Friday, June 22, 2007

Introducing: Pushporani

While most of the songs sung during the training session were sung collectively, some songs were sung only by individuals. One woman in particular, Pushporani (pictured left, in blue), had an absolutely captivating voice. When she sang, everyone stopped and listened. This song was one of the most beautiful songs we heard during our time in Bogra. One of the other interviewers made this recording of her singing.

You can also download this song in mp3 format here.

Bogra Training Session, June 11th-14th

We just completed the first training session with the data collectors we’ll be working with on the project. The thirteen villagers from the Rangpur district with whom we’ll be working met us at Nijera Kori’s training center in Bogra for three days of data-collection training last week. Unnayan Onneshan’s Monower Mostafa led the training sessions, which he focused on consciousness-raising and interview techniques. Nijera Kori, who helped us determine an ideal site for our research, introduced us to these thirteen villagers who they have worked with through their own grassroots organizing work in the area. Upon meeting them for the first time, we were very impressed with their sense of comfort in interviewing and their enthusiasm for the research and the subject of microcredit.

We first met the villagers on the night we arrived in Bogra, at dinner. After we all introduced ourselves, they sang us what turned out to be one of many songs over the next few days. Singing is very common in Bangladesh, especially in the rural areas. The landless people who work with Nijera Kori are particularly excited about singing together, about all sorts of topics ranging from group solidarity to Bangladesh's liberation war to Hindu-Muslim unity.

Monower focused the first day of training on developing the perspectives of the villagers, helping them think critically about life in their village. Through a mixture of lecture, discussion, and hands-on activities throughout the day, he worked with them to come to a broader understanding of the changing dynamics of their village over time and the differences between microcredit institutions and different forms of credit available to people in their village. The training was still going strong at 9:00 when we realized it was time for dinner and we had to stop for the day. We apologized for keeping them so late, and they insisted that they were so excited about the work we were doing together that they could stay for two more hours without needing to stop.

On the second day of training, we unveiled the digital voice recorders that they will be using to record their interviews with their fellow villagers. After teaching them in small groups for about half an hour how to use the different buttons, the excitement became palpable. Learning to use the new technology was really exciting for them, particularly being able to hear their own voices played back to them. They immediately began practicing, conducting sample interviews and recording themselves singing into the recorders. They took turns recording each other, some singing alone, some in groups. Their love of singing collectively turned out to be a great way to engage more actively in learning about the technology that they'll be using for conducting interviews.

The last day of training, we staged mock interviews with another group of villagers who were visiting the center for a different Nijera Kori training session. It was great to get a chance to see our data collectors in action, trying out their new skills. Hearing the stories they heard from their test respondents was exciting. They emphasized their enthusiasm for talking to people like them about their stories and experiences with microcredit.

We are feeling extremely excited about the results of the training session, and the enthusiasm of the interviewers about getting the stories heard of microcredit at the grassroots level. The training was designed to give our data collectors the tools to fully explore people’s stories about microcredit from their own perspectives. We deemphasized formally-framed questions, and taught them instead to be sensitive to following the natural progression of stories and conversations, getting as much detail and as many angles as possible. In their sample interviews, we saw this training come to fruition. In early July, we’ll be heading up to Rangpur for a while for a follow-up training and the beginning of our data collection process!

We look forward to posting more stories about the individual interviewers soon.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Exciting New Partnerships

Tuesday's brainstorming session was a great success. We had twelve representatives from NGOs representing a range of perspectives on microcredit, which made for a lively and thought-provoking discussion. Participants included Mahmuda Islam, General Secretary of Women for Women and a Professor of Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies at Dhaka University, Shahidur Rahman and Ali Asgar Sabri from ActionAid Bangladesh, Monirul Islam, from Oxfam, Proloy Barua, a member of BRAC's research staff, Faiza Ahad, the Chief Investment Officer of the Anukul Foundation, an offshoot of CARE-Bangladesh's microcredit program, as well as representatives of other NGOs in Dhaka engaging in policy, research, and development work.

Getting the participants' insights into our research goals and approaches was very valuable. The meeting was a chance for us to assess how our research can be of the most benefit to the Dhaka NGO and research community. The other participants seemed excited about gaining a stake in our research, and shared with us ideas about what kinds of information we could look for that would be most helpful to the work they are doing. Many participants had their own experiences with researching microcredit, and they shared with us their stories about conversations they had had with microcredit recipients, which have already helped us in the development of our own research questions. There was a general consensus that this kind of research is necessary, and will provide extremely helpful information that isn’t currently available to researchers and practitioners.

We are looking forward to engaging in more conversations soon with these partners about how this summer’s research can contribute to an ongoing dialogue over the state of microcredit and how it can be improved to meet the needs of the poor. By maximizing the involvement of the broader community in the process of conducting this research, we hope to increase the impact of the products of our research, assuring that the voices of our respondents will be heard throughout Bangladesh’s NGO community and beyond.

We also extended a formal invitation to all participants to join the Dhaka City Partner Network which is currently in development, and discussed with them our plans to hold an international conference in Dhaka in 2008 focusing on new directions in poverty alleviation, in which we enlisted their help. We will be following up this Brainstorming Session with individual meetings in the near future to have more in-depth discussions about the possibilities of partnership and expanding the scope and potential of our research.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Upcoming Brainstorming Session

We're planning a major brainstorming session to discuss our research goals and questions with other organizations and researchers in the Dhaka NGO community. It will be an opportunity for us to engage the diverse insights and perspectives of the organizations involved in thinking about the issues we'll be dealing with this summer. A number of prominent NGO's have confirmed that they'll be sending representatives, including ActionAid and Oxfam.

With so many people here with different approaches to thinking about poverty alleviation, this brainstorming session will be a major step towards getting the many organizations with an interest in microcredit and empowerment around the same table to discuss the state of microcredit in Bangladesh. We will be channeling this collaborative work into building a Goldin Institute partner city network in Dhaka. The brainstorming session is scheduled to take place this Tuesday, June 5th at Unnayan Onneshan. We look forward to letting you know how it goes!

New Project Partnership with Nijera Kori

We’ve got some fantastic news to share about the project. Last week we met with Khushi Kabir, the director of the Bangladeshi organization Nijera Kori, and invited them to partner with the Goldin Institute and Unnayan Onneshan on our research project this summer. We're thrilled to announce that they've accepted! Nijera Kori’s experience and resources will be a huge contribution to the project.

Nijera Kori works to organize landless groups and laborers. They have an extensive network of grassroots organizers in many communities across Bangladesh, and have an intimate knowledge of the operations of these communities. Their work has been the subject of extensive academic research projects, which have consistently determined that the work Nijera Kori is doing in Bangladesh is unparalleled in its empowerment of landless groups. With their help, we have selected our research site. The village, in the northern Rangpur district, is home to about 700 families. There are eight microcredit organizations active there, which means it will be the perfect site for our research. Nijera Kori has also identified the ten community members who we will train to do the interviewing for the project.

Nijera Kori also has a training facility in Bogra, and have agreed to allow us to use this space to conduct the three-day training for our interviewers. The training is currently scheduled for mid-June.