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Bangladesh Activities

Update from TraumaLink: Saving lives in Bangladesh

TraumaLink was founded in 2013 by Dr. Jon Moussally, an attending emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and North Shore Medical Center, along with Eric Dunipace and Ryan Fu, arvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health students.

The organizations’s goal is to decrease the number of traffic accidents in Bangladesh. Their work was featured in SAI’s 2014 publication Health and South Asia.

By Dr. Jon Moussally

TraumaLink’s volunteers at the November launch event

TraumaLink is a volunteer-based emergency response system for victims of road traffic injuries and other types of trauma. The system utilizes an emergency hotline number, a 24/7 call center, and volunteer first responders recruited from the local community.

The curriculum, in Bangla, has been designed to teach simple but life-saving skills that can be learned and performed even by those with little formal education. We are also providing volunteers with first aid supplies like bandages and stretchers.

When a bystander or victim calls us, our operators quickly identify where the crash occurred and how many people are injured. Our graphic user interface then automatically generates SMS messages to volunteers prioritized by their proximity to the crash scene. After treatment at the scene, we also provide guidance on where to take patients based on their location and the severity of their injuries.

To create support for this service we have created strong relationships with the Police, Highway Police, community leaders, and policy makers. We have also created a strong network of formal partnerships with other organizations working in road safety to assist in our first aid activities and to work in research, prevention, and advocacy.

Conducting trainings for volunteers in summer 2014

We were able to handpick over 100 volunteers, who received 2 days of intensive hands-on training in small groups. On November 23, 2014 we officially launched our pilot program on a 15 km stretch of the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway in Daudkandi and this was celebrated with a launching event attended by over 200 people including distinguished national figures, local leaders, our volunteers, and members of the local and national press.

Since we began our pilot we have responded to over 60 crashes and treated almost 100 injured patients. Our volunteers have responded to every call we have received and all but two of these response times have been less than five minutes. Some of these patients were severely injured and almost certainly would have died without the rapid care they received at the crash scene. Despite the demands of the job and the ongoing political crisis none of our volunteers have left the program.

TraumaLink has been designed to use resources available in any developing nation and our sincere hope is that by demonstrating the success of this program in Bangladesh we can then use it as a model for other low and middle-income countries throughout the world.

Learn more about TraumaLink. 


    A literary colossus

    Image courtesy of the Harvard Gazette

    This article was originally published in the Harvard Gazette


    By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Staff Writer

    In the spring of 2009, Sheldon Pollock ’71, Ph.D. ’75, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia, was sitting in a Cambridge café with Sharmila Sen ’92, executive editor at large at theHarvard University Press. “I took out the proverbial napkin,” said Pollock. The two sketched out what would be needed to publish his longtime dream: a series of volumes on classical Indian literature.

    Why not 500 books over the next century, they thought: poetry, prose, philosophy, and literary criticism — and later science and mathematics? These largely unseen works, some of which date back more than two millennia, had in the last century shrunk to a canon available almost solely in Sanskrit.

    Such a visionary series could bring to light again the heart of the longest continuous multilanguage literary tradition in the world, one that represents the most languages, at least 20 of them. The many languages of the Indian subcontinent, both living and dead, are a musical linguistic litany that includes Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Marathi, Sindhi, Hindi, Tamil, Persian, Telugu, Urdu, Panjabi, and Bangla.

    Why not a new series? A model format was already in place. The Loeb Classical Library, launched at Harvard University Press in 1911, now comprises more than 525 handsome volumes in Latin and Greek, along with solid English translations on facing pages. “Back when I was 19 or 20,” said Pollock during a phone conversation, “I very much thought a classical library for India along the lines of the Loeb was a terrific idea.” He called the series an object of “wishing and longing” for decades.

    Wishing, longing on a napkin

    Sen remembers the same day, when wishing and longing was sketched out on that café napkin. “Shelly told me about the idea,” she said. “I liked it very much. It was exciting to us both.” Sen, who was raised in Kolkata and has a Ph.D. in English from Yale, was aware of a publishing precedent, the Clay Sanskrit Library published by New York University Press, which stopped at 56 volumes.

    Its benefactor, investment banker John P. Clay, a onetime honors student at Oxford who studied Avestan, Sanskrit, and Old Persian, died in 2013. (Pollock was co-editor and then editor of the Clay Library.)

    A new library of Indian classics, Sen said, would represent all the old languages, including Sanskrit. It would feature attractive and literary translations into English. And it would use the appropriate Indic script on the left-hand page. (The Clay series uses transliterations in Latin script.)

    The napkin was full. The idea was good. But where might the money come from to bring it to life? The project, which Pollock described as “the most ambitious ever taken on by an American university press,” needed an endowment, said Sen. “The marketplace doesn’t support these kinds of books.”

    Enter Rohan Narayana Murty, with whom Sen and Pollock met in the fall of 2009, when Murty was a Harvard Ph.D. student in computer science. “We had one meeting,” she said. It was enough to convey the series idea and the money it would require. Immediately apparent, she said, was that “this was something very important to Rohan.”

    Murty is the scion of a wealthy business family in Bangalore, India, with a history of educational philanthropy. His father is the information technology industrialist N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys. His mother is the polymath computer scientist, social worker, and author Sudha Murty, India’s best-selling female author, with 136 titles to her credit.

    Rohan Murty, now on leave as a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows, knew about the Loeb series, of course, said Sen, and wondered why there wasn’t a version for Indian literature. During his graduate studies at Harvard, Murty took a break from distributed computing and opportunistic wireless networks to delve into courses in the Department of South Asian Studies with Parimal G. Patil, professor of religion and Indian philosophy.

    Then came the conclusion of what Sen called “a series of happy accidents,” beginning with that napkin sketch. In 2010, Murty founded the Murty Classical Library of India with a gift of $5.2 million to Harvard.

