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The Locust Effect: How everyday violence undermines efforts to alleviate poverty

In the development discourse, violence is an issue that is discussed in terms of wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, gender, ethnic minorities etc. but perhaps not enough in the broad strokes of everyday violence in the way it affects the 2 billion people who live on 2 dollars a day. Not in the very tangible way it keeps people enslaved in poverty. We discuss violence against women in the household and outside as a factor to address in our march towards equality and economic emancipation. But are we really addressing the multi-faceted nature of everyday violence that is a part and parcel of the reality of the very people that we are trying to help? Are we shining a light on the daily instances of violence that pushes people deeper into poverty?

When law enforcement systems are broken, when access to justice is paved by payments unaffordable to the poor, where does that leave them and where does that leave us?

In The Locust Effect, Haugen outlines the catastrophic effect of everyday violence on the lives of the impoverished, and shows how rampant violence is undermining efforts to alleviate poverty.

 

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Myth Buster – Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling is a Swedish professor who is bursting myths with his data analysis. So if you are going to watch this, be prepared to have your preconceived notions turned into ashes 😉

And here’s another very interesting set of animated data where he shows how countries are pulling themselves out of poverty and the resulting impact on it’s population and the way life is conducted.

Now that you know something that you can no longer un-know, how does this change how you think about countries? economic growth? public health? and most importantly, about stereotypes? Leave a comment below, would love to hear from the readers 🙂

Of convictions and contentment

I met Frankie today. A very interesting Austrian woman who happens to be here for a little more than a week on jury duty for an International Film Festival that is taking place here in Dhaka. We went for a long walk around Old Dhaka today and had some rather interesting discussion. Frankie and I have been born world apart, in the same year, in completely different societies. Our upbringing and lives have been in that sense rather different too. Yet we connected on so many different levels and had such animated conversations that none of us wanted it to end. At one point during our conversation though, she said something that made me stop and ask her to repeat herself again, just so that I really understood what she was saying.

Here’s what she said: “You are full of convictions and yet at the same time you are also brimming with contentment”. 

I kid you not, I did a double take when she said it. I was sure that I heard it wrong, which is why I asked her to repeat herself again.

My convictions that she was referring to was about my views on religion, life, goals, my child and what I want and don’t want for him & me etc. My contentment apparently stems from the fact that I can very easily declare that I love my life. That its easy to see that the work I do is something that I love very deeply.

This is not a gloating post.

Tomorrow will mark the 2nd year anniversary of the day I almost ended my life. I was in a deep dark tunnel that had no end, stuck in a life I felt powerless to change. Simply put – I hated my life and could not find the answer to the question, “why should I take another breath? or live for another day”. I didn’t have an answer. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I planned for posterity (that would be the type-A personality in me). I planned my will, bequeathed what I own to the people I care for as carefully as I planned out exactly how I was going to end it.

I will tell you what saved me that day – these quotes from the Bible and the Quran and my best friend.

Frankie asked me this today and I had to think for a moment before I answered – am I religious? I think not, I think I am spiritual. I believe in something greather than us, a grand designer, creator of the cosmos if you will. I do believe in humanity.

I have been incredibly fortunate or lucky to see quite a few miracles in my life. At the same time I have also seen the worst face of human beings. It’s like the highs are real Himalaya kind of high, while the lows have been the pits of hell. That in itself would be enough to either rattle someone to their very core, or get them diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Turns out I don’t have that. Trust me, I did analyze myself and get a second opinion. (yes I am talking about mental health issues here, if you are not comfortable, this is not the blog for you).  What I do have is incurable, inexplicable – optimism and faith.

When I had forsaken the religion that was being shoved down my throat, I decided to find out for myself what religion meant. I went everywhere I could think of – churches, temples, gurudwara, synagogue. I read up on philosophy, debated religion with people who were open minded enough and knowledgeable enough to have an intelligent discussion. Let me tell you this – the ten commandments hold true no matter what religion you follow, or which God you worship. The name may change but the devotion felt is the same and at very core of it lies humanity. This gave birth to my conviction on religion – to each his own, his own action, karma, life and choices.

So back to two years ago, I was stuck in a dead end life that was not what I wanted or needed but couldn’t figure out how to get out of. See the trick there? I couldn’t see the how, the silver lining, the end of the tunnel. That’s were faith, optimism and my best friend kicked my ass in. I had to let go of the need to control the how and shift my attention to the why.

Ok, so I was not happy – why? what do I need to change about my life to be happy? What can I no longer tolerate in my life? What do I actively want to manifest in my life? What would change my life to the point where I do not feel the need to question the why of my life.

The more I have let go of the ‘how’ and concentrated on the ‘why’, the more I have achieved and the happier I have been.

It’s really been as simple and as difficult as that.

