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DOLE Graduation Program
Many developing countries suffered the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with the Philippines being one of them. The past few years left about 19.99 million Filipinos below the poverty line recorded in 2021. Not only did the pandemic affect families but projections also stated that the Philippines’ GDP would decrease by about 11.5% during the timeline of the pandemic. The DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) Graduation Program in the Philippines, whose purpose is to lead participants into self-sustainability and out of poverty has taken place and proved to be positive even among those latest struggles.

Needed Aide For the Philippines

The Philippines had initiatives and organizations set up even before the pandemic that was working on poverty reduction. UNICEF is one organization with several efforts already in place in the Philippines. For example, it teamed up with CERF (United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund) and Plan International to push the WASH initiative which helps with hygiene and healthier living conditions.

However, even with programs like that, there was still a need for assistance in other ways. Among hygiene health, resources and training for the Filipinos to learn how to manage their livelihoods themselves seemed like the next step.

DOLE Graduation Program

Fortunately, a pilot program called the Graduation program that BRAC started in 2002, was yielding positive results. More than 2 million households had graduated from the program and were out of extreme poverty as a result.

The purpose of the program is to give support and aid through various means like cash transfers. The program also helps find health resources and provides training or mentorship for financial management and long-term resiliency skills. Not just economically but also socially; the program has coached for the participants to learn how to navigate and gain resources through city links or their government.

This type of program is what the people of the Negros Occidental municipalities could benefit from. So, the DOLE had been partnering with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and BRAC UPGI (Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative) to instill this working program in their community. The goal was to help their people become self-stainable and work their way out of poverty like the others in the initial pilot program.

Graduation Initiative in the Philippines

The DOLE Graduation Program for the Philippines began in 2018, reaching about 1,800 participants. The fundamental goal was to put these beneficiaries on a path toward sustainability and have long-term effects even after it would end. According to the BRAC’s country brief, the program ended in September 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic had made many wonders if the program’s desired effects were able to sustain throughout and after it.

Adaptability

For the DOLE graduation pilot to survive during the epidemic they had to adapt. Coaching and peer meetings had to become remote or change in frequency or size. The program included many other measures to ensure safety for all those involved including digital monitoring, and strong communication between workers/participants. Workers also used PPE and participated in training on safety protocols like reporting symptoms and rescheduling meetings if needed or conducting them from a distance.

Through the hygiene training that was already being implemented, the participants were able to quickly handle the COVID-19 pandemic more effectively. There were even cases where participants with food assistance from the initiative were able to feed themselves and other neighbors too during the pandemic.

Results

The results of the DOLE Graduation pilot program and its adaptability have been positive for the participants. In the ADB assessment of the Graduation program households receiving the interventions along with government help, fared better during the COVID-19 pandemic than regular households. Other results from the assessment showed specific numbers, “The pilot project’s regular monitoring system found that, on average, 71% of households met each of the nine criteria under the four pillars of graduation—social protection, financial inclusion, livelihoods promotion and social empowerment.”

BRAC had also started its Rapid Diagnostic Assessment to monitor the participants even during the quarantine and mark down assistance or data. Through this, the pilot participants used the training and resources they received to find government assistance when necessary like the 96% who were able to go and find cash assistance from the government or two-thirds (67.15%) of participants able to keep up earnings and their occupation/livelihoods compared to a smaller amount in April (48.72%), according to BRAC’s bulletin.

The financial literacy training given displayed pilot participants withstanding the financial hardships during the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of the participants had savings to even use at this time compared to the 29% that originally reported in the beginning, according to the bulletin.

The Future

The Philippines DOLE Graduation pilot program has shown long-term impact and resilience during the COVID-pandemic for the Negro Occidental municipalities. This in turn has made the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), adopt the learnings of the pilot and instill the full Graduation program in other provinces of the Philippines, according to the country’s report. BRAC also has a worldwide goal to reach around 4.6 million more households by 2026.

