AS A signatory to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted on September 25, 2015, Bangladesh has been engaged in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals for the last six years and playing an active role in the global discourse on the SDGs. The government has involved various stakeholders in the process of implementing the SDGs with a whole-of-society approach to this end. Non-state actors have also been playing important roles in carrying out activities towards the implementation of the goals.

Thousands of non-governmental organisations worldwide contribute in unique and essential ways to development as innovative agents of change and social transformation. The history of NGOs in Bangladesh could be traced all the way back to the British colonial period. Since the British rule, NGOs in their traditional form have been working in Bangladesh as different religious trust-based schools, hospitals and orphanages. However, NGOs in Bangladesh underwent a radical transformation and turned into a key agent of development in the post-independence era. Since 1971, NGOs have therefore become part of the national effort to alleviate poverty in Bangladesh. Gradually, NGOs started to work in the fields of group formation, credit delivery, formal and non-formal education, health and nutrition, family planning and mother and child health, gender development, poultry and livestock, agriculture, sanitation, environment, human rights, advocacy, legal aid, climate change and in many other fields. The NGOs of Bangladesh have good access at the grassroots and in hard-to-reach areas with commendable creditability. Currently, 2,534 NGOs, local and international, are registered under the Bangladesh government.

The SDGs gave the world an ambitious aspiration that leads towards transformational growth with the commitment of “leaving no one behind.” Out of the 169 targets of the SDGs, the majority are not quantifiable within the national context. Unfortunately, data for forecasting those indicators, particularly reliable long-term data, are not available for Bangladesh. In terms of sustainable development goals, non-governmental organisations in Bangladesh are more involved in working on poverty eradication, social protection, equal rights to economic resources, resilience building of the poor to climate and other shocks, malnutrition, maternal and child mortality, epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, access to pre-primary, primary, and secondary education, violence against women, women’s participation, and women’s participation in politics. 

Unfortunately, the majority of non-governmental organisations are still less involved in ensuring a sustainable food production system, maintaining genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, animals, and their related wild species, preventing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases, preventing substance abuse, preventing deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents, providing universal health coverage, preventing deaths from air, water, and soil pollution, providing access to technical, vocational, and tertiary education, and promoting gender equality in the workplace.

It is obviously true that the role of the government and its activities cannot be substituted by NGOs. Non-governmental organisations, at best, supplement state actors in implementing the SDGs. Though Bangladesh crossed over from a World Bank-classified low-income economy to a lower middle-income economy in 2015, about 21.8 per cent of the total population is still living below the poverty line. The majority of people’s — about 88.94 per cent — housing structure is not disaster-proof. According to the 2017 Bangladesh Labour Force Survey, 2.7 million of the total 63.5 million labourers are unemployed, which is significantly more than the 2.6 million in 2010. The unemployment rate remains at 4.2 per cent, slightly lower than the 4.6 per cent recorded in 2010. The proportion of jobs in the formal and informal sectors did not grow in lockstep with population growth. However, there was no progress in reducing extreme poverty in urban areas: the proportion of the urban population living in extreme poverty was 7.7 per cent in 2010 and 7.6 per cent in 2016. And youth delinquency is also a major problem. These are some frustrating pictures, though Bangladesh has commendable progress in socio-economic development.

We are very optimistic about the bright and promising future of Bangladesh. The government cannot achieve the SDGs’ numerous targets on its own. The engagement of multiple stakeholders is very important. Global donors should invest more to accelerate the present stride of development in Bangladesh. Building trust, mutual respect, and support between the government and NGOs will aid in the achievement of SDG localised goals. The government should provide a more enabling environment for the inclusive and meaningful participation of NGOs.


Dr Mohammed Mamun Rashid has recently obtained his PhD degree from Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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