By Jennifer Brookland

A launch event in Dhaka celebrated the start of Counterpart International’s Leadership Development Program in Bangladesh, a five-year initiative that will reach 24,000 youth and community leaders.

“I think this Leadership Development Program may become our very best program in supporting democracy and development, because it engages people where they live, it engages people at the community level,” said U.S. Ambassador H.E. Dan Mozena in his remarks at the event.

The grassroots program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will enhance the ability of community organization leaders to improve public policy for their constituents.

Following its Jan. 17 launch, the program aims to catalyze communities to improve education, agriculture and health care, combat human trafficking and domestic violence, and jump on new market opportunities such as aquaculture.

“Working together we will increase capacity of citizens to effectively and actively engage in democratic processes that enhance community development in Bangladesh,” said Sibel Berzeg, Vice President of Counterpart.

The program will also prepare thousands of Bangladeshi youth to become community advocates to alleviate poverty, create jobs, improve the environment and more.

It provides the skills-building young people need to plan and manage development projects, as well as grants to actually carry them out.

In a country where youth comprise a third of the population, harnessing their talent and energy is imperative in moving the country forward, says Ahad Ali Sarker, The Honorable State Minister for the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“The mission for the Ministry is to transform youth into efficient human resources through training and loans, to ensure their participation in socio-economic development and other nation-building activities,” Sarker said at the launch event.

The Ministry, in partnership with Counterpart and several local Bangladeshi organizations, will use social media and internet communication technologies to develop a Youth Activist Network, and will provide instruction and technical support at 111 existing Youth Training Centers.

As youth cultivate their leadership potential at these centers, financial and technical support from the LDP will enable them to design and implement community development projects back home—building skills and confidence, and meeting real needs.

“I’m excited about the LDP!” said Chief of Party Steve LaVake in his kickoff speech. “It offers a great opportunity to build human and institutional capacity for current and future development programs in Bangladesh.”

LaVake pointed out the timeliness and the importance of the program in a country where 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, many without access to basic services such as clean water, health care and electricity.

Effective local leadership is the key to ensuring any kind of development, he said.

The program builds on the past success of USAID’s Leaders of Influence program, which trained 20,000 religious leaders between 2007 and 20011. Graduates of that initiative will form a mentor network to help guide current LDP participants.

“I am not supposed to have favorites among the many development activities that America supports here in Bangladesh, but I do,” says Ambassador Mozena. “This is the best way to strengthen democracy, the best way to advance development, the best way to deliver better services directly to the people, the best way to improve people’s quality of life, the best way to make a difference.”