In Pursuit of Development

Bangladesh's development journey — Imran Matin

Episode Summary

Dan Banik and Imran Matin discuss the Bangladesh model of development, the influential role of the NGO — Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) — in the country’s development record, and innovative poverty reduction programs that have been implemented in the country in recent decades.

Episode Notes

Bangladesh has witnessed a remarkable turnaround in recent decades. From being termed as a “basket case” by the American Under Secretary of Political Affairs in 1971, it is now frequently talked of a development success, having achieved fast economic growth and considerable poverty reduction. While Bangladesh’s per capita GDP was the tenth lowest in the world upon independence in 1971 and by 2015, the country had reached lower-middle-income status. 

Over the past decade, Bangladesh has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It has among others benefited from a demographic dividend, strong ready-made garment exports, and stable macroeconomic conditions. While literacy rates have soared, infant mortality has plunged. And Bangladesh is now on track to graduate from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list in 2026.

Imran Matin studied for a PhD in Economics at the University of Sussex and is the executive director of the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development in Dhaka. He has worked extensively on poverty reduction, financial inclusion, governance, health, and social protection. Imran previously served as a Country Director of the International Growth Centre in Bangladesh.




Professor Dan Banik, University of Oslo, Twitter: @danbanik  @GlobalDevPod



Episode Transcription

In Pursuit of Development


Banik:              Imran, it has been many years since I last saw you. I am so delighted we have the chance to speak today. Welcome!


Matin:              Thank you, Dan.


Banik:              So, Imran, one of the fascinating things about Bangladesh these days is that there has been this extremely, I would say there has been some sort of a pendulum shift from nothing working, being considered to be one of the poorest in the world, the narrative now is about how Bangladesh is really a development success story. Earlier this morning I saw a short video clip compiled by the World Economic Forum and they were highlighting how the Bangladesh model has really relied on this fast economic growth; special economic zones, millions have been lifted out of poverty and it of course has helped the country that it has the world’s biggest garment industry, but also a large and very young work force that is in a position to harness digital power, digital technology. The tech-industry is growing; there is a lot of emphasis on knowledge creation. So let me begin by asking you, Imran, do you share this narrative? Do you share this positive vibe on Bangladesh that has been created? And if so, what explains this relative success that Bangladesh has experienced in recent years?


Matin:              Thank you. Yeah, you know I definitely share that excitement and that exciting narrative of Bangladesh. Especially, if one takes that historical starting point into consideration, you know I think there is a lot to celebrate and a lot to be excited about. But I think what is perhaps still we do not fully understand is how exactly things have come together, and I think that is actually what has happened. I think many things have come together in ways that have not been necessarily planned. I think that is fundamentally important for policy making and for the approach to policy making and the approach to things that have worked in Bangladesh, which is iterative approach, an approach of learning and testing, piloting and not really doing grand standing on grand ideas. So I think Bangladesh is many ways a story of iterative small incremental changes, not necessarily all planned out together. It’s a bit Hirschmanian in many ways I think. I like to think about how things have worked until now, and one of the challenges for the future is how do we then take this to the next level? How do we take this much more of a Hirschmanian iterative approach to, even policy making, you know checking out what is working and then improving on it. That whole approach, how do we take that to more complex challenges that we currently face without losing that ability of agility, and also multi-actor oriented approach to address our challenges. And I think that’s exactly where the kind of politics, the kind of governance, the kind of development approach we basically need is something that sometimes I worry about and I´m a bit concerned about. And yet, time and time again we see that is exactly what has worked in Bangladesh. Look at even the Covid governance and the way in which Bangladesh managed Covid. Of course there is one narrative from the central level, but there is another narrative if you see from the ground-up. And the ground-up you see much more iterative, creative, innovative, multi-actor oriented approach that you can’t see from the top. And I think that is really the strength of Bangladesh, and the challenges that we harness. 


