Webinar: Driving systems change to end extreme poverty

Explore how governments can use Graduation approaches to fight extreme poverty

In conjunction with End Poverty Day, BRAC and J-PAL hosted a discussion featuring panelists from BRAC, the United Nations Development Program, the Institute of Peruvian Studies, and Nobel-winning economist Abhijit Banerjee of J-PAL.

New data reveals increased pressure on teenage girls in Bangladesh to submit to child marriage amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The data reveals an 84 percent increase in the number of child marriages prevented in the first nine months of 2020

Girls in a BRAC youth empowerment program

DHAKA, BANGLADESH — BRAC today released new data revealing the increased pressure on teenage girls in Bangladesh to submit to child marriage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The data reveals the number of child marriages prevented by Polli Shomaj, the community-based women’s groups that are active in 54 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh. Among other activities, Polli Shomaj work to stop child marriages and other forms of violence, and help women access community and government resources. The data is released today, as the world celebrates International Day of the Girl.

The data reveals an 84 percent increase in the number of child marriages prevented in the first nine months of 2020, compared to the first nine months of 2019. In the third quarter of 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic widespread, the number of child marriages prevented grew by 219 percent, compared to the third quarter of 2019. The increase in child marriages prevented grew by 571 percent from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2020.

The quarterly comparisons are as follows:

Months Number of Child Marriages that Polli Shomaj Prevented in 2019 Number of Child Marriages that Polli Shomaj Prevented in 2020
January- March 96 79
April-June 109 74
July-September 166 530
Total 371 683

 

BRAC’s Community Empowerment Program reports that while 683 child marriages were prevented by Polli Shomaj, a total of 778 child marriages were still reported between January and September 22, 2020. In 2019, 371 were prevented by Polli Shomaj, and 460 were reported. This is a rise of 84 percent in prevented cases and 69 percent in reported ones.

The number of child marriages prevented is a key indicator, because it reflects awareness by Polli Shomaj of local incidents and trends. The women in Polli Shomaj are well connected in their communities and understand the pressures that girls and families are under.

“These numbers are of enormous concern. This is just a glimpse of the social disruption that COVID-19 has brought on. An immediate concerted effort on socioeconomic recovery by public, private, and social sectors is critical to prevent child marriage; otherwise, we will fall behind on the progress we have made so far on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh.

Among the factors that Polli Shomaj cite as contributing to the growing attempts at child marriage are a range of social conditions enhanced by COVID-19. They include increasing job losses and poverty; growing food insecurity; the closing of schools, which reduces options for girls and increases the likelihood that they will not return to school; social distancing, which makes it easier to keep knowledge of child marriages from other members of the community; the reduced cost of a wedding, because large gatherings are not allowed; closed government offices, which makes it hard to check birth certificates; distraction of local government officials by the pandemic and efforts to reduce it; and the return of men who made money at overseas jobs. The range of these factors underscores the difficulty of combatting child marriage amid a pandemic.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s recently released State of the World Population report, COVID-19 may exacerbate the already concerning numbers around early marriage, violence, and sex ratio at birth. Its recent projections estimate that COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.

 

Notes to the editor

About BRAC

BRAC is a global leader in developing and implementing cost-effective, evidence-based programs to assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone, and post-disaster settings. These include initiatives in education, healthcare, microfinance, women and girls’ empowerment, agriculture, human and legal rights, and more. BRAC’s vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. In 2020, BRAC was named the number one NGO in the world by NGO Advisor for the fifth consecutive year. Founded in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC currently operates in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, touching the lives of over 100 million people.

About BRAC USA

Based in New York, BRAC USA is the North American affiliate of BRAC. BRAC USA provides comprehensive support to BRAC around the world by raising awareness about its work to empower people living in poverty and mobilizing resources to support its programs. BRAC USA also works closely with its international counterparts to design and implement cost-effective and evidence-based poverty innovations worldwide. BRAC USA is an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

 

Media contact

BRAC USA

Sarah Allen
[email protected]

Video: BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative – Audacious announcement 2020

An Audacious plan to lift millions out of extreme poverty

Today, BRAC was named a 2020 winner of the Audacious Project. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative will receive more than $60 million to scale our proven Graduation approach through governments and help 21 million people lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

BRAC receives $60 million for Audacious plans to lift 21 million people from extreme poverty

As a selected Audacious Project for 2020, BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative will work alongside governments to scale the Graduation approach and help 21 million more people to lift themselves from extreme poverty

Women in a Graduation program

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Today, BRAC was announced as one of this year’s Audacious Project grantees. The Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative, an initiative of BRAC, will receive more than $60 million to apply toward its goal of helping another 21 million people lift themselves from extreme poverty by 2026.