    Read the full article.

      2014 Student Grant Report

      SAI offers research and internship grants to Harvard graduate students and Harvard college undergraduate students (freshmen, sophomores, and juniors) to be used during the summer and winter sessions.

      In 2014, SAI awarded 46 grants to students to do a variety internships and research projects in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Grant recipients represent the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, College, Graduate School of Design, Divinity School, Kennedy School, Medical School, and School of Public Health.

      In the SAI 2014 Grant Report, students reflect on their experience and what they learned.

      Examples of testimonials:

      “I can confidently say that this internship has brought me a long away, from my theoretical conception of environmental policy from Harvard courses, with a deeper understanding of the profession,  practice, and substance of environmental law and policy.”

      -Sabrina Ghouse, Social Studies & Environment, Harvard College 2015; Internship with United Nations Development Programme

      “My visit has allowed me to think more broadly about the relationship between private enterprise and urban planning and design in the context of developing countries.”

      -Justin D. Stern, PhD Candidate, Architecture & Urban Planning, Graduate School of Design; Research: Between Industrialization and Urban Planning: Tata Steel and the Two Faces of Jamshedpur

      “What was originally meant to be a preliminary research trip, morphed into a rather substantial research, far exceeding my expectations.”

      -Lydia Walker, PhD Candidate, Department of History, GSAS; National Separatist Movements in the Early 1960s in South Asia and Southern Africa

      “When my friends and coworkers asked me why I was so delighted to be in the city despite the monstrous heat, I’d say in absolute earnest that I have a big crush on Delhi: on its long afternoons working out some idea for a paper with friends over chai; on its lecture- and music- and addafilled evenings. I hope to return to Delhi after graduation for continued study and research”

      -Reina Gattuso, Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard College 2015; Lokniti Program, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi

      “Working with my other lab members, I was able to learn about science and the culture of India simultaneously. In between performing behavioral tests and analyzing our data, we would chitchat about everything from the must-see attractions in India to the country’s education system.”

      -Jacqueline Ma, Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Harvard College 2016; Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative, Bangalore

      Spending a summer exploring the educational system in India was both sobering and enlightening. Nevertheless, every experience reinforced the importance of education.”

      -Sara Melissa Theiss, Psychology, Harvard College 2015, Prasad Fellow; VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, Uttar Pradesh

      “Although the summer is indeed a very hot time in Delhi and not the most comfortable period of the year to reside there, this summer confirmed my belief that the city is a growing hub of intellectual activity and energy… An entire scholarly community from around the world descends upon Delhi during this time. I had the opportunity engage with and be part of this group, and I am extremely grateful.”

      -Madhav Khosla, PhD Candidate, Department of Government; Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

      “While both of us have worked in India before, this was also the first time we had run our own survey. We became very aware of all of the things, small and large, that can go wrong when doing fieldwork. The grant from SAI gave us the opportunity to run a small pilot survey that gave us the experience we needed so that our future surveys are run more smoothly.”

      -Heather Sarsons, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, GSAS; Dowry Payments and Female Welfare in India


      Click here to read the full report.


      Summer Grant Applications Deadlines:
      All Graduate Grant Applications: February 13, 2015
      All Undergraduate Grant Applications: February 9, 2015

      More about SAI Summer Grants.

        SAI Fellowships

        SAI offers three opportunities for scholars and practitioners to continue their research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

        Please note: Do not write directly to Harvard faculty regarding SAI’s Fellowship opportunities. If you have questions, please consult our Frequently Asked Questions guide or email Program Manager, Nora Maginn,

        Fellows are expected to reside in the Cambridge vicinity during the time of their award and to actively participate in the events and intellectual life of the Institute. Fellows are also expected to contribute to the greater Harvard community by teaching, mentoring, or advising students. In addition to the stipend, fellows are provided with health insurance, as well as transportation costs for those traveling from South Asia to Cambridge.

        Aman Fellowship

        SAI offers three opportunities for scholars and practitioners to continue their research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fellows are expected to reside in the Cambridge vicinity during the time of their award and to actively participate in the events and intellectual life of the Institute. Fellows are also expected to contribute to the greater Harvard community by teaching, mentoring, or advising students. In addition to the stipend, fellows are provided with health insurance, as well as transportation costs for those traveling from South Asia to Cambridge.
        Total stipend for one term: $20,000

        Babar Ali Fellowship

        The Babar Ali Fellowship supports recent PhDs, those in the final stages of their PhDs, and advanced professional degree holders in areas related to Pakistan.
        Priority will be given to candidates who demonstrate prior educational history that has taken place largely in Pakistan, and plan to return to Pakistan upon completion of the fellowship.
        Total stipend for one term: $20,000

        South Asian Studies Fellowship

        The South Asian Studies Fellowship supports recent PhDs in the humanities and social sciences related to South Asia. Research topics can cover any period of South Asian history or contemporary South Asia. Candidates must be able to provide evidence of successful completion of their PhD by June of the year of appointment and may not be more than five years beyond the receipt of PhD.
        Total stipend for one year: $40,000

        Deadline: January 15, 2015 for Academic Year 2015-2016

        News about SAI’s Fellows.


        Reflections from SAI Fellows:

        “The Aman Fellowship provided me an opportunity to take advantage of Harvard’s resources for my research and to connect with leading academics and researchers in the world. I discovered new avenues for my research and I will be following these leads in my academic career. I also used this opportunity to develop and submit different proposals for my future research projects in Pakistan and abroad.”

        -Muhammad Zahir, SAI Aman Fellow, Spring 2014

        “The fellowship gave me the the chance to get involved with different types of discourse on South Asia.”

