I have been working with Practical Action, Bangladesh as Communications Manager.

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Posts by Mehrab

  • 7 actions to boost small scale green enterprise in Bangladesh

    July 26th, 2018

    The term “green business” is barely understood by the majority of people, even the business fraternity.

    There is no clear definition of “green business” in Bangladesh yet. People take it as a business that either contributes to keeping the environment green, in other words, unharmed, or that doesn’t produce anything that contributes to a carbon footprint. Most people also understand that responsibility for keeping our environment green and safe rests solely on our own shoulders.

    Green enterprise

    The question is whether we have done anything to protect our environment? The answer is both yes and no.

    The “yes” answer would come up with some cherry picked examples, but the answer “no” would be weightier,  because what we have done so far are just some unplanned initiatives that have turned out well. When I say unplanned, this does not mean that we don’t have any plan on paper – you would be amazed at the many wonderful papers and policies in place!  We are very good at writing documents like policies, laws, orders, etc., but lack the capacity and political will to put them into practice.

    So, what could we do to sustain and scale up green enterprises?

    Many ideas have been put forward, but I am going to share with you seven that I have picked up from a Learning Sharing Workshop, organised by Practical Action in Bangladesh, entitled, ‘Promotion of Green Enterprises for Accelerated Inclusive Green Growth’.

    1. We don’t have a government-approved definition of green business. Often small-scale green businesses are not considered by agencies that could have worked with and supported them. Therefore, this is essential to have a definition in place as soon as possible.
    2. With a government-approved definition of green business, entrepreneurs will get access to Micro Finance Institutes. At the same time insurance companies could open their doors to them to safeguard their business. Other private sector businesses will also join in.
    3. Small scale entrepreneurs are not holding back in spite of such an identity crisis. They are doing business which contributes to keeping our environment clean and safe. Our small-scale green entrepreneurs are mostly poorly organised and untrained, and they work in unhealthy conditions. The time has come to develop cooperatives for them. Unless they get organised, deprivation will continue, and they will be looked down upon. With unity, they will be able to achieve dignity.
    4. One of the important components of green business is organic fertiliser. Government needs to give especial attention into this. Every year we lose nearly 82,000 hectares of land in Bangladesh, and there are roughly around 2 million more mouths to be fed. We churn out the nutrients of our soil to produce more and more food from a gradually decreasing amount of land. At some point of time, our arable lands will stop providing us with food. Organic fertiliser is the only solution available to rejuvenate our soil. Now is the time for an orchestrated initiative to save our soil by promoting the green business of organic fertiliser.
    5. Kitchen waste could a good source of organic fertiliser. But, turning bio-degradable kitchen waste into fertiliser is not an easy task. It would take an orchestrated effort of different government agencies, private sectors, donors, NGOs and civil society groups. Effective and strategic partnerships to do this need to be put in place now.
    6. In the recent past, the collection, transportation and dumping of household waste (mostly kitchen waste) was managed by small scale waste vendors, commonly known as waste-pickers. Now that there is money to be made in this, vested interest groups have appeared to take over control of these. These groups are also controlled by the local political leaders. Strong steps need to take to give back these ventures to the real waste vendors, and provide support them to turn into green business entrepreneurs.
    7. With a government-approved definition of green business, a major public awareness programme needs to put in place so that people, especially unemployed people, will be inspired to start in this business.

    You may be able to add other actions to this list. But, one action, which is essential is that we all work together for this cause – locally, nationally and globally to ensure that more people become involved with green enterprise.

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  • Life begins at 50 again

    December 7th, 2015

    The line “life begins at 50 again” has been replaying in my head for the last couple of days.  It’s just trapped there. I don’t know why. Maybe because I am also at 50 now. It could be because the words gave me a sense of security opposing the negative social imposition that there is not much time left in your life. It’s very common when you meet people of your age, if you are more than 40, many of them remember that you are getting older, in a panicky way. Whatever the case, I liked the line and picked it up in my head from one of our guests, Mr. Eamoinn Taylor, CEO of EEP/Shiree, who was invited in the opening day of the Photography Exhibition organized as to celebrate 50 years of Practical Action.