When my motivation to undertake something is not at the core of my being, my passion, my time is wasted. When it is, my time is invested. A simple example – people have told me for years that I should do my Masters. I couldn’t see the reason as to ‘why’ I should do it. The reasons that people usually gave to the ‘why’ was not for me. I don’t need that certificate or the salary bump that may come from it. Both of these reasons are arbitrary and while they may be true for most people, I already made more money than most people my age and I have worked my ass off to get where I am, so that didn’t really apply to me. However, last year, when I got bitten by the bug to know more, when development aid ignited my passion, I finally conceded that I do now want to do a Masters on Development Studies.

The problem with my life, as with most women and men’s, was that I was living a life that is prescribed by someone else – our family, society, expectations. The invisible iron chains that bind us down into making choices that has nothing to do with our individuality. It doesn’t stop to take note of the machines that we become, the dreams that we kill, or the aspirations that we suffocate to death. It takes no note of the zombies we become, like actors on a stage, in a play that they do not desire to be part of but cannot leave either.

This journey of becoming an individual is not an easy one. Neither is it for the faint hearted. If you crave love, attentions, affection and confirmations, then this is not the road for you to take. You will not get accolades for your efforts. Neither will you be cheered on your journey. The road to transformation is a long and lonely road – because no one else will see the destination that you are trying to reach. When you reach your destination, you might be the only one at the mountain top. Others might congratulate you for scaling another peak, for another success. But it will be your own blood and sweat that you will shed on this lonely journey.

Then again, in your travels, you might find a kindered spirit in someone else. Recognize yourself in someone else. You might even stop in your path to lend a helping hand. If you are suffering from depression, if you can’t see the end of the tunnel – the psalm 23.4, really helps. It will remind you that you are not alone. And when you get tired of fighting for what you believe in, your dreams, your goals – the Surah Al-Kafiroon, really helps. It will shore your belief that just because others can’t see things from the same perspective as you, it does not invalidate your dreams. You have every right to be YOU, while they have a right to be themselves.

Contentment? Yes please, I will take a double helping of that 🙂

Challenging myself to grow this year :)

Usually when I am struggling to blog, it’s not because I lack subjects but more like there’s so many going around in my head that I don’t know which one to put down first. So this one is going to be a mish mash of all the things that are going round in my head.

First off, my new year started with a bang! I am biting off more than I can chew this year. That is in other words, I am challenging myself to grow this year.

This year I am going back to University for a Masters in Development Studies. I am already working on the field and while I love the practical side of it, I have been struck by the fever to know more… the theories, the models, the past cases, what has worked and why, what didn’t work and why not. You know how you feel when you pick up a great book and just can’t put it down until you have finished the last page? That is how I feel now, it’s like an insatiable burning appetite for all that I can learn and more. So a full-time Masters degree coming right up 😀

Then, there is something else that I have applied for and am still waiting for the final result. This is what I know so far, there’s been over 600 applications and I have made it to the final round. Beyond that, there’s nothing more that I know, nor is there anything more that I can do to make sure that I am one of the 20 people who get selected. It’s a waiting game at this point in time. 

What these two things taught me is that while I have kept up my practice on how to sell my skills in the work place, I have NO idea how to sell myself to academics. Know what I mean? I am more used to putting a dollar value on activities, time and I can negotiate win-win solutions for most deals when it comes to business.  But I just don’t feel the same confidence when it comes to selling myself to an academic panel.. lol. It’s beyond my comfort zone and I LOVE the challenge!!

So all these is going to be in addition to my full-time job as a Food Security Advisor, my volunteer work as Public Relations advisor with Butthan Foundation and the Program Manager work with Radio Vubon. I still want to keep up with my blogging, my ghost-writing, my networking and connecting. I might have bitten off more than I can chew but instead of being scared, I feel freaking EXCITED! I can’t wait! The challenge of it all will be amazing! And I know for a fact that this year will be AMAZING 😀 😀

p.s. I am trying to keep my posts shorts and sweet, didn’t really work, did it? but I will be back with more updates later in the week 😉

When my problems are not really problems

I know I came home last year from a field visit to one of our projects out in the Char areas and I quit complaining about water shortage. When I don’t have water coming out of the taps, I know that it’s only because someone forgot to turn on the pump that will fill in the overhead tank.

I quit complaining when there were ‘too’ many electricity outages, at least I know that it will be back in hour.

I quit complaining when I had to travel through hot streets in the summer, I know that I will be in the office, cooled by an AC within an hour.

Every time I even thought of complaining, I thought of all the women I had met. Women who walk for miles to collect drinking water for their families. All the people who live without electricity and all the gadgets for convenience that it brings. I thought of the heat in the char, the sun on top and the sand beneath my feet. Day after day, year after year, families survive harsh conditions like these.

