Update & Resources

1. Broad Principles

In setting and pursuing its mission, the character of the organisation and its work is a critical factor. The RDRS Bangladesh programme has developed a distinctive identity and value system, strongly influenced by its past, its place, and its people (see Diagram) – this identity, along with underlying values, underpin the Strategy 2001-2005.

The centrality of the rural poor– RDRS has never lost sight of its primary function and raison d’être – to support the emergence of, to give voice to, and to empower the rural poor of the north-west. All actions must be assessed according to this fundamental principle.
Integrity and consistency of approach – between the development programme, the development organisation and its wider interactions, RDRS must practise what it preaches; the same basic developmental principles and standards should apply in all spheres of its work as far as possible. Promoting awareness and democracy must be developed not only among its constituency, but within the organisation itself and in its wider advocacy and networking tasks. Promoting economic viability should not be restricted only to income-generating activities of beneficiaries but to all the organisations own economic work; promoting environmental or gender awareness cannot only be limited to its grassroots work with the poor. The values of honesty, dedication, participation and transparency are insisted on throughout.
Building realistically on the present – effective development must start from where the people are. Thus the Strategies for RDRS are seldom radical-departures but the logical development of past and present work. The challenge is to build on past achievements and present strengths and resources, to overcome weaknesses and setbacks, to address new challenges, adapt and improve in a practical and achievable. This evolutionary approach is essential for a locally–rooted organisation which has been working for poverty alleviation in the north since the birth of the nation. Approaches change, people and methods evolve but RDRS demonstrates its loyalty and commitment to its working area and, especially the poor.
Focus and impact – the geographic concentration of RDRS’s work, the intensive and integrated area approach, the linking of bilateral and core projects to improve impact demonstrate the seriousness and focus with which the organisation approaches its work. RDRS is not concerned with ephemeral tinkering – it is here on a long-term basis to make a difference. The Strategies are an attempt to further strengthen focus and impact and to make a difference. RDRS scales-up and integratse its work within its working area to this end. The themes of targeting, intensification and popular participation are central to these strategies.
Quality and effectiveness – RDRS is conscious of its good reputation among NGOs built up over many years of dedicated work. The Strategies seek to guard and enhance this reputation through improved quality and increased effectiveness and efficiency of work. The themes of professionalisation, systematisation, accountability, cost-effectiveness, improved technical capacity, transparency and critical self-analysis are thus emphasised.
2. Distinctive Characteristics of RDRS and its Approach

While RDRS shares similarities with other development NGOs operating in Bangladesh, it a number of distinctive characteristics:

Intensive geographic focus and concentration: The continued regional concentration of RDRS activities in 6 Districts of northern Bangladesh has enabled RDRS to gain acceptance and trust from the local community, government and beneficiaries. The concentration of various developmental and relief interventions through a network of district, upazila and union level field workers also creates an intensified impact reaching towards a `critical mass’ concept of social organisation and development to be aimed for. Finally, the continued multi-purpose presence in a fixed number of localities also increases implementation capacity, as well as flexibility in operations and promotes efficient and cost-effective operation.
Integrated and multidisciplinary approach: Despite pressures, the RDRS programme pursues a holistic integrated development towards poverty and empowerment. Though the organisation and delivery may not always be fully integrated (for example due to the differing resource provision), the programme believes that the multifaceted nature of poverty requires a relatively balanced intervention, stressing for example social and economic dimensions equally. The concept of a core programme implies both continuity and integration – a holistic development foundation as offering the best means of empowerment yet which is flexible to respond to additional opportunities built upon this foundation.
Relatively participatory management style and shared responsibility: Unlike many national NGOs, which are the creation of one dynamic and charismatic founder-leader, RDRS has developed differently. It has a strong organisational culture, a distinctive identity and a style of shared decision-making relying on a broad cadre of experienced senior staff. With less than 8% of its total staff in administrative or support positions in Dhaka or Rangpur, RDRS also has a very marked field orientation and focus.
Experience and continuing capacity to learn and to adapt: Few other organisations possess such continuity and depth of experience in relief, rehabilitation and development work.
Building sustainable peoples’ institutions of, by and for the rural poor: Surprisingly few NGOs promote the logical development progression beyond grassroots Primary Groups and thus remain constrained in service delivery or support organisation mode. RDRS has consistently promoted the emergence of this second tier or apex bodies known as Federation of the landless and marginal farmers. In addition to promoting their strengthening as vital institutional and representative bodies of the poor RDRS also supports them to develop economic and several assets under their control and management.
RDRS Identity
28 years of service as an LWF/WS field programme.
At the birth of the nation, shared in its birthpains (refugee relief) and grown up with it.
Witnessed/participated in many changes including changes in development approach (relief-development continuum).
Faced repeated challenges of disaster relief/rehabilitation work.
Early pioneers of women’s development.
Several generations of staff within the organisation.
Local acceptance & wider reputation built over the years.
Operates within networks of former beneficiaries, staff, NGOs, govt officials.
Undergone localisation (coming of age).
It has helped shape its present rural working environment (roads, trees, schools, etc).
Exclusive focus on the North, esp Northwest (NW).
Intensive presence throughout NW, many staff from the North-West of Bangladesh.
Experience shaped by the environment of the NW (poverty, drought, flood, inaccessibility).
Sympathy/identification with the NW.
Ability/confidence to `make an impact’.
A voice for the north, a neglected region, raising issues/ mobilising resources for the NW.
The changing geography of the NW (development, greatly improved communication, reduced isolation).
Strong field orientation (Rangpur not Dhaka is the `head office’, if any).
Regional focus but international (the name RDRS `Bangladesh’ is deliberate).
Some shared identity with LWF India and Nepal (geography, culture, founding (Hodne), approaches).
Valued network of strong international partners.
Relatively participatory/democratic.
Relatively less hierarchic.
No one-person operation, diffused and shared authority/responsibility.
A type of partnership with a range of stakeholders ranging including core partners, staff, constituency.
Liberal Christian/humanitarian values reflected in the new secular RDRS.
Humane, principled.
Honesty, integrity, openness and transparency.
Striving to improve.
Adaptive, learning, innovative.
Professional and experienced.
Solid, established, not self-promoting.
Field/constituency-focused (over 92% of staff are based outside Dhaka,Rangpur).
Pride, acceptance and respect among NGOs and others in Bangladesh; a `reputation’ to maintain, a standard to uphold.

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