Creating opportunities for poor and excluded in Bangladesh

DFID Bangladesh Country Representative Sarah Cooke speeks to Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) partners at the launch of COPE

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sarah Cooke

Honourable chief guest Mr Gowher Rizvi, Adviser to the Honourable Prime Minister, distinguished participants on the platform, ladies and gentlemen, salam alaikum. Good morning.

It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning, at this great institution, the Bangla Academy. I can’t think of a more appropriate venue to be in the company of people with so much commitment to make Bangladesh a better place to live for all citizens. It is wonderful to see so many of you here from all over the country.

I have been the Country Representative for the UK Department for International Development in Bangladesh for just under a year. In that time, I have learned, and seen examples of, the great achievements Bangladesh has made in reducing poverty and the progress the country has made towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I am proud that UK aid programmes here have contributed to that progress. Through our support to basic services such as health and education; by promoting economic development and job creation; and by helping Bangladesh prepare for and respond to natural disasters. But the real credit for that progress must, of course, go to the hard work of millions of Bangladesh’s people.

There is much to celebrate. But we are also well aware that there is still much work to do. That is why the UK is working with Bangladesh and others on the development of the post-MDG framework, to guide the development effort after 2015. The UK believes that this framework needs to remain firmly focused on the eradication of poverty. 1 billion people in the world still live in poverty, and that is 1 billion too many. Nobody should be left behind.

This means we will continue to focus on development outcomes – for example further progress in improving health indicators, and educational access and achievement. But this will not be enough, on its own, to end poverty forever. The post-2015 framework must also address the building blocks of open economies and open societies which are the prerequisites for people to escape poverty. Those building blocks include the absence of conflict, effective institutions, the rule of law, property rights, transparency and accountability and an enabling environment for economic growth. International evidence demonstrates that investing in these building blocks leads to better development outcomes and will help us end poverty forever.

But we also know that we will never end poverty until we begin to challenge inequality and discrimination. We must give everyone – men and women, girls and boys – the same opportunities to flourish. And the sad reality is that for all the progress Bangladesh has made, too many people have seen little benefit from that progress.

The new MJF programme, which we know as COPE (Creating Opportunities for Poor and Excluded in Bangladesh), is all about those people who are at risk of being left behind by Bangladesh’s development. Those people who are excluded and marginalised in society due to their ethnicity, occupation, caste or gender. Those people who are too often denied services or opportunities that should be theirs by right. The focus of COPE is those people who have the least voice and representation in society. They include women, the poor, dalits, religious and ethnic minorities, working children and people with disabilities.

Gender inequality and lack of rights reinforce each other. If you are a woman and a dalit, you face much greater discrimination. We also know that investing in girls and women has a transformative impact on growth, poverty reduction and the MDGs. Where girls and women have more access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities and have the opportunity to participate in decision making, their children and their societies are healthier, more prosperous and more peaceful. In short, investing in equality of opportunity for girls and boys, women and men, is good for everyone – and very good for development. That is why the UK has put girls and women at the heart of international development, and why the rights of women and girls are at the heart of this programme.

So, the aim of the COPE programme is to work with the most poor and marginalised people in Bangladesh. To make them aware of their rights. To provide advice, advocacy support and organisation to claim those rights in practice.

As a result of the programme people who would otherwise be excluded from the benefits of development will gain access to services, assets and economic opportunities. And they will have a greater say in decisions affecting their lives.

We look forward to working with the Manusher Jonno Foundation and the many partners represented here to achieve those objectives.

This is not a new focus for our work. The UK government has been supporting the Manusher Jonno Foundation since 2002. MJF was established as a local Bangladeshi organisation to channel funds transparently and judiciously to civil society organizations in Bangladesh so that they can promote social justice, inclusion and gender equality to further the realisation of rights for all citizens.

Independent reviews and evaluations of MJF’s programme activities tell us that the organisation has lived up to its vision – and I have seen it for myself in the programmes I have visited. Through careful selection of partners and projects, funding, advice and networking, large numbers of people have benefited from the support received through MJF’s partners across the country. It is notable that many of those partner organisations are led by people from excluded groups themselves, who bring the discrimination and marginalisation they face to the attention of policymakers, academics and researchers.

On the basis of that experience, I am confident that many more poor and marginalised people will benefit from the work of COPE. And I am very proud of the results that COPE aims achieve:

  • 120,000 households will benefit from social safety-nets they might not have otherwise received
  • 50,000 women who are victims of violence will have access to justice
  • 36,000 boys and girls will be able to complete primary school as a result of support to their parents by MJF partners
  • Nearly 10,000 more acres of khas land will be leased to poor and vulnerable households
  • 60,000 more workers will receive support to negotiate, peacefully, for a living wage, or safer working conditions

But we are increasingly aware that these numbers, important though they are, only tell part of the story of the work MJF and its partners do. We have started working with MJF to tell another, more important story that numbers do not tell. The story of changes in the lives of individuals and communities – the greater dignity and confidence of groups that are able, for the first time, to play an active role in society and address others as equals. The story of changes in systems, in the way services are provided and the responsiveness of providers to poor people who need those services. And ultimately the story of changes in social norms, in laws and their application.

The campaign for a Right to Information Act was one such change. MJF and its partners played a key role in advocating for the act before it was passed by parliament. They are now using the act to obtain information, for poor people, on the services and assets that they should have a right to.

We look forward to continuing to work with you on such initiatives, and would encourage those of you who are MJF partners to learn from and share lessons with others on how to achieve these changes for the poor and marginalised. Ultimately, that is what will transform lives.

I am especially glad to see that the Manusher Jonno Foundation has used today’s programme to honour those organisations that have demonstrated a high standard of financial management and transparency – especially those working at local level all across Bangladesh. I would like to thank the team for taking this effort to recognise your effort, commitment and dedication. We encourage others to demonstrate such excellence.

So I’m delighted to be here this morning. I wish you every success in all the work you are doing. And hope that we can all work together as closely as possible, as we drive forward this vital agenda. We are delighted to be supporting the new programme together with our friends from AusAID. The UK believes the work of MJF and its partners is extremely valuable and would encourage other development partners to offer their support.

So, I congratulate you for your great achievements and hope you shall continue to inspire us. Again I would like to thank all of you present here and especially Shaheen, the Manusher Jonno team and their partner organisations for organising this event. A very special thanks to all my friends here. I am aware that an enormous amount of background work has gone into making this event a success.

So thank you again.

Onnek dhonnobad.

Published 29 September 2013