Partnership Between the People, Local Government Bodies and Central Government for Achieving MDGs in Bangladesh

[The following paper was presented by Professor Badiul Alam Majumdar, Ph.D., Global Vice President and Country Director, The Hunger Project–Bangladesh at the International Political Science Association (IPSA), 10 July 2014]

“People are poor because they are powerless. We must organize people for power. They must organize themselves in such a way that they can change their lives.” –Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder Chairman of BRAC

In the year 2000, world leaders met in the Millennium Summit to forge a global partnership to end hunger, poverty and related deprivations faced by a large segment of humankind. They collectively committed to eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and 18 quantitative time-bound targets (later increased to 21). The goals include: (1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) Achieve universal primary education; (3) Promote gender equality and empower women; (4) Reduce child mortality; (5) Improve maternal health; (6) Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) Ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) Develop a global partnership for development. Under these goals, a set of specific targets and indicators were specified. A total of 48 indicators (later increased to 60) were specified in order to assess whether the goals have been achieved. Taking 1990 as the base year, all the targets, except one, are to be achieved by 2015.

Bangladesh is a signatory to the Millennium Declaration and hence committed to implement the MDGs. It has been doing well making progress on the MDGs and is likely to meet most of the targets. In fact, it is considered to be a star performer. In a recent CPD study, Bangladesh is ranked second along with Cambodia, with Rwanda being ranked first.[1] The Government of Bangladesh has obviously been playing an important role in the achievement of MDGs. However, Bangladesh’s progress is largely attributed to the grassroots level activities carried out by a large number of NGOs. This paper probes the innovative interventions of one NGO – The Hunger Project – as an illustration of the contributions of the non-government sector toward the achievement of MDGs.

The paper begins by looking at the progress so far made by Bangladesh in each of the seven MDGs to be achieved by 2015 – the eighth goal is to be achieved by the developed countries. It also compares Bangladesh’s projected progress in selected areas to other least developed countries. It then describes the micro level interventions of The Hunger Project, the results produced so far and their implications.

1.0 Bangladesh’s Progress in MDG Achievement

The Government of Bangladesh tracks and reports the progress made with respect to the targets and indicators in each of the areas of MDGs on a regular basis. Table 1 presents the information regarding progress made on 14 selected indicators, representing seven MDGs and 14 targets as of 2012.[2] The first three columns of the Table show, based on the latest government report, the current status of each of the 14 MDG indicators relative to the base year and target year values. It should be noted that the information on current status is dated and does not represent the current situation.

Table 1: Summary of Progress Regarding Selected MDG Indicators in Bangladesh


Targets No.


Indicators Base Year 1990-91 Current Status* Target by 2015 CPD’s Projection
1.1 Proportion of population below USD 1.25 (PPP) per day 70.2*** 43.3 ‘10 35.1*** Slow Progress
1.5 Employment-to-population ratio 48.5 59.3 ‘10 For all Off Track
1.9 Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption 48.0 40.0 ‘05 24.0 On Track
2.1 Net enrolment ratio in primary education 60.5 97.3 ‘13 100 On Track
2.3 Literacy rates of 15-24 years old, both sexes, percentage 37.2 74.9 ‘11 100 Slow Progress
3.1 Ratio of girls to boys in primary education 0.83 1.00 ‘13 1.0 On Track
4.1 Under-five mortality rate 146 44   ‘11 48 On Track
4.2 Infant survival rate 92 35   ‘11 31 On Track
4.3 Proportion of one-year old children immunised against measles 54 81.9 ‘13 100 On Track
5.1 Maternal survival ratio (per 100,000 live births) 574 194 ‘10 143 On Track
6.1 HIV prevalence among population aged 15-24 years 0.005 0.1 ‘11 Halting On Track
7.1 Proportion of land area covered by forest 9.0 13.20 ‘13 20.0** Off track
7.8 Proportion of population using an improved drinking water source 78 97.9 ‘13 100 Slow Progress
7.9 Proportion of population using an improved sanitation facility 39 59 ‘13 100 Slow Progress

Source: Bhattacharya et. al., “ Attaining the MDGs.”

*Current status is shown with the year.

**With regard to forest coverage, targeted tree density > 70%, but achievement is shown > 10%.

***Represent the proportion of population above USD 1.25 (PPP) per day.

Note: For Positive Indicators: Positive indicators are those where progress means an increase in the indicator value (e.g. net enrolment ratio in primary education).

