RDRS remains one of the largest non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and the leading development NGO in northern Bangladesh.
Since its inception in 1972, RDRS has been operating as a field programme
of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation’s Department for World
Service. The RDRS working area covers 30 Thanas (sub-districts) in
6 northern Districts (greater Rangpur-Dinajpur), one of the poorest
regions in the country with a population of 6 plus million.
As a mature organisation, RDRS has
to blossom itself to fit among the NGOs in Bangladesh. With a history
of twenty five years in the development service of Bangladesh, RDRS
is poised to arm itself for the future as an autonomous Bangladeshi
NGO. There will be many challenges and obstacles on its’ way and the
sustainability of RDRS will take utmost priority in such a fiercely
competitive climate. This is an insurmountable task on its own and
this Strategy 1996-2000 outlines the vision, mission, strategies and
objectives of RDRS.
A rural Bangladesh society with sustainable
economic and social development based on equity, gender equality,
justice, democratic values and sound environment.
RDRS seeks to improve living conditions
of the rural poor in Rangpur Dinajpur regions of Bangladesh by supporting
people’s development efforts and promoting justice, equity, gender
equality and the democracy process at the grassroots. It endeavours
to achieve economic and social empowerment of its constituency by
implementing a sustainable and comprehensive human development programme,
supplementing similar initiatives of other agencies, and advocating
policy for and on behalf of the poor.
RDRS is the longest established NGO in
the Northwest. It’s history and evolution as an organisation, has
undergone many changes which has effected the organisation’s existence
as an entity. The history of RDRS can be summarised in seven main
Phase 1: Formation and Emergency
The influx of refugees during Bangladesh’s
War of Independence, enabled RDRS to provide humanitarian aid as the
Cooch Behar Refugee Service of the Lutheran World Federation.
Phase 2: Relief and Rehabilitation
After resettling the returning refugees,
RDRS concentrated on rehabilitation work necessitated by a major flood
and drought emergencies.
Phase 3: Sectoral Development
At this stage, development assistance
shifted to initiatives aimed at promoting greater self-reliance in
six major component areas namely, agriculture, construction, community
motivation, women’s activity, health and works project.
Phase 4: Innovation and
New thinking and innovation dominated
this period. Inventions were varied such as the Treadle Pump, bamboo
tubewell, RCC pipe culverts, and schemes for low-cost composting and
poultry were introduced: to reflect change, RDRS became Rangpur Dinajpur
Phase 5: Integrated Development
and Expanded Impact (1988-1995)
The Comprehensive Project was launched
in 1988 and was aimed at the household and Primary Group. The Rural
Works Project was responsible for construction, technology and environmental
works. In the 1990’s, as RDRS undertook a growing number of bilateral
projects with donor partners, the Rural Works Project then merged
with the main Comprehensive Project.
Phase 6: Localisation and
Beyond (1996- )
It was decided for the betterment of RDRS
to transfer ownership from an international to an autonomous, Bangladeshi,
organisation. An Advisory Board helped guide RDRS in its crucial transitional
process. Legal advice was taken regarding appropriate legal options
for the new organisation and a new Constitution was drafted. The existing
system and structure underwent change to meet the demands of accountability
and cost-effectiveness. To further enhance the spirit and philosophy
of the organisation, a Programme Policy (1996-2000) and associated
Gender Policy was finalised.
Direction of RDRS
RDRS has a challenging task ahead to realise
its objectives and it intends to pursue four specific and closely
interrelated strategies over the next 5 years. RDRS will follow a
line of consistency and bear out integrity. The same basic developmental
principles and standards should apply in all spheres of its work as
far as it will allow. For instance, promoting awareness and democracy
will be developed not only among its constituency, but within the
organisation itself and in its wider advocacy and networking tasks.
RDRS will build their development programmes
on their past achievements and present strengths and resources, so
that they will be able to overcome weaknesses, address new challenges,
adapt and improve in a practical and achievable way to fulfill their
aims and mission.
RDRS has a good reputation to maintain
and keep constant guard over. This can be achieved by being professional,
accountable, cost effective, transparent and critical in its own analysis
of its work.
As an organisation, RDRS enjoys a high
level reputation and acceptance, locally and nationally for its history,
professionalism and integrity. RDRS has a vast and effective rural
infrastructure (field) which is not prevalent in many other NGOs.
The staff are committed and experienced and pursue an appropriate
human resource development policy. A democratic, participatory and
rational management culture as well as a healthy internal working
As a nationalised NGO, and a development
organisation, RDRS, will be exposed to the nuances of bureaucracies
of government agencies and institutions. RDRS will have to adjust
rapidly to survive in such a competitive climate. An expanded programme
to develop and train the Bangladeshi management cadre of RDRS has
been launched, to provide them with the knowledge, confidence, skills
and support to further enrich the ongoing developmental work of RDRS.
The RDRS Development Programme is implemented
through two main strategic approaches: the Core Programme and Bilateral
Project Initiatives. The Core Programme provides the development foundation,
infrastructure and continuity to work and achieve improved living
standards for over 200,000 households per year. The Bilateral Projects
are short-term single sector and area specific interventions seeking
the same objective utilising (complementing or supplementing) core
activities with the same or additional households. This also helps
the constituency to build their own institutions and mobilise resources
for their own development.
Strategy 1 : Core Programme
Through the Core Development Programme,
RDRS will maintain and expand a comprehensive development programme
operated on behalf of Group Member Households (GMHs) and covering
the 9 broad sectors using the established RDRS Field Implementation
Structure, namely People’s Organisation and Mobilisation, Women’s
Rights and Gender Awareness, Education, Primary Health Education and
Services, Credit, Agriculture, Employment Generation, Environmental
Management and Community Resources Development and Disaster Preparedness,
Management and Development of Vulnerable Communities.