– Marynette Holmes
Photo: Flickr


In the past decade, microfinance has soared as a strategy to alleviate poverty. BRAC International, one of the world’s largest nongovernmental organizations, supports microfinancing in seven countries in Africa and Asia. Importantly, BRAC’s microfinance program supports people to engage in financial activity to overcome poverty.

Microfinancing

Microfinance is a financial practice that lends small sums to people with few means to support their small businesses. The goal is for small businesses to earn a profit and then pay back the loan. The microfinance institution then loans the capital out again. Through this cycle, people are able to rise out of poverty. Microfinancing frames poverty as the deprivation of the ability to participate in economic and political processes. By that logic, if people can obtain microloans, these individuals will engage in financial activity and overcome poverty.

Studies have only found limited evidence of the efficacy of microfinancing at eradicating poverty. However, the practice is far from a failure. Specifically, the capital lent to the impoverished provides stability in their lives, easing the day-to-day anxiety about monetary shortages. In addition, studies have found that people who take out microloans are motivated to invest more time into their businesses. Though not miraculously transformative, microfinancing has achieved overall positive results in reducing poverty.

BRAC Programs

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed founded BRAC in 1972 to help refugees from the Bangladesh Liberation War. Since then, BRAC has created eight programs to empower people suffering from poverty, social injustice, illiteracy and disease. Microfinance is one of the eight programs of the organization. BRAC believes that the financial inclusion of impoverished people and communities is an essential step toward ending poverty.

More than 660,000 people benefit from BRAC’s microfinance program, which operates in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Along with loans, BRAC also provides financial literacy training to the borrowers. This teaches borrowers to be responsible with money and make better financial decisions. In addition to microfinance services, the organization also provides communities with programs like agriculture classes, youth education and health care. When paired with these programs, microfinance has an even greater impact on communities.

BRAC’s Focus on Women

More than 96% of BRAC’s borrowers are women. One female entrepreneur, Kadiatu Conteh from Sierra Leone, exemplifies how BRAC impacts its beneficiaries. Conteh’s sister introduced her to BRAC. At the time, Conteh’s family was struggling to make ends meet and she was trying to earn money by selling drinks with only a cooler. Conteh took out a loan and invested the money in more beverages for her business. Slowly, she increased her profits. After four years with BRAC, she accumulated enough funds to invest in her own store where she now sells household items.

Selina Karoli Fissoo also benefited from BRAC’s microfinance program. With other women in the city of Arusha, Tanzania, Fissoo formed a microfinance group to receive loans and financial literacy training from BRAC. She invested her first loan into her small grocery business, and as her profits increased, she applied for larger loans. After more than 10 years of working with BRAC, Fissoo has a large retail store and even dabbles in poultry farming.

The Benefits of Microfinance to Alleviate Poverty

Conteh and Fissoo are just two of hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs who have prospered from the help of BRAC’s microfinance programs. Microloans provide stability in the lives of the impoverished and can motivate people to invest more time into their businesses. Especially when coupled with other programs, microfinance is an effective method for alleviating poverty.

– Alison Ding
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Entrepreneurs in Liberia
Women who live in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from poverty. These women are unable to achieve their full potential due to inequalities. Because of this and a lack of resources, women have no other choice but to live in poverty. Structural poverty affects women in sub-Saharan Africa. This poverty stems from the economic, social and political background of the country. In 2018, Liberia ranked 155th out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. Despite these challenges, many women are turning into entrepreneurs in Liberia through the help of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

The Situation

In rural areas of Liberia, women make up 60% of the population and stand as the backbones of the community. Despite continuous contributions to their families and the economy, women’s hard work rarely benefits them. Their work continuously goes unnoticed and bears no reward in the areas they live in. Agriculture and forestry are the foundations of Liberia’s economy. Women make up more than half of the agricultural workers. With no time for education, they end up vulnerable to the possibility of poverty. Household chores, caretaking and tasks such as fetching water, fuel and fodder take up the time of women.

How BRAC Helps Women Become Entrepreneurs in Liberia

With a mission to help, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed founded a nonprofit organization, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), in 1972 to empower people in poverty. Its mission is to empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. This humanitarian movement has had an impact on Liberian women. About 750 women in Liberia received training to help them overcome poverty as part of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program.

