Because of the decline in donor financed projects, opportunities for NGOs are dwindling gradually. In the present day context NGOs should play multi-dimensional roles instead of just carrying out their daily tasks. NGOs also exist in the distant parts of Bangladesh and they are proving their worthiness as leaders. They are in the right position to expand the opportunities of growth in these remote areas, while being engaged in stiff competition with private sector and complementing each other’s roles. Therefore, it is absolutely immaterial if the approach is for-profit or not-for-profit. It is possible to use the achievements of NGOs in a business model, provided NGOs show their proclivity to change their mindset. In that case, it is possible for Bangladesh to attain self-reliance before 2030 and it will not be required for an NGO to seek subsidies from donors when it becomes abundantly clear that this industry is saturated.
Brac, which has emerged as the number one NGO in the world, is inseparably linked with the development story of Bangladesh. This organisation has not only helped the people of Bangladesh but has attained capability to address many problems confronted by other communities beyond Bangladesh’s border. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed quit his job from Chevron to build up a war-torn nation from devastation. He launched relief, rehabilitation and development activities in Bangladesh soon after the liberation. To safeguard development activities run by Brac and protect the interest of producers and consumers of this country, Brac established several enterprises over the period and intensified its efforts for human development.
Sir Abed concentrated on entrepreneurial solutions. Brac has set a shining example of how social capital can be converted into entrepreneurial solution. It is anticipated that Bangladesh will be the 26th largest economy in the world by 2030. Hence, focus should be on growth as it will be able to effectively alleviate poverty and enable the marginalised people to seize the opportunity to participate in the mainstream economy. But it is time-consuming to strike at the bottom of the pyramid in a densely populated country like Bangladesh and the threat of increasing discrimination between rich and poor looms large. To deal with these two issues, not-for-profit organisations namely NGOs can play a significant role by re-examining their role and changing their business modality. To do this, NGOs will have to identify potential growth sectors which should be a part of a different supply chain. As Bangladesh is a homogenous market with a population of over 160 million, domestic demand-led market should be the prime focus of NGOs. In this context NGOs can achieve expected outcome by replicating the model of any large-scale private sector corporations. Undoubtedly, this strategy will pave the way to establish supply chain models, minimum relocation of workforce, minimum investment and low distribution cost. Any for-profit initiative where social capital is a prime factor can be the best model in this connection and the activism of this type of NGO can be interlinked to achieve the primary objective of profit making. This for-profit company will work as a platform or networking company which will perform capacity assessment identifying competitiveness, geographic location, size, ability to invest, provide legal aid and settle ownership issues.
Previously donors were indifferent about the survival of NGOs funded by them. Rather too many consulting firms entered in the market limiting the NGOs’ opportunities. Thus the market has become saturated. At this stage NGOs should make a consistent endeavour to re-examine their strength and connect with private sector growth, the main development driver of Bangladesh. NGOs must change their business modalities in a coherent manner and on a right platform to work with policy makers for growth.
NGOs are preoccupied with issues relating to governance or ownership but no regulation has been outlined. Also, most NGOs are segregated and have not built any robust platform with specific vision and mission. NGOs are proactively working with issues of livelihood, health, education, women empowerment, sanitation, climate, youth skills, gender and so on maintaining relationship with local administration, local businessmen and different service providers. Such intimate connection has facilitated NGOs to collect a lot of data. This data serve as capital for NGOs to venture into large business. But still NGOs seem indecisive about the future and they will be in jeopardy if not guided in an organised manner.
Private sector actors have to be sensitive to the growth of the NGOs and acknowledge their role in the progress of Bangladesh. It deserves mention that small and medium NGOs are likely to enter into the growing market of agriculture, non-agriculture, community tourism, health education, renewable energy, retailing, ICT sectors or so on within the next five years. To sum up, a win-win situation can be ensured and the growth can be accelerated only when it will be acknowledged by the business enterprises that NGOs being equipped with sophisticated data have the capacity to invest resources in private ventures and are acutely aware of consumers’ behavioural traits.
Nazbul H Khan is Founder and CEO of PART II.