I admit when I started the whole idea of setting up a course on resettlement at a local Bangladeshi university I thought it was going to be a long shot in the dark. I had a gigantic portfolio to look after in terms of safeguards support, and that left little time to do anything else. I also it would be difficult to show results quickly and make a convincing argument that this was worth the effort. But stubbornness at times is a key ingredient to achievement, i.e. persistence and resilience.
The course (now known as MLARR – Management of Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation) started out as an effort to train of a cadre of professionals to better manage the social risks associated with land acquisition and resettlement in Bangladesh. Given the population density and land scarcity, resettlement in Bangladesh continues to be a huge challenge for its development, as virtually all infrastructure requires moving people. Supported by AusAID  and DFID , The first course was designed and delivered in 2009. That was the beginning, and what I’d like to focus is how far we’ve come from that first shot in the dark:
- The original MLARR post-graduate certificate course has now been approved by the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh (the regulatory body that oversees all university-related matters) as part of the Master of Development Studies (MDS) at BRAC University.
- BRAC University is now working with government training institutes to incorporate MLARR in the civil servants curriculum for all Government of Bangladesh officials.
- BRAC University is negotiating a partnership with the Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA) to get MLARR students as interns in their Padma Bridge massive resettlement program.
- Government officials who graduated from MLARR are now participating as “guest lecturers” in the new courses.
- A few MLARR graduates are now establishing the first “Resettlement Consulting” firm in Bangladesh.
- That 15 weeks course, however, was not suitable for managers and executives who want to know more about resettlement without becoming graduate students again. So we designed a 5-day course, focused on practice of managing resettlement, giving participants concrete instruments to do so. We delivered it 3 times to government officials of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Nepal. The Government of Nepal has requested (and paid!) for the course to be delivered to its officials twice. Then we did it in Uganda, and there are additional requests coming in but that would be crossing over to bragging so I’ll stick with what we did.
What’s interesting is that MLARR has kind of become “contagious”.
- The University of Los Andes in Colombia got interested in this MLARR and last year I went to Bogotá to work with them in setting up something similar.
- A number of Universities and research centers from various countries are now discussing collaborative arrangements on the topic. And that’s why we were in Rajendrapur last week (a bit of a tortuous road but I hope you get the picture).
A few weeks ago we met in Rajendrapur, Bangladesh, with representatives of BRAC University, Universidad de Los Andes from Colombia, Ho Hai University from China, and Uganda Martyr’s University from Uganda. Resettlement is also a big issue in these countries, and collaboration between universities who are working on this issue across the globe led to a number of very fruitful discussions and actions. It was great to see this was happening. But we wanted to be concrete and find real ways to establish an international community of practice nested in local institutions (i.e. universities), and this is what we agreed:
- Ho Hai will offer scholarships to faculty from other universities to begin a concrete exchange program;
- A Permanent Chapter on resettlement will be established at the International Association on Impact Assessment (IAIA) led by this consortium of universities, as well as in the International Network for Displacement and Resettlement (INDR);
- BRAC, Ho Hai and Universidad de Los Andes will assist Uganda Martyr’s University to design and establish an MLARR-similar program in Uganda. A workshop to do so will take place in the Spring 2012;
- To respond to different regional conditions, the scope of MLARR will be broadened by adding four additional modules on Disaster prevention and recovery; challenges in urban contexts; Indigenous Peoples; and conflict and fragile states situations.
- A common research platform in preparation for the Metropolis Congress Conference in Beijing, China, in October, 2012.
Have we changed the world? No. Are we done and can we sit back and relax? No. Undoubtedly, though, back in 2008 when it all started it really looked like a long shot.
Three years later and looking back, it seems impossible to witness how far that shot has gone.