With a focus on women, the approach successfully aided 750 Liberian women in becoming microentrepreneurs. The graduation approach of the program provides “consumption support” at the beginning of the program until students can afford food, a safe place to store their savings, training according to their aspirations and asset transfer. Lastly, the students go through technical and life skills training.

Improvement is Possible

As of 2021, 90% of the Liberian households participating in the BRAC program have multiple sources of income, savings have increased by $9.14, average loan size jumped from $17.10 to $57.14 and the average nutritious meal consumed has grown as well. The improvements are all results of the power of women and the well-deserved push the program gave them. The once poverty-stricken women that lived on less than $1 a day are now entrepreneurs in Liberia with their own businesses. Other women run farms and breed livestock for a living. All it took was a helping hand.

The Importance of BRAC in Liberia

The purpose of BRAC programs is to reduce poverty — these initiatives serve as stepping stones for the betterment of Liberia. The effect of BRAC programs spans 12 Liberian counties and serves several other countries around the world.

BRAC programs alone have ensured that 23.9% of participants have access to adequate amounts of food and increased monthly income by 36.8% after two years. Aside from improving food security, BRAC also provides employment opportunities. Out of 494 BRAC staff members, 94% of them are Liberians and 30% of the management team are women. Organizations like BRAC are useful in providing education, jobs, empowerment and livelihoods to the community. Although BRAC Liberia only began in 2008, it is continuing its mission to reduce poverty in Liberia.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

The Four Pillars of the Graduation Approach to Poverty Reduction
After years of successful poverty reduction, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause 150 million people to return to severe poverty. Poverty is “a cyclical pattern where the multidimensional causes of extreme poverty prevent people from acquiring the resources to escape it.” However, the graduation approach to poverty reduction has proved successful in overcoming the multifaceted obstacles of extreme poverty.

What Is the Graduation Approach?

In 2002, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) established the graduation approach to poverty reduction. The graduation approach is a way of attacking extreme poverty from multiple angles. A “set of interventions designed to address the” complexity of the issue are implemented to provide the “’big push’ people need to escape the poverty trap long term.” Since 2018, the graduation approach has reached almost 14 million people in 50 different countries. And, it is being used by more than 100 organizations. 

BRAC pioneered the approach in Bangladesh in 2002. There, it had a 95% graduation from poverty success rate. Its success is attributed “to a combination of consumption support and asset/cash transfers, followed by up to two years of training” and mentoring. The program can last anywhere from 18-36 months per household with an average cost of only $1,400.

The Four Pillars of the Graduation Approach

Over time, the graduation approach to poverty reduction has been broken down into four main pillars.

  1. Social Protection – Social protection means meeting the basic needs of participants before pushing ahead with the program. This includes providing cash stipends, consumption support and access to health care.
  2. Income Generation –  At this point in the program, households are provided with productive asset transfers that help them maintain sustainable incomes. This could be in the form of equipment, seeds or livestock. The participants are also given vocational and farm-based training in order to improve their technical skills. 
  3. Financial Support – This pillar focuses on providing training to participants on how to manage their incoming and outgoing finances. Participants are taught that savings help circumvent difficult times. They are introduced to community savings groups and mentoring that help generate income. When a household completes the graduation program the participants are connected with more conventional financial institutions to provide them with long-term support and growth.
  4. Social Empowerment – Throughout the graduation approach, participants learn many new life skills through mentoring, peers and coaching. These new skills provide participants with confidence and opportunities to become more integrated with their communities. 

Graduation Success Rate in the Philippines

From June 2018 to September 2020, 1,800 households in the Philippines participated in a pilot of the graduation approach to poverty. Findings showed that 71% of households met all the “criteria under the four pillars of graduation” and saw improvement in their life skills and financial management. The participants greatly improved their hygiene, nutrition and health practices as they retained at least 80% of their life skills training. At the start of the program, 74% of participants had access to a sanitary toilet. By the end of the program, everyone had access to one.