Me, I had first world problems, that are not problems. So I quit complaining and started doing more of what I can do to help solve these problems for the millions of people whom I may never ever meet.

Do your part – we can all make a difference.

 

Dutch Food Security program in Bangladesh

Our Food Security information is updated in the Embassy webpage. So if you are looking for information on what the Dutch do in terms of Development Cooperation in Bangladesh – check us out here:

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation

 

And if you are looking for what we do in Food Security in particular, check us out here:

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation/food-security.html

courtyard meeting with beneficiaries

courtyard meeting with beneficiaries

The page has been updated with information on our various projects, which are directly and indirectly, contributing towards Food Security in Bangladesh. It explains why we are doing what we are doing and the results that we hope to achieve with each one of our programs. We actively collaborate with various partners – donors, NGO’s, universities, research institutes and the private sector.

If you are interested in collaborating, knowledge sharing or would like to have more information on a particular project, you can email us at “dha@minbuza.nl” or “arman.khan@minbuza.nl”.

Market access via text messages for farmers

Market Development, Market Access, Value Chain Development – these are the buzzwords in Development Cooperation these days and there’s no end to the lessons learned around the world on this subject. This particular for-profit venture in Kenya, MFarm, has proven to be effective in giving access to the market for small holder farmers using existing technology of mobile phone and mobile money transfers. The innovation is in getting these small-holding farmers to come together and offer their aggregated product for sale to bigger buyers. Collectively their bargaining power improves for both selling their product and buying inputs for their use. The fact that this is a “FOR PROFIT” venture is probably its biggest advantage – this ensures viability and sustainability in the long-term. For-profit ventures don’t sit so easily in the NGO world, organizations are still skeptical and hesitant at exploring partnerships with the private sector.

Personally, since I am from the private sector and also from a project management background, I tend to evaluate everything in monetary terms and return on investments. Almost like an in-built homing device that is constantly humming to find sustainability in economic performance. I truly believe that no matter what we do, if the economic returns are not profitable to our end users/beneficiaries etc. then after the project withdraws, the fund is gone, whatever result was achieved will be lost.  Poor people simply do not have the luxury of doing something because it is best-practice, they are short of money and time with only a limited amount of effort that they can put in to achieve the things that they need to keep themselves afloat.

This venture proves that money works. It works for the small-holding farmers, it works for the people running the platform and it has grown from just 2,000 user to over 7,000 in just a couple of years.

You can read the full article here:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2013/06/startup-uses-sms-to-give-farmers-shot-at-fair-prices-market-access/

MFarm is a for-profit organization, taking a transaction fee for every deal done using its platform.  This has allowed it to grow the number of users from 2,000 in early 2012 to 7,000 now. A study in central Kenya with 600 farmers showed that farmers could double their sales by using MFarm.

“MFarm can lower costs [of supplies] and offer better margins for farmers, but the other value proposition is a consistent market,” says Abass. “It’s not just about the prices but also knowing if a buyer will be available.”

Furthermore, the network can be used to disseminate information relating to international regulations—for example, information about any pesticides that might be banned. “There are so many things you can do with the technology once you have trust,” she adds.

Abass is now focused on the export market and has been in the UK to speak to large retailers who are keen to be more responsible in the way that they source their products.

“They want to have social responsibility,” Abass acknowledges. “By sourcing produce through MFarm, they are playing a vital role in development and securing a consistent supply that is not dependent on middlemen.”

In addition to taking a transaction fee, MFarm has also been selling its data to research organizations looking at consumer behavior and food scarcity.

 

Doing business with the Netherlands

This post is to answer some of the most common questions I face from my professional network on a very regular basis:

What do you do, really?

Well, I am the Advisor for Food Security. Want more information on what we do in Food Security? check us out in the following link: http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation/food-security.html

What does the Embassy do?

The embassy does a LOT of things. The main areas of activity are:
• political affairs
• economic affairs
development cooperation – this includes policy & program support on Food Security, Water Management, Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights. Gender and Governance are cross cutting themes.
• consular affairs
• press and cultural affairs.

To get information on Services offered, go here: http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services

Want an update on the activities of the Dutch Embassy in Bangladesh?

Follow us on this link: http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/

I want to do business with Netherlands, how do I find information?

Check out the information in the following link: http://www.minbuza.nl/en/you-and-netherlands/doing-business-with-the-netherlands.html

How can I get more information on Private Sector Development Instruments?

The PDF is 8.3 MB and contains information all the instruments available from different Dutch Ministries to promote business between Bangladesh & Netherlands: http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/appendices/partners-in-progress.html

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/trade-information/economic-services/development-cooperation-matchmaking-facility.html

How can I get more information on doing business with Netherlands?

For Funding and other support services check out http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/trade-information/economic-services/funding-and-other-support-services.html

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