Revitalising livelihoods through self-help groups

November 7, 2019

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Jibika project’s village development organisations have 58% women representation in leadership positions. Since 2015, these organisations have been unlocking potential in vulnerable communities living near Chevron-operated gas fields in greater Sylhet.

Imagine a self-help group. A place where people unite to strengthen their rights and livelihoods.

A majority of these people once had no voice in the society. Women lagged behind due to the prevalent patriarchal culture. They were forced into marriages at early ages, deprived of education.

They lacked economic independence. Earning and decision making were left solely to men.

Things began to change when the country’s largest gas field started operations in their neighbourhood. It led to many people losing their land and usual sources of income. Uncertainty and vulnerability loomed.

The Jibika project was launched in 2015 to support these people, under Chevron’s Bangladesh Partnership Initiative (BPI). It is BPI’s first socioeconomic development project that aims to design effective, need-based social investment ventures. Chevron has been supporting the Jibika project in collaboration with BRAC and its local implementing partner IDEA, to develop social empowerment and economic sustainability in the affected areas.

People are resilient. Given the right tools, people can spring back into shape no matter what their challenges are. The Jibika project equips people with those tools.

Women started playing leadership roles, were getting involved in income generating activities that were once unheard of. Today, they are actively addressing social issues and working to make sure their communities thrive. They are not only shaping their own lives for the better, but moulding a brighter future for their children, family and the community altogether.

These changes did not happen overnight. 110 village development organisations were formed under the Jibika project to support people in the villages affected by the gas fields. The first phase of the project was successful, and the second phase began in May. This time, the vision was to leading these VDOs towards sustainability.

These village development organisations are now registered with Department of Cooperatives, under the Government of Bangladesh. They are operating with the seed fund from the project’s initiation. The fund is used to give out loans and sell shares among members, and is helping in achieving sustainability of the organisations.

Each of the VDOs has an executive committee, elected through the members’ votes. The committees run daily administration work – managing loans, maintaining members’ accounts and conducting meetings to plan for the future. Dividends are distributed, acting as motivation to members and adding transparency to the process.

To empower the members with advanced skills, the project trains members on crop cultivation, cattle rearing, leadership and account management. Different producer groups comprising of VDO members have been formed and empowered with linkages to value chain actors and various local service providers.

The communities have an enabling environment, where they support each other to earn sustainably and fight against all social odds. They know what their rights are, and exactly how to exercise them. Individual incomes have strengthened, so has members’ standings in society. But they are not keeping these perks to themselves – members are acting as resource people, and disseminating their knowledge in their communities.

Life is a scope to progress further,  not just a mere struggle. They know that the time for them to shape a brighter future is now. In building a future where everyone has the opportunity to realise their potential, they are holding nothing back.

 

Saurin Rahman is an external communications specialist at BRAC Communications. Ahona Azad Choyti is a manager, communication and outreach, at BRAC Integrated Development Programme – Jibika project.

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Mosud Ahmed

Excellent writing