        -Shankar Ramaswami, SAI South Asian Studies Fellow, 2013-2014

        “A number of my friends who were involved in environmentalist NGOs in India were talking about the new Forest Rights Act, and I decided to focus on it for my dissertation. And it’s that work on this law, and the movements that helped pass it, and the groups now involved in organizing people to claim land rights through it, that I wrote my dissertation on, and it’s that work that I am continuing right now at the South Asia Institute. I’m writing articles based on the research I did for my PhD, and I’m beginning my book manuscript”

        - Anand Vaidya, current SAI South Asian Studies Fellow, 2014-2015

          2015 Student Winter Grant Recipients

          SAI has awarded 18 grants to support undergraduate and graduate student projects over the Winter Session in January, 2015. These include 6 undergraduates and 12 graduate students who will be traveling to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka for research and internships.

          The projects cover topics from many disciplines, for example: Using microfinance to alleviate poverty, sustainable housing, the “Islamization” of Divorce Law in Pakistan, vernacular literature of Indian Christians, changing education in the third world countries using cheap computing devices, and internships at health ministries in Sri Lanka.

          Graduate Students

          Arthur  Bauer, MPA-ID, Harvard Kennedy School
          Assessing microfinance’s effectiveness in alleviating poverty, India

          Jeffrey Bryant, MPP/MBA, Harvard Kennedy School/Harvard Business School
          January Term Research Position with HKS Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) India Team, India

          Ishani Desai, MPA-ID, Harvard Kennedy School
          Understanding the factors that influence adoption: A study on menstrual practices and sanitary pad adoption in Gujarat, India

          Hardeep Dhillon, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
          Research project seeks to retrieve the history of the women’s movement in the 1970’s through the collection of oral histories. Following the guidelines established by the Oral History Association, Dhillon intends to interview prominent members of the 1970’s women’s movement, India

          Joshua Ehrlich, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
          The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge, 1772-1835, India

          Michael Haggerty, M.Arch 1, Graduate School of Design
          Vernacular Construction for Urban Housing: New Structures for Architectural Practice to Deliver Sustainable Housing in Bangladesh

          Madiha Irfan, MTS. Harvard Divinity School
          Debates over the “Islamization” of Divorce Law in Pakistan

          Rakesh Peter Dass, Th.D., Harvard Divinity School
          Why Hindi? Translation Choices and Vernacular Literature Among Indian Christians, India

          Jonathan Phillips, PhD,Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
          Who Implements Programmatic Education Policies? Researching Surprising Patterns in Indian States, India

          Sarika Ringwala, PhD in Public Policy
          Empowering Citizens Through Service Delivery Reforms, India

          Divya Sooryakumar, Ed. M, Harvard Graduate School of Education
          Creating an SMS-based solution to an information gap for mothersto enhance their early childhood education and development practices for infants through the first 3 years of their lives, India

          Hector Tarrido Picart, MAUD & MLA, Graduate School of Design
          Remote Sensing Mumbai, India

          Maria Qazi, MPA-ID, Harvard Kennedy School
          Social protection and state legitimacy – the Case of Benazir Income Support Program



          Chesley Ekelem, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Health Policy, Harvard College ‘16
          Internship with St. Jude ChildCare Centres, Mumbai, India

          Angela Leocata, Harvard College ’18
          Little Stars Internship to Develop English and Writing Program, Varanasi, India

          Fei (Michelle) Lin, Human Developmental and Regenerative Bio, Harvard College ‘17
          Internship at Heal Asia’s inaugural project – Sri Lanka Medical Relief Program, Sri Lanka Ministry of Health, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

          Jacqueline Ma, Human Developmental and Regenerative Bio and East Asian Studies, Harvard College ’16
          Internship at HealAsia, Sri Lanka Ministry of Health, Colombo, Sri Lanka

          Tarik Adnan Moon, Mathematics and Computer Science, Harvard College ‘15
          Research on changing education in the third world countries using cheap computing devices, Dhaka, Bangladesh

          Ishani Premaratne, Anthropology and Health Policy, Harvard College ’15
          Work on GrowLanka and completion of partnership with Sri Lankan Youth Ministry, Vavuniya, Sri Lanka


          Read the SAI 2014 Student Grant Report

            Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai win Nobel Peace Prize

            The Harvard South Asia Institute is thrilled to hear the news that Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 for their incredible efforts in improving the lives of children worldwide.

            Kailash Satyarthi has followed in Gandhi’s footsteps in promoting peaceful and nonviolent means to ending the grave exploitation of children and promoting children’s rights. Malala Yousafzai became an international spokesperson for the right of girls to education after being shot by the Taliban.

            “We should, in our own small way as the South Asia Institute, capitalize on the attention towards these important social issues that these Peace Prize awards will generate,” said Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School. ”SAI does a lot of work on gender-related issues, and increasingly on education of children, and it behooves us to redouble those efforts.”


            Jacqueline Bhabha

            SAI spoke with Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, whose own research focuses on human rights, trafficking, and gender in South Asia, on the significance of the awards.

            SAI: What do you think stands out about the work that these two figures have done, that got the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee?

            Jacqueline Bhabha: I think what’s really interesting is that on the one hand you have somebody [Satyarthi] who is a mature, seasoned human rights activist, who is well known to people working on child labor, and child exploitation for decades, and has really been in the trenches and has taken enormous personal risk and sacrifices to carry on the work he has done with a range of different strategies: working with trade unions, mentoring children, and using the courts. He has been a tremendously creative and inventive human rights advocate.

            And on the other hand you have this young teenager [Yousafzai] who shows incredible personal courage in one extraordinary incident, and has built on that to make quite a focused campaign on gender and education. So there is an interesting contrast in strategy, skill sets, and experience. But in both cases, clearly, what the Nobel committee was struck by was the vision and courage of two very different individuals.

            SAI: What do you see as the significance of giving the award to both an Indian and a Pakistani at the same time?