Banik:              That is also my understanding, my limited understanding of Bangladesh having visited it many years ago. What I think is fascinating about the Bangladesh story is that unlike some other countries that were perhaps at similar stages of development that were extremely dependent on aid from the outside where perhaps even today policy making is characterized by heavy top-down processes, Bangladesh, as you say, has in many ways perfected this bottom-up approach. You have all these experiments and building on local knowledge, and we will return to the role that various development actors, including BRAC has played. I was intrigued by what you said just now, that all of this is happening of course in a very challenging and polarized political environment. And if there is one thing that I associate with Bangladesh, not so much in recent years as much as say a few years ago, it is this constant political turmoil and strikes and change of governments and violence. How has this local knowledge been able to shape development policy, with all of these actors involved and with a political leadership that seems to be, or the political situation that seems to be fluid at most times? How was this possible, given, as you just said, some of the major governance challenges that existed and continue to exist today?


Matin:              So I think, you know my friend Naomi Hossein, has kind of really looked into this question and I think I really like what her line on this is, or her thinking on this is, which is that in Bangladesh there has been some kind of solid compacts, I think, between politics, the bureaucracy and the civil society, and also the private sector. I think some of this compact has centered around some very essential problems. You know essential of service delivery, essential problem of food security or preventing famine which effects everyone. That compact has really delivered, right, because despite the political uncertainty and turmoil and all of that stuff, it is this consensus on this compact without really being explicit about it. There has been an implicit type of agreement and consensus that, you know, we cannot have famine. If you look at Covid management, again, it comes so strongly. Food supply and agricultural sector has been the most important sector for everyone to really focus on and protect. Ensuring the food distribution system works relatively smoothly in this time, prioritizing that as the most important sector. So it sort of came back again, despite the fluidity and the uncertainty that you refer to. So I think it´s this consensus around some real points of jeopardy. And I think that still exist, but I think that may be wearing off, that is the kind of challenge. So what is the next kind of big jeopardy that we can really build that implicit consensus around to be able to, you know, ensure that we are notching up the country outside the so called middle-income or trap that we maybe think we are getting into. So what is that jeopardy? What is that sense of jeopardy that we can really build ourselves around? And it really needs to be that sense of jeopardy. Famine really worked, it really helped us in terms of creating that sense of jeopardy and coming together between bureaucracy, the politics, the civil society and the private sector. So I think that has been a quite powerful glue. 


Banik:              So in this story, Imran, BRAC, your organization, has been an extremely important development actor, as I understand, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) which is considered to be the world’s largest non-governmental organization. It was founded in 1972 and I don’t have the latest figures, but apparently around 100.000 employees or 90.000. It has been widely praised and there has been books written about BRAC. The Economist termed it one of the world’s most successful NGOs, that it was actually successful because it was commercially minded. A lot of people say BRAC does what the government should be doing, and in many ways because of all these activities that BRAC does in terms of say microfinancing, providing internet, it has a university that you are a part of, schools, mills and chicken farms, tea plantations, I don’t know, it’s a long list of things that this organization does. Some would say that it is actually more powerful than the Bangladeshi state. So, tell our listeners a bit, Imran, about BRAC, I mean, this hugely successful NGO. What really has worked for BRAC? How did it become such an important part of the development landscape in Bangladesh?


Matin:              Well, I mean first of all, two things. I am right now with BRAC University, but yeah I am obviously part of the BRAC ecosystem where I’ve worked for many years with BRAC, so yes, I can definitely reflect on that. But right now I’m not part of BRAC the NGO, I’m part of the university, but I think I will definitely reflect on your question. So, I think BRAC in many ways is, not in many ways, I think it is fundamentally… I think studying BRAC would help us understand Bangladesh, and understand Bangladesh would help us understand BRAC in many ways. So you know, BRAC was formed, was very much part of the history of the creation of Bangladesh, right, 1971 you know, our founder was deeply involved even before 1971 with the 1970 cyclone which was a watershed moment in terms of the kind of galvanizing and creation of Bangladesh politically. Our founder was very much involved with the relief effort in Poland during that time and he was very much involved with the 1971 movement from UK, and then sold his house, an then just after the war of independence went back to Bangladesh and formed BRAC. So there is that, the 1971 ethos. The ethos of creating a nation, nation building and the citizens being part of nation building in a very active way. I think that was very much part of the 1971 ethos. 1971 was fought by, you know, lines of middle class citizens and peasants, and fought in the villages of Bangladesh, and village to village. That’s where, you know, there was guerilla warfare. So I think that Ethos of active citizenry was very much embedded in the formation of BRAC and the idea of BRAC. And that’s exactly why when people… I remember this heart talk interview of our founder where Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was asked, you know, that you are doing so much for so many, what gives you this right in some ways to think about how to reform governance in Bangladesh, you know because, there was a program that, you know, my institute has been running on training civil servants, and his response was: I am a citizen of Bangladesh. And I think that that idea… you know as citizens of Bangladesh we’ve got so many problems, so many things that is not working. And the creation of Bangladesh was through that ethos that simple people, common people, can do amazing things. And I think it is this ethos that is at the heart of BRAC. But again, the part of that same ethos is that it is not true as kind of a grand plan. It is through everyday practice and struggle, it is through that navigation of guerilla warfare. That is how you basically create something big. And I think that is the other part of the BRAC ethos. 


