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‘Amar shonar Bangla, ami tomae bhalobashi.’ (‘My golden Bengal, I love you’). So begins the national anthem of Bangladesh, written by famous author, poet and composer Rabindranath Tagore.
Although the locals in Dhaka aren’t wandering the streets reciting the famous anthem - well at least not the ones I’ve met - there’s a sense of optimism that the country is at last moving in the right direction in its decades old struggle against poverty.
It is against this backdrop that BRAC, a Bangladesh based NGO, has been operating in Bangladesh, and more recently worldwide, with its innovative and unique holistic approach to poverty alleviation.
Since its creation in 1972, BRAC has grown to become one of the largest NGOs in the world, employing more than 120,000 people, the majority of whom are women. BRAC’s poverty alleviation activities encompass a range of core programmes in economic and social development, education, human rights and legal services, health and the environment. In Bangladesh alone, BRAC now works in more than 69,000 villages covering over an estimated 110 million poor people in fields such as income generation, healthcare, population control and primary education for children.
So back to how I find myself in Dhaka. I recently applied to participate in a volunteer programme in Bangladesh called Porishôd, which means the act of giving back in Bengali, organised by BRAC UK, working in partnership with BRAC Bangladesh, VSO UK and the UK Department for International Development. The programme is aimed at providing committed British Bangladeshi professionals with an opportunity to offer their skills to the development of Bangladesh through structured placements in-country and a platform for raising awareness about development issues upon their return.
I was born in Bangladesh and raised in the UK (although I currently live in Switzerland) and am a practising lawyer, so this was the perfect opportunity for me to leave behind the creature comforts of the West and to sample life and work in Dhaka, the bustling capital of Bangladesh.
So it’s the New Year and I find myself in BRAC’s head office in Mohakhali, Dhaka where I am spending three weeks volunteering as a legal advisor for BRAC International, a division of BRAC that oversees BRAC’s international poverty alleviation programmes in low income countries in Asia and Africa, run under the supervision and mentoring of development experts from BRAC Bangladesh.
My role has been primarily to assist BRAC International’s director of finance and legal consultant on a wide range of legal issues faced by BRAC International in connection with its NGO and microfinance activities. This has included advising BRAC International on the corporate structuring of its international operations, providing advice on its microfinance activities and drawing up a compliance policy.
Although a three-week placement is nowhere near enough time given the scale of the projects BRAC is involved in, I hope my contributions to the work carried out by BRAC’s dedicated staff will go at least a little way to helping BRAC achieve its vision of “a just, enlightened, healthy and democratic world free from hunger, poverty, environmental degradation and all forms of exploitation”.
Long may the good work continue.
Ronu Miah is a senior legal advisor at T.E.A.M. Marketing AG and is based in Lucerne, Switzerland.