  • Slow Progress: When projected value >Benchmark Value and < Target Value
  • On Track: When projected value >= Target Value
  • Off Track: When projected value <Target Value

For Negative Indicators: Negative indicators are those where progress is achieved through a decrease in the indicator value (e.g. tuberculosis case per 100,000 people).

  • Slow Progress: When projected value <Benchmark Value and > Target Value
  • On Track: When projected value <= Target Value
  • Off Track: When projected value >Target Val

Since the updated information on current status of MDG achievements is not available, CPD’s assessment is included in the last column. CPD’s assessment is based on the calculation of the “MDG Progress Index” (MPI) for 14 targets. The Index is calculated as follows: First, a country’s performance is compared against the “required progress rate” for each indicator. The required rate, on the other hand, is calculated based on linear annualised rates of improvement for each respective MDG indicator. Second, a country’s actual rate of improvement or deterioration is calculated during the observation period to determine whether a country’s projected value is above or below the targeted MDG indicators.[3] 

Based on the CPD’s projections, Bangladesh has made significant headways in achieving the MDGs. Out of the 14 indicators, Bangladesh is on track in 8 indicators. In four indicators, its progress is slow, and with a final push in the final 18 months, some of these may be achieved. Only in the areas of two indicators – employment-to-population ratio and the proportion of land area covered by forest – its progress is off-track. For some of the indicators, Bangladesh has already reached the target. For example, in cases of ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education (Targets 3.1a and 3.1b) – i,e., gender parity index = girls/boys) – and under-five mortality rate (Target 4.1), the country has reached its targets.

Bangladesh’s Progress Relative to Other LDCs

Bangladesh has not only been performing well on its own, it has also been doing well relative to its peers with respect to achieving the MDGs. Figure 1 presents projections made by CPD regarding the achievements of MDGs, both for Bangladesh and other LDCs. The LDCs included in the projection are: 23 out of 33 African LDCs, including Haiti, (Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia), five out of eight Asian LDCs (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal and Yemen), and two out of eight island LDCs (Solomon Island and Vanuatu).

Figure 1 compares Bangladesh’s performance with that of its peers – other LDCs – regarding the achievements of 13 MDG indicators. Again, based on CPD’s projections, Bangladesh is expected to achieve most of the 13 MDG indicators. Its achievements are expected to exceed hundred percent in eight of the 13 indicators. In the case of poverty eradication and safe drinking water, its achievement is projected to be about 99 and 96 percent, respectively. Only in the case of employment generation, literacy rate and sanitation the country is unlikely to achieve its targets. Because of the burgeoning population growth, it is understandable that Bangladesh is facing difficulty in creating enough jobs. Even though Bangladeshis gave their lives for establishing their mother tongue as a state language in 1952, it is shameful that all of its citizens are, even after 62 years, are unable to read and write that language. However, the country should be able to achieve the goal with respect to sanitation.

Figure 1: Bangladesh’s Progress Towards Achieving MDGs Relative to LDCs*


Source: Bhattacharya et. al., “Attaining the MDGs.”

*On request of the author, Ms. Umme Salma of CPD prepared the bars, representing Bangladesh.

Although Bangladesh is doing well, the LDCs as a whole are seriously lagging behind with respect to the achievement of MDGs. Only in the cases of prevention of maternal mortality and the reduction of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS are the LDCs projected to achieve the targets. In four other areas – net enrollment ratio in primary education, ratio of girls to boys in primary education, under five mortality rate and infant mortality rate – LDCs as a whole are expected to reach above 95 percent of the targeted values, that is, they are close to reaching the targets. However, LDCs are doing very badly in the cases employment generation, literacy rate, child immunization and sanitation, and will not reach their targets. In cases of proportion of population below $1.25 income per day, dietary energy consumption and safe drinking water, LDCs are doing moderately well and their performance is between 91 and 95 percent of the targets.

2.0 A Micro Level Experiment to Achieve MDGs

The Hunger Project (THP), an international voluntary organization, has been pursing a “Three-Pillar Strategy” as a means of bringing a sustainable end of hunger and poverty. The first of these pillars calls for mobilizing people for self-reliance, the second for empowering women for unleashing their leadership, and the third for involving local government bodies for ensuring the sustainability of the actions and the results they produce. In Bangladesh, THP has been pursuing for the last few years a “MDG Union Strategy” – a strategy designed to forge a partnership between the people, their elected local government representatives and the government functionaries at the local level. Such partnership clearly promotes synergy and social harmony and represents a high leverage approach. Starting with a pilot project in partnership with BRAC in four Unions in 2010, The Hunger Project has been carrying out this innovative approach – which is not “money-centred, rather volunteer-driven” – to achieve MDGs in 110 Unions, each consisting of about 15-20 villages of rural Bangladesh. In 2012, the work was carried out in 80 Unions and in 2013 another 30 Unions were added, with support from BRAC and UN Democracy Fund.


