What was shiree?
EEP/shiree was a Challenge Fund supported by UKaid from the Department for International Development (DFID) in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to lift 1 million people out of extreme poverty by 2015. Ecorys UK and PMTC Bangladesh Ltd managed the fund in consultation with EEP/shiree consortium partners including the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) at Bath University, the British Council and Unnayan Shamannay. EEP/shiree was one in DFID’s portfolio of projects designed to reduce extreme poverty and vulnerability in Bangladesh.

The EEP/shiree Challenge Fund was worth £83 million British Pounds  and was disbursed over a period of 8 years (2008-2016). It is also referred to as shiree (the Bangla word for steps and an acronym for “Stimulating Household Improvements Resulting in Economic Empowerment”) reflecting the aim of providing households ways out of extreme poverty.

What did shiree do?
EEP/shiree provided resources to national and international NGOs working in Bangladesh through two main funds: the Scale Fund and the Innovation Fund. The former provided NGOs opportunities to increase the outreach of existing programmes and the latter to design innovative approaches to reducing extreme poverty in urban and rural areas in Bangladesh.

The EEP/shiree Challenge Fund worked with NGOs which both had good ideas and demonstrated the skills and abilities needed to implement these ideas. In addition, we networked with other relevant actors within Bangladesh to develop learning platforms on extreme poverty.

Who are the extreme poor?
The Bangladesh Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) defines the extreme poor as those households for whom total expenditure falls at or below the lower poverty line.  What this means is that the extreme poor are unable to meet even their basic dietary requirements. Most SHIREE households fell within the poorest 5% of Bangladeshi population.

Often, these households suffer from multiple deprivations and have limited or no assets (such as land, livestock or shelter), secure employment opportunities, social or political capital, ability to withstand or recover from shocks, access to health, education and other services.

What is a Challenge Fund?
While the concept of a Challenge Fund is relatively new to Bangladesh, there are several being operated within the broader development sector. The shiree Challenge Fund offered competitive funding to NGOs, with an Independent Assessment Panel selecting the most appropriate projects designed by the NGOs themselves. Those NGOs able to show that they had the best ideas, skills mechanisms and proven track records in lifting (and keeping) households out of poverty were provided grants to implement their ideas. For other civil society sector challenge funds, see the DFID website.

What was the Innovation Fund?
SHIREE provided resources to NGOs via two funds. The Scale Fund supported larger projects which applied proven methods to reducing poverty and the Innovation Fund supported smaller projects using innovative approaches.

The Innovation Fund considered novel, undocumented and un-tested approaches which addressed the socioeconomic needs of the extreme poor. This included innovative ideas, processes, systems and technologies which were likely to generate assets, improve incomes, decrease dependency and vulnerability, increase food security and provide sustainable pathways out of poverty.

An example of a technological innovation includes the cultivation of a new variety of seed.  A ‘process’ innovation could be the improvement in marketing channels which transfer a product or system innovation which may serve to enhance women’s participation in decision making.

What types of initiatives were supported by the Innovation Fund?
The Innovation Fund supported initiatives which i) promoted the sustainable economic empowerment of the extreme poor; ii) enhanced sustainable livelihood options for the extreme poor including female-headed households; iii) worked with adivasis and people located in geographically remote or environmentally vulnerable areas; iv) applied action research findings to inform their project; v) increased resilience and adaptability to climate change; vi) developed pathways out of poverty that were clearly attributable to the project and replicable on a larger scale.

What was the purpose of the Innovation Fund?
The Innovation Fund contributed to achieving shiree’s goal of lifting 1 million people in rural and urban areas out of extreme poverty and achieving sustainable livelihoods by 2015. This fund was designed to finance smaller scale projects that developed creative, innovative and largely untested approaches to lifting people out of extreme poverty.

Was there a micro-finance component to shiree?
Many NGOs in Bangladesh apply a micro-finance component and are largely self-financing. There has been much debate to as whether micro-finance helps the poorest and DFID is supporting efforts which try to make this approach more appropriate for this group (such as via PKSF and BRAC.) To avoid duplication with other efforts, as well as to try and assist the most excluded and marginalised, shiree applied non-micro-finance approaches to poverty alleviation.