Virtual discussion session on economic integration and empowerment of vulnerable people

Winrock International’s Ashshash project, in collaboration with the daily Prothom Alo, has arranged a virtual discussion session on “Economic Integration and Empowerment of Vulnerable People: Challenges and Opportunities During and Post COVID-19”.

As the World Day against Trafficking in Persons 2020 is approaching on 30 July 2020, Ashshash, a project funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), focused on addressing the sustainable economic reintegration of trafficking survivors especially women survivors, in addition to other vulnerable groups like returnee migrants. Her Excellency, Ms. Nathalie Chuard, the Ambassador-Designate of Switzerland in Bangladesh as well as prominent figures from private and non-government organizations shared their valuable opinion as panelists.

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The economic fallout made by the coronavirus pandemic has put the marginalized people, such as- people who have escaped trafficking and returnee migrants in more vulnerable situations as they have no or limited scope for income-generating activities during this crucial time. The RMG (Ready-made Garment) sector is on the verge of an unprecedented humanitarian and business catastrophe due to the pandemic.

The session highlighted critical issues like hard-hit sectors, impact on the informal and SME, increased unemployment, and its impact on the vulnerable group as well as on the overall economy. Her Excellency, Ms. Nathalie Chuard mentioned that during this ongoing crisis, the Swiss government through the SDC has been supporting these affected people through an approach of “Response, Adaptability, and Coordination”.

The program was started with a short brief of Ashshash by its Team Leader Dipta Rakshit. She explained how the project has been working for the economic integration of vulnerable people and the challenges faced during this pandemic. Later, Asif Ibrahim, Chairman of Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE), shared the government initiatives to support the marginalized populations, how CSE and business associations are supporting these vulnerable people. Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, President of National Association of Small and Cottage Industries Bangladesh (NASCIB) talked about the challenges of vulnerable people having no or limited access to credits. He reiterated the need for collaborative efforts among the banks, business associations, and development partners to work towards the economic integration of these people. Another panelist, AKM Masud Ali, Executive Director of INCIDIN Bangladesh, provided a context of the trafficking survivors and returnee migrants while pointing out key factors for dealing with such an economically displaced population. Consequently, MD. Arfan Ali, President & Managing Director of Bank Asia, expressed that the failure to include the unbanked people is a barrier to ensure their economic integration and emphasized on providing financial services to these people through agent banks and financial kiosks.

However, the available support and opportunities i.e. the stimulus package announced by the government for the cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises sector as well as for the export-oriented industries came into the discussion. Panelist, Professor Saiful Majid, Chairman of Grameen Bank, shared that engaging these vulnerable people in marketable trades and products in new normal situation presents an opportunity to get them economically integrated. Moreover, Tahsinah Ahmed, Executive Director of UCEP Bangladesh, pointed out the importance of rescoping and reskilling these people and redesigning the soft skills and vocational skills. The discussion reiterated the need to ensure labor law, decent work, and counseling for marginalized people, especially people who have escaped trafficking and returnee migrants.

The discussion was concluded with a belief and hope that the right initiative and right approach, in collaboration and partnership among the government, non-government and private sector, can improve the lives of these affected individuals; such efforts, at least collectively, can mitigate their challenges so that they can navigate a difficult time like the ongoing pandemic. The session was hosted and moderated by Munir Hasan, Head of Youth Program, the Daily Prothom Alo

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