            JB: It’s interesting, in that it draws attention to South Asia, which is a critical hotspot for children’s rights, which is important, even though issues of infant mortality and morbidity are very much widely spread –  plus, incidents of child rights abuses happen everywhere, South Asia is a particularly dark spot when we look at child labor, child marriage, and sexual slavery. So I think drawing attention to the continent rather than one country is interesting.

            However, there is nothing quintessential about South Asia which says this region has to be mired in child rights abuses. Bangladesh has made enormous progress as a poorer country with very complicated political history and lots of natural disasters, yet has made progress on both child labor and girl’s education, and has made dramatic strives compared to India and Pakistan. So I think that’s a point worth making, that even though South Asia is a very dark spot globally, there are little tiny pockets within South Asia of very good practices.

            SAI: Will this award help in bringing attention to these issues in South Asia, and worldwide?

            JB: Absolutely. I do think it will do that for both the Indian and Pakistani government, but more generally, it will really draw attention to the pervasive reality of crimes against children.

            I think one other point that’s worth making is that in a way, Kailesh and Malala represent two points of extreme on the spectrum. One of them draws attention to one of the worst abuses, and a lot of [Kailash’s work] in rescuing children from slavery really brought attention to the endemic nature of these kinds of violations. On the other hand, Malala represents the critical preventative strategy for trafficking, which is education – the best way of addressing the poverty, destitution and entrapment of children – through enhancing their education to help them escape from illiteracy and exploitation. So the two different awards really cover the spectrum.

            SAI: How do you see the work that they are doing possibly translated outside of South Asia, to other countries?

            JB: I think these examples are much broader than their relevant countries. Both these people have a global significance, and I think the strategies in countering child labor, for example, thinking about rescuing, thinking about organizing, thinking about globalization of workers, are strategies that have been adopted by countries in Latin America. I think the whole connection between gender and education is something that also is worth thinking about much more broadly.

            I think this [award] is something that advocates can use and I think that politicians will have to pay attention to.

            SAI: Malala was already such an international figure in the media, but Kailash wasn’t as widely known. Do you think this award the potential to catapult his platform to the forefront?

            JB: Of course. It happened with Shirin Ebadi years ago, the Iranian peace laureate, when no one outside of Iran had really heard of her work. Then, it became a flashpoint of people talking about human right violations in Iran, and persecution in Iran. Although some of us have followed Kailash’s work for decades, he wasn’t as much of a household name as Malala. This will certainly be something that will raise his profile and the many different strategies he has used to address child labor.

            This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.  

              Fall Webinars: Disaster Management

              Join the South Asia Institute for three interactive webinar events with Harvard University Fellows on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.


              South Asia is particularly vulnerable to disasters, from terrorist attacks, to floodings, to earthquakes that can affect large populations. In order to address these humanitarian crises, the fundamentals of mass casualty management are critical.These interactive webinars will highlight the work being done to systematically improve the response to emergencies in urban settings.

              How to participate:

              PREPARE: Visit SAI’s website to find articles and readings to prepare for the webinars.
              WATCH: One the day of the webinar, watch live on SAI’s website
              INTERACT: Tweet your questions and join the conversation on Facebook

              Twitter: @HarvardSAI, #SAIWebinar
              Facebook: Harvard SAI

              INCIDENT COMMAND
              Wednesday, October 1
              Shawn D’Andrea, MDInstructor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Fellow, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
              This seminar will teach incident command, which is a simple organizational structure that allows a coordinated thoughtful response when the needs of the crisis overwhelm the resources.
              8:30 AM in Cambridge, 5:30 PM in Pakistan, 6 PM in India, 6:30 PM in Sri Lanka & Bangladesh

              Wednesday, November 19
              Usha Periyanayagam, MD, International Emergency Medicine Fellow, Department of Emergency Medicine, Brigham & Women’s Hospital; Harvard Medical School
              When there are many injured people in an incident, non-medical personal might be needed to begin care of patients. This seminar will teach triage, a simple way to determine the priority of patient treatment, and the basics of treatment of patients.
              8:30 AM in Cambridge, 6:30 PM in Pakistan, 7 PM in India, 7:30 PM in Sri Lanka, & Bangladesh (* Please note the time variation due to US Daylight Saving Time)


              Date/Time TBD
              Mass casualty responses work best when there is a well-rehearsed plan. This seminar will cover planning for a disaster, preparatory drills, and debriefing, drawing from the experience of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.



              If your school or organization has video conferencing capabilities and you would like to host a site for this webinar, email us! Host sites will have the opportunity to ask the professors questions in real time. We welcome participation of sites throughout South Asia.

              Made possible with generous support from the Pakistan Higher Education Commission.

                Tarun Khanna discusses emerging economies in Dhaka

                On August 19, Professor Tarun Khanna spoke on Developing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Emerging Economies. The event was a joint initiative of the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) and BRAC University, Dhaka.

                Professor Khanna spoke at the BRAC centre, Mohakhali, where the audience comprised distinguished Bangladeshi academics, entrepreneurs and university students.

                Professor Khanna’s talk focused on the importance of developing ecosystems and the critical role played by entrepreneurs in furthering a nation’s economy. “Entrepreneurs in emerging markets must compensate for limitations of the environment in which they find themselves,” Professor Khanna asserted.  He also added, “the same limitations, however, can be sources of opportunity.”

                Illustrating this point, Professor Khanna spoke about two entrepreneurial ventures initiated by his former students at Harvard Business School- Chai Point and Aspiring Minds. Chai Point outlets are tea shops in Delhi and Bangalore which source the best tea leaves from across India and adhere to the highest hygienic standards when preparing tea.

                Aspiring Minds, on the other hand, assesses work-readiness through a standardized test called AMCAT (Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test.) During his talk, Professor Khanna also highlighted the importance of students and young entrepreneurs having an ‘entrepreneurial bent of mind.’ and ‘not being risk averse.’