Banik:              Well, Imran, I would think that when one becomes as powerful and influential as BRAC has become this is not always politically acceptable, that there may be political actors that perceive this rightly or wrongly as a threat, right? So, how did that work out in Bangladesh? How was BRAC able to maneuver through this political, this very difficult political terrain? 


Matin:              That I think is one of the most important maneuvers that BRAC has been able to do very successfully. I mean I think there has been primarily by ensuring that, you know, again BRAC has always been very clear on what work it does, about why it exists and the work it does, and keeping people, really poor people, poor women, as really this center of its work. And as long as anyone is contributing to that, BRAC has always lent a helping hand, irrespective of any parties and political… you know. So it has been a really very focused on that and steered away from any ideology and any kind of ideological approach to its work. I mean of course, there has been a wider ideology and wider politic, but we talking about smaller… you know. So there BRAC has been really careful. So it has worked across all political parties, it has spoken across all political parties as long as the cause was very clear in terms of keeping poor people really at the heart and center. And I think that focus really helped, the focus on service delivery really helped. So BRAC always spoke the language of service delivery, never spoke the language of rights that much. It spoke always a language of service to everybody. Even rights BRAC spoke in the form of service delivery. So yes, there are rights, but service to be delivered to ensure people are able to fulfill those rights, even if it’s human rights. People need to be educated, people need to learn about their rights. So it took a very service delivery oriented approach, and I think that also really helped. 


Banik:              Often NGOs are perceived to be helping people, making citizens aware of their rights and helping them claim these rights. And that is what political parties often detest, you know, having created more demanding citizens these NGOs are stirring up trouble. 


Matin:              Exactly. So I think the approach that BRAC took again from a service delivery point of view, but kept it very clear that change will have to be driven by people themselves, and we are just facilitators and very distant facilitators. Active but distant. BRAC really kept that line very clear, and did not really try and create any kind of BRAC village organization members. You know BRAC was quite active in terms of ensuring that whenever there was an opening of the local governments women representations, BRAC played a role in terms of ensuring that more women form village organizations who could actually get elected. But you know, it was always invited spaces. So BRAC was much more, I think, interested in taking advantage of invited spaces and keeping the claimed space part to be driven by the people themselves as much as possible, and keeping them at sort of a distance from that space claiming agenda. So I think that could be a critique as well, but I think that is what has helped BRAC in terms of ensuring that invited spaces are effective. 


Banik:              One of the many things that BRAC has done really well is also paying attention to research, as I understand it, and continues learning than many other NGOs. And this is where I suppose the university had played a role. I’d like to hear your views on this aspect of continues learning that David Korten who wrote this book “When Corporations Rule the World”, he called BRAC as a near to a pure example of for-learning-organizations, as one is likely to find. So how does this work in practice, I mean, what is the relationship between, say, BRAC university and the NGO? Are there evaluations? How does continues learning actually work in practice?


