UBINIG is a community led and community based policy and action research organization formed in 1984 to support people's initiatives to take command over their own lives and livelihood. Dignity, diversity and joy of life are precious values we cherish and work with communities to realise them in a meaningful way in order to be free from all forms of hierarchies, violence and injustice.
UBINIG started as a study circle searching for alternatives to the mainstream development intervention and influence development policies to be more oriented to people's need, particularly for poor and marginal population. Making policy making process more transparent and inclusive has always been the strategic area of our work.
UBINIG is the abbreviation of its Bengali name Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona (উন্নয়ন বিকল্পের নীতি নির্ধারণী গবেষণা). In English it means Policy Research for Development Alternative. It is a policy research organization having grass root connections with farmers, weavers, fishers, artisans and crafts persons, commmunity health providers, rural entrepreneurs and other rural communities.
It is legally registered as a research and consultancy organization for social development issues.
Meaning of Community Research
Over the years UBINIG has successfully demonstrated that community led and community based policy research is a form of constitutive social activity enhancing community's understanding of both collective and individual needs and expectations. Community research brings clarity in the reciprocal relations between the community and its material base as well as between the members of the community. Such clarity creates enabling environment to define the rights and responsibilities of community members and enhances ability of the community to set and realise common goals and objectives.
In bangla, such engagement is known as creating conditions for the 'samaj' to arrive. ‘Samaj’ literally means a community's self awareness as a collective organic whole, therefore re-search reinforces the moral commitment to act in a way so that each and every person develops equally and harmoniously with others.
Community research unleashes the creativity inherent in the knowledge practices of the people and enables them to solve problems collectively.The decisive issue in the production of knowledge is who indeed is the producer of that knowledge and what is the class and gender effect of that research. We take class and gender perspectives seriously in our methodology, analysis and conclusions. Creative imaginations and search for alternative perspectives to capture the complexity of real life situations is the key strategy in all our activities.
We implement the ideas we develop through observations, experiences and analysis and translate them into community programmes, campaigns and community education and awareness activities. We always remain involved in and with our communities and seek solution of the challenges people face on a day to day basis. The objective is always to transform the present for a positive future.
Affirmation and celebration of life
Affirmation and celebraion of the joy of life is our key inspiration. We value the pulses of life, the beautiful unitary whole and the joy that must be shared with everybody and everywhere.
Human beings are evolving naturally for millions of years and continuing as the history of human subjects culminating to the present where we do have the real possibility to articulate, celebrate and demonstrate the best and beautiful in us.
We avoid binaries such as material and spiritual life, but trust in the inherent capacity of human beings to act, engage and change relation among themselves and with the external world. We believe we are always capable to reach others, act collectively and unite one day as one world.
How We Work
Registered in 1984, UBINIG started with its Dhaka office and since 1990 has been operating at the community level through Biddaghors or (Learning Places) in various districts of Bangladesh. These Biddaghors play very important role for our self-education; they are also powerful community means to undertake community-led research, activities and popular mobilisation for change. Our advocacy work is based on evidence-based claims empirical findings in concrete contexts and policy environment.
We live and work with local communities; living, learning and interacting together is our strength. Interacting with communities in real life situations and becoming the community is the most valuable empirical and social foundation of our investigation, analysis, knowledge formation and advocacy.
Our active policy of being involved and gradually becoming an integral part of the local community provides us greater understanding of local realities, contradictions and antagonism in the context of increasing integration of local into the global.
Knowledge Innovation and Sharing
Knoweldge innovation and dissemination is a challenge to translate 'informal' evidence into ‘formal’ demonstration and 'formal' knowledge into ‘informal’ language that could be shared and communicated with multiple users. Before a research is undertaken, a mapping of the potential users of research results is usually done. We use various research ‘tools’ or methodologies depending on the purpose of the research and its potential use. We are aware of piracy and privatization of local and indigenous knowledge for intellectual property rights and therefore resist those acts.
UBINIG follows research methods based on the issue through use of questionnaires, intensive discussions at community level, focus group discussions, participatory observation methods and engaging the community members themselves in the data generation and analysis.
Contrary to the dominant idea of research that makes a community an 'object' of study, UBINIG research is geared to empower the community, dissolving the so -called 'researchers' into the collective processes of knowledge generation.
UBINIG is a practitioner of Social Analysis System. and collaborating with the Research initiative Social analysis System2 (SAS2) which offers a new approach to creating and using knowledge for the common good coordinated by Carleton University (Canada) with a number of institutional partners around the world.
