Bibhash Chakraborty and G.M.Shoeb Ahmed explore how small grants disbursed to communities as part of a community security project in south-western Bangladesh are enabling communities to work together to improve their safety, and building relationships with local authorities through the process.
In Trimonhini, Jessore, the opening of a community safety centre with money from a small grant has addressed local safety concerns focussed around a lack of opportunities for young people. “Particularly the youth of this community had nothing to amuse them,” says one community representative. “In addition they are undereducated and unemployed, and often become involved in antisocial behaviour such as drugs and gambling. This centre might provide an alternative option for their behaviour I believe”.
Since 2012 community action committees and youth groups across 16 sites where Saferworld and local partner BRAC’s community security project has been operating have been working to prioritise and develop action plans to address the local safety and security concerns in their communities, with significant success at the local level. During a pilot community security project in Kishorganj the distribution of small grants to communities proved to have enhanced community ownership and the longer-term sustainability of the project through increased community involvement. BRAC and Saferworld followed several key steps incorporating the dispersal of small grants into the current community security project in 16 communities, to ensure the effectiveness of the grants.
Ensuring a transparent selection criteria
With support from Saferworld, BRAC field staff developed criteria to assess the small grant proposals from each of the community action committees. The community security project aims to bring about positive changes in the relationships between community members and local authorities including the police by both enabling communities to be more informed, and also by building relationships between the community action committees and authorities through joint work on the agreed action plans. So a key part of the selection criteria was that the communities had built a good relationship between the community action committee and the local government administrations. Other criteria included: how well they had established themselves and how much their work was trusted by, and had engaged with, the wider community; whether community action committee members were committed and attended monthly meetings on a voluntary basis; and whether the committees had followed through on their action plans to bring about positive changes in their local community that were inclusive of all religions, gender and minority groups.
After deciding on selection criteria for the grants BRAC field staff in each of the five districts conducted a field survey of the community action committee’s work, which was shared with BRAC and Saferworld. BRAC field officers then met with the community action committees to discuss their needs and the purpose of the upcoming grants. To ensure transparency the discussion took place among the community together with Union Parishad (government) representatives and youth group members.
Bringing accountability within the community
In Keshobpur, Jessore, the community action committees had built a strong relationship with the community, so meetings were held with community action committee members and the wider community to choose the location for their community centres. After lively discussions the groups agreed on a location for the final site that was easy for all community members to access, and especially one that women and girls felt safe getting to. Community members and the community action committee decided the centre would have the additional benefit of being a place for the community action committee, youth, photo project participants, members of BRAC’s Polli Shomaj women’s network, and religious leaders to hold meetings. After selecting the site the community members agreed that the grant would be used to buy books, magazines, games and sports items for youth and villagers to use at the centre.
The community action committee, supported by BRAC and Saferworld then held an inaugural ceremony to mark the opening of the centre. Over 70 local people including community action committee members, youth, journalists, community members, government representatives, and the police Officer in Charge, came to witness the opening, reflect upon the changes they had seen as a result of the project, and evaluate major successes and challenges. Sharif Raihan Kabir, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (chief executive) of Keshobpur Upazila (sub district), stated: “I’ll ensure that I support the centre, representing government commitment”.
As of September 2015 small grants had been approved to establish community centres in ten of the 16 project sites. The remaining six will be established in the coming month.
Bibhash Chakraborty is Programme Manager, Bangladesh. G.M. Shoeb Ahmed is Project Officer, Bangladesh.
Watch a video about Saferworld’s community security project in Bangladesh.