Despite the program taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the participants were still able to initiate livelihoods and earn income. As of September 2020, around 60% of individual livelihoods remained fully operational and 73% of group livelihoods remained intact. The graduation approach to poverty reduction also taught participants how to react to changing trends in the market due to the pandemic. In turn, participants were able to stay above the food poverty threshold.

The Impact

Overall, the graduation approach to poverty reduction has proved extremely successful. It provides the “big push” that individuals living below the poverty line need in order to escape the cyclical trap. With new knowledge, resources and savings, individuals that have been through the graduation program are set up for long-term success.

– Trystin Baker
Photo: Unsplash

Health in Bangladesh
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG founded the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) in 1972. The nonprofit began as a localized program in northeastern Bangladesh to promote agricultural reform and educational training. BRAC now influences over 11 countries in both Asia and Africa. It hones in on projects that work to improve social lives, social enterprises, national investments and university opportunities. The organization’s main accomplishments pertain to improving health in Bangladesh. Desiring the collaboration activists, BRAC enhances the abilities of individuals to gain work experience, especially with an environment that supports their physical and mental health.

Healthcare Issues in Bangladesh

Out-of-pocket spending on healthcare in Bangladesh is around 64.3% of total health spending. Bangladesh spends approximately $1.49 billion annually on situations concerning one’s health. This is concerning as average income households spend 7.5% of their total earnings on healthcare, with the least financially stable citizens, comprising the poorest 20%, spending 13.5%. The need to spend a large amount of income on healthcare puts a strain on Bangladesh families, especially since a little over 20% of the population lives below the national poverty line. Around 10% are employed for under $1.90 a day.

Money is not the only factor affecting people in Bangladesh. Only 34.6% of the population has access to purified drinking water as the country has the largest amount of citizens infected by arsenic-filled water. This dangerous chemical still contaminates nearly 10% of the water supply. Furthermore, 28.3% of the population drinks water infiltrated with various diseases that further damage physical health. Of further concern is the fact that sanitation only improves by 1.1% annually, not growing fast enough to better the environment that many citizens live in. Over 40% of latrines are unimproved, with the sewage waste even running into waterways due to a lack of sanitation programs. This exemplifies the necessity to improve individual health in Bangladesh.

Health and Nutrition

High annual healthcare costs are driving 5 million Bangladesh civilians into poverty. As a result, BRAC has deployed many healthcare workers to directly work with citizens in Bangladesh. They ensure citizens have access to quality, affordable health services. Establishing Essential Health Care (EHC), the nonprofit works to improve the immune systems of individuals. The EHC assures that people are not as easily susceptible to various diseases in the environment or water supplies. In addition to providing healthcare services for mothers and children, it also works on basic treatments to counteract the negative effects of acute respiratory infections at an affordable price. This specific program partnered with government agencies in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and now offers healthcare opportunities to more than 120 million people in the 64 districts of Bangladesh.

With the sub-section of the Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction – Targeting the Ultra Poor (CFPR-TUP) program, BRAC designs special needs for the 8% of the Bangladesh population that suffers from extreme poverty. Moreover, it created its Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program to provide supplementary foods to both mothers and children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Not only does this program support those suffering from malnutrition, but it eases the pain that mothers have to go through when breastfeeding and lack of vitamin intake. This enabled the education of 2 million women regarding healthy diets and the benefits of breastfeeding.

The WASH Program

The WASH program works toward improving water, sanitation and hygiene in Bangladesh and to create more hygienic practices. It has started its journey in the country by focusing on education. Many do not learn about the necessity of cleanliness. Through BRAC, however, 5,700 secondary schools have now included hygiene discussions in their curriculums. The organization is also working to ensure that local research facilities provide affordable opportunities to test every district’s water supplies.

Additionally, the nonprofit partnered with Jamalpur municipality to operate a waste plant. This effort counteracts the intrusion of waste into clean waterways. Volunteers and BRAC workers work through the WASH program to ensure health in Bangladesh. They especially focus on Rohingya refugee camps and areas that experience the effect of floods. Every dollar that goes to the program results in $4 towards sanitation improvements in Bangladesh.

