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Travel Report: Qayam Jetha, Bangladesh

May 12, 2014
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Qayam Jetha, a Master's student in Public Policy, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award to further his research in Bangladesh. His report:

Thanks to SFU’s Graduate Research Travel Award I was able to gather the requisite data for my master’s thesis, which was an impact evaluation of a cash transfer program in Bangladesh. The three months I spent in Bangladesh were some of the most stressful and rewarding of my life. I learned first hand the emotional rollercoaster that defines primary data collection in developing countries and the perseverance required to be successful.

For the majority of my time in Bangladesh I worked as a teacher at IUBAT, a private university in Dhaka. During this time I planned the details and logistics of the research project and prepared for fieldwork. I decided to focus the study on the Maternity Allowance Program (MAP). The MAP gives selected poor, rural, pregnant mothers a stipend of approximately 5 dollars per month for a period of two years. This social protection program is implemented nationally and is intended to improve maternal and infant health by enhancing nutrition and health and increasing the use of maternity services and breastfeeding.

To evaluate the MAP I drafted two questionnaires. One questionnaire was designed for the “treatment group” consisting of mothers who received the Allowance in 2011. The other questionnaire was reserved for a “control group” of mothers similar in observed characteristics to the treatment group but who did not receive the intervention.

Facing time and monetary constraints I immediately set about soliciting help by “NGO-hopping”. I went to different institutions, pitched my research, and sought any information or guidance I could. Fortunately, I stumbled my way into a local NGO named DORP, the Development Organization for the Rural Poor, an organization that works to reduce poverty, empower the poor, thwart environmental degradation, and promote human rights. DORP was also instrumental in the initial design of the MAP program and lobbied extensively to get it legislated. The NGO agreed to supply me with lists of MAP beneficiaries and also graciously provided ten interviewers to help with data collection.

Following translation and piloting of the questionnaires I spent approximately twenty days collecting primary data in the district of Lakshmipur, a rural area five hours from the capital Dhaka. Our team was able to collect data from 700 women and complete a number of focus group discussions and informant interviews with relevant government officials.

Key problems I faced related primarily to the nuances of the quantitative method of impact evaluation that I used. Other problems included a dearth of information regarding the MAP, problems with identification of the control group, language barriers, faulty information, and other logistical mishaps. Overcoming these setbacks was a function of perseverance, adaptability, compromise, and most importantly support from others. Research in these contexts takes a whole “village” of wonderful people and I am indebted to many for their help and encouragement.

Supervisor: John Richards
Title of Study: Cash Transfers to Promote Safe Motherhood: Evidence From Bangladesh’s Maternity Allowance Program

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