    50th anniversary photo exhibition BangladeshThe 3-day long Photo Exhibition has just finished and was the biggest event we have ever had.  A cross section of people visited the exhibition from 1-3 December 2015. On the opening day, we had high ranking people from government agencies and donors, many development activists, journalists, students,  and renowned photographers visiting the exhibition.

    For many of them, the technologies we showcased were astonishing. They expressed their “ignorance” of these simple technological solutions for big problems like “sandbar cropping,” “bio gas to electricity to irrigation pump,” “modern cow-shed,” etc. Almost everyone was asked for the booklet that we published comprising all photographs in it. It was a matter of great joy for me that I have been actively engaged with the entire process of the event and the publication, with a team.

    During the closing day of the event, a question suddenly popped up in my mind – what have we gained from this event? It didn’t take too much time to get the answer. In the closing session, which I was facilitating, one of the government bureaucrats, Md. Nurullah, Additional Chief Engineer of Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of Bangladesh, said:

    “Now I can see how your work is rooted deeply in the development of Bangladesh. As an engineer I have seen lots of simple technologies that we can take forward together.”

    At the same time I could remember many other comments from the visitors that are really inspiring. Mr. Md. Akram-AL-Hossain, Joint Secretary of Local Govt. Division, said on the opening day;

    “I know about Practical Action from 2012. From the beginning, one thing I noticed that you are truly passionate about your work, which I think, lead your organization to go and grow further.”

    50th anniversary photo exhibition BangladeshAnother guest Mr. Hamidur Rahman, the Director General of Department of Agricultural Extension, said;

    “You have brought together the entire Bangladesh in this exhibition through your work. I do appreciate your move, and found many areas where we can work together.”

    It’s a pleasing coincidence that the year I have reached at 50 is the same for the organization I am working with. Many of my colleagues were greeting me as well during the photo exhibition was going on. The closing day of the exhibition ended up with a dinner party at our office premises. Our entire ex-colleagues were invited there, and many attended. Two of the first generation colleagues Mohamed Taher (Country Director, 1992-97) and Mohammad Aslam (Programme Head, 93-97) were also with us. They greet us; they wished us; they praised us for bringing the organization to the level where we are now. It turned into a joyful event of existing and former colleagues.

    The idea of arranging the photo exhibition on the eve of celebrating 50 years came from Hasin Jahan, our country director. With her comprehensive and practical direction, together we made it successful. A small team was passionately involved to make this happen.

    When I was going back to home from the party, one of my former colleagues, Anisur Rahman, now working with OXFAM, dropped me at home. In his car, we were four altogether: Abdur Rob and Nazmul Islam Chowdhury of Practical Action Bangladesh, and Abdullah Al Mamun, now with UNDP.  We took a trip down to memory lane talking of the early days of working with Practical Action. The roads were traffic-free as it was almost midnight in Dhaka city.

    At home, another party was about to finish; it was one of my niece’s birthday. I rang the doorbell and my little angel, who is now three, opened the door with a divine smile.  Then I realized again that life really does start at 50.

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  • Now is the time to stand against food adulteration

    May 15th, 2015

    They say, “You are what you eat.” For me, it means, the food I eat shapes my health and behaviour.

    Let me describe it briefly. Food gives you energy through providing vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. All these ingredients keep you physically fit or unfit. When you feel physically fit, you are okay with your everyday life – work, sleep, etc. But what happens when your stomach is upset? You get physically ill, that leads you to be mentally disturbed. Your mental disturbance reflects on your behaviour – you get irritated, lose patience, and in the end, you lose your ability to work. Often for a shorter time, sometimes for longer, and could be for a lifetime.
    _MG_7218Let’s take a look on what we the Bangladeshi people eat normally: rice, dahl, vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, etc. I could make this list longer, but for the average Bengalis, these items are common. Although, as far as fruit is concerned, we are not that big “fruit eaters.”

    Fruit comes on to our plate, mostly seasonally. Other than banana, coconut, papaya, guava, and some insignificant fruits, most of our fruits are seasonal. However, you can find imported fruits round the year.