                Professor Syed Saad Andaleeb, Vice-chancellor of BRAC University and Professor Rezaur Rezzak, Director of BRAC University’s Centre For Entrepreneurship Development (CED) were also present and addressed the audience.

                -By Reeti Roy, India Research Center, Harvard Business School

                Media coverage:

                Harvard Professor Stresses the Centrality of Developing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Bangladesh
                Time Watch

                Discussion on entrepreneurial ecosystem
                Daily Sun

                Harvard scholar talks on developing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bangladesh

                  Sir Fazle Hasan Abed shares lessons from BRAC’s success

                  Sir Fazle Hasan Abed delivers the Mahindra Lecture

                  “Hope is an element in which people take action, and energize themselves out of poverty,” said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, at the South Asia Institute Annual Harish C. Mahindra lecture on April 24, 2014 at the Charles Hotel. BRAC is the world’s largest NGO dedicated to development and fighting poverty, and Abed’s lecture provided the 150 attendees with an enlightening account of the extraordinary accomplishments of the global organization.

                  Abed was introduced by Martha Chen, Harvard Kennedy School, who explained that BRAC is the only NGO from a developing country that has “gone truly global,” with a presence in 12 countries in Asia and Africa. With a goal of alleviating poverty, BRAC delivers microfinance, health, education, agriculture and livestock services based on an integrated approach that proved to be a success story in Bangladesh.

                  Martha Chen, HKS

                  Born and raised in Bangladesh, Abed was working as an accountant when the 1971 Liberation War broke out and deeply impacted his future. After advocating for his home country in London, he returned to Bangladesh after liberation, and launched relief and rehabilitation efforts for refugees. He founded BRAC with the goal of alleviating poverty by helping the poor develop capacity to manage their lives. This model has been successfully implemented in other developing countries around the world.

                  Chen explained that it was Abed’s corporate management background that was crucial to this strategy’s success; Abed’s ability to analyze and develop models that can then be then replicated on larger scales was essential in expanding BRAC’s work outside of Bangladesh. Moreover, Chen said Abed’s moral compass “keeps him focused on the poor and disadvantaged” and has been the driving force in BRAC’s growth over the last four decades.

                  Abed began his lecture by sharing statistics related to development in South Asia, highlighting that Bangladesh has experienced an extraordinary turnaround because of BRAC’s efforts. The numbers on life expectancy, infant mortality, fertility rate, under-five mortality, and child survival all show that Bangladesh has experienced the most dramatic change compared to other South Asian countries.

                  Poverty in Bangladesh was “intense” when BRAC started, and at the beginning Abed set out to work on many issues “at the same time, with the same sense of urgency”: health, drinking water, hygiene, sanitation, and family planning. He said that he is proud of the progress made in Bangladesh, but there is still work to be done.

                  Abed explained that maternal mortality and child health have always been vital issues, saying “a woman giving birth to a child and dying – there is not a greater tragedy than that.” BRAC University is working to train midwives, and Abed said he would like to have 10,000 midwives throughout the country to help reduce the death rate. Another initiative to help children was to go directly into the community and teach members how to create oral hydration therapy at home to prevent diarrhea. A campaign for immunization of the country’s children was also launched under his leadership.

                  Throughout his lecture, Abed’s experience in business and management was evident in his innovative approaches to these social problems, as well as his deep understanding of the needs of his people. BRAC has given out $1.5 billion in small loans, mostly for $100 to $150 per person, which he said has been helpful especially for empowering women. BRAC’s bank became the largest lender to small and medium enterprises after Abed found that BRAC was not doing enough for these types of businesses, where many jobs are created. Turning to working with the ultra-poor, Abed realized that microfinance did not reach the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. BRAC set up a program that gave them a stipend, “held their hand,” and nurtured them until they could get on their feet and then use microfinance. This model has helped 180,000 people get out of poverty.

                  BRAC has also worked on education, especially for girls, which has helped empower mothers and reduce child marriage. Abed noted that this day was the 1 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. This tragedy prompted BRAC to work to implement new safety regulations to help improve the quality of life for factory workers, especially women.

                  Abed took time to answer questions from the audience, ranging from climate change, teacher retention, to genetically-modified seeds. On a question about the role of government, Abed explained that because government does not usually reach the village level, NGOs fill the role of working in villages. Abed sees development as a joint effort between businesses, the public sector government, and NGOs.

                  Read more about the Annual Mahindra Lecture.

                  Click here for a full video of the event.

                  See the gallery below for photos of the event.


                  - Meghan Smith

                    Register for the 2014 Mahindra Lecture

                    Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRACwill deliver the annual Mahindra Lecture on April 24, 2014, ‘Poverty and Development in South Asia.’ BRAC’s primary objectives emerged as alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the poor. Under his leadership, in the span of only four decades, BRAC grew to become the largest development organisation in the world in terms of the scale and diversity of its interventions.

                    Thursday, April 24, 2014 5:00 pm
                    The Charles Hotel
                    1 Bennett St, Cambridge, MA 02138


                    Sir Abed was recently named one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Forbes magazine:


                    Click here to register.


                      BRAC: Innovation Fund Challenge












                      In Bangladesh, BRAC sees a tremendous opportunity to use mobile money to innovate, better serve clients and become more efficient.

                      Have a great idea on how mobile money can be used by BRAC in Bangladesh’? Share it!

                      Up to six of the best ideas will be implemented at BRAC in 2014. Can’t think of an idea now? Browse through other people’s ideas, vote and comment—maybe an idea will come to you!


                      Project background

                      In Bangladesh, approximately half of the adult population is unbanked. Over the past three years, a mobile banking industry has emerged to meet these individuals’ needs, and has already reached 13 million users. As Bangladesh is urbanising rapidly, young adults working in the city send money home to their families through mobile money. In 2013, over USD 500 billion  was transacted via mobile money.

