering services to people and the society in the whole world. BRAC works with more than 80000 villages and over 2000 slums in urban areas, in all the 64 districts of the country. Additionally, it employs more than 9000 staff members, and covers approximately 126 million people (BRAC at a glance, 2020; BRAC Is The Largest Anti-Poverty Organization And IT’s A Secret, 2020; Departure of an anti-poverty icon, 2020), a significant majority of whom are women, and has an annual expenditure of over $500 billion (BRAC, 2020). The NGO further boasts of international programs that cover Afghanistan, East and West Africa, Sri Lanka, the United States, and the United Kingdom. BRAC’s major areas of programmatic focus are promotion of self-employment through provision of microfinance and technical support, and human development through non-formal education program (NFPE) and health services. BRAC works in and is at the centre of an interwoven complex network that comprises BRAC Bank, RAC University, Aarong, BRAC Printers, among many other organizations and businesses. It is worth noting that: BRAC has the financial and human resource capacity to operate and manage programs throughout Bangladesh in a manner that rivals the business sector and better than the government of Bangladesh; BRAC has a long-standing experience in program experimentation and learning; and its economic empowerment programs are highly loan-based and incorporate the poor as micro-entrepreneurs. Throughout its existence, BRAC has launched and undertaken a number of programs in various sectors, such as economic development, education, public health, and disaster management and relief.
Microfinance, having been introduced in 1974 just two years after it was founded, is the oldest program by BRAC, and covers all the 64 Bangladeshi districts (Barber, 2020; Microfinace ǀ BRAC- Microfinance, 2020). Through the microfinance program, BRAC is able to provide the poor, the landless, the rural women and other vulnerable or marginalized groups with collateral-free loans that will enable them to start income generating projects and to improve their living standards (Barber, 2020; Microfinace ǀ BRAC- Microfinance, 2020). With more than 95% of its customers being women, BRAC has, through its microfinance program, given out more than $2 billion in loans since the program’s inception (Wayback Machine, 2020), and has enjoyed a repayment rate of 98% (Brac.net, 2020). BRAC also introduced the ‘Targeting the Ultra Poor’ (TUP) program as a method of addressing the pervasive problem of poverty that has plagued a majority of the citizens. The ultra poor people, as BRAC referred to them, are the chronically and extremely poor ones who are faced with a number of structural barriers arising from the mainstream approaches to development that have been adopted over the years, including the social protection policies of Bangladesh (World Bank, 2005), which they have not been able to overcome without assistance (Hossain and Matin, 2007).
BRAC, in 1988, also launched the community empowerment program as a way to economically empower the poor Bangladeshis across the country. Through its retail outlet, Aarong- village fair in Bengali, which it founded in 1978, BRAC markets and distributes various products such as leather crafts, hand loom, gold and silver jewelry, and so on which are produced by the indigenous Bangladeshis and local people (About Aarong, 2020). This has contributed to empower them economically as they are able to earn income, which enables them alleviate poverty and improve their standards of living.
BRAC is also one of the largest NGOs that are involved in primary education in the country (Wayback Machine, 2020). Through its non-formal primary education (NFPE) program, the NGO has started and operates more than 24000 non-formal primary schools, all of which had over 800000 children enrolled as the end of 2019 (BRAC at a Glance, 2020). The schools under BRAC account for 75% of all the non-formal primary schools run by NGOs in Bangladesh (Wayback Machine, 2020). As a result of the NFPE program, BRAC is able to provide non-formal primary-level education to children that have not been absorbed by the country’s formal education system, particularly the poor, disadvantaged, those from rural areas and dropouts (Brac.net, 2020). The schools comprise classrooms, each of which has a teacher and a maximum of 33 children, and offer English, Mathematics and Social Studies as the core subjects, as well as co-curricular activities. In order to encourage and incentivize its intended beneficiaries to enroll and school, BRAC schools provide food, flexible learning periods, and also confer scholarships to those who demonstrate good academic performance (Education in Bangladesh: Gender Differences, 2020). BRAC schools has led to an increase in the number of female children enrolling and attending school, particularly at the primary level, thereby decreasing the gap between the proportion of male and female children attending school in Bangladesh (Education in Bangladesh: Gender Differences, 2020; Wayback Machine, 2020), with an estimated 60% of the children in BRAC schools being girls (Brac.net, 2020). Also in its portfolio is the BRAC University, through which it is able to offer higher education to the poor and disadvantaged members of the society, and undertake research and development that will contribute to an improvement in the conditions of the people and society as a whole (Brac University, 2020).
Right from its inception in 1972, BRAC commenced the provision of public health care and services during which its original focus was on curative care which was done through paramedics and a health insurance scheme that is self-sustaining. Subsequently, the program evolved and started to provide integrated health care and services.
BRAC has also, to a significant extent, impacted on and contributed to increasing the people’s (especially women’s) awareness and understanding of legal issues relating to various domains, including marriage and divorce. The NGO’s 2007 impact assessment of the Microfinance Expansion Project which it undertook in the North West of the country testifies to this. The women who participated in the project reported having increased their self-confidence and self-efficacy, and domestic violence incidences were also found to have declined significantly (Wayback Machine, 2020). Through the program, acid throwing (one of the most common manifestations of domestic violence against Bangladeshi women) has been shown to be decreasing at an average rate of between 15% and 20% since the launch of the program, which effectively complemented the legislation enactment in 2002 that aimed at reducing acid violence (2020).
Furthermore, BRAC has undertaken and continues to undertake rapid disaster management and relief responses across Bangladesh. Given its low-lying nature, the country is vulnerable and prone to flooding and cyclones which can occur should there be a slight rise in the sea level. One major example of its key disaster relief activities is with regard to the Cyclone Sidr which hit most areas of the country’s south-western coast in mid-November of 2007. This was one of the largest responses to the cyclone by NGOs, whereby it provided and distributed emergency relief materials, such as food and clothing to nearly a million victims, medical supplies to more than 60,000 Bangladeshis who were affected, and clean drinking water. Part of its response to disasters includes supporting the victims and survivors to get over the effects of the disasters and resume their normal lives. BRAC is currently focused on long-term rehabilitation, including by providing agricultural support, reconstruction and/or rehabilitation of infrastructure such as roads, schools, bridges, etc., and the regeneration of economic activity and livelihood among survivors (Research and Evaluation Division, 2020).
Through these programs, together with several others, BRAC has been able to achieve success on a large scale.
Governments, for the most part, have not been able to adequately address and provide the socioeconomic quests and demands of their people. This failure by governments is what is attributed to the rapid emergence of NGOs over the years. The important complementary and supplementary role played by NGOs such as BRAC in the social development of countries is of a great significance and its importance cannot be dismissed. NGOs work to improve the social and economic conditions of the poor, the marginalized and disadvantaged through the various programs and projects which they roll out. These programs empower the beneficiaries by empowering them to become economically independent and improve their standards of living.
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