In 2008, I sat with a focus group of about 15 women in a rural village of Bagerhat district in southern Bangladesh. I and some colleagues had visited their village the day before and saw their desperate living conditions and the family conflicts that erupted because of it. This village, and many others, had been hit by cyclone Sidr four months earlier.
We asked the women about their aspirations; they responded with blank stares. But after just two hours of discussion, these women had absorbed and understood the importance of savings, of credit, of good governance, and how they could rebuild (and improve) their lives and livelihoods. At the end of the meeting, one woman told us, “We came here because we thought you would give us food, but we’re not hungry anymore. We have hope.”
The women in Bagerhat and 7 other districts are part of the Social Investment Program Project (SIPP), which has been working in Bangladesh since 2004, when it started as a US$18 million pilot, to introduce community driven development to the country’s rural communities.
These women and their communities have crafted their own development path: building and leading their own institutions and making sense of saving, credit, and governance --- things that have confounded many a development professional. Their success has also paved the way for SIPP to expand to meet the needs of communities in crisis, like those in Bagerhat.
Starting from nothing or worse (from crushing debt), these communities now operate over 1500 village credit organizations (VCOs), with more than 260,000 member households benefitting, which have loaned BD Tk 100 million from their revolving funds and have attained a portfolio at risk (30 days) of 5%---on part with international best practice. Group members have mobilized BD Tk 80 million in savings and more than BD Tk 10 million in interest income has been generated. Moreover, they have defined a system of good governance that ensures transparency of their transactions.
The next stage of SIPP, which is call ‘notun jibon’ or new life—a name recommended by a community member—was approved by the Board last week. It will invest US$115 million in 15 of the poorest districts in one of the poorest countries in the world. This will be a project to watch as it unfolds because its foundations are based in the communities it seeks to help, and they have more than enough sense and spirit to build new lives under even the most depressed circumstances.
Check out the feature story for more information on notun jibon.