Kazi Rafiqul Alam

Ganokendra (People's Centre) is a model approach to combating poverty which has been running successfully in Bangladesh since 1992. The programme has already been adopted by other organizations and has received favourable reports in the literature. Kazi Rafiqul Alam, Executive Director of the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) in Bangladesh, describes the project.

Kazi Rafiqul Alam

Ganokendra – An Innovative Model for Poverty Alleviation

What Aspects of Policy or Theory the Practice Addresses 

The programme – Ganokendra (meaning People’s Centre) – addresses the needs of the people, particularly for literacy, continuing and lifelong education and eventually for poverty alleviation and thus for improvement of the quality of the life of the people and empowerment of women in rural areas. The people are involved at every stage of the design and implementation of the project. In organizing the Ganokendra need assessment surveys, household surveys, resource identification surveys and motivational campaigns are undertaken in which the programme beneficiaries / women are closely involved. The household surveys or baseline surveys are conducted to make an assessment of the situation of the needs of the poor and the women in the community that need to be addressed through the programme. The resource identification surveys are conducted in most cases simultaneously with the baseline surveys, which are aimed at identification of material resources, including accommodation of the centre, resource persons, possible programme personnel, membership, financial resources (including local contribution) etc. During the need assessment survey, consultation meetings at the community level are organized with the beneficiaries of DAM1 literacy projects and others, the community leaders, field personnel of DAM and also of some other NGOs working in the area. All the clientele groups come to a consensus regarding the objectives and functions of the Ganokendras and also regarding their management and operation.

The general objective of organizing a Ganokendra is to create facilities for lifelong learning and community development. Specifically, a Ganokendra is organized to facilitate institutionalized support for the people in the community towards

a) improvement of the quality of life
b) social empowerment
c) economic self-reliance

The programme started in 1992, and gradually evolved to cater for the needs of the rural poor in general and women in particular for improvement of the quality of life, social empowerment and economic self-reliance. To serve the needs of the people, Ganokendra activities have covered more and more fields. In 1992, the programme was started with 20 Ganokendras and around 2000 members, mostly for continuing education and post-literacy of neo-literate women. Gradually new elements were added to the activities of these centres by the community as they felt the need. For example poverty alleviation and income generation activities were added in 1995, supplemented by skills training and micro credit. Water and sanitation activities were covered in 1997, and anti-drug and anti-tobacco activities were introduced in 1998. With the increase of the incidence of child and women trafficking, particularly in the border districts in the west part of the country, child and women trafficking awareness activities were added in 2000.

At present the number of effective Ganokendras stands at 807 spread over 7 districts of the country with a membership of 80700. In fact 80700 families with an average of 5 members per family mean that 403,500 people are directly benefiting through membership and the 807 communities / villages as a whole reap the benefit of the programme. The Ganokendras are organized and managed by the groups of neo-literate women with necessary support from DAM in the form of books, materials, technical know-how (capacity building training support) and at times some seed money for micro-credit. One Facilitator (woman) is recruited by the community for initiation of activities and operation and supervision of the Centre. The overall management responsibility lies with the Management Committee democratically formed by the community. These Centres have been gradually transformed into a focal point for community development and creation of awareness on various social and economic issues particularly related to the promotion of women. Here the neo-literate women, the local educated community and the neighbouring people gather, read books, newspapers, and journals and discuss their family problems, identify issues for community attention or raise them with appropriate authorities. Participants, especially girls and women, get exposure outside family situations, which widens their mental horizon and brings forth a positive attitudinal change towards improvement of their quality of life, earning for themselves / for the family and thus improves their status in the family and the society.

