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GUEST BLOG: Access and empowerment in Bangladesh

British Judo Chief Executive, Andrew Scoular, visited International Inspiration’s (IN) Access and Empowerment programme in Bangladesh last year to see how National Governing Bodies (NGBs) could learn from and share expertise with international development organisations. After his visit to the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) – one of the most renowned community projects in Bangladesh - he saw first-hand the impact of their unique work and the similarities between Bangladeshi and British organisations.

With the aim of seeing how I could learn from CRP and also share my expertise in sport, I kept an open mind about how I would fulfil my objectives for the trip. I wanted to know how the charity has been able to grow in such a turbulent environment; how they implemented a community programme for the disabled in a challenging patriarchal structure and how to develop such a strong programme with ever-changing funding. I was very keen to see how this could strengthen the work of British Judo.

As the CEO, I am aware of the many challenges that voluntary organisations and businesses face: budgets, organisational cultures and staff retention are issues that I have dealt with throughout my career. Whilst NGBs receive ever-growing support in line with our increasing international successes, many of the above challenges are something we face every day and this seemed the case for CRP too.

Successful growth
CRP is an undoubtable success story. When I met with CEO Shafiq-ul Isalam and founder Valerie Taylor to have an overview of the programme, I realised the size and extent of the organisation. CRP began in her garage and is now an 850 people strong organisation with central offices in four of the seven regions of Bangladesh. CRP is more than a charity but a movement for the disabled within Bangladesh where, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 10% of the 168 million people have some form of disability - and this is a conservative estimate. 

Dedicated volunteers
The first impression gained is one of family and loyalty. Throughout the tour we were introduced to staff who had been with CRP for more than 10 years. It is unbelievable how so many volunteers are ready and willing to support the projects and return time after time. These volunteers are a valuable resource to the Centre.  It is an area where NGBs could look at – bringing in more interns to support some specialist technical expertise outside of the sport specific areas.

Social enterprise
Another project we visited in Dhaka was a new workshop to manufacture wheelchairs as well as other key assistance aids. There was also a woodwork shop which made things such as furniture, toys and games. In another building, a training centre for sewing and weaving to train disabled individuals with employable skills. It was impressive to see such initiatives to enable the workers to sustain their own livelihoods.

Rana rehabilitation
It should be noted that the CRP headquarters is only a few hundred meters from Rana Plaza, where over 1500 people died when the garment factory collapsed in April 2013.  CRP has been crucial to supporting the people who were physically disabled by the disaster. The site covered many clinical aspects from paediatrics, spinal surgery, occupational and physiotherapy, as well as speech therapy and orthodontics.  The impressive element was that CRP caters for all aspects of life and rehabilitation back into society and the local community.  An example of this was the replica village on-site, which was fitted with ramps and other necessary housing adaptations for patients to familiarise themselves before returning home – a home that CRP will refit for patient's new needs using equipment and furniture made on site. The site is as self-sufficient as possible. 

Powerful leaders
CRP has developed and grown because of the powerful leadership behind it. CEO, Shafiq-ul Isalam, has overseen the growth of CRP as it has expanded into different areas. Through the discussion it became apparent that the challenges were somewhat similar to NGBs especially around the role of executive and non-executive staff, one that I too have addressed in my role.

When I met the Founder and Co ordinator of CRP, Valerie Taylor, she explained to me the political environment of CRP’s work and the reality that only when people are affected by disability are they more supportive and understanding of issues. 

Valerie is held in such high regard by all, yet she, herself, is so unassuming.  On meeting her, she is inspirational with a quiet but firm manner; when she speaks, everyone stops and listens, yet she wants people to speak and have their say.  You cannot help but want to listen and she never tires of wanting to speak about the people in CRP and their journeys.  I was interested in how she established the culture in the organisation and created such a family atmosphere, where colleagues treated each other as friends and were genuinely willing to go the extra mile.

Seeing sport in action
We saw sporting activities which integrated able-bodied students from the local school - the session was fun and the children really enjoyed themselves.  One of the large barriers to accessing sport is travel and the time it takes to get to the session, as the majority of participants relied on public transport or foot to attend. The sessions were well planned and highlighted key issues that are faced by the families in Bangladesh and especially families who have a disabled family member.

The visit enabled me to look at the integration of those with disabilities in a challenging environment and also how Judo could support this, such as through the training of coaches. I learned a lot about organisational culture from a very inspirational and charismatic leader, who doesn’t even know how inspirational she is. 

The Access and Empowerment programme is managed by IN in partnership with CRP and supported by Comic Relief. To find out more about CRP, visit:

Leading Edge is an Executive Leadership programme run by UK Sport for Chief Executives in sport from Scotland, Wales, England, Northern Ireland as well as Great Britain’s National Governing Bodies.