Since we work with non-literate communities, UBINIG is deeply interested in exploring the realation between orality and literacy since they have direct implication for agricultural innovation and community development. The digital epoch has further complicated our tools and methods and their interconnected dynamics of knowledge production. Orality animates social memory and contribute to storing, conserving and regenerating valuable scientific insights, data, wisdom and practice.
Our research is for the communities with whom we live and for whom we work.
Campaign & Advocacy
UBINIG gets involved in various national, regional and international campaigns. Issues are identified through research, workshops or seminars or triggered by the movements of farmers, weavers, women or other social actors with whom UBINIG works. The research activities of UBINIG provide evidences to undertake campaign and advocacy with the relevant policy makers at national and international level.
The campaign and advocacy issues include women’s rights, health, harmful practices of population control programmes, harmful effects of modern agriculture, rights of workers, environmental degradation, international trade, intellectual property rights, genetically modified organisms, human rights violations and any issue that affects the communities in a negative way.
Our campaign strategies are in the form of holding press briefings, organising human chains, protest march, publication of posters and pamplets. We network and collaborate with like-minded organisations and individuals on common issues of interest and undertake collective actions.
UBINIG operates organizationally as a family. We work collectively, share our thoughts collectively and therefore the accomplishments are shared in a collective manner.
UBINIG is an innovative exercise in institution building. We are determined to demonstrate that people get motivated and take responsibility to contribute to the needs of the people and communities around them. Working in the community and for the community is not a ‘job’ or ‘employment’, it is a commitment.
Transparent and collective process of decision making and strict implementation of collective decision is the heart of the organization. Responsibilities are divided according to capacity. Each and every member enjoys opportunity to be trained and there are scopes for education. Leadership position is not a management decision, but the result of collective Endeavour, trust, experience and quality of organizational ability.
Narigrantha Prabartana being a place for women as well as a publishing house provides opportunities for all classes of women to come and raise their issues. Narigrantha does not limit its activities to the educated women only. Women farmers and women workers are regular participants in all the activities of Narigrantha.
Our Working Areas
Co-ordinated from Dhaka office UBINIG’s activities are spread over different districts of Bangladesh. We started our Tangail office in 1986, the year we started working with local handloom weavers. Now the centre is co-ordinating both handloom weaving and ecological agriculture among other activities. Tangail centre coordinates the activities in other districts such as Sherpur, Jamalpur, Sirajganj and Kurigram.
We started working in coastal areas since 1987 for carrying out research on shrimp fry collectors and later after the cyclone of 1991 started an office for mangrove regeneration. It coordinates other districts such as Chittagong, Noakhali and Chittagong Hill Tracts.
We started working in the northern district of Pabna since 1994 to see the environmentally threatened areas due to excessive use of deep tubewells. Through the centre in Pabna, Natore, Chapainababganj, Kushtia are coordinated.
Each centre is known as a Biddaghor, the community learning spaces. With the increased intensity, depth and spread of our work, more Biddaghors are established. [ see more in Biddaghors]
AGRICULTURE & FOOD SOVEREIGNTY
Agriculture and the agrarian livelihood, agro-ecology, seed and genetic resource conservation and relevant knowledge practices are major areas of our work. We work to defend agriculture as a way of life and do not reduce life affirming activities merely as a sector of production of ‘food’. Nayakrishi Andolon leads activities related to agriculture and food sovereignty.
ENVIRONMENT, ECOLOGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
Preserving environment and working on the issues of vulnerabilities due to environmental degradations are highlighted in all our work. Defending lifestyles has also direct implication for communities and cultures dependent on forest. We, therefore, also work closely to conserve our forests and life and livelihood of indigenous communities.
The climate change issues are particularly followed by promoting knowledge practices that contribute to adopting mitigational measures with regard to river erosion, selection of appropriate seed for specific agro-ecological zone, conserving magroves in the coastal areas.
Biddaghors and the Nayakrishi Andolon lead activities in this focal area.
Women's movement is very crucial for determining the women's rights in the country. Women's issues demand independent attention, but is not separate from general concerns of the society. Women's groups are continuously demanding for their rights in different spheres of life. Narigrantha Prabartana, the women resource center, leads activities in this raea. Apart from the works done independently, Narigrantha leads and works with various women groups at the grass root level.
HEALTH, NUTRITION & RURAL HEALTH PROVIDERS
UBINIG undertakes independent research and activities in health and nutrition and play active role in Shasthya Andolon.
We address the general concerns related to health and nutrition. At present, the major focus is to highlight the role of safe food to prevent non-communicable disease.