Matin:              So I think continues learning is much more than having formal research. I it is certainly a very important part of  it, but continues learning is much more about culture within the organization. So when I was at BRAC, I sort of started off my career an BRAC in the research and evaluation division of BRAC which was set up in 1975, you know BRAC was formed in 1972 and even when BRAC was so small, tiny, working in a cluster of villages, BRAC thought that it should have its own research and evaluation division, you know. Our founder was extremely clear that we need to be driven by evidence, and both tacit knowledge but also formal and structured knowledge. Both have to come together to be able to actually design and continuously improve. So, not only formal knowledge, you also need very strong tacit knowledge so each and every BRAC program meetings are fascinating, and a kind of forum for learning and discussion and challenges. That has always been a culture in BRAC. Tacit learning and more structured formal learning, combining these two has been really central. You can see that right from the beginning of BRAC. The research and evaluation division was an in-house dependent unit supporting BRACs programs to do structured and systematic research and evaluation using cutting edge research methods since 1974-75 until 2019. In 2019 our founder, one of the last decisions he made was, he basically decided the research and evaluation function of BRAC should now be transitioned into the university. And because BRAC university by 2019 was quite established he thought this is the right time to make this transition. There are three institutes of BRAC University, which are autonomous entities within BRAC University. So I lead one, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development. And there is a BRAC institute of education development and there is James P Grant School of Public Health. So these three institutes have absorbed, or the research function has been intergraded across these three institutes with an idea of providing more independent and higher quality research evaluation support to BRACs program. So now we are at the kind of, if you like, this phase two of providing research evaluation support to BRAC where independence and quality have been kind of stepped up even further. I mean the challenge is of course that while doing this, what about the action research, the more rapid culture of learning that one could argue requires a level of interdependence, and that closeness and proximity. How are we going to ensure that now that this is part of BRAC University? So that is really the struggle and this is where I think we need to put our heads together and figure out how that is not lost. Then we can really notch up the whole knowledge agenda and the learning culture within BRAC to a whole different level. 


Banik:              Evaluation departments are typically in most aid agencies, you know, given this independence, right so, they can criticize and be open minded and raise uncomfortable questions. Now, since you were involved as early as the 70s, Imran, what were the lessons learned then, and how have things changed now? I’m thinking about this motto that BRAC has had building resources across communities. And you were trying to, not you as much as BRAC the NGO, was running an NGO, but there was also a business side of it. There was this focus on really seriously taking the social context of poverty. And we have already discussed, of course, how BRAC was able to maneuver through the political landscape. How was it possible, Imran, in the early years to combine the NGO side of BRAC with the business side of BRAC, which has often been highlighted as a very unique and successful model?


Matin:              Well, I think, our founder obviously came from the business world, he was the CFO of Shell in Pakistan, so yes, obviously he came from a very strong business background, but I think he had very strong developmental roots in his upbringing. So I think for him, he was very clear about the synergy between these two. So one is taking a business-like approach to doing development, and even when you’re doing more ground based type of work, how do you take a more business-like approach? And that is something I think right from the beginning when BRAC was formed in 1972, when the first grant BRAC got from Oxfam, I mean, we are doing a project right now called Historicizing BRAC, where we are trying to look into the history of BRAC, within the broader global development history. You know, and we are looking at historical documents and one of the things that impressed everyone about BRAC right in the beginning was this kind of business-like approach to relief activity. To relief activity and accountability, ensuring every penny is accounted for, value for money, results oriented, that whole approach was fresh in that time period. So I think that business-like approaches have always been extremely important for BRAC. But getting into business for BRAC was… you know there are areas, there are problems for which you need a more ground based approach, and non-markets, markets don’t really work there, in fact markets are terrible and markets are not the best kind of thing for that, for example for essential health care, essential education and extreme poverty. But there are problems where markets can make the world better. Now there is this whole talk about making markets work for the poor, I mean BRAC was building markets for the poor, starting from the 70s. If you start looking at how BRAC got into poultry or livestock, each of these are about market development. And as BRAC approached a market development problem, BRAC never approached if whether we were going to have a feed mill or if we were going to have, you know, seed processing facilities. These all emerged out of the iterative approach to the problem, and looking at the supply chain and looking at where the constraints are, are there other actors who can actually play a role or does BRAC need to play a role here to be able to, kind of, address that particular challenge or constraint that we currently have? And that over time BRAC has actually exited from certain market segments. Poultry, you know, BRAC right now is not in the poultry sector anymore. It was one of the largest sectors BRAC wore throughout the 80s and 90s and up until 2000, so now BRAC has now exited. So you know, BRAC enters to really create the market, in many ways crowding private sector. Once that basic market infrastructure, especially when the lower end is sort of created, some kind of market standards are also created, and then BRAC does exit from some of those sectors as well. So for BRAC, I think, getting into the market segment has been very natural. Poverty exist in both market an non-market spheres, so you cannot basically have the luxury, especially in context of weak private sector and sometimes weak public sector, to only address one particular segment of the problem. 


