Aidex Voices

AidEx, the world’s leading event dedicated to the global aid and development community successfully launched its first ever conference in the capital of Bangladesh last month. AidEx Dhaka took place under the theme, Bangladesh: A Champion in Development to celebrate how far the country had advanced, and most importantly what needs to be done if it is to continue progressing.

Delivering the keynote speech at AidEx Dhaka, BRAC executive director Dr. Muhammad Musa, explored Bangladesh’s development journey since the seventies; its great strides in achievements but also the crucial lessons learnt along the way.

When the country achieved independence from Pakistan in 1971, US president Henry Kissinger infamously sentenced the nation to forever be a ‘basket case’. Life-expectancy in Bangladesh was just 47 years old, with a quarter of children not living to the age of 5. Today, several of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been exceeded. Poverty was reduced by over 20% between 1991 and 2010. Life-expectancy now exceeds 70. Infant mortality has more than halved since 1990, while maternal mortality has decreased by 75%. As a result, in more recent years Bangladesh has received recognition as one of the best examples of successful development.  

Dr. Musa identifies this progress on three key fronts; poverty reduction, MDG attainment and an increasing Human Development Index (HDI). All of which have been driven by collective actions on behalf of citizens, government, private sector, NGOs and civil society, community based institutions and international aid and trade.

These changes, according to BRAC’s founder and chairman Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, have also occurred because the organisation has helped to develop a more inclusive society. He sees this as “one in which women are empowered to make their own decisions, such as to educate their daughters, instead of being oppressed by patriarchal traditions”. This is certainly reflected in statistics which show that Bangladesh has exceeded gender parity in education, as more girls attend school than boys.

While these improvements demonstrate how far Bangladesh may have ‘come out of the basket’, it is imperative to recognise the obstacles that lie ahead. The country remains a conservative society with great scales of deep and widespread poverty, women and minorities still face lower wages, less employment opportunities and discrimination. And its low-lying landscape makes Bangladesh vulnerable to flooding and cyclones.

The six major challenges outlined by Dr. Musa include:

  • Inadequacies of inclusive growth
  • Persistence of extreme poverty
  • Adaptation to climate change
  • Unanticipated changes in global markets
  • Urban poverty
  • Youth in need of clearer direction

If Bangladesh is to continue developing, Dr. Musa believes the country must move away from addressing outcomes of poverty and social inequality, to addressing the structures and underlying causes of poverty – like gender inequality, weak governing and institutions. Dr. Musa says: “To do this, organisations must become more local and stop thinking about poverty just in terms of the effects on things like income, health or education…we need partnerships and evidence from communities themselves”.

BRAC reaches over 120 million people and has over 118,000 employees. Since being established 45 years ago, the organisation has created opportunities for 138 million people. In January, BRAC was ranked the number one NGO in the world for the second consecutive year. Its next five-year plan aims to bring BRAC’s life-changing services to 110 million people.

Dr Muhammad Musa was speaking at AidEx’s satellite conference in Dhaka on 19 July 2017. AidEx is the largest specialist platform for aid professionals around the world and is the must-attend conference for the international community. AidEx Dhaka takes place alongside satellite conferences in Nairobi and our flagship event in Brussels. It is FREE to attend for all non-profit organisations.