From its birth as an independent nation in 1971, Bangladesh became a site for Non Government Organisations. Initially focussed on relief and rehabilitation activities following the War of Liberation and succeeding natural calamities, International and local NGOs turned their efforts to longer term development in the absence of state capacity to deliver welfare. By the mid 1980s still lacking a strong state, NGOs were faced with the challenge/opportunity to deliver social services into the long term and became the champions of 'sustainable development'. International NGOs spun off their operations and 'client' base into local and national NGOs. Bangladeshi NGOs found many opportunities for partnership with the growing international community of development NGOs, and Northern/Western government Development Agencies. During the 1990s the NGO sector in Bangladesh grew rapidly. NGOs developed business strategies to both provide outlet for beneficiaries' produce and to deliver goods and services to their 'target groups'. Local income has become increasingly important in strategies for sustainability of the organisations and the careers of their employees. Some NGOs are now the largest providers of a range of services in Bangladesh, and their role with respect to the poor, business and government has become increasingly subject to debate. Introduction
In the 1980s I worked as a development practitioner in the NGO community in Bangladesh. I was idealistic and hoped that just as I was doing myself out of a job, so too NGOs and their projects would produce sustainable communities, market networks that would allow exchange of goods and services, and government agencies that would ensure provision of public goods and services. In other words, that development NGOs too would become redundant. Since 1999 I have had opportunity to return and observe that many of the old organisations remain, others have grown astronomically, and there are now many thousands more NGOs engaged in development programmes in Bangladesh. My own surprise at the tenacity of development projects with which I was involved is echoed in this quote in Chowdhury & Alam (1997) citing Abed and Chowdhury (1989): 'When BRAC [Bangladesh Rural Development Centre] was started in 1972 we thought that it would probably be needed for two to three years, by which time the national government would consolidate and take control of the situation and the people would start benefiting from independence. But as time passed, such a contention appeared to be premature. After 16 years, we felt that we have not yet outlived our utility and need to do more and more'. This essay is the initial stage of reflective research by a development practitioner into the key factors enabling ascendancy of NGOs and some of the key issues for policy and NGO partners. Why do NGOs 'need to do more and more'? Is their main concern their own organisational sustainability or the sustainable development of the community? The term Non Government Organisations (NGOs) as used here embraces grassroots, intermediary and international groups involved in community development (van Rooy & Robinson, 1998, p.33). They are distinguished here from community-based organisations (CBO) which include primary self help groups (samity in Bangla) organised around savings or credit and their secondary or tertiary associations. Bengal's rich heritage
Long before the land now known as Bangladesh became a byword for suffering and poverty in the 1970s, it was regarded as a rich source of renewable resources. Francois Bernier is frequently cited in official publications of the Bangladesh Government for recording in the 1660s a proverb 'that the kingdom of Bengal has a hundred gates open for entrance but not one for departure"  . Bengal, one of the most prosperous provinces of the Mughul empire, attracted extensive international trade to its agricultural produce,...