Banik:              We’ve spoken a bit about how BRAC was able to move into certain sectors and move out, like you mentioned, the poultry business. Were these decisions based on impact assessments and evaluations? I am trying to understand the role that knowledge and knowledge creation, constant evaluation, has on such an influential NGO. Were these so called independent assessments, were they difficult questions that other arms of the organization were able to respond to?


Matin:              Yeah, so I think a good example for the poultry sector, you know, this obviously was based on sectoral analysis and you know marked analysis and all that stuff. The research division, and that’s been one of the challenges also, I think the research division was basically set up to focus much more on impact, on poverty and women empowerment, and health and education related issues. I do not think there is this trend of BRACs research, and that’s something that would be really important to, especially in the current context, to really kind of think about and improve is the private sector part of not only BRACs work, but I think overall Bangladesh’s development work. I think BRAC has had a big role to play, especially in terms of making markets work for the poor, but that whole dimension has not, you know, BRACs internal research hasn’t really focused on that part as much as it has on the impact of microfinance or education and health and so on. But I think this is a natural kind of progression, especially in the current context as well. But your question about the role of research, and in terms of program development and you are asking difficult questions, I think one great example there is BRACs ultra-poor program. I think the ultra-poor graduation program of BRAC really benefitted from long standing, diversified research engagement and studies that have been done on the program. And you know, then this has obviously led to a lot of global interest, and there have been global replications of some of these models, and subsequent very rigorous studies have been conducted. And all of those studies did lend a lot of credence to the program itself, but I think in terms of its adaptations of the program, over time, I think the research function has played an important role. For instance, the ultra-poor graduation program started at the pure ground based program, right, it was just a full grant, pure grant. Then again, it is very difficult to say how much of this is because of research, how much of it is because of the programs own knowledge and tacit understanding in terms of what is really happening on the ground, so a combination of the two. But I think in 2012/2013 it was very clear that the underlying context of extreme poverty was rapidly changing in Bangladesh. You know, markets were working much more effectively; especially there was a lot of local economics that were basically happening. But yes, despite that extreme poverty were still there, but the nature of the extreme poverty were very different, and unlocking this doesn’t have to be only ground based, I mean we can actually have a more mixed approach of grant and some cost recovery, and maybe we need higher value of asset transfer that we were doing, compared to before. To make it sustainable we need a mixed approach, and I think that was, it sounds very simple, but that required a lot of structured formal knowledge combining with programs own understanding of what was really happening on the ground that then led to redesign of the program. And we have done the evaluations, and we have found the mixed moral to be extremely effective, as matter of fact, in terms of cost benefit, way more promising that the ground based approach. So that is sort of one. But the other example in the ultra-poor graduation program is that the program initially started of with focusing on the extreme poor, but within the extreme poor there were obviously a lot of heterogeneity. It was trying to address different categories, but I think we realized late that the ultra-poor graduation program primarily is a graduation program, so it’s a livelihood program. So there are certain type of demographic characters we need to pay more attention to. For instance, if it is a female headed household with no other adult income earner for that household, actually this type of livelihood graduation program isn’t approached really the most appropriate one. We need to think about them differently, and we need to think about integrating them to other social safety net services that exists. So I think those type of, kind of, sharpening of the thinking in terms of how do we design the program and segregate it, I think that’s where research and evaluation works much more effectively. I think that’s the case for even high level research and evidence, to influence policy, I mean, if policy makers do not want something, you know I do not think research evidence changes their mind. Research and evidence role is to, okay, what is it that you really think works, and then, you know, kind of figuring out iterations of that and sort of smaller improvements in that. I think that is the reality, and I think people in the world of research evidence who want to, you know, who are interested in policy influence, need to get a bit humble and realize that, you know, yes I mean of course you can have all criticality in your academic paper and get published, but if you really want to influence policy the contribution is really the margin. 


