It is a weekday afternoon in Moulvibazar, Rangpur, and the melody of children chanting times tables is wafting through the trees. School is over, but students are gathered under shady trees in the village courtyards for another round of lessons.
The practice of child marriage adversely affects the lives of millions of girls in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, nearly one in every two girls is married before reaching their 18th birthday. The situation is worse in Bangladesh where two out of every three women aged between 20 and 24 marry young.
Jazirah Namukose, 18, left school feeling the sting of rejection. Classmates discriminated against her because of her disability- a clubfoot. But her life changed when she started going to the Kikaaya girls’ club in northern Kampala, Uganda. She gained skills and the confidence to start her own business- and found friends who didn’t treat her differently because of her disability.
Women in the workplace make sense. According to the World Economic Forum, companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have higher earnings than their peers. The Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards significantly outperform the others.
An hour away in the rural town of Tongi, Mahmuda Akhter, 16, sits in a mobile phone servicing shop in the main market. A stressed looking customer rushes in with his phone. Holding a small screwdriver, Mahmuda pries open the cover of his mobile and diagnoses the problem.
Poverty is opportunity. Sure, one can take a kaleidoscopic peek into the word's denotation, but poverty instigates and propels action intended for positive change. Today, around 700 million people are thought to live in extreme poverty, defined as surviving on less than USD 1.90 a day. In 1990, that statistic was more than 1.9 billion.
“Data not only measures progress, it inspires it. What gets measured gets done. Once you start measuring problems, people are more inclined to take action to fix them because nobody wants to end up at the bottom of a list of rankings.”
People are often very rude about ‘big push’ approaches to development – the idea that you can kickstart a country (or a millennium village) by simultaneously shoving in piles of different projects, technical assistance and cash. The approach hasn’t got a great track record, but now a kind of micro Big Push, targeting the ‘ultra poor’ in a range of countries, is showing some really promising results.
For Shahina, a poor woman living in the remote rural district of Noakhali in southern Bangladesh, getting cash used to be a long ordeal. Since she didn’t have a mobile wallet, Shahina used to have to travel three kilometres to visit the local bKash agent to collect remittances sent by her husband and two sons, who were working in the city. Sometimes she was unable to make the trip without someone to watch her children. The roads are often impassable after rains and the market is far away. And often the agent charges informal ‘service fees’ before dispensing her cash.