By Kulsoom Rizvi

Community leaders are drivers of solving the most challenging problems in their communities and shaping future development. From rebuilding the global economy to peace-building and creating sustainable democracies, community leaders are at the forefront in furthering long-term stability and economic prosperity.

Under Counterpart International’s Leadership Development Program (LDP), Bangladesh’s rising community voices have united together to take control of their future and become agents for change.

The five-year program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) develops the leadership skills of 24,000 emerging leaders through civic education mentoring and service learning activities to support community and youth leaders in Bangladesh to become advocates for poverty alleviation, job creation, environmental protection, democracy and education.

The results of these trainings have led leaders to initiate several large to small-scale projects. These series of stories will showcase the community-led projects in Bangladesh such as educating individuals and organizations on tax collection, establishing a local school in a remote village to becoming entrepreneurial leaders in a fishery project.

Community and youth leaders in Bangladesh bridge the knowledge gap about tax collection

Union Parishads (UPs), the base of rural local governance in Bangladesh are responsible for coordinating many aspects of local social and economic development in Bangladesh including collection of tax, however, lack the necessary resources, capacity and transparency.

According to a baseline study conducted by Counterpart International in November, there was a broad information gap about local UP governments among LDP recruits. Just 14 per cent report substantial knowledge about the workings of their UP, peaking at 24 per cent among adult men and dropping as low as 4 per cent among female youth recruits.

These results suggested a clear need for greater information about the workings of the UP, initiating action among LDP community and youth leaders to promote UP-level awareness and advocacy.

Counterpart and its local partner Democracywatch, trained and supported 397 community and youth leaders on how to organize five tax fairs that helped increase earnings of the UPs and raised awareness amongst community members on the importance of submitting their taxes. LDP collected a total of $2,025 in taxes for the UPs from 1,312 participants – 47 percent of which were women.

So far, the money from the tax fair has already bought sewing machines for the women in the Kishoreganj district.

“This [tax fair] initiative showed the interest and involvement of community people in the local development. Their collaboration with the UPs built a sense of unity of the people with the local government. This success for LDP has inspired us greatly,” Community Leadership Manager Eklas Uddin said.

The tax fair was inspired by LDP’s counterparts in Armenia who had launched a similar initative to help local officials generate revenue. During last year’s Social Good Summit, a global gathering for the social good, Counterpart joined the worldwide conversation in three countries including Honduras, Armenia and Bangladesh. Participants in Bangladesh and Armenia held a Skype chat, tackling various issues their communities were facing with and ways to work with community and youth leaders to fix them. 

To prepare for the tax fair, Counterpart conducted training sessions focused on the knowledge, skills and values essential for responsible citizenship in tackling community development issues. This allowed leaders to identify the problem of tax collection, research related issues and propose a solution. The fair was attended by several media outlets and key government officials who applauded LDP’s initiative.

“LDP has motivated me to know about the tax issues and how important it is. I realized that with this tax money we could develop our community further and fulfill the needs of many,” Abdus Sattar, Community Leader from Democracywatch said.

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