Date: Aug 9, 2011
Venue: Asia Pacific Blossom Hotel, 27, Park Road, Baridhara, Dhaka
High level development officials met to discuss what is needed to enable the private sector to do more to help Bangladesh achieve Millennium Development Goal 1 – to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.
“Co-profiting for development means engaging with private sector companies’ core businesses to help the poor,” suggested Asif Uddin Ahmed, Programme Director for Private Sector Development, CARE Bangladesh. “This creates win-win situations. Rather than asking companies for charity, we promote inclusive supply chains. For example, CARE facilitated a link through which 320 extremely poor women in the North are producing baskets and rugs for IKEA, making 3000-4000 bdt/ month.”
CARE was one of ten NGOs to participate in a ‘Private Sector Engagement for Poverty Alleviation’ strategy discussion organised by shiree today. The Economic Empowerment of the Poorest (EEP) programme, more familiarly known by its approach, shiree, the Bangla word for steps (Stimulating Household Improvements Resulting in Economic Empowerment), is a partnership between the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Government of Bangladesh. shiree aims to enable one million people to climb out of extreme poverty by 2015.
Extreme poverty (people earning less than 27 BDT per day) is suffered by 17.5% of our citizens, approximately 25.1 million people (HIES 2010). Extreme poor households exhibit a high degree of chronic and severe deprivation. In most cases, their low income is linked to climatic vulnerability, as well as a lack of employment and secure shelter, low literacy, inaccessibility to basic services and low community involvement. The elderly, the disabled, female-headed households and minority groups are disproportionately high among the extreme poor. Enabling this group of people to engage with the private sector will require some more innovative thinking and policy support.
The experience of a shiree partner NGO, Gono Unnayan Kendro, was shared as an example of how the private sector was mobilised to employ semi-skilled workers from climate change refugees in the Gaibandha district of Bangladesh, referring to the recent link up with footwear giant, Apex Adelchi Limited, that led to a customized training module run by the NGO and 800 jobs at Apex for the extreme poor. This shows the potential for public-private partnerships to train people in rural, economically depressed areas so they can attain the necessary skills to enter the labour force.
Sutapa Paul, Programme Manager, shiree said, “Disabled people have the potential to work hard and contribute to the economy, but they need some infrastructural support to do so. The government needs to create the right fiscal incentives to encourage the private sector to remain inclusive of these people.” She suggested the Finance Ministry and National Board of Revenue create a committee with representatives from different trade associations/ NGOs to explore tax based incentives such as payroll tax rate deductions to encourage employment of the extreme poor.
Shazia Omar, shiree, Head of Advocacy, underscored the need to promote business enabling policy reforms that create jobs which are environmentally friendly and pro-poor. She also spoke about promoting CSR engagements through better linkages. She mentioned that shiree hopes to host a CSR Fair for interested private sector companies soon.
Dr. Munir, Director, Save the Children, said, “We need to develop a map of potential companies which may engage with the extreme poor. Which markets are actually feasible and viable? This could help us tap into opportunities.”
Colin Risner, CEO, shiree, said, “According to latest data, the private sector is expanding fast and feeding overall economic growth, but we need to ensure that this growth is inclusive, leading to sustained benefit for all sections of society, especially the extreme poor. There are many possible options for achieving this objective. A level of creativity and innovation is needed. Ideas include shared ownership schemes, tax incentives, improving market access and training to remove barriers to entry into the labour force. “
NGOs CARE, NETZ, Dustho Sastho Kendro, Uttaran, Save the Children, CARITAS, Oxfam, Concern, Plan Bangladesh and Institute of Development Enterprise participated in the workshop.