BRAC is the founder and largest scaled implementer of the Ultra-Poor Graduation approach, having reached more than 2 million households in Bangladesh and developed and implemented adaptations of the approach in 14 countries across a range of different contexts.

“The need to combat extreme poverty and drive systemic change has never been more urgent,” said Shameran Abed, Senior Director of BRAC’s Microfinance and Ultra-Poor Graduation programs.

The announcement comes at a critical time when Graduation is needed more than ever. In the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on, and exacerbated, pre-existing, systemic inequalities that permeate societies around the world. The impact of COVID-19 and economic lockdowns to prevent further spread of the virus have created a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions. The pandemic threatens to unravel decades of progress toward poverty alleviation. By the end of 2020, more than 70 million people could slip into extreme poverty.

“We must act swiftly and design programs that meet the increasing and evolving needs of those living in extreme poverty — programs that are comprehensive, adaptive, and immediate but also support long-term needs — to build resilience and support sustainable recovery,” said Abed.

Our Audacious Project will support efforts to scale and implement BRAC’s Graduation approach, a multifaceted intervention that helps the poorest escape extreme poverty and continue to improve their lives years after the program ends.

Through training in life skills, finance, and business skills, along with consumption stipends, an asset transfer, and regular coaching and monitoring, the Graduation approach addresses participants’ complex needs and helps them create sustainable livelihoods to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

But to scale globally, a systems-level approach with governments at the forefront is required.

“Governments have billions of dollars allocated to poverty programs already, but many are not reaching the most marginalized, nor are they fully equipped to integrate Graduation into their systems,” said Abed.

BRAC will leverage $5.8 billion dollars in existing government and donor funding and channel those toward well-executed, government-led Graduation programs in countries in Africa and Asia with the greatest potential for impact and scale — lifting 21 million people out of ultra-poverty by 2026 — and setting millions more on the same path.

“The level of effort, programming, resources, and tenacity required to eradicate extreme poverty vastly exceeds the capabilities of a single organization or the Audacious investment,” said Lindsay Coates, Managing Director of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative. “To truly eliminate poverty in all its forms, BRAC urges governments, multilateral institutions, donors, NGOs, and policymakers to work together more effectively and commit significantly more resources.

“At BRAC, we believe in standing with those most affected by pervasive inequality and most at risk of being left behind. This is an act of justice — not of charity.

 

Notes to the editor

About BRAC

BRAC is a global leader in developing and implementing cost-effective, evidence-based programs to assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone, and post-disaster settings. These include initiatives in education, healthcare, microfinance, women and girls’ empowerment, agriculture, human and legal rights, and more. BRAC’s vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. In 2020, BRAC was named the number one NGO in the world by NGO Advisor for the fifth consecutive year. Founded in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC currently operates in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, touching the lives of over 100 million people.

About BRAC USA

Based in New York, BRAC USA is the North American affiliate of BRAC. BRAC USA provides comprehensive support to BRAC around the world by raising awareness about its work to empower people living in poverty and mobilizing resources to support its programs. BRAC USA also works closely with its international counterparts to design and implement cost-effective and evidence-based poverty innovations worldwide. BRAC USA is an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

 

Media contact

BRAC USA

Sarah Allen
[email protected]

Hope for a renewed fashion industry as we remember Rana Plaza during COVID-19

Seven years on from Rana Plaza, Bangladesh’s garment sector faces unprecedented challenges that will fiercely test its resilience. Can COVID-19 serve as a catalyst for a more responsible fashion industry?

BY LINDA PATENTAS

 

Global brands and retailers have canceled over $3 billion worth of apparel orders in Bangladesh since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The canceled orders comprise 980 million pieces, enough for three articles of clothing for each person in the United States.

