Honorable Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Gowher Rizvi
Honorable Mayor of Narayanganj, Dr. Selina Hayat
Distinguished Chair, Mr. K. M. Mozammel Haque, Secretary-in-charge (Additional Secretary), Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives
I am a great believer in Shombhob--that anything is possible if our conviction and dedication are strong enough. I know that you too, Honorable Advisor, are a believer in Shombhob, so it is fitting that we are here together to officially launch what is a very innovative pilot program.
In English, this program is called Conditional Cash Transfers through Local Government for Human Development. What that means is that it puts money directly in the hands of the poorest households so that they can afford schooling and better nutrition for their children. And it also shows how the Honorable Prime Minister’s vision of a Digital Bangladesh is not just for the most educated or well-off citizens. Through this program, information technology is used to reach the poorest of households and empower them to create a better future for their children.
Many existing safety net programs suffer from weak efficiency and effectiveness in reaching the poor. Honorable Mayor, under your leadership, this project will test an innovative approach to improving the effectiveness of safety net programs. Your office will play a critical role in forging links with schools and health centers to promote better education and nutrition outcomes of poor children living in slums.
The pilot seeks to test a transparent and objective targeting mechanism for identifying the poorest families. It then provides income support so that they can ensure regular school attendance and better nutrition for their children. Known in the development community as conditional cash transfer programs, global experience suggest that such programs, if implemented well, can have a significant positive impact on education and health outcomes.
Bangladesh's own Female Secondary School Stipend Program is an example of a conditional cash transfer program which creates cash incentives for families to keep their daughters in school. The program was set up in the early 1990s with World Bank support, and was one of the first conditional cash transfer programs in the world. Most importantly, it has delivered measurable results, contributing to rapidly rising female enrolment in secondary schools.
So, what are the innovative elements of this new Shombhob pilot? First, it will use statistical modeling to help correctly identify the poorest households. Second, it will rely on a computerized Management Information System to ensure timely cash payments and track whether beneficiaries are sending their children to school and improving their nutrition. Third, the program will use electronic cash cards to make payments. As you can see, this is an example of a new generation of “smart” safety net programs, which combine global best practice with home-grown innovations such as the payments mechanism developed by the Bangladesh Post Office.
The cash cards provided to mothers will likely have an empowering effect on them – not only will they be able to access their allowances under the project, they will also be able to use these Post Office cards to save or transfer money or receive money from others. Participation in the program is also expected to improve the decision making of mothers in terms of what they feed their children.
Let me point to two other innovations of a non-technological nature. First, involvement of local government institutions will improve the accountability of the program. Second, this is the first safety net program that has brought together multiple ministries to design a multi-sectoral approach to the problem of malnutrition and lack of education among poor children in both rural and urban areas.
We hope to see transparent implementation and careful monitoring of the pilot so that the objectives are met efficiently and effectively. So far, I am most impressed by the competence and dedication of the team of technical experts responsible for developing the pilot processes. Along with officials from the Local Government Department and the World Bank, this team is composed of colleagues from the NGO Bangladesh Centre for Communication Programs (BCCP), from a data research firm, Data Analysis and Technical Assistance (DATA) and from the Bangladesh Post Office. Their team effort has made it possible to receive applications from over 40,000 households, enter this data within 20 days, develop the list of potential beneficiaries, enroll over 14,000 beneficiaries to the project, and prepare and distribute cash cards for all of them - all within a span of three months!
With this impressive progress, you can understand why I believe in “shombhob”, that anything is possible if we turn our hearts and minds to it. The Shombhob program has a wonderful slogan which I will try to say in Bangla: “shikka pushti nishchit kori, amar shishur jibon gori” (by ensuring nutrition and education I build my child’s life). Let us embark on this worthy goal together, and learn from this pilot ways to effectively reach the poor throughout the nation.