The Organization for Social Advancement and Cultural Activities (OSACA) is a non-profit and non-government organization that has been mainly known for its work in Pabna district. Over its two-decade journey, the organization has achieved handful of experiences with impressive success and a has faced number of challenges through implementing major project or programs such as microcredit program of various kinds supported by PKSF, self-financed education program, water supply, sanitation and hygiene projects supported by UNICEF-DFID, EU and HYSAWA, community based climate change adaptation project supported by PKSF-WB.

This document tries to broadly present the lessons learned and to highlight progress and achievements of OSACA so far in the light of the needs of the community it has been working for, and to delineate the challenges of going forward with the given resources and capacity of the organization. The methods for collecting information for the documentation included review of relevant documents, formal and informal discussions with the relevant personnel of the organization, consultation with the management team of the organization, field visits including discussions with beneficiaries. The bulk of the information was gathered from a consultation with the management team of the organization.

Officially, OSACA was established in 1994 and it received registration from NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) in 1995. It started with a tree plantation program with support from a Swiss Organization in Ishwardi.

The first working area was Char Gargori, which was one of the remotest and hard-to-reach areas of the district with high incidence of poverty. OSACA was the first NGO to come forward to help the poor people of the area.

The first fund of only 18,500 taka came from Community Development Library (CDL) in 1995. The organization established a library in the area which became the centre for interactions of local people. OSACA immediately started savings credit activities collecting hundred thousand taka from and individual. It started working with 600 members in four villages of three Unions of Ishwardi.

OSACA applied to PKSF for funding and as a pre-requisite for PKSF funding, registration from the Department of Social Services was acquired in 1998. PKSF started funding in October of the same year. The fund from PKSF in the first year amount 25 lakh and the ceiling increased later on.

Over the next few years, OSACA undertook a lot of initiatives to establish sound accounting and financial management systems including shift to back and office based lending instead of door to door lending, adoption of standard credit manuals, standardization of accounting iv Two Decades of Working with the Poor | An Independent Review of OSACA and financial practices, and establishing accounting manual. By the year 2003, the revolving fund of micro-credit went up to 72 lakh, out of which PKSF’s share was 53 lakh.

During these 4-5 years, OSACA undertook some other programs while micro-credit was regaining discipline. OSACA never looked back from this time onward. Now the organization reaches more than 16 thousand poor households with its micro-credit program of over 20 crore taka. In addition, major donor funded projects focuses on many other social issues.

OSACA now operates in all the nine upazilas of Pabna districts and partially in Natore District. The working area includes 66 unions of the ten upazilas.

The social empowerment sector of OSACA includes diverse programs including education, environment and disaster risk reduction, human rights and access to social justice, women empowerment, resource mobilization, health and well-being, and sanitation. OSACA’s reputed school ‘OSACA Children Garden’ was established in 2004 with the philosophy of investing in human resources development. Starting with only 50 students, now the schools have 404 students and 10 teachers. The ultimate dream of the education program of OSACA is to build an education village, which the organization has started working on.

OSACA also has a quite decent library, which is a continuation of a tradition that OSACA started right from its beginning. However, the organization should re-think the ultimate purpose of the library and develop it accordingly.

Although OSACA does not have an independent health program, it is trying to mainstreaming quality health services in its existing programs. Currently, the organization deploys full time qualified doctors in two of its branches. The ultimate aim is to have full time doctors in all its 15 branches.

Water supply, sanitation and hygiene constitute one of the most regular programs of OSACA. The organization has managed to have continuous donor support in this particular type of programs. OSACA so far implemented at least 10 programs on various aspects of water supply, sanitation and hygiene. With the vast experience of working in the field of water supply, hygiene and sanitation, it is high time for OSACA to develop a broad-based strategic plan for positioning the sector in the overall programming of the organization.

The micro-finance program of OSACA has matured through its operational experience of almost two decades. Throughout the evolution and process of development of the micro-finance program, which went through a number of ups and downs, the organization developed various approaches of micro-finance: rural micro credit, urban micro credit, micro enterprise loan, seasonal loan, and micro credit for ultra poor. About 300 thousand project participants have so far been given training on income generating skills. These participants were mobilized in almost six and a half thousand groups. As a tested and long-term partner of PKSF, the organization has sound management system in place for the micro-finance program. The program is implemented through 15 branch offices covering 66 unions in ten upazilas of Pabna & Natore District.

OSACA worked in a locality where none else worked before. OSACA served those communities that none else served before. OSACA reached those poor that none else reached before. Thus, much of what some of the communities are today owes to OSACA to a great extent. As a result, with the materials changes coming changes in practices and mindset. The biggest change that OSACA caused in its working area has been the graduation of thousands of households out of poverty. Through the programs of water supply, hygiene and sanitation, OSACA did not only provided thousands of tube-wells and latrines to the communities, but more importantly, created awareness, transmitted knowledge and provided motivation on the practices of hygiene and sanitation.

One of OSACA’s uniqueness as an NGO lies in the fact that it started with a library and continued to having it for developing reading habit in the community they work in. OSACA could also bring about changes in the perceptions of people about NGOs. Now, seeing OSACA for so many years and participating in many of its activities, people changed their attitude towards NGOs.

OSACA over its journey of two decades achieved notable successes in various aspects of community development. It is important that the organization builds on these success and move forward to achieving even bigger successes.

For stepping to the next level as an NGO, OSACA should consider the following:

  • Conduct a participatory strategic planning to define its short, medium and long terms goals and strategies.
  • Standardize operation of all programs instead of micro-finance program only. It is important to have standard policies, procedures and manuals that will apply to all programs of the organization.
  • Increase women’s participation in the management of the organization. Increasing proportion of women in the total staff can be the first step.
  • Create sectors of excellence e.g. water-sanitation, for bringing in greater focus in the programs and activities of the organization. Create core programs based on those sectors and irrespective of donor support.
  • Introduce digital management across the organization, not only in micro-finance program.
  • Improve the organizational website to make it more dynamic and assign person(s) to regularly update the website.
  • Setting up a full fledged training institute for sharing the organization’s experiences and expertise with its own and outside clients. Develop and implement training programs for NGOs based on the training center.