As part of this strategy, THP works with people to transform their mindset of seeing themselves as “subjects” – dependent on government – to being citizens that take responsibility for their own development. Having women, men, youth, minorities, all taking responsibility, the MDG Union strategy sets in motion a “people-centred, bottom-up” development approach, in which people themselves become the authors of their own futures. The Union Parishad representatives provide catalytic leadership in this process and ensure that the work is sustained. In the MDG Union Strategy, the government’s role is to provide the appropriate policy framework and also create an enabling environment for the people to succeed.

The MDG Union Strategy unfolds by signing an MOU between the UP body and THP, in which the UP representatives commit to exercise catalytic leadership to achieve the MDGs, and THP commits to assisting them in this endeavor. As part of this strategy, the UP body participates in a four-day training, through which they go through a change in their mindset and they come to realize that as elected leaders they can meet many of the challenges that their constituents face, using local resources, both human and non-human, and without waiting for handouts from outside. The training is also intended to

Table 2: Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes of MDG Unions for 2012-13.

Objectives Major Inputs/ Activities Outputs for 2012-13 General outcomes for 2012-13 MDG related Outcomes for 2012-13
  1. Develop a vibrant and inclusive grassroots level civil society and social accountability mechanism at the local level.
  1.   Empower women as the key agents of change
  1. Develop capacity of UP representatives to ensure people’s participation, inclusiveness and accountability.
    • Creating volunteers and building their capacity through training and post-training follow-ups
  • Forming Social Units and ensure coordination
  • Empowering people with a vision.

2.1 Identifying women with potential and honing their leadership skills through training.

3.1 Building capacity of elected representatives   for making UPs function in a systematic and professional manner.

3.2 Linking UP representatives with “duty bearers” and the community for ensuring proper service delivery

3.3 Strengthening the transparency and accountability mechanisms

1.1.1 Created 7,179 Animators (Female: 3562, Male: 3617).

1.1.2 Created 4,092 Youth Leaders (Female: 2133, Male: 1959)

1.1.3 Created 1,260 PAR Facilitators* (Female: 653, Male: 607)

1.1.4 Held 83 PAR Community Facilitator trainings** with 1,442 participants (Female: 698, Male: 744)

1.2.1 Formed 1,041 Youth Ending Hunger (YEH) Units in 229 educational institutions with12,936 members

1.2.2     Held 25 Math Olympiads with 15,082 participants (Female: 8,505, Male: 6,577)

1.2.3 Formed 6,440 Ward Action Teams in 110 unions, which arranged 13,330 meetings with 191,522 participants (Male: 102525 Male, Female: 88,997)

1.3.1 Held 2,193 VCAWs, in which 43,902 community members participated

1.3.2 Held 2,901 “Citizenship Workshops,” in which 68,525 community members participated

1.3.3 Animators held 2,631 meetings to identify local priorities

2.1.1 Trained 1,822 Women Leaders through the Foundation Course

2.1.2 Held 38 workshops to train 657 Women Leaders to promote 1000-day Essential Nutrition Action (ENA) campaign

2.1.3 Women Leaders held 38 Courtyard meetings to inform 8,867 participants to convey the 1000-day campaign

3.1.1 Total 1330 elected members of the Union Parishad were participated on Special Animators Training for mindset transformation of them and performing statutory roles.

3.1.2 2824 members of standing committees were participated on capacity development training for strengthening the committees.

3.2.1 3819 members of standing committees had provided with capacity development training for strengthening the committees through 63 workshops.

3.3.1 Held 1,670 Ward Shavas in 110 Unions with the technical support of THP and assistance of THP volunteers, in which 206,861 citizens participated

3.3.2 Held 136 open budget meetings in 110 UPs, with technical support of THP, in which 19,689 citizens participated

3.3.3 Held bi-monthly meeting with 334 UP bodies

3.3.4 Prepared Five Year Plan books in 25 UPs, with technical support from THP.

*Organized 219 skills training imparting skills to 7,565 individuals on various trades

* Held 5,758 courtyard meetings, 7,978 parents’ meetings and 3,798 campaigns to encourage enrollment and prevent dropouts from schools

*Organized 4,168 Polio vaccination and vitamin A campaigns

*Organized 4,170 courtyard meetings to encourage birth registration

*Organized 4,150 campaigns to stop early marriage

*Organized 7,037 campaigns on safe sanitation.