Banik:              Let’s talk about the poverty reduction aspect, Imran. So, in many developing countries, in many low income contexts, we have chronic poverty, and then there is of course extreme poverty. Countries like China having grown their economy enormously in recent decades; it’s just earlier this year that it formally announces the eradication of extreme poverty. If you were to think about the Bangladesh example, the Bangladeshi experience, how was that started? So, the typical problems of course in any poverty reduction program is identifying, targeting, getting the money for innovative policy programs, making sure there is no leakage. What was it that worked in Bangladesh in terms of what you call the ultra-poor program? How did that start? Was it a focus on cash transfers, was it on jobs, was it in service delivery? And what was the plan in terms of graduation from that extreme poverty into, let’s say, a chronic poverty and then out of poverty phase?


Matin:              The starting motivation was very much that existing marked and development oriented interventions were leaving behind large numbers of poor people who were not able to benefit from the existing growth and development processes. So I think that was really, kind of, their starting point, and there is a trap here, we say it very easily right now, but I think there is a whole conceptual difference if we think, you know, whether you think about this group of people who are being left behind as being in trap, or not being in trap. Because if you are being in trap you need a big push because incremental interventions are not going to work. If you think they are not in trap, you know, incremental interventions could work, you know you have more long-term programs. If you think it’s a trap you can have a time bounded intervention, a big push, and you know, kind of forward linkages with market and development services and things could get better. And I think, you know, I think there has been good kind of rigorous evidence that we have collected and modelled in partnership with London School of Economics where we can really show that extreme poverty is a trap, and that we need a big-push-strategy there. So I think that is the first motivation, and it’s a really important one, because that has implications for your design of social protection programs. Because if extreme poverty is a trap, then you should be thinking more about the big push part. So and then the idea with this big push, actually you don’t need long term. For the larger majority, you need the long-term social assistance. Of course, there would be circumstances and group of people for who you would need long term social assistance, but the sensible thing to do is to have that big push, which would be more recourse intensive over longer, then to be able to invest much more on your longer-term social assistance. But the political bargain here is of course, kind of, quite sort of difficult, and that’s ongoing, I think, kind of policy, education in policy, discussion, that’s sort of what basically needs to happen. But in terms of after, so what are they graduating too, I think that, the whole idea is that sort of financial inclusion is critical, and after this big push part for that really kind of really helping for creating the next level of sustainability, if you like. So financial inclusion is critical, and not only credit, but also longer-term savings and risk reducing instruments are really important there. We are increasingly seeing educational of course, educational skills, so thinking about this graduation intergenerationally is really critical and I think this is going to be the next big design frontier challenge that we need to really works on. How do we think about education and design the graduation, model and approach, as an intergenerational one? And that would require lot of service level integration with a sort of broader ecosystem of services and market participation, that we need to design. And of course you are going of have different touch points of that, there is not going to be a one point graduation, one should think about multi-point graduation. How do you do it without creating a huge big program integrating everything, how do you do that in a smart way to think about multiple points of intervention, of maybe information and kind of connecting next generation with different types of services, scales, career advice and things like that, to be able to get to the next generation of graduation happening. I think the graduation problem cannot only be solved in one generation, the one generation approach, and a single-point in time approach. 


Banik:              So when we think about poverty reduction in Bangladesh and millions being so called lifted out of poverty, are we mainly thinking about the extreme poor, people living in extreme poverty now having graduated into more chronic poverty? Or are we also thinking about people living in chronic poverty, having moved out of poverty all together?


