News: Research helping to transform lives in Bangladesh

Image credit: BRAC

Feb 2017

Bangladesh has undergone an enormous transformation over the past forty years and has long been seen as an example of how aid can support progressive, pro-poor and country-driven development. In a high-level meeting this week hosted by the Impact Initiative and the Institute of Development Studies, over 20 ESRC-DFID funded researchers as well as leading experts from the region have come together to share learning about what works in aid and development. 

Bangladesh’s human development has overtaken India and achieved record results in reducing poverty, improving health services and education and modernising agriculture. A lot of this success has been built on collaboration between Bangladeshi and UK researchers. And studies funded by the ESRC and DFID, including fifteen projects supported through the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation, are helping to increase the effectiveness of future aid and development programmes.  

Exploring implications for policy and practice

Today’s meeting at IDS of ESRC-DFID grant-holders working on Bangladesh and the wider region along with Bangladeshi practitioners and academics will share learning from the region. Together they are exploring the role of evidence in the conceptualisation, design, delivery and management of development programmes and policies. Bangladesh has been a lead player in the use and integration of research into development decision-making, notably in relation to health systems, nutrition, social protection, agriculture and poverty. Participants are sharing examples of how high quality research can be embedded within programmes, showcasing research findings and discussing the challenges. The ESRC-DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation which has been running for ten years is a key source of rigorous research on development and in particular on Bangladesh and the wider South Asia region. A crucial feature of the meeting is the examination of the lessons of Bangladesh’s experiences for their relevance for other complex low-income country settings. This has implications for policy makers and practitioners in development agencies including DFID, INGOs and civil society organisations, as well as generating wider learning around research impact. 

Organised by the Impact Initiative in close partnership with IDS, BRAC and BRAC University and ICDDR,B, speakers include: 

  • Dr. A.M.R. Chowdhury, Vice Chair, BRAC
  • Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, BRAC University
  • Prof. Melissa Leach, Director of IDS

The high-level meeting will be followed by a Parliamentary event on Tuesday co-convened with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Bangladesh which asks ‘What are the ingredients of its success and what lessons might there be for aid programmes?’ The meeting is chaired by Anne Main MP and will be addressed by Saul Walker, DFID Chief of Staff, Asia, Caribbean and the Overseas Territories Division.

Evidence informed development in action

The ESRC-DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation research portfolio includes studies such as ‘Graduation as Resilience’ (W.M.H. Jaim, A.M.R. Chowdhury, M. Greeley), that have helped develop new initiatives that successfully targeted the very poorest households. These approaches which aim to prevent people from falling back into poverty have influenced Bangladeshi INGO BRAC in its design of its ground-breaking ‘Targeting the Ultra Poor’ Programme. 

It was this programme that helped Shamsunnahar, from Moulvibazar, Rangpur, who grew up in an ultra-poor household to become the proud owner of two houses and 36 decimals of land today. Married at 13, she was never given the opportunity to study. She was left with next to nothing when her husband passed away from cancer. Things started to change when she signed up for BRAC’s Ultra-poor programme. Shamsunnahar attended training on running a cow plus chicken enterprise, graduated from the programme after two years and took out three microfinance loans to set up her own poultry business. The first investment she made with the profits was to send her children to school. She went on to become heavily involved in promoting better schooling and nutrition for children in her area. Looking adversity in the eye and winning, Shamsunnahar continues to promote better practices in education and agriculture, while encouraging women and the larger community to make better lives for themselves.

IDS Fellow, Martin Greely, explained: ‘BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra Poor Programme showed this case study success was not an isolated example. Graduation out of extreme poverty was achieved by 95 per cent of programme participants.  DFID, and other donors, continue to fund this BRAC programme which has graduated around 750,000 households out of extreme poverty up to 2015.  Based on the evidence, DFID set up a Challenge Fund in Bangladesh to encourage other organisations to take up the approach and also funded two other major programmes in Bangladesh largely based on it. The model was copied globally with support from CGAP, the Ford Foundation and MasterCard Foundation. A major research study produced compelling evidence of the success of these Graduation pilot projects and the approach is now being promoted globally by the World Bank and other major international development actors as an important element in public policy towards the extreme poor.’

BRAC’s Vice Chair, A.M.R. Chowdhury, commented: ‘Evidence generated by the ESRC-DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation and research collaborations between Bangladesh and the UK has helped to increase our understanding of how to break the cycle of extreme poverty. This learning around what works could make a significant contribution to the reduction of poverty in all its forms globally and thereby significantly contribute to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 1.’



The Impact Initiative blog posts are either from individual researchers or from major research programmes. Some of the blog posts are original source and are written by researchers and experts connected to the two research programmes jointly funded by ESRC and DFID: the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme. Other blog posts are imported from related websites and programmes. 

The views expressed in these blogs reflect the opinions of each individual and may not represent the Institute of Development Studies, the University of Cambridge, ESRC or DFID.


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