These canceled orders spell devastation for Bangladesh’s most significant sector, which accounts for 84% of the country’s total exports. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimates that broken promises from fashion partners will affect over four million garment workers, the majority of whom are women living in poverty.

 

 

A humanitarian crisis with a public health dimension

For millions of garment factory workers and 10 million day laborers across Bangladesh who rely on daily wages to feed their families, the COVID-19 shutdown has already caused acute poverty and food insecurity. According to BRAC’s executive director Asif Saleh, “For Bangladesh, COVID-19 is a humanitarian crisis with a public health dimension.”

In early April, several hundred workers filled the streets protesting overdue salary payments, some alleging they had not been paid since February.

Loss of income and food insecurity can lead to conflict. BRAC’s human rights and legal services offices across the country have seen an increase in gender-based violence cases, including women who lost their jobs in the garment sector.

When garment factories closed in late March, Rakeya* filed a case against her husband, who physically abused her at home. The daughter of a landless farmer, Rakeya had moved from a rural community to Dhaka, shortly after giving birth to her first child, to find a job at a garment factory.

After COVID-19 took her job, Rakeya refused to give up the small portion of land to her husband that she had purchased with her savings. Her husband beat her and drove her out of the house, keeping their young daughter. BRAC helped Rakeya to file a case with the police and reunite her with her daughter.

BRAC’s director of human rights and legal services and social compliance, Jenefa Jabbar, says that stories like Rakeya’s are not uncommon. As both men and women lose jobs and income, domestic violence cases are on the rise. BRAC is seeing an increase in incidents of rape, suicide, child marriage, and domestic violence.

“When millions of people quickly fall back into poverty, it can result in a rapid increase in human rights abuses,” said Jenefa. “This is damaging to any society.” Indeed, one BRAC program received nearly 700 reports of violence across three weeks in late March and early April, a number of which were directly linked to the economic effects of COVID-19.

 

 

Broken promises from the global fashion industry

As governments around the world have imposed lockdowns, several major brands and retailers sent letters to Bangladeshi manufacturers calling for the immediate cancellation of orders, totaling more than $3 billion worth of goods. After an outcry from activists, some brands have promised to pay for their orders, while others have pledged to defer payments to an undefined time in the future or asked factory owners for discounts.

Bangladeshi manufacturers are also responsible for $1.96 billion worth of fabrics that go into manufacturing clothes. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimates that Bangladesh will lose nearly $6 billion this fiscal year as a result of order cancellations.

As we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,134 garment workers lost their lives and more than 2,500 were severely injured, the fashion industry’s promise to be more collaborative and accountable is paramount.

This crisis demands responsible supply chains that support the millions of workers who are the backbone of the fashion industry and a commitment to inclusive partnerships that advance the dignity, safety, and opportunity of garment sector employees, especially women.

 

 

Supporting garment workers during COVID-19

It has always been BRAC’s ethos to support the most vulnerable communities. Its global response to COVID-19 has reached more than 60 million people worldwide with public health awareness activities across 11 countries.

In Bangladesh, nearly 200,000 families have received cash support of about $18, which will provide emergency relief for two weeks. BRAC has also distributed more than a million hygiene products and spread public health information about COVID-19 to 24.5 million people.

Many of these efforts have targeted geographic areas with high concentrations of apparel factories, such as Gazipur, Savar, and Tongi. According to BRAC University’s Mapped in Bangladesh, an online tool to map exporting garment factories, there are nearly 2,500 factories in Gazipur and Savar, collectively employing 3.5 million workers. Since 2017, BRAC has operated one-stop service centers for garment workers in these neighbourhoods, providing more than 125,000 people with healthcare, skills training and job placement, legal aid, microfinance, health insurance, and more.

To minimize direct contact and overcome barriers to financial inclusion, BRAC is partnering with the mobile money provider bKash to expedite new account registration and is looking to work with factory owners to digitize payments to garment workers.

BRAC has also set up hand washing stations outside of its service centers and at entrances to slum communities where garment workers live and continues to offer health, legal aid, and mental health counselling to community members through call centers.

