Creating a Start Fund in Bangladesh
Reflections from Dhaka
Around this time last year, DFID Bangladesh approached the Start Network to ask whether we would be interested in the idea of setting up a national version of the Start Fund in Bangladesh. Working together with our members in-country, Start submitted a concept note in June 2016. It has the provision to become a truly nationally owned fund, with access to national and local NGOs, working to respond to crises in Bangladesh within 72 hours. We are looking at a four-year project with a total value of £10 million, of which around £8.5 million will be for crisis disbursements.
From that point onwards I have had the pleasure of working together with a task team, made up of dedicated colleagues from members in Bangladesh (thanks to Arshad, Michaela, Mostak and Shakeb), to overcome a plethora of conceptual and administrative hurdles that were thrown our way. Every week we met over Skype to discuss questions around government permissions, recruitment, hosting options and budgets. We were keen to progress with the infrastructure side of the setup as much as we could without making any decisions on the design of the new national fund, as this would have to be a joint exercise by all Start members in Bangladesh.
Since end of January I have been in Dhaka to work more closely with the members in the setup phase. Dhaka is not the easiest city to live in: the traffic, air pollution and security measures make normal working life quite challenging. But – more importantly – there is a genuine energy to make this project a success and people so far have been, without any exception, a joy to work with, and talk to. My Bangla vocabulary is expanding daily as a result.
The last few days have been particularly good as we have now officially just signed the contract with DFID Bangladesh. This is for the Design & Build phase, which will run from early February until the end of August. Over these next few months we’ll be designing the Start collaboration in Bangladesh, and thinking about how we can localise the fund further in the coming years. Signing the contract is definitely a big milestone, but no reason for us to rest: there are considerable challenges ahead around government permissions, hosting arrangements and recruitment.
Over the last week I’ve been running consultations with the member organisations, as well aswith other colleagues in the humanitarian sector in Bangladesh. This has given me an understanding of how organisations and individuals see the possible value of the national Start Fund. Some are mostly concerned with improving the current speed of response in Bangladesh; others see this Start Fund as a good way to give local organisations a meaningful role in accessing funds, and in making decisions about how they are used.
But all the organisations involved agreed unanimously about some of the challenges: donor interest in Bangladesh is shrinking, as is funding, whilst at the same time the effects of climate change are hitting home. The cold season has become almost non-existent, drought is an increasing problem, while flooding and cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense. On top of all that, the situation for the Rohingya refugees is a great source of concern as well. The national fund won’t be able to address all these challenges - everyone is realistic about that - but at the same time member NGOs recognise the gap in early response and anticipation that the Start Fund could help to plug.
At the end of this month we will come together with all member organisations that are operational in Dhaka, to kick off discussions on what the Fund will look like, and what eventual purpose it will serve. I hope to give an update of how the meeting went in my next Dhaka blog. If you have questions on the Start Fund initiative in Bangladesh in the meantime, please feel to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org