*Organized 2,552 campaigns on tree plantation.

*Women leaders became well accepted and respected in their communities, and heir mobility increased

*National Girl Child Advocacy Forum established in 104 UPs with 1,144 members

*107 ‘Unleashed Women’s Network’ committees were formed at the UP level

*National Girl Child Day was celebrated in Dhaka with about 3,500 participants from 64 organizations and institutions; celebration held in 537 Unions, 88 Upazilas and 46 Districts around the country

*4th National Convention of the Unleashed Women Network was organized with around 1,500 national and international participants.

*International Women’s Day celebrated in Dhaka with about 2,956 participants from 58 organizations and institutions; celebration held at 499 Unions, 38 Upazilas and in                                    32 Districts around the country

* Union Parishads held regular monthly meetings as per the law

*UP held, with the assistance from THP, monthly coordination meetings with the NGOs working in their Unions

*1,352 Standing Committees were activated in 110 UPs

*List of beneficiaries of social safety net schemes were increasingly prepared based on public opinion gained through Ward Shavas.

*Ward Shavas increasingly played significant roles as platforms for people’s participation and prioritizing local issues.

*Ward Shavas increasingly became the rendezvous for interactions and sharing among elected representatives, development workers and the community in general


  1. 8,979 local initiatives were created, through which 16,004 individuals became self-employed.
  2. 2,310 local self-help groups were organized, which involved 27,273 people and having the current savings of around Taka 26,513,628


  1. 37,034 children (17,431 girls and 19,603 boys) were enrolled in primary schools who would not otherwise get enrolled
  2. 10,143 dropout students (5,667 girls and 4,476 boys) were sent back to school.
  3. 16,175 women and 6,402 men received adult literacy training through 830 adult literacy centers
  4. 13 schools, 43 free coaching centers, 58 libraries, 62 English Language Clubs and 37 Study Circles formed by local youth volunteers



  1. 3,775 early marriages were stopped
  2. 4,937 dowry free marriages held
  3. 9,155 marriages were registered
  4. 31,733 cases of domestic violence were stopped
  5. 1,084 women were directly participating in decision making at different levels: 413 women leaders were in the UPs, 765 in the standing committees and 699 women involved in the School Managing Committees (SMCs)
  6. 55 local committees were formed to protest early marriage, dowry and violence against women.




  1. Birth of 11,9361 girls and boys were registered
  2. 193,497 children received immunization
  3. Nutrition support provided to 57,413 children



  1. Safe births ensured for 34,793 mothers
  2. 41,702 pregnant mothers received inoculation
  3. Nutrition support provided to 28,051 pregnant mothers


Being inspired by THP volunteers:

  1. 18164 tube-wells tested for arsenic through which 80,259 families benefitted
  2. 30,643 sanitary latrines were installed through which 39,305 families benefitted
  3. 7,316 tube-wells were installed through which 30204 families benefitted
  4. 573,556 trees were planted
  5. 23 Committees formed by local communities for tree plantation.


enhance their capacities so that they can effectively perform their responsibilities as elected representatives.

The training of the UP representatives is followed by training a group of animators, women leaders, youth leaders and local elders, who work as watch dogs as well as helping hands for UP bodies. These volunteers form “Ward Action Teams” – teams at each of the nine Wards of UPs, and they meet each month to plan and review their actions. A local volunteer, who is paid a small stipend and designated as Union Coordinator, works with the UP body and other volunteers on a regular basis. The volunteers use the “Vision, Commitment and Action Workshop” (VCAW) and the “Citizenship Workshop” as tools to mobilize people for action. Skills training are also provided, especially to the unemployed youth so that they can create income-earning opportunities.

Table to 2 presents, using a simple log-frame structure, the results of THP’s experiment in 110 Unions to achieve MDGs. Keeping the larger goal of achieving MDGs in mind, the interventions were mad

with three immediate broad objectives: (1) Develop a vibrant and inclusive civil society and social accountability mechanism at the grassroots level; (2) Empower women as the key agents of change; and (3) Develop capacity of the UP representatives to ensure participatory, inclusive and accountable development. The results of these interventions were shown as inputs, outputs and outcomes, both general and MDG-related. The outcomes are also categorised in terms of MDGs.