In Bangladesh, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases is increasing at an alarming rate. Though the majority of cases remain in Dhaka, a lack of testing capacity makes it difficult to understand the full picture. As the country rapidly approaches 5,000 reported cases, BRAC is committed to standing with communities affected by COVID-19.

 

Hope for a renewed garment industry

In the short-term, BRAC will continue to provide immediate relief for garment workers affected by the crisis. However, the long-term implications for the global fashion industry require attention and action.

The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the significant power imbalances between industry stakeholders across the supply chain. BRAC is eager to lead broader conversations on rebuilding a responsible industry.

Since Rana Plaza, key stakeholders in Bangladesh have been working tirelessly to ensure that the “Made in Bangladesh” brand represents a new way of manufacturing ready-made garments, where safe, decent work opportunities are the norm.

BRAC teams are exploring approaches that support vulnerable workers who have been left behind, from reskilling programmes to interventions that combat projected spikes in trafficking.

Our late founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, said, “BRAC has always believed that change is human-made. At the heart of everything we do is the conviction that everyone can be actors in history.”

Even as the impacts of COVID-19 destabilize the sector, can we build a renewed industry that distributes value beyond shareholders and supports the economic and social rights of workers?

The fashion industry and garment sector must unite during these challenging times so that the suffering experienced after Rana Plaza is never felt again.

*Name changed to preserve anonymity.

 

Linda Patentas is Program Manager for Cities, Supply Chains and Migration at BRAC USA. Support communities where garment sector workers live by donating to BRAC’s emergency relief efforts for COVID-19.

West African authors elevate girls’ voices through storytelling

A new set of books inspired by real stories from girls in West Africa aims to help girls navigate the unique challenges they face. Hear from the authors who brought their stories to life.

BY SARAH ALLEN

 

This summer, BRAC published a new collection of life skills books designed for girl participants in its Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents (ELA) program in West Africa. The program provides safe spaces in girls’ communities where they can come together to sing, dance, play games, and socialize. The ELA clubs are led by peer mentors, who facilitate training on life skills, sexual and reproductive health, financial literacy, and livelihood opportunities.

The new life skills books complement the ELA curriculum, navigating topics like forced marriage, early pregnancy, domestic violence, and other key issues that many girls in the program face. We interviewed two Sierra Leonean authors who helped write the books, Mohamed Sheriff and Allieu Kamara, to learn more about the writing process and how their own experiences growing up in the region informed their writing. Their responses have been edited for clarity and length.

 

How has your country or community impacted your writing?

Allieu: I became interested in writing following the end of the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, when I became a journalist. We undertook many research and investigative projects. One of the glaring challenges after the war was that the education system was shattered, which in turn brought about a rapid decline of literary interest. When the Canadian Organization for Development through Education partnered with PEN Sierra Leone to undertake a project called Reading Sierra Leone, it gave me greater opportunity to continue writing about local issues I observed.

 

What events or other factors in your life have influenced you most as a writer?

Mohamed: My mother, who was a brilliant folk storyteller, influenced me the most. Her storytelling sessions were among my most enjoyable childhood experiences, and through them, I realized the immense power of stories to delight through both spoken and written word. I can say she was my greatest inspiration as a writer and, more specifically, the reason why I write and publish children’s books.

The suspense thrillers I read as a teenager also influenced me markedly as a writer. The gripping suspense, the twists and turns, and the seamless writing style that kept me turning the pages were key factors that enhanced my love for both reading and the art of telling stories.

Another factor that greatly influenced me as a writer was the 11-year civil war in my country, which caused a lot of death and destruction. There was so much to tell and so much to write about that one simply couldn’t not write.

 

What was your favorite book as a teenager or young adult? Why?

Mohamed: I read and enjoyed so many books that I can’t single out one as my favorite. I loved the folk stories from West Africa and Africa as a whole, but I greatly enjoyed books from other places – like the Arabian Night TalesAlice in WonderlandCinderellaJack and the Beanstalk, and stories from Greek Mythology.

Allieu: ‘So Long A Letter’ by Senegalese author Mariama Bâ was my favourite book growing up. It deals with problems that many African women face.

 

The new life skills books cover challenging topics like child marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence. How did you navigate these important but difficult topics as an author? 

