The launching ceremony of ‘Modernization of Loan Management System (LMS)’ was organized by the Social Development Foundation (SDF) under Bank and Financial Institutions Division, Ministry of Finance on March 2, 2017 at RDEC Auditorium, LGED Bhaban Complex, Sher-E-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka, Bangladesh with active participation of hundreds of invitees from all spheres of the country. Influx of the attendees, especially dignitaries, high-ups of the concerned ministries, members of civil society, development practitioners, journalists, and invited guests along with the spontaneous involvement of the project beneficiaries who travelled all the way from different parts of the country was the remarkable aspect of the event.
With a view to integrating the village communities under SDF’s ongoing ‘Nuton Jibon Livelihood Improvement Project (NJLIP)’ for financial inclusion and accelerating the implementation of ICT Vision-2021 of the Government of Bangladesh, the predominant objective of the inaugural ceremony was to make the loan disbursement and recovery process, saving schemes and overall financial management system undemanding, ensure its security and generate real-time reports on demand. Particularly, the notion of real-time Loan Management System (LMS) making best use of ICT for which dedicated software is still in the development phase has come to light on successful completion of ICT Piloting already completed in 30 villages of the predecessor project, SIPP-II from Aug. ’15-Feb. ’16. Most importantly, it will gradually be rolling out in 2,500 villages to ensure real-time updating of financial data along with fund management through the Internet from remote villages located in various geographic regions of Bangladesh under NJLIP’s intervention. Entirely managed by the project beneficiaries who are mostly women, the initiative will indeed enable digital record keeping of the community based financial activities through eliminating age-old ledgers or registers and potentially turn out to be the most efficient means of real-time financial gateway for Village Credit Organizations (VCOs).
Whilst the center of attention of the program was the Hon’ble Finance Minister, Govt. of Bangladesh Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, MP being the Chief Guest, Mr. Md. Eunusur Rahman, Secretary, Bank and Financial Institutions Division, Ministry of Finance and Mr Qimiao Fan, Country Director, The World Bank, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal were present as Special Guests. Renowned economist and former Secretary to Government of Bangladesh, Dr. AKA Mubin was the Guest of Honor of the program which was presided over by the Hon’ble Chairperson, Board of Directors of SDF and former Secretary to Government of Bangladesh, Mr MI Chowdhury.
Receiving all the Hon’ble guests with flower bouquets at the outset preceded the address of welcome by the Managing Director of SDF, Mr. AZM Sakhawat Hossain. In his speech, Mr. Hossain succinctly highlighted the achievements of SDF so far since its inception and the role it had been playing to alleviate poverty being a home grown development organization. He specifically stated the fact that the predecessor project, Social Investment Program Project (SIPP-II) was completed one year earlier than its scheduled deadline and the current one, ‘Nuton Jibon Livelihood Improvement project (NJLIP)’, a US $ 220 million scheme, scheduled to be completed in June 2021, was launched immediately adding a new component in the area of health and nutrition along with institution building of the poor and extreme poor, employment generation through providing financial and non-financial services to the target beneficiaries, skills training for the un/under employed youths leading to put them to jobs and infrastructure development of the predecessor project ‘Social Investment Program Project (SIPP-II)’. Explaining the uniqueness of SDF’s approach, he added that only 10% service charge is provided by the borrowers against all kinds of loan disbursements which eventually increase the fund size of village organizations. He also categorically mentioned that SDF never calls back any funds once it is disbursed to its village institutions for intended alleviation of poverty. Accentuating the benefits of introducing real-time loan management system at village level, he distinctly highlighted its cost effectiveness with literally no paper work. Flamboyant address of three female beneficiaries including Ms. Moni Rani of Barisal, Ms. Jhuma Akhter of Mymensingh and Ms. Tajia Begum from Rangpur and their piteous stories of striding to become self-reliant by means of involving with SDF’s projects touched the hearts of the audience. The important bit of their addressing was being able to use laptops for data entry and managing the village loan management system by themselves using ICT indeed impressed everyone. Right after their speech, a message from Mr. Seenithamby Manoharan, Senior Rural Development Specialist and Task Team Leader of NJLIP, World Bank based in Sri Lanka was read out to the audience who couldn’t manage to attend for preoccupation. The English version of the message was also demonstrated