Bangladesh is one of the world's most densely populated countries and poverty is deep and widespread. However, economists see it as one of the "Next Eleven" tier of developing countries with potential for foreign-investment led growth. ICCO focuses on mobilizing rural communities and engaging them in developing inclusive sustainable and profitable income generating opportunities. This is supported by lobby and policy work to demand a more effective enabling environment of the government.
Bangladesh Country Office
Bangladesh progresses on different tracks: one fast and forward looking, one slow and marred with tenacious obstacles. With an average annual economic growth of five to six percent since the early 1990s, Bangladesh aims to move into the middle income bracket of countries by 2021. On the other hand, however, poverty in absolute terms is still soaring, the country is highly populous, rapidly urbanizing, highly vulnerable to natural disasters and is experiencing the effects of climate change. Women and minorities are marginalized and youth is without a clear destiny in life. Governance is generally poor, while the level of centralisation remains amongst the highest in the world.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) account for 25 % of Bangladesh’ GDP, 80 percent of industrial jobs, and 25 percent of the total labour force in Bangladesh. Still, the sector gets negligible facilitation from different support service providers. There are various constraints that hinder the development of SMEs in Bangladesh, such as lack of medium to long-term credit, limited access to market opportunities, technology, and expertise and business information. A quick scan of the agricultural sector shows that most subsectors (except fishing) are witnessing a decreasing growth rate, which implies that unless new technologies or processes can turn around this tendency, it would not be encouraging to invest in this sector. WASH, on the other hand, shows good opportunities, given the increasing attention for water and sanitation and increased per capita income. However, robust business models have not gone beyond the pilot stage, which is partially due to the huge aid pumped into the sector.
The traditional reliance of rural livelihoods on income from agriculture is diminishing. In this context, rural non-farm activities in the form of micro enterprise development offer an alternative way of reducing unemployment.
Large national companies take up a sizeable part in the GDP growth. Apart from a few big national level seed and agrifood processing companies, the garments industry and the relatively new shrimp industry account for the large growth in GDP in recent years. While important on a macro-economic level, growth in these sectors also puts in the agenda the issue of business and human rights.
Food & Nutrition Security and Market Access: ICCO focuses on income generation and agricultural production systems, including market access. This position builds on one of our major strengths as we have formed numerous and diverse types of farmer/production groups through our projects in Bangladesh. ICCO continues to reach out to the extreme poor and/or marginalized groups and seeks to enhance their socio-economic integration using the “Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P)” approach. We believe that these diverse groups have the ability to develop a viable agricultural business operation and offer a range of business services to their members. ICCO also believes that the creation of mutual beneficial trade and service linkages between market actors, service providers and producers is a crucial driver in the access to markets and the economic empowerment process.
In addition, we carry out lobby and advocacy work based on action research involving all relevant stakeholders from local to national level, related to social safety networks, access to natural resources, improved nutrition practices, change in regulatory framework that is supportive to nutrition security, as well as the enabling environment for micro-economic development and market operation.
Inclusive Business Development and Impact Investment: In shifting from our focus on production only to income generation and agricultural production systems, ICCO actively started to engage with rural and urban based entrepreneurs and now has access to more than 800 formal member based organizations. ICCO believes that micro enterprise development can be taken up by building vocational and business skills of young people with a focus on those that have potential entrepreneurial capacities. ICCO supports such small agri-based businesses in their incubation process, and helps them to get prepared to receive bigger investments. Through its investment fund, ICCO is able to take on part of the investment requirements of the agribusinesses itself.
Water and Sanitation: ICCO works directly with users of water and sanitation services in order to address their needs and improve their WASH condition. We use private sector driven interventions to advance sanitation, as well as work on testing and piloting new technologies in the market.
ICCO is also involved in local level lobby and advocacy work, directed towards the local government and private sector, in order to have better services and opportunities for poor communities to access water and sanitation. To this end, ICCO is engaged in lobbying activities as a strategy to promote change. At the national level, partnerships such as that with the Bangladesh Wash Alliance (BWA), will be strengthened.
Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P): M4P aims to maximize the potential for sustainable impact while reducing market distortions by ‘leveling the playing field’ for all actors. ICCO uses M4P as the key approach to link producers to consolidators and financing institutions, as well as key markets and buyers of specific products and commodities. Based on M4P approaches, we design subsector interventions and implement them through multi actor processes. The approach is applied mostly in our agriculture, food security and/or WASH programs.
Value Chain Development (VCD): At ICCO, we emphasize on empowering people so that they can connect with viable and sustainable value chains, generate income and produce sufficient quantities of quality food for a balanced diet. We apply programmatic approaches with a broad range of value chain actors, including NGOs, producer organizations, local small and medium enterprises, international companies and financial institutions. Programmatic cooperation around value chains by a diversity of actors results in more outreach and sustainability. ICCO improves productivity and works toward fair price and living wages for small producers. Actors working together on value chain issues are also better able to define lobby issues to their government for a better enabling environment, as they have a united and stronger voice to demand their rights.
Lobby and Advocacy: In our lobby activities, we build bridges between our beneficiaries, CSOs, governments, businesses and NGOs. We work on unequal (power) relations and give a voice to the most vulnerable and excluded groups. In Bangladesh, ICCO Cooperation and its partners raise awareness and builds capacity among these groups, as well as publish researches, as means and tools in lobby work.
Business Incubation and Impact Investment: Through our investments programs, ICCO contributes to fair economic development in emerging economies. ICCO provides conditional capital (such as loans, equity and guarantees), by ‘blending’ financial instruments. Our Business Incubator Program (AgriBusiness Booster) provides capacity and capital to small and medium enterprises and farmer cooperatives, for them to grow and develop into strong and independent enterprises.