BRAC wants to increase the professionalism of frontline services and introduce a strong variety of for-profit products and programs. It continues affordable programs to improve Bangladesh citizens’ health and focuses on cleaning the water supply, like introducing hanging latrines and counteracting the malnutrition that mothers and children suffer from. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee strives specifically to reform the healthcare system in this South Asian country through such actions. Its achievements include giving 2.52 million people access to safe drinking water with the aid of technological advancements. Through its various accomplishments, this nonprofit continues to achieve more every year even after nearly 50 years of service.

Sylvia Vivian Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation ProgramOf the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the first one sets an ambitious target. To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere and to leave no one behind. One such organization embracing this challenge is Bangladesh’s BRAC. BRAC is one of the world’s largest nongovernmental development organizations founded in Bangladesh that has done a tremendous amount of work fighting extreme poverty in Bangladesh. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program has seen success globally.

Poverty Progress in Bangladesh

Nestled between India and Myanmar in South Asia, Bangladesh has made enormous strides in combating extreme poverty in a relatively short amount of time. In a little over a decade, 25 million people were lifted out of poverty. Between 2010 and 2016, eight million people were lifted out of poverty in Bangladesh.

Although poverty rates were seeing a steady decrease, those living in extreme poverty in Bangladesh still lacked basic safety nets and support from NGO services.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) Program

In 2002, BRAC introduced the innovative Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) program in an attempt to apply innovative approaches to solve extreme poverty in Bangladesh and across the globe.

The UPG program aims to provide long-term holistic support for those in extreme poverty to lift themselves out of poverty and graduate to a more resilient and sustainable life. This is done by addressing the social, economic and health needs of poor families while empowering them to learn new skills and better financial management.

BRAC believes that while traditional government interventions such as food aid and cash transfers are impactful and have a role to play, these benefits, unfortunately, remain out of reach for many in extreme poverty and are certainly not a long-term solution.

BRAC’s UPG program sets to build skill sets and assets to ensure families are equipped to become food secure, independent and achieve economical sustainability.

The Success of UPG Programs Globally

The program has found success inside and outside Bangladesh and has received praise and acknowledgment in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.

Take for example the country of South Sudan. From 2013 to 2015 BRAC piloted a project involving 240 women. The program provided support for the women to receive food stipends, asset transfers and various skills training that included financial and basic savings skills.

Shortly after the women received training and support, the South Sudanese Civil War escalated, ravaging the country and causing inflation and food shortages.

Despite these shocks, 97% of the 240 women were still able to increase their consumption thanks to the resources, assets and skills they obtained during the program. Also, their children were 53% less likely to be underweight and malnourished, compared to those who had not been in the program.

More Success in Afghanistan and Other Countries

Another example comes from Afghanistan, where a widowed woman in the Bamiyan province received a flock of sheep and training from BRAC. Since then, she has been able to generate enough income to feed her family, send her grandchildren to school,  sell additional products and save for the future.

From 2007 to 2014, a large-scale UPG program across Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan and Peru saw a 4.9% increase in household consumption, 13.6% increase in asset values and a 95.7% increase in savings pooled across all countries.

The success of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program can be clearly seen from the results. It is an innovative program that aims to end all poverty and leave no one behind and is successfully on its way to doing so.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Care in BangladeshBack in 1972, Fazlé Hasan Abed started a small organization called the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC). Originally dedicated to helping refugees after Bangladesh’s war for independence against Pakistan, the organization has since grown to serve 11 countries across Asia and Africa. One of the key focuses of BRAC is poverty alleviation and includes categories such as improving maternal care in Bangladesh.

BRAC’s Strategies for Poverty Reduction

BRAC engages several strategies to combat poverty, such as social enterprises. Social enterprises are self-sustaining cause-driven business entities that create social impact by offering solutions to social challenges and reinvesting surplus to sustain and generate greater impact. Some social enterprises include those seeking to promote access to fisheries, give people access to jobs in the silk industry and businesses that give seed access to farmers.