    Bangladeshi fruit-months are approaching. The Bengali month “Jyeshtha” (second month of Bengali year; and mid of May) regarded as the “Madhu Mash,” means the month of honey. Honey, because of the sweet fruits, we are going to eat this month and the following one-two months.

    Every market along with supper shops and roadside makeshift shops will be flooded with many different fruits: mango, jackfruit, blackberry, litchi, pineapple, plum-seed, variety of melons, and many other fruits. The month is also a festive month in the rural Bangladesh. Grooms are often invited to visit their in-law’s houses. Friends send fruits as a gift. Even sometimes, fruits like special quality mango (from Rajshahi; north-western division) and lychee (from Dinajpur; also northern district) are given as a bribe instead of money.

    But what do we eat with our fruit?

    formalin-kitThis is a really big question for the last couple of years. For most of the roadside shops, fruits are adulterated. They apply carbide for early ripening and formalin for longer shelf life. 

    When I say “they,” it’s not necessarily the shop keepers or fruit sellers. Sometimes, at source, during harvesting, carbides and formalin are applied. It’s an open secret for us, but no significant steps are taken to stop this. I must say, adulteration does not go only with fruits, but with many kinds of foods.

    Do the Bangladeshi people aware of this not eat fruit?

    Funny question indeed. But the fact is: we pay more, sometimes double than the normal market price, to buy fresh fruit/food. There are some shops, especially in the big cities, that sell unadulterated fruit and food.

    Should this be the solution?

    I must say “no.” it’s a human right for everybody to eat safe food at a reasonable price. To be healthy, both physically and mentally is needed by all.

    As a Practical Action staff member, I feel that we should do something about this. With our Food, Agriculture and Markets programme, in Bangladesh, we could innovate an affordable technological device that would help people to test their food/fruit to see whether it is adulterated or not. I know that there is a formalin testing machine out there somewhere. We need to take initiatives to make this machine available for the commoners. We also could take part in the campaign against food adulteration to raise awareness. If necessary we should have a fresh study on it, and start policy influencing work as soon as possible.

    In the beginning, I was saying that the food you eat shapes your behaviour, but if the food, you eat kills you, you are beyond behaviour. Should we wait until then?

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  • Helpless in the face of disaster

    April 27th, 2015

    For the first time in my life, I realized how helpless we are when there’s a natural disaster, especially an earthquake. In Nepal, hundreds of people have already been killed.  We don’t know how high the number will go.

    I really feel very sorry for my Nepali friends; I simply can’t stand seeing the dead bodies lined up on the TV, so pathetic. Many buildings/temples have been crushed to dust, many of them are UNESCO heritage sites. This is also an irreparable loss of assets.

    It was my son who shouted “it’s an earthquake.” Firstly, I thought he was making a practical joke as he often does, but soon all the family realized that it really was an earthquake. Living on the 8th floor of a building we had nothing to do but wait. However, at one point, when we found it is still shaking; we got out of the flat and trying to go down to the ground floor through stairways as someone was shouting not to use the lift. At one point, I found that I am somewhere in the middle of the stairways holding my mother-in-law’s hand. I was helping her to get down to the ground-floor, but as she is about 75 years of old and sick to move any more, she resigned to move further. In the meantime, the quake had stopped, and we all got back to home. In Bangladesh we do not have any big damage.

    Visiting Nepal in happier times

    Visiting Nepal in happier times

    It is really tough to describe how I was feeling then. From then, I just have been trying to feel the fear and trauma that Nepalese have been coming across. So helpless we are, so small in front of such disaster. But, according to the TV reports, the Nepali government along with many agency and ordinary people started rescuing stranded people and supporting victims. India has already sent help, Pakistan announced help also and maybe Bangladesh will join with them.

    The good news for us, at least is that no harm has been happened to our colleagues and friends in Nepal.