As a result of THP’s work with communities to achieve MDGs at the grassroots through the end of 2013: 16,004 persons became self-employed through 8,979 local initiatives; 2,310 self-help groups were formed with savings of Tk. 26,513,628; a total of 37,034 children were enrolled in primary schools; 10,143 dropouts were re-enrolled; 16,165 adults became literate through 830 literacy centres; 3,775 child marriages, 4,937 cases of marriages with dowry, and 31,733 incidence of domestic violence were stopped; 1,084 women leaders took part in local decision making process; 193,479 children and 41,702 pregnant women were immunized; 34,793 safe deliveries were ensured; 30,643 sanitary latrines and 18,164 tubewells were installed; 7,316 tubewells were tested for arsenic; and 573,556 trees were planted. In addition, 68,525 community people participated in Citizenship Workshops; 43,902 community people participated in VCAWs; 206,861 local citizens participated in Ward Shavas; and 8,867 pregnant and lactating mothers attended Courtyard meetings on Essential Nutrition Action (ENA) program under the 1000-Day campaign.

3.0 Conclusions and Implications

In the Millennium Summit in 2000, world leaders agreed to a set of eight Millennium Development Goals in order to bring the citizens of least developed countries out of hunger, poverty and related deprivations. Taking 2000 as the base year, they developed measurable targets and indicators to be achieved by 2015. But with only 18 months left to reach the deadline, the LDCs as a group are likely to fall short in achieving the MDGs. However, Bangladesh has been performing better than most, and is expected to achieve most of the MDG targets.

While the government’s activities were important in Bangladesh’s performance, the NGO sector also played a critical role in this regard. In this paper, we presented the “MDG Union Strategy” of an NGO – The Hunger Project – towards achieving MDGs. In this innovative approach – which is not money-centred, but volunteer-driven – THP has been working to forge a partnership between the people, their elected representatives and the government functionaries to pursue a “people-centred, bottom-up” approach to achieve MDGs. This approach, which went into effect 2010, has so far produced very significant results, impacting the lives of the people of the respective areas. More importantly, because of the involvement of the local government bodies, namely the Union Parishads, the work is expected to be sustainable.

The results produced by the THP volunteers in MDG Unions not only had significant economic impacts, they also had enormous social implications. They appear to promote social harmony and cohesion. During the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Bangladesh experienced significant election related violence. Over 500 people died in this period, but the MDG Unions were relatively peaceful, and no serious violence took place in the areas where THP has been working intensively.

The reasons for THP’s ability to forge unity among diversity are obvious. In MDG Unions, people of different “identity” and backgrounds have the opportunity to come together, based on a shared vision, to work shoulder to shoulder to achieve MDGs, and thereby achieve better lives. The community members, notwithstanding their differences (religion, sex etc.), come to realize that people of different background are not “enemies” of each other, rather their common enemies are hunger, poverty, deprivations and exploitations. They further realize that they can be better off working together rather than working against each other. Thus, successes in achieving MDGs at the grassroots level can transcend differences, which are exploited by the vested interest groups, and forge unity in the community.

The MDG Union Strategy also appears to have immense long-term implications for Bangladesh. It empowers a group of transformative leaders in all sectors of the society – elected local leaders, students, women, ordinary citizens, village elders – in communities across Bangladesh, whose initiatives, we are confident, are likely to change the face of Bangladesh of the future. The uniqueness of these upcoming leaders is that they are not bogged down in the current realities of many “un-workabilities” – such as graft, corruption, political opportunism, religious extremism and so on – that Bangladesh faces at this time. Rather they are imbued with a vision for a better Bangladesh, committed to make that vision a reality and are adequately armed with a sense of awareness of their rights and civic responsibilities as citizens to create a country of their choosing. The VCAW and Citizenship Workshops, developed by THP and led primarily by volunteers, have been found to be powerful tools in this regard.


[1]Debapriya Bhattacharya, Towfiq Islam Khan, Umme Salma and Gazi Joki Uddin, “Attaining the   MDGs: How Successful are the LDCs?” A Paper presented at a dialogue organized by Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), 21 May 2013.

[2] Government of Bangladesh, “Millennium Development Goals: Bangladesh Progress Report 2013,” Planning Commission, August 2014.

[3] Bhattacharya et. el., “Attaining the MDGs.”

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