                      BRAC sees a tremendous opportunity to use mobile money to innovate, better serve clients and become more efficient. With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab is establishing the BRAC Innovation Fund for digital financial services.  In the context of Bangladesh, the rapid adoption of mobile money creates exciting opportunities for new approaches in poverty reduction. As an organisation, BRAC hopes to improve operational efficiency, decrease costs, and make services more accessible to clients. Through a portfolio of diverse pilots, BRAC will experiment with mobile money to improve its existing programmes and establish new ones.  The project will run from September 2013 to August 2016, with the first set of pilots launching in June 2014.

                      Through this initiative, BRAC hopes to accomplish the following objectives:

                      • Increase the adoption of digital financial services at BRAC, particularly in service delivery
                      • Increase the adoption of digital financial services by BRAC’s clients
                      • Contribute to the global discourse on digital financial services

                      BRAC Innovation Fund Challenge

                      There will be two  rounds, one in 2014 and one in 2015. From March to May 2014, the Social Innovation Lab will hold the first round for BRAC programmes to generate ideas about how mobile money can be incorporated into existing initiatives or new pilots. The most promising will receive support from the Innovation Fund.

                      On the challenge web site, anyone will be able to submit ideas. We are hoping this will spark conversations and introduce new ideas that may be implemented at BRAC.

                      Click here for more information.


                        Engineering Education in the 21st Century

                        What role does engineering education play in our modern society? According to Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, engineering is crucial to a well-rounded society.

                        On Thursday, February 27, SAI hosted its first webinar of the semester, titled ‘Societal Grand Challenges and the role of Engineering Education in the 21st Century’ with Professor Narayanamurti, who described engineering as “the ultimate liberal art” because of its role as a linking discipline.

                        Using videoconference software provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), 15 sites in South Asia were able to participate live and interact with Narayanamurti. Viewers were also able to watch the webinar live on SAI’s website, and submit questions via Facebook and Twitter.

                        Narayanamurti started by describing the importance of engineering at leading universities like Harvard, saying that “we want renaissance engineers who not only know how things work, but how the world works.” He explained that all of the major accomplishments throughout history have happened because of engineering, and the economic impact of engineering is huge. “Engineering underpins the economy,” he said.

                        Explaining the role of engineering as a linking discipline, Narayanamurti said, “engineering is not applied science; it is science that is applied engineering.” He made a strong case for a well-rounded education in all fields, and said that we must encourage students to learn the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurship.

                        Another ‘grand challenge’ of engineering education is getting women involved, which Narayanamurti explained is vital for societies. He explained that women’s access to science education is more of a challenge in the developing world, but not one that cannot be overcome. Having women leaders in all fields is an important step: “Can women be renaissance engineers? Yes!” he said. “We need more women role models so that it is an accepted reality.”

                        15 sites from South Asia participated in the webinar

                        Narayanamurti spent time explaining what skills are vital to engineering education. From teaching his own class, he has learned that creativity, as well as analytic and problem-solving skills, are essential. Since Harvard has a strong global presence, it can serve to be a leader for this sort of education.

                        Throughout his presentation, Narayanamurti emphasized the importance of merging the study of engineering with biology, by combining the perfection of biology with the creativity of engineering, because “nature perfected how human beings and the living world were created.” Technology is evolving to become more human-like, which means merging biology with engineering is more important than ever.

                        After his presentation, Narayanamurti took questions from students and education leaders at the participating sites, as well as questions on social media from viewers in Pakistan, India, and Australia.

                        The universities participating live were: Bahria University Islamabad, Bahria University, Karachi, Comsats Institute of Information Technology, Attack, Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, Rawalpindi,  Institute of Space and Technology Islamabad, Kinnaird College For Women, Lahore College of Women University, Lahore, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, NED University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences Islamabad, University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, University of Malakand, and University Of Sargodah, Sargodah.

                        Mariam Chughtai, Ed.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education, moderated the discussion, and Meena Hewett, Executive Director of SAI gave an introduction. Erum SattarSJD Candidate, Harvard Law School, tracked the discussion on social media.

                        Click here to view all tweets from the discussion on Twitter.

                        Click here to view a recording of the whole webinar.

                        Click here to learn more about SAI’s upcoming webinars.

                        SAI’s webinars are made possible with the support of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC).

                          Preserving a culture through language

                          Harvard is a long way from rural Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, but that hasn’t stopped Maung Nyeu, currently an Ed.D. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, from trying to make a difference for children there.

                          SAI talked with Nyeu about his work with Our Golden Hour, a nonprofit working to improve educational opportunities for indigenous children in Bangladesh and to preserve indigenous culture through education.

                          The tumultuous history of Bangladesh means that for many children, getting a good education is not a reality. Chittagong Hill Tracts is a mountainous, rural area where many indigenous people live; a population that is distinct in language, culture, and religion from the majority of the Bengali population.

                          Increasing militarization in the region has led to traditional farmlands being given to incoming Bengali settlers, and according to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of people are landless because of the failure of the Bangladeshi government to uphold the legal rights of the lands in this area and not recognize indigenous people. As a result, many people are internally displaced.

                          This has led to violent clashes between local people and Bengali settlers –  a life of massacres, village burnings, and girls being sold into the sex trade, hardly the environment that ensures a quality education for many children. More than half of the residents have no formal schooling.

                          Children in Chittagong Hill Tracts

                          Moreover, one of the biggest problems blocking children from attending school is a language barrier. As a result of the government’s one-language policy, most of the instruction is in Bangla, which most children in Hill Tracts do not know. Unable to keep up with an education in a language that is not native to them, many children drop out.

                          Nyeu himself grew up in Hill Tracts, and was able to break the cycle by being educated at American universities, first getting a degree in engineering, and then an MBA from the University of Southern California. He knew first-hand the obstacles facing children in the area, and set out to make a difference: “I realized that, these children, growing up without any education, their future is robbed of them without any fault of their own. They are victims,” he says.