Matin:              Our evidence suggest about three quarter of people, sustainability move out if 1.9 dollar ppp. So I think that’s the evidence we basically have, and this happens with the combination of the asset transfer and the occupational transformation, so both things need to happen. So the asset transfer need to be of a substantive, kind of, the bigness of the push is important, and then of course occupational transformation from casual labor to self-employment, we are talking about women’s labor, household based employment, is often the occupational transformation. But the next transformation we need is, and that will most likely happen intergenerationally, is the transformation of decent work, decent wage work, you know, good jobs. We basically need that transformation to happen for it to really move to the next level, if you like. And that cannot only be on a household level thinking, we need to be thinking more broadly about markets and at different points in the graduation pathway for the next generation. I think next generations focus is going to be really critical. What is really interesting is that given our current education quality, I mean this is my hypothesis, for poverty, most likely you have a poverty trap at the really bottom of the pyramid, if you like, the sort of bottom 10 percent where you’ve basically got that poverty trap. But if one thinks about the educational trap, I think educational trap would cut across much wider socioeconomic groups, maybe the richest would be able to be out of that educational trap, but large numbers of socioeconomic groups are within that because of the educational system and the quality around it, and the dignitary quality around it, you basically have education trap affecting a large number of poor people and non-poor as well. So, just graduation out of poverty is not going to help getting out of the education trap, that requires other interventions. I think that is what we need to think about, and how do we give those interventions, you know, which are effective but at the same time we are not going to be running another education program. So, this is really about what are those marginal interventions that can really make that difference. 


Banik:              There are many things of course Bangladesh is known for and associated with in terms of development. There are two things that come to mind for me, and for I am sure that a lot of my listeners. One associates microfinance with Bangladesh, you know, in terms of innovative poverty reduction programs and of course, both BRAC and the other major actor, non-state actor, Grameen, has been involved. I would like to hear you views on how the BRAC model of microfinance differs say from Grameen. Then another question would be related to what you just said about decent work. Bangladesh is also associated with this hugely successful large garment industry, and one thinks about some of the more recent scandals, you know Rana plaza and fires, and one thinks about all these major clothing chains that are shamed because they are not providing the right kind of wages and working conditions. Have these been improving? So, two issues, one on microfinance between the differences between BRAC and Grameen, and the other one on decent work and recent improvements in legislation and practice on decent work. 


Matin:              I think the biggest difference between the BRAC and Grameen approach is that Grameen focuses much more on just the financial service. I think the assumption in many ways is that ones access to financial service on its own can improve things or create conditions or create demand for people to make other changes. It is a more kind of microfinanced driven approach, whereas in the case of BRAC there has been not so much microfinance plus, well that’s what people say, but I I’d like to think of it as microfinance multiplied. That basically means that it is constantly thinking about very smartly leveraging both microfinance as a financial service, so access to finance itself, you know, how do you leverage that by other complimentary interventions like health, education or market development and training and so forth, so that’s the plus part. But the other very important part is that how do you also use microfinance, the social platform of microfinance, and I think this has become less important right now, but I think microfinance, to deliver microfinance, you need to create these social platforms, groups, village organizations and networks. So how do you use these social platforms? You have to deliver microfinance, how do you use these platforms to do more, to sort of leverage these further, these networks and these platforms to provide other services and create other types of changes. I think that is where the multiplied part is, and that is where BRAC has been really creative. If you look at different interventions of BRAC with health or educations or even market development, it is not only the access to finance bit that has been used, but also the platform of microfinance, the organizing platform of microfinance, which is poor people’s organization, it’s not a registered organizations but it is poor people coming together to get access to a service. So this platform, how to use this platform then. I think a lot more can be done on this, even if you may not have the physical platform as much and as important as it was in the past, because now people know microfinance, so the need of that kind of platform building, social platform, physical platform building, may be less. People are also very busy and they don’t have time to come and spend time, but how do you use digital platforms, then, to create that kind of networking effect, to access higher level of market access and market linkages, and also social problems as well. I think that is really a very powerful feature of microfinance generally in Bangladesh, but I think BRAC has been particular in harnessing that kind of power. So, I think that is the difference. You know, very early on when BRAC started rural critique program in the 80s, BRAC used to call it RCTP, Rural Credit and Training Program. For BRAC it was always about credit and training together. It was both the skills part to be improved, the marked development and skills part, along with providing access to credit. Unless you do both of this together, it is just not going to have that desired effect. RMG, I mean, I think there obviously have been tragedies happened, and there was lot of accord and alliance, there have been lot of donor driven or buyer driven compliance effort that has been basically important, that is not there anymore. I don’t think that that is the best way to improve compliance because…


Banik:              Which way do you mean, in terms of legislation?


