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Social Development in Bangladesh: Pathways,Surprises and Challenges
Wahiduddin Mahmud
Bangladesh in recent times has achieved rapid progress in many social development indicators despite still widespread poverty and the poor quality of public service delivery. Underlying this ‘development surprise’, the article argues, there is a remarkable process of social transformation involving changes in social norms and attitudes such as towards female schooling or contraceptive adoption. Much of the progress has resulted from the increased public awareness created by effective social mobilization campaigns and from the adoption of low-cost solutions, like the use of oral saline for diarrhoea treatment, leading to a decline in child mortality. This was helped by a strong presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and public support in the form of many innovative interventions. The article draws a contrast between the NGO-led process in Bangladesh with other possible pathways to social development such as through strong local governance. While Bangladesh has transformed itself from being a laggard to an over-performer in respect of social development indicators, continued progress may become increasingly difficult without larger public social spending and an improvement in service delivery along with a more rapid reduction in poverty.

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