                          After his education in the US, he returned to his home region and built the Padmau Residential Education Center, which provides educational opportunities to disadvantaged children so that they can go to school in their own indigenous language. He says that the demand for an education was so high, that he had to turn some students away because of a lack of resources. He launched a nonprofit, Our Golden Hour, and continued to look for ways to help children in Hill Tracts.

                          He recognized that many students were missing out on a quality education because the government was not providing adequate schools in rural areas, which forced children to go far from their family for an education. Nyeu focused on building more schools for children in younger grades close to rural villages, so that students do not have to leave their homes and families or walk long distances to get an education.

                          Through his work with this school, he developed a deeper understanding of the challenges facing children in the region. He realized that the language problem was not only hurting kids in their education – it was a barrier to preserving their culture.

                          Nyeu realized that not only are children not being instructed in their native language, they are also being taught with content that is not culturally relevant to their own indigenous culture. “When we lose a language, we don’t just lose what we speak,” Nyeu says. “There is also all of the wisdom that is passed down through generations.”

                          An example of a children’s book that was translated to English

                          While talking to locals about this problem, he found that it was a concern for many people. He recalls one woman telling him, ‘‘Language isn’t just a tool for communication – it’s how our ancestors speak to us. It’s how we learn meaning in the world.” Without a space where their culture and language is nurtured, Nyeu said that these people are gradually losing their culture.

                          Nyeu then realized that his education initiatives could help solve this problem. He launched the Oral History Project, which is working to solve this problem by ingeniously making children ‘co-creators’ in their education, which is also a focus of his dissertation research at HGSE.

                          His method asks teachers to give their students an assignment: Interview their grandfather, grandmother, or an elder and ask them to tell the student a story, which they share at school. Someone records the presentation, and travels to the nearest town with computer access and sends the video to the team at Harvard.

                          Nyeu then translates the story into English, and works with a children’s book author and illustrator to create a beautiful, colorful children’s story that goes back to the classrooms in Bangladesh. This allows teachers to instruct students about their own culture, in their own language. These are stories that have been passed down orally for hundreds of years, and are for the first time printed in books.

                          A wood carving of an indigenous language, which is brought to classroom in Bangladesh

                          For example, Nyeu says that he now has a physical book telling a story that he heard countless times from his grandmother as a child. This is strengthening the culture for generations to come. “If the children grow up learning the language, learning to speak and write in the language, and developing a sense of confidence about their culture and language, after some years, they will become a teacher in our school, and they will educate the next generation of students,” he says.

                          Through his work with Our Golden Hour, Nyeu is not only giving children of Hill Tracts a valuable education, he is saving their lives. The name for his charity reflects this idea: “In the ER, this is common knowledge among physicians: If someone has an accident, if you can bring the person to the emergency room within 1 to 2 hours of the incident, the probability of saving life and preventing long-term damage increases 70 to 90 percent,” he says.

                          “For our children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, we saw that if the child doesn’t go to school within 5 to 11 years [of age], this is a window. So for our children, these 5 to 11 years, it is a Golden Hour,” he explains. “If we need to save them, this is why we need to bring them to school and get them an education.”

                          Read more about Our Golden Hour here.


                          -Meghan Smith

                            Call for papers: Globalization and Sustainability of Bangladesh Garment Industry

                            The organizing committee of the annual Harvard University Seminar on Bangladesh invites you to attend the International Seminar on ‘Globalization and Sustainability of Bangladesh Garment Industry’ on Saturday, June 14th, 2014 at Harvard University.  The day-long seminar is being organized jointly by South Asia Institute at Harvard, Harvard University Center for Environment and International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI), Inc. and South Asian students and professionals at Harvard Medical School, HSPH, Harvard Law School and Harvard College.

                            The objective of this year’s seminar is to explore the linkages among development, garment sector and environmental health and safety issues in low-income economies, with a focus on Bangladesh.  It will highlight the actors and factors that impinge on this linkage at national and global levels. The deliberation will explore how the development partners can more effectively facilitate and assist in solving the key problems for sustaining the competitiveness of the Bangladesh garment industry. How to enhance the role of international community and experts for practical solutions will be a topic of discussion.

                            The seminar plans to bring together experts, industry people, NGO representatives and practitioners from development agencies and high level policy makers from Bangladesh and USA. Participants will include representatives from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), workers rights groups, international organizations such as the ILO, United Nations Agencies, and representatives from international financial institutions.

                            The organizing committee welcomes papers and presentations dealing with aspects of the global economy, garment industry, trade and development in the context of Bangladesh garments and apparel industry and the role of international community and development partners.

                            For further information, please contact:
                            Mohammed Iqbal Yousuf
                            Tel: 617-416-9036

                              Professor Eck awarded Honorary Doctorate from SOAS

                              Diana Eck receiving her Honorary Doctorate from SOAS

                              On July 26,  Diana L. Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Divinity by the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, at its graduation ceremonies in London. She was introduced to the Faculty and students by Professor Gurharpal Singh, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Professor in Inter-Religious Relations and Development. Her citation commended both her work on India and on the South Asian diaspora communities of America, especially the Pluralism Project and its focus on the challenges of religious diversity.

                              In  her address to the graduates, Professor Eck spoke about her own time at SOAS as a Fulbright scholar and a master’s degree student in the 1960s, recalling especially the life of the Common Room, with students from all over Asia, from the Middle East and Africa. She noted how much the world has changed in the decades since then, with the revolutions in communication and all that is signaled by “globalization.” In these years, SOAS has also grown into one of the premier centers in the world for the study of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

                              “But over these years, some things have hardly changed at all. Deep differences –economic, political, and religious—continue to fracture and divide the world, locally and globally. We understand one another too little. The globalization of our conscience and consciousness is still underdeveloped. Our ignorance and prejudice circle the globe along with our credit card numbers and our greenhouse gases.”