Mohamed: It was a bit of a challenge – sometimes you want to tell the story graphically, directly, bluntly; at other times, you want to be subtle, less direct, euphemistic, ironic. Even reviewers and editors are not always in agreement about which approach is best, so I follow my instinct.

There are no hard-and-fast formulas or one-size-fits-all approaches. Storytelling is a dynamic business, each story has its own feel, temper, and peculiarities. These determine how you navigate each story.

Allieu: During the research and brainstorming sessions that led to the publication of the life skills books, the project consultant ran a workshop with the authors on ways to deal with these types of sensitive issues in our writing. The main lesson from that workshop was that the dynamics of each story should guide the author about how to address an issue.

 

What kind of research did you do before writing these books?

Mohamed: Before writing the books, we visited communities where BRAC runs its ELA clubs to talk to their participants, adolescent girls, many of whom have dropped out of school or experienced abuse or another violation of their human rights. They shared their experiences with us as well as their hopes, aspirations, and views about life in general.

Allieu: In another workshop before writing the books, we were trained on how to navigate interviews with stakeholders and conducted focus group discussions with girls in the program, facilitators, and community members. It was interesting listening to the girls, as each person we talked to had different stories about similar challenges.

 

Which of the issues covered in the books are most important to you or near to your heart? Why?

Mohamed: All the issues dealt with in the books are near to my heart because they are interrelated, in the sense that they are all human rights abuses related to gender. These include early and forced marriage, lack of access to education, sexual abuse, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, lack of decision-making power in the home, and more. These are issues I have addressed through my writing for a long time.

Allieu: Personally, all the issues in the BRAC life skills books are important, because they all directly deal with the problems girls are facing in our country. The content of the books actually addressed the topics that came up in our research and provided responses to those problems. I believe if girls read these books, they can be in a better position to tackle the challenges they face.

Why were you interested in working on a project with BRAC?

Mohamed: The project is specifically targeting a readership that few if any people think about – adolescent girls who have dropped out of school. Many of the books that they may have the ability to read and comprehend are children’s books with content that may not match their experiences. Books that may interest them are written with more difficult vocabulary and a style that is beyond their current ability to digest. The BRAC life skills book project gave us the opportunity to produce books that provided interesting content targeted to the reading comprehension level of these girls.

 

What impact do you hope the life skills books will have? What do you hope readers of these books will learn or gain?

Mohamed: If a constructive reading program is organized for adolescent girls that incorporates these books, the girls could benefit in a number of significant ways. They would be exposed to positive new approaches to dealing with the gender-related human rights challenges they encounter regularly.

There are two key lessons that I want to emphasize: First, suffering in silence will not resolve their challenges, therefore, girls must speak out. Secondly, adolescent girls should never give up on their dreams and goals in life. If they persevere, they will succeed.

Perhaps more importantly, after reading all 11 books, I hope they will have adopted the habit of reading for pleasure and enlightenment. Since many of these girls may never return to formal education, adopting the habit of reading for pleasure could be one of the most valuable life skills tools they can take away from the entire BRAC program. A lifelong habit of reading is an effective means of informal self-education that could increase their communication and comprehension skills and broaden their horizons.

Allieu: Most if not all of the characters in the life skills books who experience gender-based issues reflect the experiences of girls we spoke to in BRAC’s clubs. I hope that they will believe that all is not lost, and that the stories they read will inspire them to adapt to and navigate these challenges.

 

About the authors

Mohamed Sheriff

Born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Mohamed Sheriff is an author, writing coach, publisher, producer, and director. He writes children’s books, short stories, novellas, and dramas for radio, television, and stage, and also produces and directs documentary videos, short films, and radio, television, and stage productions.

Mohamed’s books include Maryama Must GoTibujang Must Not ComeShasha Shooshoo and the Rat, and Secret Fear. He has contributed to plays including Not You Too and Free Juice For All. Mohamed has won several local and international awards for his writings, including three BBC awards for Just Me and Mama (1999), Spots of a Leopard (2006) and A Voice in Hell (1999) as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Prize for Excellence in Literature for Secret Fear (1999). He contributed to the following life skills books: Let Me Be, You Think You Know, Broken Promise, Change of Plan, For Her Sake, and To Do and To Dare.