Matin:              In terms of a buyer mandated approach. I mean that is what the accord and alliance after the Rana plaza, these two kind of high powered bodies were basically set up, and this really shot up the cost for many RMG sectors because of prices in this value chain wasn’t increasing, but the compliance level was, requirement was increasing to be able to do business, and so especially for smaller player, of course, they were not a part of the accord alliance, but I don’t think that has really led to a sustainable change in the overall standards. I think that would have to be driven, on the one hand regulations need to be much more customized to the contextual realities of where we are in terms of our sector, so for instance building code, right. I mean you cannot import building code, you know, requirements from Europe, and basically try and impose it in a Bangladesh context. That is just not going to be very effective. So this would require, you know, more creative, again, incremental creative experimental approaches here in terms of what is the minimum that we basically need, and we need a consensus around that. The sad part is that of course our associations such as employers’ associations such as BGMEA and others are not, don’t really have, a lot of teeth with respect to their members. It’s the members that drive that association, and that is really the kind of challenge. I think the possibility here is that there may be kind of good practice that may emerge out of clusters within the industry, so maybe it’s not all the members of BGMEA, but maybe for their own interest, from a self-interest point view, they may be bigger actors for whom it makes sense to really take on a much more of a standard setting leadership role that makes sense for Bangladesh. I think those types of possibilities in terms of new clusters that may be forming, one is to understand that and figure out how to sort of enable that and help that to create that kind of pressure to set standards that may work for us. 


Banik:              So, the whole world is of course now, well large parts of the world, are talking about climate disruption and if there is one country that is exposed to some of the most serious challenges that is caused by climate change is of course Bangladesh, low lying areas, cyclones and floods and enormous destructions that disrupts the lives of millions of people almost every year. What, according to you Imran, is the current discourse on climate change in Bangladesh? Do you see considerable political mobilization to undertake certain measures for adaptation? What is the current climate on the climate in Bangladesh?


Matin:              Clearly this is, I mean, Bangladesh is on the side where we are really kind of bearing the brunt of big climate human action that have been happening around the world, especially in the west. So that context is there, and the whole climate justice context, the kind of resource flow that we required from our damage, from our loss and damage point of view, that’s one part. In terms of, I think Bangladesh is already, there is lot more happening in terms of the climate adaptation area than I think we sort of know. I think that there is a lot more work that needs to be done, I mean, what are the constraints that people face in terms of adopting or the uptake challenge of climate smart solutions, you know. Is there a problem with the design of the solution or are there other constraints that we need to address? Where does the constraint lie, is it at the individual level or collective level? And what kind of policies can really help unlock that. I think that is a very active agenda in Bangladesh, and I think that is where Bangladesh again can come up with real social innovations in terms of community driven, community based models of climate smart solutions, in increasing the uptake of climate smart solutions in agriculture, energy, and areas like that. So, I think that is where Bangladesh can really come up with amazing social innovations, but the other part is climate migration. I think especially, how do we plan our cities, how to do empower our cities, city authorities and city governments better? This could be opening up a different kind of city government and governance discussion that needs to happen. It’s not Dhaka, really, Dhaka is of course, but there are other secondary cities around near the coast of belt who are actually bearing the largest brunt of this climate migration that has been happening, and is happening in a very quiet way. One of the challenges that I think we still are focused on, obviously the big events and then the big upstir that happened, but not the quiet, silent everyday kind of erosion of livelihoods that is happening, and the effects of that both in the source and the migration that is happening. I think that is another area that needs huge focus. And finally, of course, I think also the transition that what is now in the literature being called just transition, all of these  climate solutions would record winners and losers, there are transitions, there are different stakeholders, so how do you get the just transition happening? I think that is another big area, or big constraint, in terms of being able to make progress in some of these community based adaptations that would be really necessary.


Banik:              Imran, I really enjoyed chatting with you today. Thank you so much for coming on my show. 


Matin:              Thank you so much.