The Context and How the Model Has Been Evaluated

Ganokendra is a literacy based poverty alleviation programme with a special bias towards women´s empowerment and gender as cross cutting issues in the rural context. As the context of the programme it may be noted here that a big proportion of the population, particularly in the Asia and the African regions, lives below the poverty line and poverty is more prominent in the rural areas and among women. One of the main reasons for the situation is the high rate of illiteracy in the regions, particularly in South Asia including Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the home of the Ganokendra Programme, the literacy rate is around 65% (Government estimates) and around 45% of the population lives below poverty line with an income less than a dollar a day. The situation among women is more precarious – the literacy rate among women is only two-thirds of that of the males and poverty is more widespread among women, particularly families headed by women. The situation in general and that of women in particular, needed to be addressed with some innovative programme, and Ganokendra has emerged to be the answer.

The overall management of a Ganokendra is vested with the Management Committee formed by the local people, in which the women have very important roles to play. Members of each Ganokendra raise funds for undertaking activities at the local level. Usually land for the Ganokendra house is donated by the community. The members provide voluntary labour and building materials for construction of the Ganokendra buildings (normally tin-shed Kutcha house). The Management Committee mobilizes the local contribution in the form of furniture, books and reading materials and games and sports apparatus. The members of the Ganokendra also pay subscriptions regularly and raise funds for payment of an honorarium to the Community Worker, cost of training and miscellaneous expenditure. In addition, local elite and community members make donations towards setting up and operation of the centre. Support from DAM for the Ganokendra is generally provided in the form of training, technical services and supply of materials (posters, leaflets, books and reading materials) during the initial years of operation. DAM’s field staff supervises and monitors the activities of the Ganokendra and attends monthly management meetings to provide guidance and advisory services.

Since the members of the Ganokendras decide about their own activities, each Ganokendra has organized different activities depending upon local needs and interest (although there is a general pattern of such activities). Of the 807 Ganokendras, 247 implement programmes on income generating activities with seed funds from DAM. In some cases, Ganokendra members are linked to other NGOs operating in the locality for providing skill based training or offering micro-credit for poverty alleviation and improvement of status of the women.

As for evaluation of the model and its impact on intended beneficiaries, it may be stated that the programme has been running since 1992. The programme is being implemented with success, offering benefits and impacting on the target group to improve their socio- economic conditions and quality of life including improvement in literacy, reduction in poverty and empowerment of the poor. In fact within the country several organizations have already replicated the model and in some countries, viz. Pakistan and Nepal, the model has been replicated in their context. Some organizations including UNESCO have highly appreciated the model and published the same either as a separate book or as sections of their relevant publications for replication in the Asia-Pacific Region, Some of these are noted below:

a) Beyond Literacy – Ganokendra – A book published by Asia South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE), India (2000).
b) Ganokendra: The Innovative Intervention – published in the Handbook on Effective Implementation of Continuing Education at the Grassroots by UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok (2001).
c) Innovation and Experience in the Field of Basic Education in Bangladesh – published by Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Bangladesh (2000).
d) Recently UNESCO published a case study in their The New Courier, April 2003 issue under the title Literacy in Communities – Village Revolutions (the case of Hira, a beneficiary woman).
e) Very recently, the model has been recognized by the Global Development Network with the first prize for 2003 (Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project) awarded in the Annual 160 Global Development Conference held in New Delhi, India, in January, 2004.

Apart from the above, there has been a Strategic Evaluation of Community- based Development Interventions of Dhaka Ahsania Mission (May, 2003) initiated by the major financing organization of the programme – CORDAID of the Netherlands. Three international consultants (Jowshan A. Rahman, Arnold Vanderbroek, and Mirza Najmul Huda) undertook the evaluation. A few quotations are noted below which reflect the findings o the report on the impact of the programme on its beneficiaries.


The relevance of the Ganokendras (GK) approach in terms of the community-based development interventions of DAM is confirmed by the fact that it is completely in line with the focus on poverty reduction as envisioned by GOB (Government of Bangladesh) and its development partners.