The Core Programme is the practical application
of the RDRS holistic approach aimed at empowering the poor. It recognises
poverty as multi-faceted and intervenes in a comprehensive (multi-sectoral)
way, mobilising, educating and equipping the rural poor so that they
can tackle their own situation. The Core Programme utilises most of
RDRS’s resources and operates through an established development infrastructure.
The network of field-based staff is the delivery mechanism for conducting
its core work. The ‘package’ of development services offered through
this mechanism enables the poor to acquire knowledge, skills, understanding
and confidence. Although, the Core Programme will retain continuity
it will not remain static. The RDRS Development Programme approach
will continue to evolve as new challenges, ideas and opportunities
Strategy 2 : Bilateral Projects
Through this strategy, RDRS will strengthen
and consolidate the impact of the Core Programme through wider expansion
of bilateral projects under fixed-term agreements and with support
from new, non-traditional bi-lateral development partners including
the Government. Bilateral Projects represent mainly an alternative
funding arrangement. The donor agency provides resources which utilises
the existing RDRS structure. There is no need to employ additional
staff and resources. This type of initiative remains fixed-term, sector
specific and often limited to specific geographical areas.
In some cases, bilateral projects may
involve the establishment of an entirely separate project or might
add additional separate elements to the core programme setup. These
projects will generally enable RDRS to expand its coverage of the
rural poor or expand the service it offers to its constituency. Bilateral
Projects offer innovative ideas and approaches which the Core Programme
will be able to adopt. Quality of services will also improve and RDRS
will be able to participate in and benefit from, nationwide or regional
Strategy 3 : Policy Advocacy
The third strategy, ‘Policy Advocacy and
Networking,’ will seek to develop a solid alliance and a continuous
interaction with potential partners from civil society. This will
enable RDRS and the Federations to build networks and organisations
to influence decisions, disseminate relevant information and lobbying
for pro-poor state and donor policies both at micro and macro levels.
RDRS has always supported the view that mass poverty has its roots
in structural deprivation and efforts should be made to address it
at the macro-level. With 25 years of experience, RDRS believes that
creating a conducive policy climate is crucial for making further
and sustainable development breakthrough.
To achieve these goals, RDRS intends to
strengthen its relationship with civil society such as local and central
government, the NGO community, private sectors and others for the
greater interest of its constituency and on behalf of its working
area. RDRS will take steps in forging an even stronger relationship
with civil society in three ways, by networking, policy advocacy and
In the area of Networking, RDRS will work
towards enhancing initiatives taken up by the NGO Network in the field
of information sharing, education, land reform, health care, water
and sanitation. In Policy Advocacy, RDRS will make deliberate efforts
to participate in development policy dialogue with the relevant central
government ministries and local government institutions to influence
documents and policies. The concept of ‘shared governance’ is advocated
due to the increasing concern with the adverse effects of the centralised
administrative and political system in Bangladesh.
Strategy 4 : Organisational
Development and Capacity-Building
Through this strategic approach, RDRS
will have to ensure to remain an effective and dynamic development
organisation with continued internal improvement and capacity building.
The agency as well as the programme requires strengthening and empowerment
in three broad areas: policy making, operational and implementation
capability and monitoring and evaluation competence. In terms of the
organisation as an entity, RDRS needs to foster rationing of its resources
in terms of staff, facilities and budget and it will have to operate
in a wider environment to handle external relations and cope with
An estimated budget requirement from 1996-2000,
has been made, which on the face, it, seems to decrease from US$ 9,150,000
in 1996 to US$ 8,850,000 in the year 2000. This includes resources
in kind as well as in cash (e.g. food aid) and from all sources including
income generation, local contributions as well as donor contributions.
It must be noted that the estimates are conservative but the situation
will vary from on Strategy to another.
The budgets for the Core Programme are
realistic as they represent the backbone of the development work carried
out by RDRS. The requirements of this programme are that it operates
with a fixed capacity, staffing and clearly defined targets. Since
credit is not included in the programme but in institutional development
costs, credit creates a revolving fund situation and there is substantial
scope to raise this capital through borrowing. The budgeting for the
Bilateral Projects is uncertain as RDRS has little control or information
of future possibilities. However, bilateral projects have the greatest
potential for expansion.
Presently, activities conducted under
Policy Advocacy and Networking are financed from RDRS’s Core Budget.
This work is carried out by existing staff in addition to their other
responsibilities, although, the activities themselves carry a very
modest budget. As with the previous strategy, activities conducted
under Organisational Development are also financed from RDRS core
programme funding and will continue as long as resources will allow.
The two major substantial components in this strategy are Facilities
Development and Staff Training.
Potential Funding Arrangements:
There has been a general trend in the
reduction of aid in the world. South Asia is threatened to lose its
status of receiving maximum aid from abroad. This has occurred mainly
due to the West’s preoccupation of restructuring new and war torn
nations, remnants from the Cold War. South Asia is finding itself
increasingly competing for funds against African states (which are
being overburdened with structural adjustment reforms) and also against
the conditionalities of aid agreements.
However, Bangladesh has a long history
of receiving aid and the large numbers of NGOs are testament to this
fact. Often, Bangladesh, (due to extreme levels of poverty and deprivation)
is on the forefront as a major recipient of development aid, this
reflects the donors interest in poverty alleviation. NGOs have shown
to be adept at utilising aid in helping the disadvantaged in society.
This has allowed a special Donor-NGO relationship to develop and on
a national level, RDRS as one of the major development organisations,
has much to offer with its established history of development work
and this will prove to be its jewel in the crown when competition
reaches to an all time high. This established reputation, that RDRS
bears, will undoubtedly attract new sources of funding.