Rural health providers play a key role in the health delivery system. Our work with Dai Mas (traditional birth attendants) is crucial in identifying the health needs of the rural communities and finding ways to integrate the indigenous knowledge and human resources in the rural areas in order to establish link with the national healthcare delivery system.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH & TECHNOLOGIES
UBINIG undertakes research on women's reproductive health. UBINIG critically analyses the medicalisation of women's reproductive health through indiscriminate use of contraceptives for fertility control without taking care of side-effects and on the other hand, commercialisation of infertility treatment through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) including In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), surrogacy etc.
UBINIG heath research team and Narigrantha Prabartana lead in this area.
TRADE UNION EDUCATION & WORKER'S RIGHTS
UBINIG works with industrial, non-industrial and informal sector workers and particularly with readymade garment (RMG) workers for establishing their rights for safe working conditions, fair wages and non-discrimination. Sramabikash Kendra leads research, campaign and advocacy activities in this area.
INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE PRACTICES: ORAL DISCOURSES, CRAFTS, FOOD SYSTEMS & OTHERS
Culture and cultural diversity is a major area of our work. diversity in culture enriches the society. Bangladesh is very diverse in cultural practices. It varies from one district to the other and among different communities including the indigenous communities. Through food, craft, biodiversity festivals, theatrical performances and music populuar discourses are integrated into various forms of knowledge practices including music many of these links are made.
Adda and Prabartana leads the areas of food and crafts and Nobopran Andolon leads in cultural activities.
TRAFFICKING & VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Trafficking and violence against women are inter-related in the context social and economic situations faced by the rural and poor urban women. UBINIG carries out research, compiles media reports, and investigates into incidents that affect women in the form of trafficking as well violences. UBINIG believes in preventive measures through increased livelihood opportunities and creation of sense of dignity among those who are vulnerable to such situations. Narigrantha Prabartana is the leading organisation addressing these issues.
EDUCATION & AWARENESS
UBINIG runs training programmes, public awareness meetings and workshops on issues relevant for the community. We also run schools in very remote area of Badarkhali, Chakaria. All our Biddaghors are centers for informal education for the children. They learn crafts, seed saving techniques, composting, etc.
Video & photography skills
UBINIG organise training to farmer women and some of our young male and female colleagues who have minimal formal education. The team has developed skills to produce documentary videos on issues related to UBINIG works, particularly biodiversity and livelihood. Photography is considered as part of research and campaign activities and has a very well developed photographic collection of UBINIG activities. Photography skills are developed among young members of UBINIG. This section is led by DEKHA.
Audio-visual trainings are guided by the principle that the community should have control and command over camera and their representation in the media; this is against the conventional practice of making communities ‘object’ of others and interpreting their life by people outside the community.
Our sister organisations
UBINIG inspired various ecological, social and cultural movements. Some movements have transformed the organisation itself. Movements maintain organic link with UBINIG while operating independently: Nayakrishi Andolon, Nobopran Andolon, Narigrantha Prabartana, Dai Samity, Sramabikash Kendra, Prabartana, Shashya Prabartana are some of the examples.
Among them Prabartana and Shashyaprabartana are independently registered. ADDA operates under Shashyaprabartana.
These organisations grew from UBINIG and eventually became independent with their own management system but guided by the philosophy, principle and objectives of the organisation.
Handloom Weaving, Handicrafts & Community Creativity
Prabartana, a sister organisation UBINIG is the clearing-house for handloom fabrics and products, handicrafts, pottery, handmade papers, wooden crafts, and various art objects directly related to the ecological livelihood of the people. Started in 1989, it is also the meeting place of socially responsible consumers and the producers. It frequently invites handloom and handicrafts producers and rural artists to meet the consumers. The significance of handloom and rural crafts works is explained to highlight the value of ecology and community building and its relations with the responsible lifestyles in urban cities. The profound importance of life and crafts of the rural producers is highlighted not as a ‘commodity’, but as creative expressions without which our life loses meaning.
At Prabartana the producer-consumer relation is turned into relations between life activities of rural and urban economy, and a learning place to go beyond the culture of commodity and consumption. Thus, people learn to be socially responsible and become more aware about their role as consumer and the livelihood of the vast majority of the crafts producing communities. Prabartana is a place for consumer awareness where people learn and realise how personal taste and lifestyles have direct implication for the livelihood of the producers. visit website
We are always interested in craft works and argue that it is important to observe and study closely how market transforms the community creativity into de-skilled labor power for the labor market without jobs. What communities lose and what they gain is important not simply for aesthetic reasons but for grave social and economic implications.