                              “It is this,” she said, “that makes your work as SOAS graduates essential to the world we live in today and more urgent than ever before. Diversity is just a fact, but pluralism is a creation. It is the achievement of a place like SOAS.  It is forged by the engagement across differences of cultures and continents that you have found here; it is forged by the energies on display in the SOAS Common Room, by the relationships you have made, and by the intellectual strengths you have found here. In the world in which we all live today, you are lucky to be graduates of this place. Negotiating difference, creating the infrastructure of pluralism, is both a global and local challenge.  It is your challenge as citizens of a fast-changing interdependent and complex world.

                              Read more.


                                Harvard South Asia Alumni Events

                                The South Asia Institute has held several alumni events this summer, connecting alums with current and incoming students and faculty in Dhaka, Delhi, Karachi, and Lahore. A snapshot of the events are below. Visit our Facebook page to see photos from the various locations.

                                Dhaka, Bangladesh

                                On July 17, SAI organized a casual dinner in Dhaka for local Harvard community with Professor Richard Cash, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health. Professor Cash is a visiting lecturer at the James P. Grant School of Public Health at BRAC University. Attendants included alumni Moushumi Khan (HKS), Francisco Flores (HSPH), and Hector Soliman (HSPH). Several current students are in Dhaka for the summer with exciting internships also were present, inclujding Fan Li (HLS), who working with the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, and Eric Duniplace and Christine Simon (both HSPH) who are with the Population Council. Maria May, SAI’s consultant in Dhaka, was also present at the event.

                                Delhi, India

                                SAI, along with the Harvard Club of Delhi and the Harvard India Student Group, hosted One Harvard Young Harvard, an alumni and current student networking night on July 18th .The evening included presentations by Pravin H. Parekh, President of the Harvard Club of India, Nora Maginn, SAI Programs Manager, Ishani Mehta, President of the Harvard India Student Group and HKS student.

                                Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan

                                SAI, along with the the HBS Club of Pakistan and the Harvard Pakistan Student Group, hosted alumni dinners in Karachi and Lahore on July 2nd and 4th, respectively. As a special guest at the dinners, Meena Sonea Hewett, SAI Executive Director, met with more than 50 alumni and current students. Attendees included SAI summer interns along with other Harvard students in the country.


                                  Alumni Event with Richard Cash in Dhaka

                                  Richard Cash (right) with students and alumniDhaka, Bangladesh

                                  On July 17, SAI organized a casual dinner in Dhaka for local Harvard community with Professor Richard Cash, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health. Professor Cash is a visiting lecturer at the James P. Grant School of Public Health at BRAC University. Attendants included alumniMoushumi Khan (HKS),Francisco Flores (HSPH), and Hector Soliman (HSPH). Several current students are in Dhaka for the summer with exciting internships also were present, inclujding Fan Li (HLS), who working with the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, and Eric Duniplace and Christine Simon (both HSPH) who are with the Population Council.Maria May, SAI’s consultant in Dhaka, was also present at the event.

                                    Harvard South Asia Week, April 8-12

                                    The India & South Asia Program at Harvard Kennedy School announces the Harvard South Asia week from April 8 to 12. Speakers include Cameron Munter, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary to India, Rajiv ChandrasekaranSenior Correspondent and Associate Editor, Washington Post, Ashok GadgilUniversity of California, Berkeley, and Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs.

                                    SAI will cosponsor the lecture with Ashok Gadgil on ‘Solutions for the Bottom 2 Billion‘ as part of our Social Enterprise Seminar Series.

                                      Troublemakers: Entrepreneurial Approaches Against Corruption

                                      What does the “business” of corruption-fighting look like? What are the key challenges and how does one measure successes? Corruption is the top issue in emerging market economies — and transparency is the most potent tool available to combat corruption. In a video conference with thirteen sites in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (see list below), Professor Karthik Ramanna of Harvard Business School described his recent work on how entrepreneurs in China, Russia, and India built organizations to combat corruption. These entrepreneurs have leveraged transparency in their anti-corruption businesses, although they differ in important ways in their reliance on the Internet, their use of anonymity, and their engagement with local political and cultural institutions.


                                      In China, Professor Ramanna talked about Caijing Magazine, which works within the Chinese elite to enforce accountability from a privileged near-insider position. Learn more about the case here. In Russia, is a crowd-sourced website that uses the anonymity of the internet to fearlessly enforce anti-corruption and whistleblowing with a much greater militancy. In just over a year, Rospil claims it has prevented $1.5 billion in bribes. Learn more about the case here. Finally, Profsesor Ramanna discussed the website, based in India (though there are sites in several other countries). The website encourages people to report bribes they have paid or resisted paying.

                                      Common themes from these three examples include the use of transparency as a tool against corruption, the Internet as a key vehicle for this transparency, and the deployment of transparency is contextualized by political/cultural barriers.

                                      Professor Ramanna then opened the discussion to questions and input from participants on what entrepreneurial corruption-fighting in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka might look like.

                                      Read the Harvard Gazette Coverage of this event.


                                      To follow the conversation on twitter, check out #SAItroublemakers.

                                      The participating sites included:


                                      BRAC University, Dhaka


                                      Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST), Lahore

                                      Higher Education Commission (HEC), Islamabad

                                      Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore

                                      Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi

                                      College of Business Management (CBM), Karachi

                                      University of Gujrat, Gujrat

                                      COMSATS Institute of Science and Technology (CIIT), Lahore

                                      University of Agriculture, Faisalabad

                                      Karachi School for Business & Leadership (KSBL), Karachi

                                      QuaId-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad

                                      Forman Christian College University (FCCU), Lahore

                                      Sri Lanka:

                                      American Center, Colombo