Effects on Literacy

Literacy skill tests of neo-literate members of GKs who had completed a literacy curriculum of approximately 6-9 months show that:


  • 75% of neo-literates had secured the minimum standard in the tests

  • Reading and life skills are substantially better than writing and numeracy skills

  • Males score better than females, especially in writing skills

Social Awareness and Survival Skills

Tests conducted showed that some social awareness and survival skills of neo-literate members of GK were higher compared to those of non-members. Differences showed particularly in : (1) capability to write (simple) letters, (2) adoption of family planning and contraceptive prevalence rate, (3) attitude towards/ rejection of dowry system, (4) adoption of sanitary latrine, (5) use of hygienic procedures for personal health, (6) being member of an organization, (7) women attending public meetings, (8) women keeping control over their earnings, and (9) women participating in family discussions and having a say in family decisions.


From an empowerment perspective, changes can be seen/ observed and have been documented and affirmed through focus group discussions in terms of (1) people’s awareness, (2) their knowledge, (3) their skills, (4) their attitudes, and (5) what they actually do (behaviour). All these manifest themselves at the household level and at the community level.

The GK’s Reach: Members and the Broader Community

Ganokendras have two kinds of members; primary target group members (PTG) and secondary target group member (STG). Targeted PTG members are from the poorer families ......... The communities (beyond the GK members) are usually reached through (1) courtyard meetings, (2) occasional home visits of the CW (Community Worker), (3) cultural celebrations, and (4) services in the GK that cater to the whole community (for instance related to health awareness).

Credit/ Creating Employment

Employment and income generation is the single most important concern expressed by Ganokendra members. Ganokendra members strongly expect that the Ganokendra will help address their income generation needs. People are much concerned and voice strong opinions about the proper combination of : (1) training for income generation, (2) having access to loans, (3) the proper timing and amounts of loans, (4) repayment schedules.

Linkage with Other Organizations

Government health professionals interviewed appreciate the role Ganokendras play in enhancing preventive health care and family planning. The promotion of proper sanitation and sanitary toilet practices by Ganokendras is widely credited with having contributed to reducing the number of illnesses in communities. Ganokendras have in a few cases played an active role in bringing about health infrastructures such as community clinics where government health personnel provide basic health care on a scheduled basis.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

The context of adult literacy teaching including post-literacy is changing due to several key elements. Among these is … information and communication technologies. ...As of the time of this evaluation plans were going ahead with the installation of IT in 5 Ganokendras turned CRCs (Community Resource Centres) out of DAM’s own funds possibly to be reimbursed by donor funds once funding is approved.

Gender and Development

Various actions initiated by DAM indicate that there is a strong commitment to promote gender equity both within the organization and at the community level. The flexibility of DAM in promoting gender and development has been a great strength.

Linkage with Government Organizations

These Government organizations associate with Ganokendras and work in cooperation with them, apart from the NGOs working in the project areas. The organizations utilize the Ganokendra as the focal point or as their service delivery unit. These organizations find the people assembled in and around the Ganokendra or can be reached easily through the Ganokendras to maximize their service delivery with least efforts – may it be vaccination against certain disease of the community people or their poultry or cattle herds or disseminating certain information on health hazards for managing the fisheries, plantations etc. As such the Ganokendras are very popular and useful to both Government and Non-Government Organizations working in the project areas.

Bangladesh is a developing country having more than 130 million population with around 45% of them living below the poverty line. Poverty is widespread among women and gender disparity persists in almost all socio-economic fields. The poor and the women are the most disadvantaged group in the society, without any awareness on many issues that are encountered in their day-to-day life. On the other hand it is impossible to achieve significant results towards development unless poverty is addressed and gender equality is attempted. DAM works for awareness creation about various familial, social, economic, environmental and legal aspects, among others, and poverty alleviation of the disadvantaged group of the population on a sustainable basis through its education based Ganokendra programme. The impact becomes evident through the higher level of awareness about the life-oriented issues that are encountered in the day-to-day life of the target group population. Some findings from an evaluation have been quoted above. There are many case studies depicting the favourable impact of the programme in the life and living of the target group.

