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 phases.

Phase 1: Formation and Emergency Relief (1971-1972)

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 (1973-1975)

After resettling the returning refugees, RDRS concentrated on rehabilitation work necessitated by a major flood and drought emergencies.

Phase 3: Sectoral Development (1976-1983)

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 Technology (1984-1987)

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 Rural Service.

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.

Organisational Capacity

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 culture exists.

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.

Development Programme

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 will arise.

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 programmes.

Strategy 3 : Policy Advocacy and Networking

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 ‘shared governance’.

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 emerging changes.

Financial Resources

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.

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