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  • First day of COP20 in Lima

    December 1st, 2014
    Energy Minister of Peru speaking at an event on "Isolated rural Electrification" at COP20 in Lima

    Energy Minister of Peru speaking at an event on “Isolated rural Electrification” at COP20 in Lima

    Interactive screen in the Energy auditorium at COP20 in Lima

    Interactive screen in the Energy auditorium at COP20 in Lima

    Dancers waiting to greet the President of Peru at COP20

    Dancers waiting to greet the President of Peru at COP20

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  • They train dogs – we need to train our drivers

    August 14th, 2014

    The Hindu (Indian English Daily) and The Prothom Alo (Bangladeshi Bengali Daily) published a report on 11 August, 2014, saying that Delhi City authority is going to take an initiative to train Delhi dogs, stray dogs basically, as security strength.

    SAM_9106Stray dogs in Delhi create many problems for city dwellers; sometimes they even go mad and hurt people. So, with good intention,the authorities decided to turn the burden into asset. These dogs, they think will provide security to city dwellers when they are trained. A good initiative indeed.

    In South Asian countries – there may be other countries as well – one can see stray dogs everywhere. They are seen from the village market to in front of a flashy shopping mall, from a rural road to a highway, from the beach to hill, where not?

    I can remember how the Rajshahi City Corporation (north-western district of Bangladesh) used to manage stray dogs. Killing was the only means then. They used to beat dogs to death, especially the mad dogs. The action was carried out during the breeding time (August-September-October) of dogs. It was so frightening for me and my siblings. We used to run away when we see the dog-killer-group on the street. This was the accepted method of  keeping the stray dog number in control, then. Things may have changed now, I don’t know.

    With this bitter memory, when I read the news of dog-training in Delhi, I felt good. In fact, a thinking crossed my mind to send a “thank you letter” to Delhi authority. Though I haven’t sent a letter yet, I wish this initiative every success.

    Dogs? No. We need to train drivers …

    overturned lorry“Training dogs to provide security for city dwellers” is even beyond our dream, I believe in Bangladesh. This must be taken as an insane idea. There are so many issues coming every day to deal with, for our government.

    Recently, along with many regular problems, our nation has been facing a challenge on how to control road and river accidents, although road accidents are a kind of regular incident of our life. Every day there is news of accidents in newspapers.

    But accidents invariably increase during two Eids (Eid-Ul-Ftr & Eid-Ul-Ajha). Eid (Muslim Festival) is the time when movement of mass people increases – almost all working people, student, expatriates,  go to their ancestral home to enjoy the Eid holidays; everywhere, there is rush. This year was no exception. Last month, we observed Eid-Ul-Fitre, on 29 July; enjoyed 3-days government declared holiday – 28, 29 and 30 of July.  Keeping the holidays in the middle, if I take some days of before-after Eid, I can see the number of road accident and death tolls are alarmingly high. According to the newspaper reports, during  25 to 28 July and 1 to 5 August, a total of 202 people died and 717 people injured by road accident only; the number will be more if I add the river accidents (boat capsize). This is my personal calculation from 3 national newspapers: Daily Prothom Alo (Bengali), Daily Kaler Kntha (Bengali) and Daily New Age (English).

    Road accidents not take only the lives of people and leave some people disabled. There are multiple negative effects on family, society and nation. If we look at this from family level, we can understand the trauma. When road accident takes poor people’s lives or leave poor people disable, disaster comes down to the victim-family; mentally and financially.

    In most of the cases, accident happens because of the driver’s fault, though the entire system of our road management is faulty. But how to overcome this problem? Who should take responsibility? Who should monitor? I believe, there are plenty of answers jumped into your mind already. There must be many thought of action prevails in the government system, even some actions must have taken already. But the very first initiative, I think, should be to provide training to the drivers of Bangladesh. I am not saying to provide training on “how to drive” only; it should be more than that. To make our drivers calm, responsible, empathetic, traffic-rule-followers, we need to provide training for them. Being a Practical Action’s staff-member, I also wonder if there are any technology-based solutions to overcome this problem? Otherwise the number of deaths by road accident will be more and more in the coming days.

    If Delhi authority can start thinking about training up their dogs for the betterment of their people, why not we take creative initiatives to save our people’s lives. Do you have any solutions to this problem, technologically?

    NOTE:  More than 4,000 people die on Bangladesh’s roads every year. The country has one of the highest rates in the world, with more than 85 deaths for every 10,000 registered motor vehicles. That’s around 50 times higher than the rate in most western countries.


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