BRAC also prioritizes social development. These initiatives refer to BRAC’s on-the-ground programs. Social development efforts aim to build communities up by attempting to foster long-term development through the promotion of microfinance and gender equality and by eradicating extreme poverty.

The third focus of BRAC is investments. BRAC seeks to invest in local companies in order to create as much social impact as possible. This includes initiatives to expand affordable internet access for all and a range of other financial support services.

Finally, the organization founded a tertiary education institution called Brac University. The University, located in Bangladesh, aims to use its liberal arts curriculum in order to try and advance human capital development and help students develop solutions to local problems.

The BRAC Manoshi Maternal Care Initiative

Founded in 2007, the Manoshi program is specifically tailored to serve mothers and newborns by providing accessible care. There are a couple of unique methods that make this maternal healthcare initiative especially effective in reaching its goals of improving maternal care in Bangladesh.

One-third of people in Bangladesh live under the poverty line and a greater part of this group live in slums, making it difficult to access and afford necessary healthcare. Manoshi focuses primarily on empowering communities, particularly women, in order to develop a system of essential healthcare interventions for mothers and babies.

Manoshi’s Focal Areas for Community Development

  • Providing basic healthcare for pregnant and lactating women, newborns and children under 5
  • Building a referral system to connect women with quality health facilities when complications arise
  • Creating women’s groups to drive community empowerment
  • Skills development and capacity building for healthcare workers and birth attendants
  • Connecting community organizations with governmental and non-governmental organizations to further their goals

The main methods used in the Manoshi project to achieve desired outcomes are social mapping, census taking and community engagement.

Manoshi’s Impact on Maternal Care in Bangladesh

BRAC projected that improvement in healthcare access would cause neonatal mortality to decline by 40-50% and the most recent data from the Manoshi program shows just that. Manoshi’s data shows that from 2008 to 2013, both the maternal and neonatal death rates dropped by more than half. From 2007 to 2011, the percentage of births at health facilities increased from 15% to 59%, while national averages only increased from 25% to 28%, suggesting that mothers served by Manoshi have more access to resources and facilities for safe deliveries. Prenatal care also increased from 27% to 52% in the same years.

With the substantial impact of organizational programs like Manoshi prioritizing the wellbeing of women and children, advancements with regard to maternal care in Bangladesh will hopefully only continue upward.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr

ShopUp Helps with Poverty Eradication in Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s economy has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. This raises its GDP per capita by 344% in total since the year 2000. In the last five years alone, this same figure surged 48%. Despite this progress, a significant portion of the country still lives below the poverty line — roughly 20% of a population of 164 million. Recent innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh are working to boost economic prospects and facilitate financial security for all of its citizens.

One of these innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh is the digital platform ShopUp. ShopUp is co-founded by Afeef Zaman, Siffat Sarwar and Ataur Chowdhury. It began with the goal to empower owners of Facebook businesses with the technical means to grow. More than 50% of Bangladeshis are self-employed. Many of them are operating e-commerce and social commerce shops through Facebook as their source of income. Also, it quickly became evident that clients’ lack of access to capital was hindering their businesses’ growth. After partnering with BRAC in 2018, a Bangladesh-based international development organization, ShopUp now aims to help small business owners acquire credit and other financials when they cannot afford the high cost of formal services.

How ShopUp Benefits Small Business Owners

Transaction records through sites like Facebook can be difficult to track and formalize for loan purposes. ShopUp automatically collects the relevant data from sales on Facebook Messenger. As a result, the merchant can more easily apply to loans from microfinance institutions. Furthermore, the process is quick. When a seller is ready to apply for a loan through ShopUp, the algorithm analyzes 25 different data points from the business’s profile. Additionally, it estimates an appropriate loan ceiling. It only takes 24 hours after approval for the financier to distribute the funds that the borrower requested.

Moreover, it increases access to capital. The service benefits microfinance enterprises by conducting a thorough and efficient online appraisal of the small business applying for the loan. Also, this allows for a significantly lower appraisal fee. This means a higher number of loans can be approved. Growth in the microfinance sector advances the market economy and creates more employment opportunities. In addition to financial assistance, ShopUp provides promotional assistance. Merchants can purchase advertisements for their shops via the service without needing to connect a bank account or credit card. Curated ad placement grants increased visibility. This results in a larger potential customer pool for emerging businesses.