Key to the success of the programme is that it is literacy based but does not only impart literacy to the target groups. It provides life oriented information – matters that they encounter in their everyday life – how to earn a living, how to act and react on legal, social and environmental issues, how to utilize the services provided by other service providers in government, non-government and private sectors to improve the quality of life.

The single most important contributing factor in the success of the DAM programme is its reading materials, which are interesting, readable, gender sensitive and contain information about life and living. These books are written keeping in view the grades of the learners (levels of literacy achievement – A, B, C, D, etc....). There are over 300 such materials covering various aspects of life – Health and Nutrition, Income Generation, Environment Promotion, Women´s Development and Gender, Society and Culture, Child Rights, Rights and Duties, Child and Women Trafficking Prevention, Water and Sanitation, Drug Abuse Prevention, and many other fields. These materials are being utilized by many government and non-government organizations in their own programmes. The books are mostly in the mother tongue– Bengali. These materials are being continuously updated, incorporating the latest up to date information to generate and maintain the interest of people of low literacy achievement while at the same time catering for the needs of the general readers.

The degree of benefit is enormous – improvement in awareness building and economic situation has been brought out in the Case Study of UNESCO that appears in their magazine The New Courier of April 2003 mentioned earlier. It may be added here that awareness about the rights of women at marriage and on divorce keeps families together. Awareness about the benefits of marriage registration helps getting legal remedies in times of need and also brings peace and harmony in the family. Awareness about the benefits of keeping the number of children small brings economic as well as social benefits. In the project area there has been a spectacular increase in school attendance – 100% of school-age children go to school regularly, 100% of Ganokendra members use sanitary latrines and safe water. On environment, 40% households use smokeless and fuel efficient ovens and all members are aware of environment friendly activities.

In literacy, people are so motivated that they give utmost importance to educating their wife / husband and children and none would like to lag behind their neighbours in educating their womenfolk. Similarly, in the income generation programme – micro credit is given to the women and the men are in competition in helping their women to make the project successful. A man takes pride when his wife’s or daughter’s project become successful and brings sufficient income to the family as if it is his womenfolk’s ability, superiority and empowerment. In fact there are lots of things to be felt than can be described. There are many case studies about the innovativeness and effectiveness of the programme.

The Practical Methods Use

The practical methods used included extensive review of background documents, policy documents, project proposals, reporting formats, progress reports, training materials, field visit interaction with donor agencies etc. It was found that the programme has been effective and had a positive impact on education and poverty alleviation of the target beneficiaries. As has been noted above, the programme has been running for over a decade with a positive impact on the life and living of the target group. It has its favourable impact on various fields like literacy, social awareness and survival skills, empowerment, reaching the broader community, creating employment, establishing linkages with other organizations, development of management skills, gender equality, taking care of the needs of adolescent girls and above all community ownership and sustainability of the programme. Some of the contributions made and changes brought by the Ganokendras are – a) Contribution towards improvement of quality of life; b) Awareness creation about gender, drug abuse, environment, population growth, water and sanitation, infant mortality, HIV/ AIDS, legal provision about marriage registration, divorce, population control, safe water and sanitary practices, health and nutrition etc.; c) Utilization of the Ganokendras by the people as centres for cultural, sports and recreational activities; d) Running of Ganokendras by women leaders etc.

The Pitfalls or Learning Experiences from which Others Would Benefit

Pitfalls include those in the process of organizing the Centres and also in running the same. At times there is a lack of appreciation and understanding of the model to begin with, lack of willing cooperation of the community, difficulty in finding appropriate accommodation, shortage of fully motivated Facilitators/ Social Workers in the rural areas who are invariably women, non-availability of suitable reading materials and seed fund for income generation activities etc. These, however, have been overcome and the model is now successfully run by the community.

1 DAM stands for Dhaka Ahsania Mission.

Adult Education and Development


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