in multimedia concurrently. Expressing the energy and confidence of the beneficiaries who delivered speeches, Dr Mubin was pretty optimistic about rapid eradication of poverty through SDF and making value for government’s money. He stressed that the youth development program need to be intensified through distributing loans amongst them and came up with the suggestion that distributing Desktops instead of Laptops could be a better option. Praising the passion and energy of the beneficiaries, Mr. Qimiao Fan, Country Director of World Bank voiced that the poverty alleviating programs of Bangladesh is being replicated all over the world. Nonetheless, he reinforced the need for inclusive growth and food security as the top priority for Bangladesh as 28 million people are still in poverty in rural areas despite recent progress. Describing the automation through ICT, a transformative tool that triggers growth, he was confident that the modernization of SDF’s LMS will enable access to information and transparency especially for those who are from remote parts of the country through real-time data updating. Claiming World Bank as the largest development partner of Bangladesh, he, in his concluding part, appreciated the partnership with the Government of Bangladesh as their financial support got doubled recently to the tune of US$ 24 billion so far. The Hon’ble Secretary, Mr Eunusur Rahman, spoke high about the beneficiaries of SDF who have been working hard to get rid of poverty and commended the contribution of SDF in government’s poverty eradication initiatives. Branding the poverty of Bangladesh as ‘relative poverty’; he praised the innovative approach of SDF and informed that Bangladesh has been maintaining 6% steady growth for last 20 years which has recently increased to 7%. Pointing out the fact of increased purchasing power of people at village level, he asserted that difference between poor and rich are gradually declining and Bangladesh is indeed moving forward. He emphasized to incorporate the concept of ‘financial inclusion’ in SDF’s program for those who do not have access to formal commercial financial institutions and informed that only 40% people of Bangladesh have Bank accounts. Iterating the vision of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Hon’ble Chairperson of Board of Directors of SDF, Mr. MI Chowdhury in his speech as the chair of event stated that the inauguration of real-time LMS of SDF will definitely contribute to achieve the objectives of Digital Bangladesh. He further said that 94% female beneficiaries of SDF will be financially included through this initiative which will unfold a new chapter of empowerment harnessing ICT at village level. Speaking about the successes of SIPP-II that lifted 6 million people out of poverty, Mr. Chowdhury confirmed that SDF is working relentlessly to chase the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through its ongoing NJLIP project. In this regard, he specially mentioned the recent visit of World Bank’s President, Dr. Yong Kim at a remote village of Barisal who expressed his sheer satisfaction seeing the de facto improvement of the village women. Right after the Chair’s speech, three Laptops were distributed by the Hon’ble Chief Guest amongst three project beneficiaries for their successes in using ICT at village organizations. Thanking SDF for its poverty alleviating activities, the Hon’ble Finance Minister, Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, MP said that poverty eradication had been the uppermost prioritized sector from the period of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Muzibur Rahman Government right after our independence. He particularly affirmed the contribution of our Father of the Nation, and pro-poor initiatives of succeeding Awami League Government in different tenures which reduced the poverty rate from 70% to sharply 22%. However, 34 million people of Bangladesh are still in poverty and half of them are extreme poor which need to be addressed as soon as possible to kick out poverty by 2024 notwithstanding the SDG target by 2030. He specifically stated the proactive initiatives of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for rapid poverty eradication and contribution of other development organizations that have been following varied approaches to alleviate poverty without consolidation. He also welcomed different ideas from all on how to get rid of poverty for those entangled in 22% and criticized some of the micro-credit organizations for becoming money hungry. The Hon’ble Minister reminded SDF to think about the beneficiaries of ongoing project once it is over and take further measures in a way that they do not fall into poverty again. Speaking highly about the modernization of SDF’s LMS and its beneficiaries, he formally launched the program through partaking in a live video conferencing with the female beneficiaries of Morichali village of Mymensingh district and had interactive conversation back and forth.
The whole program was telecast live (online) from the venue in an attempt to let the enthusiastic beneficiaries and like-minded stakeholders of SDF watching from their own convenience and location.