Gender discrimination in Bangladesh means that women tend to face more barriers than men when it comes to employment. With ShopUp’s low cost and ease of access, it is an effective tool for female entrepreneurs to start their small businesses. Women’s participation in the labor force in Bangladesh rose to 36.2% in 2019, in part, due to the expanding market of e-commerce. Furthermore, that same year, 80% of ShopUp’s users were female.

Continued Growth of ShopUp

Investors recognize the potential for ShopUp to increase innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh. The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, led a seed round in 2018 encouraging other major companies to assist in funding ShopUp’s endeavors. Google and Amazon were among the contributors for this round which resulted in a $1.62 million investment in the digital service. Data collected in January 2019 show that the platform served 380 individuals after launching the partner project with BRAC. This means it lends out a total of more than 3.1 million (BDT).

ShopUp is just one example of the innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh that are putting the country on track to continue its recent economic growth. Widespread Internet usage facilitates a digital market economy that has already provided new opportunities for financial gain. Having accessible services within the market for lower-income individuals is a crucial step in the process.

Jennifer Paul
Photo: Flickr

8 Groups Tackling the Pandemic in South Asia



















Many areas throughout South Asia are at an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission due to high population densities. Health infrastructure, personal protective equipment and even access to knowledge about the virus in their area are all scarce resources in South Asia. According to Executive Director of Innovations in Healthcare, Krishna Udayakumar, it is imperative that companies develop systems for data and population surveillance, testing, communications, therapeutics and vaccine development and the supply chain to eliminate COVID-19. These eight groups tackling the pandemic in South Asia are innovating products and systems that further develop and strengthen the sectors of COVID-19 relief.

8 Groups Tackling the Pandemic

  1. Maya, the digital health assistant, serves populations primarily in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The knowledge-sharing and messaging platform saw a surge in COVID related questions, specifically a 2,700 percent increase in those related to support and information. Since about 60 percent of the questions received are asking for basic information, such as the definition of coronavirus, Maya developed a symptom tracker and FAQ for its userbase of around 40,000 individuals, to help them quickly and accurately find information.
  2. NooraHealth is an organization committed to teaching patients and their families about pregnancy and elderly care to help save lives. Recently, NooraHealth has begun providing evidence-based content in India and Bangladesh to keep families informed about COVID-19. The organization has conducted over 1,300 surveys to give informed and tailored information to families. It also hopes to reach over 200 million individuals in South Asia. 
  3. SNEHA, the Society for Nutrition Education and Health Action, works to improve preventive care and promote healthcare for vulnerable urban women, adolescents and children. In light of  COVID-19, the organization started to provide direct resources to those in need. To date, SNEHA has distributed about 5,300 food ration packs and delivered personal protective materials to seven municipal organizations in South Asia. 
  4. The Swasth Foundation is a group based in India that works to improve the healthcare community by providing more effective communication and essential services. Swasth has educated more than 80,000 individuals about the coronavirus pandemic through online and phone engagement services. Additionally, the organization has provided more than 25,000 families with direct services such as food, medical care and health information so far. 
  5. Sevamob is a telehealth middleman in India working to improve communications between the patient and healthcare workers. In digitizing patient consultations, there is greater prevention of the spread of COVID-19 as well as decreased costs by about 50 percent for the patients. The organization has also developed the Sevamob Protector, a portable protection kiosk that allows a fully protected healthcare worker to examine patients and administer tests. The Sevamob Protector reduces PPE usage by up to 90 percent, saving on costs for healthcare providers.
  6. Wellthy Therapeutics is a pioneer in the digital therapeutics field, working to better conditions for those with chronic diseases through behavioral intervention. In response to COVID-19, Wellthy Therapeutics has worked to communicate to those individuals with chronic conditions that they are at increased risk for COVID-19. The organization has additionally launched a blog for those with chronic health conditions, writing posts about how to take increased precautions and preventive measures.
  7. BRAC is one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations centered in Bangladesh. It is aiding people during the COVID-19 pandemic through social development and advancements in infrastructure. The organization has around 50,000 healthcare workers on the ground, and they all use personal protective equipment to keep themselves and their clients safe. BRAC launched many testing sites of its own, but due to large queues, it has implemented an online booking system to reduce contact.
  8. Dimagi, though an international organization, has a major office in New Delhi. Dimagi’s signature product, CommCare, is a platform for open-source mobile data collection and service delivery. Though the organization excels in the technology realm, it has also worked directly with governments to develop their health systems and internal response. According to the organization’s website, CommCare allows people to, “quickly build and deploy custom mobile applications for every phase of an effective COVID-19 response – from screening and contact tracing to patient monitoring and post-care support.”

