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Reflections on Six Years of Change in Bangladesh

March 31, 2010

I had the privilege of being a part of the Leaders of Influence (LOI) program implemented by The Asia Foundation at the very beginning in 2004.

I clearly remember the day when I went to the Imam Training Academy (ITA) in Dhaka during the early days of the LOI program. Upon entering the room, I could see 50 faces tighten as they realized they were expected to interact on issues like HIV/AIDS prevention and maternity health awareness, issues then considered taboo to discuss in an open forum, especially with a woman around. On one occasion, the imams refused to have a woman LOI trainer during their orientation program.

Today in 2010, I am sitting in the same ITA with at least 100 imams and we interact and in a candid manner, sitting face to face with each other as we discuss how to further women’s empowerment projects in their local communities. We talk about how to create greater awareness on prevention of HIV/AIDS and brainstorm better approaches for getting out messages on anti-corruption, radicalism, and good governance through their Friday sermons. At the end of the discussions, the imams insist that I have tea with them. Then they escort me back to my car and, as I depart the ITA ground, they smile and invite me back to ITA for continuing the dialogues. Dialogues the imams now feel are a vital component in advancing national development efforts.

This is what I term as change in the right direction. A change that was possible through the LOI program, through which we are now able to measure the impact of our program initiatives, and cite indicators of success. Undoubtedly, LOI is a groundbreaking program in the Bangladeshi development sector.

What a difference six years can make.

Faria Naz Hossain is a consultant for The Asia Foundation’s Leaders of Influence program in Bangladesh. She can be reached at

View all posts by Faria Naz Hossain

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