Awards 2001 The Worldaware Not-for-profit Award

The Worldaware Not-for-profit Award

This is given to a non-profit-making organisation which has promoted sustainable economic development in poor countries in the developing world through the use of commercial best practice.

The Runner-up: RDRS

Saleha looks after three sons on her own in Fulbari, east of Rangpur, Bangladesh. Her life changed when RDRS staff introduced her to integrated homestead farming, which enables people with almost no land to make full use of the little they've got.

In this part of the world, three crops can be grown in a year. RDRS (Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Services) developed a treadle pump, using bamboo pipes, which helps raise water on to the land in the dry season. Made locally, it costs only about 13, which poor farmers can afford.

Saleha now has three cows, two goats and two beehives (a steady source of income, she says), not to mention ducks and chickens. She learned to graft her plum tree, so that it bears large hybrid fruit. She grows saplings of neem, mango and jackfruit for sale. She has managed all this even without the help of RDRS's microcredit programme (which offers up to 130 a household). "I don't need a loan," she says. "I earn enough income for myself and my sons."

Another RDRS initiative was to promote agriculture and gardening in the non-formal, part-time schools of its region, thereby encouraging pupils to grow crops at home and stimulating neighbours to copy them. They contribute to their families' survival, showing that school has its uses. One boy grew 225 kilos of vegetables in a single season.

RDRS has devised a flexible and functional system for building schools. Government schools are scarce in this remote area.

Dinajpur and Rangpur regions, not far from the Himalayan foothills and bordering on India, were for a long time isolated from the markets and government in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, by three big rivers. The 49-span bridge over the Jamuna is the largest in Bangladesh, completed only in 1998. The Teesta has a railway bridge, also used by road traffic. The Dharla has only a ferry - its bridge is being built.

Some of the poorest people in the country are nomads on the chars - sandbanks in the Brahmaputra, east of Rangpur. When one char is inundated, they move to another newly formed. Young RDRS staff live apart from their families to help the char people. Asma, a young woman from the chars, teachers in the RDRS school there.

During Bangladesh's independence war in 1971, many people from the region fled to India where the Lutheran World Federation set up a relief service for them. The service accompanied them back to their devastated homeland and was for years their one source of outside help, building roads, bridges, schools and clinics and promoting protection against flooding.

RDRS is now an independent Bangladeshi organisation with a board of Bangladeshi experts and a staff of 1,485, seeking to reach over six million poor people in an area of 2,000 square miles. It has a turnover of about 5million a year. It concentrates on the poorest of the poor.

RDRS operates through 6,000 women's groups and about 2,500 men's, with over 150,000 members in all. It seeks, in particular, to help women, once hidden behind bamboo fences, and to encourage them to come out into the world and improve their lives. Divorce and early marriage have become less common.

The RDRS groups are banded together in 250 federations, run by elected office-holders. The federations have office-cum-training centres and, sometimes, grainstores. The aim is that they will gradually take over management tasks from RDRS. Several hundred members of RDRS groups have become members of local union councils, the lowest tier of government.

The Judges say

RDRS's activities in Bangladesh are undoubtedly greatly needed. Their aims of developing agriculture, education, improved health care, disaster preparedness, betterment of the poor and empowerment of women are all central to meeting the country's development needs. We were impressed by the growth of the organisation, and its impact across wide swathes of the community. Of particular note is the success of the integrated homestead-farming project, which has helped to improve the landscape of the region whilst contributing to local economic and social development. RDRS has very clearly made a difference to a substantial proportion of the disadvantaged population of the region.