We developed an operational strategy that could ensure craft weaving to continue and flourish. It is based on a production strategy and simultaneously building relation with enlightened and conscious consumers. The artisan ‘craft’ work is presented as craft -work as such, and not simply as a commodity. On the other hand, those weavers who are not skilled in craft are trained in semi-automatic looms for mass production of fabrics and could equally compete in the market but without falling into exploitative relation with the mahajans (moneylenders and commercial traders of handloom fabrics).
The idea of articulated community development that runs on two feet: agriculture and rural industry, is our guiding paradigm.
The concern for ecology and environment is a major factor. The handloom sector is based on renewable energy. The industrialization process based on large-scale textile and spinning industries uses fossil fuel. The handloom weaving is part and parcel of our ecological agricultural activities and together constitutes the main thrust of our rural regeneration of life, livelihood and prospering relations.
Shashya Prabartana is the place in Dhaka where ecologically produced agricultural products particularly food produced by Nayakrishi farmers are available. It is also a place for consumer education on safe food, nutrition and health campaigns. It is operating from two branches in Dhaka, one in Muhammedpur and other in Banani.
Adda as a form of restaurant is a space for women to meet each other over a cup of tea and snacks, lunch or dinner started when there was hardly any space for women to socialise in public place in the city. By now it is a large, visible and well-known restaurant serving mainly ecological food from the sources of Nayakrishi Andolon, the peasants’ movement for biodiverse ecological farming systems. Adda serves lunch and dinner made with fresh vegetables, meat and fish, as well as seasonal fresh fruit juices. Great choice of delicious snacks with tea is always on the menu. Adda provides catering services for snacks, lunch and dinner to the seminars, meetings and various social occasions. Adda is also available for family gatherings, birthdays, marriage occasions, and official meetings.
Reputation of Adda for local cuisine, particularly cooked by the paradigm of rural households is unique in the city. Adda is the great promoter of health and nutrition, ecology, distinctive life styles and typical bangla vegetarian food.
South Asia Network on Food, Ecology and Culture (SANFEC)
UBINIG is the founding member of South Asian Network on Food, Ecology and Culture (SANFEC). It is a network based in 5 countries of South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. A logical outcome of interactions between grass root organisations, it was formed in a workshop in 1996 in Tangail, Bangladesh organised by UBINIG to prepare for the World Food Summit, held in Rome, Italy. The workshop resulted in a consolidated position known as ‘Statement of Concern” on international trade, intellectual property rights and biotechnology and genetic engineering from the perspective of the food producing communities. The ‘Statement’ played the foundational role in shaping the network and setting its political directions. SANFEC has organised many seminars, workshops and meetings on various issues of concern and there are regular exchanges between SANFEC members.
In SANFEC, strong links are built with traditional folk singers, cultural activists, poets, painters, and creative writers who have been strong allies of ecological and environmental movements and have played significant roles in awareness building in their own societies. South Asia is rich in secular spiritual movements and the leaders of this movement have historically played a strong role in social reforms and challenged social injustice not only in political terms, but often in terms of moral and spiritual knowledge.
Two important activities of SANFEC are Farmers Exchange and Biodiversity Festivals. The Farmers' exchange is a major and regular activity among SANFEC members. Apart from more organised South Asia level exchanges, there are regular farmers’ exchange such as Bangladesh- India, Bangladesh -Pakistan, Bangladesh -Nepal, Nepal -India, Nepal- Pakistan, India -Nepal, Bangladesh-Srilanka, India-Srilanka etc. Asia and international level exchange is also gaining momentum in recent years.
The Biodiversity festivals are organised with farmers to reclaim diverse wealth of South Asian Communities. The biodiversity fairs are very powerful events to consolidate indigenous and local knowledge. Through popular mobilisation in the rural area, they act as an effective and powerful instrument to influence policy by engaging government, civil society and the food producing communities in an environment of festivity.
Since 1996, women and human rights organisations in the South Asian countries have come together to formulate strategies of combating the crime of trafficking in women and children. In a regional workshop organised by UBINIG in Bangladesh, the NGOs of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal took the decision of lobbying at the summits of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) level to have a Regional Convention against Trafficking. The Resistance Network, thus, was formed to carry out the collective actions at the regional level against trafficking.
SAARC Peoples Forum
The SAARC Peoples Forum is a coalition of popular organisations involved in broad areas of environment, development, women issues, human rights, trafficking in women and children, livelihood security and food sovereignty in the South Asian countries. The purpose of convening SAARC Peoples forum was to facilitate articulation of a common regional voice and to influence government policies in respective SAARC member countries. SANFEC and Resistance Networks have been playing the leading role in organising SAARC Peoples Forum. Other regional networks are gradually taking interest.