All around the world, organizations and governments are attempting to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Non-governmental organizations are at the forefront of providing care and developing new technology in all countries, but these eight groups are tackling the pandemic in South Asia. As coronavirus cases continue to rise in South Asia, these organizations will need to give further assistance to better serve the high-density population. With increased donations and volunteers, the organizations will hopefully be able to decrease the effects of the pandemic and provide stability to the South Asia region.

Pratik Koppikar
Photo: Flickr

HYDRO IndustriesWater is essential to life, but unfortunately, there are people all over the world who do not have access to clean water. Pollution, poverty and weak infrastructure are often the causes of a lack of clean water. The world’s poor population has often been obligated to travel great distances in order to get clean water. Dirty water often leads to unsanitary conditions and the spread of disease. Thousands die each year from diseases due to a lack of clean water. Fortunately, a company called HYDRO Industries has a new way to provide water to those in need all over the world.

HYDRO Industries

HYDRO Industries is partnering with BRAC, one of the biggest non-governmental organizations in the world, to bring clean water to Bangladesh. BRAC was founded in Bangladesh, so this is their way of giving back to the community. In Bangladesh, five million people lack access to safe water, and 85 million people do not have access to proper sanitation. The current setup is not working well enough, so a new way to provide water is needed. The two organizations plan to begin their operation in Bangladesh in the spring of 2020.

HYDRO Industries will provide its products and BRAC will use its connections with local communities to establish the water treatment plants. The project aims to help around 25,000 people in the first phase and then continue to improve their product and increase the number of people they are serving. HYDRO hopes to expand all over Bangladesh and neighboring Nepal and India.

How Important is Clean Water?

  • Almost 800 million people do not have access to safe water
  • Two billion people don’t have a good toilet to use
  • A child under five dies every two minutes because of dirty water and poor toilets
  • Every minute a newborn dies because of infections from an unsanitary environment and unsafe water
  • For every $1 invested in clean water, there is a $4 increase in productivity
  • Every day, women around the world spend 200 million hours collecting water
  • Almost 300,000 children under age five die annually from diarrheal diseases

The world’s poor population sometimes has to spend hours looking for clean water. If the water is no longer a worry, they will have more time to be productive and focus on their economy. Clean water also reduces the likelihood of disease. Better health and productivity can result in a better community in the world’s poorest places.

What Does HYDRO Do?

HYDRO is a Welsh tech company that creates innovative water treatment plants that can treat water and raise it to drinking standards. The company also uniquely treats the water. Instead of using chemicals to purify water, they use electric power, which makes the entire process more sustainable and effective than chemical-based purification.

Bangladesh is not the first place that HYDRO is planning on helping. In fact, the organization has already provided clean water to multiple poverty-stricken areas around the world. In 2016, HYDRO provided clean water for 82 East African villages. There the water treatment plants provided locals with 8.5 million liters of water every day.

Finding a new way to provide water to those in need is important to work. HYDRO Industries has an innovative method that could potentially help millions of people around the world. Using electric power, HYDRO’s water treatment units can provide water at levels above western standards. Clean water is such an immense benefit to people all over the world. Clean water helps people fight disease and death. Providing a consistent and clean source of water close to people’s homes makes communities more productive and provides a better chance of reducing poverty.

Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr