In 2000, Swisscontact started work in Bangladesh to increase the income of poor producers in urban and rural areas. It did this by identifying constraints in the market – identifying where the bottlenecks were, and linking private partners with producers and the public sector to address them.
About 80 per cent of Bangladesh is low-lying land which although fertile is prone to flooding and susceptible to the adverse effects of climate change. More than two million people live on chars – shifting river islands – where economic opportunities are impeded by geographical isolation, lack of access to basic services, weak markets and the effects of hazardous climate conditions. At around 166 million, Bangladesh’s population is about 20 times larger than that of Switzerland, in a country just three times the size. The resulting pressure on land resources and the need to feed an ever-growing population mean that despite steady economic growth over the last decade – around 7% in 2016 (IMF) – at the start of the project, 63 million people in Bangladesh were living in extreme poverty. Climate change, traditional views of gender roles and a history of public sector control over industries, means that innovation – the lifeblood of business – can be slow to take root.
Working with farmers and small businesses, Katalyst engaged the private and public sectors, and linked them with poor producers who want the same thing – improve their livelihood. Although it followed a number of approaches over its lifetime, the basic principle remained the same: to act in a facilitating role to achieve systemic change which would impact the lives of the beneficiaries even after project end.