Allieu S. Kamara

Allieu Kamara is an author who specializes in writing children’s books. He studied at Fourah Bay College at the University of Sierra Leone and brings a background in journalism. He enthusiastically promotes literature, reading, and creative writing for children in schools and communities across Sierra Leone.

Allieu’s works include, Is it Magic?The Waterside Stone, and Thief Thief! He contributed to the following life skills books: You Think You Know, Dreaming Again, and Change of Plan.

 

Sarah Allen is Communications Officer at BRAC USA. 

Opinion: Answering Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh with skills development, artisan training

Innovation is often associated with the newest technology or the latest app. Often, however, it can be seen in the fresh application of a tried-and-true strategy in a new context.

Women at an artisan training center in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

By Sadiaa Haque and Samira Syed

 

This piece was originally published here in NextBillion. It has been reposted below.

Innovation is often associated with the newest technology or the latest app. Often, however, it can be seen in the fresh application of a tried-and-true strategy in a new context. In Cox’s Bazar, a small town on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh, extreme poverty, a fraught socio-cultural landscape and the Rohingya refugee humanitarian crisis have exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and placed an unprecedented burden on women in the host communities. BRAC is working to help them bounce back through artisanal skills training and new employment opportunities.

Cox’s Bazar is one of Bangladesh’s poorest and most vulnerable areas, with 17 percent of people living below the extreme poverty line, compared to the national average of 12.9 percent. The more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh has placed an unprecedented burden on Bangladeshis living in poverty in the surrounding host communities, particularly within Ukhiya and Teknaf, where most refugees have settled. Host communities cite livelihoods and access to employment as their most pressing need, with 51 percent of locals reporting that neither they nor someone in their immediate family are able to make a living in the local economy.

A recent BBC issue of What Matters? detailed concerns among the host community in Cox’s Bazar that Rohingya are offering their services at a fraction of what it would cost to employ a local Bangladeshi. The average wage for day labor has decreased by 55 percent, particularly in agriculture, salt fields and earthen work, according to a BRAC report on the impact of Rohingya refugees on host communities.

Meanwhile, the price of almost all food items has increased up to 120 percent, according to rapid assessments conducted by BRAC. With a fall in daily labor wages and a rise in the prices of basic staples, people living in poverty are resorting to desperate measures to cope, including the selling of small assets and livestock, taking on increased debt and risky migration.

The burden has been greatest for women.

Conservative cultural norms complicate the social landscape – one where women are often married by their family at a young age, unable to complete schooling, denied resources, and forced to live through intimate partner violence and polygamy.

It is not any easier for women in the refugee camps. Focus group discussions by the United Nations Population Fund have revealed similar issues, as well as new ones, such as husbands marrying other women to access more rations. It is imperative to invest in women, in both camps and host communities, by supporting livelihoods that are sustainable and empowering, to prevent further adoption of negative coping strategies.

In extending its flagship enterprise to host communities in Cox’s Bazar, BRAC is investing in exactly that. Created by BRAC in the 1970s to develop livelihoods for rural women, Aarong harnesses the skills of 65,000 women artisans to market handmade products at its 21 outlets across Bangladesh. Now the country’s largest lifestyle retail brand, Aarong forecasts sales and production to ensure that its artisans receive regular orders and have a consistent source of income throughout the year.

Aarong operates across Bangladesh in two ways. The first is through the Ayesha Abed Foundation (AAF), which uses a hub-and-spoke model with a main production center linked to many small sub-centers. AAF’s artisans have access to BRAC’s holistic development interventions, such as microfinance, maternal healthcare, hygiene awareness, subsidized latrines, human rights awareness and legal aid, daycare facilities and more. Aarong also works with over 800 independent producers, independent master-craftspeople and micro-entrepreneurs, who take direct orders from Aarong and are audited on 39 social compliance metrics.

This year, Aarong opened a production center in Ukhiya, near the refugee camps and settlements. It is the first of its kind in the region. With support from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, women receive on-the-job training from experienced trainers for six months and leave the program equipped with skills in machine-sewing, hand embroidery, block printing and screen printing. They are given a monthly stipend to support them throughout the training period.

