I moved to Bangladesh 3 years ago with a lot of excitement as I considered it a sort of mini-laboratory for development theory and practice.
My task was to oversee the Bangladesh portfolio from a social perspective. From day one, there was one issue that came up in almost all projects: land acquisition and resettlement. Once can expect this, given high population densities in a small country. Surprisingly, while there is a lot of debate about shortages of power and electricity for Bangladesh development, little attention is paid to the land issue. But all infrastructure has a footprint and access to land is complex.
This huge challenge was matched by a dearth of professionals to manage social risks. While the market for such services is growing, there was no institution to train people in those disciplines in the country. I could have continued to hire foreign consultants, but that didn’t seem very smart in the long run. So I thought: “let’s establish a course in a local university that would create that capacity over time and train a cadre of professionals capable of conducting a serious social impact assessment, carry out a good consultation process or design a solid resettlement action plan”. My intention was to fill a systemic gap. That could only happen over time, and it could only happen via local institutions.
And so I did.
Together with Sabah Moyeen, a consultant to the Bank in Dhaka, we rolled up our sleeves and started to shop around. We got tremendous support from the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh , and we found a “natural” partner in BRAC University in its BRAC Development Institute.
We created a Post-Graduate Certificate Course in Management of Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (MLARR, for those of us who need acronyms…). The course was designed in a record 4 months from inception to the first day of class. It’s a classroom-based, face-to-face, three-month intensive course that covers a number of topics related to management of land acquisition and resettlement. The course is made up of 7 modules, i.e. applicable laws and policies, conducting Social Impact Assessments (SIA), building Resettlement Action Plans (RAP), building effective consultation and communication strategies, implementing resettlement plans, and management of information (including a Geographic Information System (GIS) component). MLARR was designed to train professionals on the practice of land acquisition and resettlement, with a focus on tools, methodologies, instruments commonly utilized by practitioners.
According to Mr. Hossain, Bangladesh Minister of Communications, “the course comes at a time when there is a great demand for practitioners with the knowledge on these issues [...] and will benefit both public and private sector agencies, their officials and managers.”
Students found MLARR very useful, an opportunity to build networks, and relevant for the tasks they are asked to perform in their jobs as urban planners, engineers, or project managers.
MLARR received praise from the public sector, private sector, and bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors. Private companies (Chevron and BRAC Delta Housing), consultancy firms (CEGIS, Young Consultants and BCL), NGOs (Manusher Jhonno, BRAC, CEGIS and DORP) and donors (IFC, UNDP, GTZ) supported the program by participating in lectures and the job fair.
MLARR received substantial attention from the local media, and BRAC Development Institute (BDI) is in the process of seeking approval from the University Grants Commission to institutionalize MLARR into the Master's of Development Studies at BRAC University as an area of specialization. In response to the high demand for this type of training, BDI is now preparing a shorter version of the course to be offered in other countries of South Asia. A number of universities have expressed interest in partnering with BDI on this, and BDI is working with Columbia University to incorporate MLARR in a global Master of Development Practice administered by a consortium of world-class universities.
The course reached full enrollment in its first delivery in the Summer Semester of 2009.
This has been the most interesting experience in my Bangladesh assignment. It shows that “volume” of business is not really the only way to produce impacts. With $100,000 we established a mechanism at a local institution (BRAC BDI) to build capacity for other Bangladeshi institutions (government and private sector). Results may not be easily quantifiable, but not insignificant either