Program participants are carefully selected to ensure that only women living in the most vulnerable situations are included. Most of the participants were forced into early marriage, are widowed, or abandoned by their husbands. Many never completed school beyond the fifth grade. Others had no previous source of income and those that did, relied on agriculture on a very small scale. A few worked in garments factories in Chittagong, more than five hours from Ukhiya.

Today, the project includes one main center and five sub-centers operating in the host communities, as well as six training centers in the camps. In total, almost 400 women are now being trained, with a goal of 600 by the end of the year.

The project seeks to reduce women’s unpaid care work, advance women’s agency, transform discriminatory gender norms and practices, encourage higher incomes, and promote better access to and control over resources. Artisans will receive holistic development support from BRAC, including financial linkages, health insurance, regular health check-ups and retirement benefits.

Breaking down employment barriers for women, particularly those living in vulnerable settings, is critical to driving future economic prosperity. Enterprises need to ensure progressive work environments that encourage women, and women need to be equipped with the skills to get those jobs and keep them. On World Refugee Day, we stand with refugees and those affected by refugee crises by declaring our commitment to sustainable, long-term support that enables everyone to realize their potential.

 

Sadia Haque is Deputy Manager, Reporting and Documentation, Emergency Preparedness and Response at BRAC International.

Samira Syad is Senior Manager, Executive Director’s Office at BRAC International.

“My children are my greatest joy”

Scholastica, a mother and Graduation participant in Kitui, Kenya, forges a better life for her family.

Scholastica and her family
By Sarah Allen

 

There was a time when Scholastica used to plead with her neighbors for a little salt to add to her family’s meals.

But, with ten children – four biological and six adopted from her community – the requests started to add up, and she felt ashamed. Eventually, she stopped asking.

But, like all mothers, Scholastica was determined to provide for her children.

“My children are my top priority,” she told us. “They are my greatest joy.”

Today, Scholastica participates in an Ultra-Poor Graduation pilot program in Kitui, Kenya, run by CARE International with technical support from BRAC.

Graduation programs use a holistic approach to poverty alleviation that targets the most disadvantaged subset of the extreme poor, who live on less than $1.90 per day. Through a comprehensive, time-bound, and sequenced set of interventions, women like Scholastica gain the skills and self-confidence to “graduate” from ultra-poverty into sustainable livelihoods.

Scholastica eats with her children

The Graduation approach creates the opportunity for women like Scholastica to develop their financial literacy, start budgeting and grow their savings, improve their family’s nutrition and health, learn how to start and sustain a business, and much more.

Dristy Shrestha, a member of the Graduation team at BRAC USA, frequently travels to help governments and nonprofits design and run their own Graduation-style programs. Dristy first met Scholastica at the Gai market in Kitui, Kenya, where Scholastica runs a small grocery business.

“When I first met Scholastica, six months into her Graduation program, she was very shy and soft spoken, but she wore a big smile,” Dristy said. “When the field staff introduced us, they mentioned she was excelling in the program.”

After joining the program, Scholastica leveraged her aptitude for entrepreneurship and started a vegetable stand. She had noticed a lack of vegetable vendors in the area and, seeing a business opportunity, she chose to start a small grocery shop.

“I asked Scholastica if she had felt any changes in her life,” said Dristy.

“She told me that, while she had endured many hardships, what made her most sad was the feeling of helplessness at being unable to provide for her children. Before joining the Graduation program, her family could not afford to consistently eat one meal a day.

When we spoke, she was proud to be earning enough to feed her children well and send them to school.

Nearly a year into the two-year program, things have already improved for Scholastica.

With an expanding grocery business and a growing selection of livestock, Scholastica is now able to ensure that none of her children go to bed hungry. She is also putting away savings through her Village Savings and Loan Association, and has joined a group that conducts community service projects around town.

She says her children motivated her success.

As her grocery business begins to expand to more local markets, Scholastica and her children are increasingly better integrated in her community.

“It has been incredibly inspiring to see the changes in Scholastica — in her energy, in her self-confidence, and in the power in her voice,” said Dristy.

Today, she is making a living for herself, providing for her family, and lifting up her community.

Reflecting on her journey, Scholastica grinned and told us, “Now people ask me for salt.”

Scholastica is a member of the PROFIT Financial Graduation Program, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Kenya.

 

Sarah Allen is Communications Officer at BRAC USA.

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