Spotlight on the Start Fund: Islamic Relief’s 1% learning activity Bangladesh

April 23, 2015

Posted by in Blog.

Lessons Learned responding to floods in Northwest Bangladesh


CARE, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Oxfam responded to severe flooding in Northwest Bangladesh with Start Fund projects beginning in September 2014. Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and CARE Bangladesh all applied for the extra 1% budget for learning activities. Christian Aid undertook a lessons learned workshop at field level with its staff and implementing partners’ staff.  CARE Bangladesh decided to organize a lessons learned workshop at the national level for all the awarded organisations. Islamic Relief conducted an internal evaluation. The key lessons from Islamic Relief’s evaluation are summarised below. 

In August 2014, heavy and unremitting rainfall led to the worst flooding in northern Bangladesh since 2007. The flooding affected over 3 million people across 17 districts. A large number of households were displaced due to river erosion; crops and infrastructure were damaged or destroyed. Without immediate humanitarian aid, these vulnerable communities would have to resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as distress selling of labour and assets, in order to survive.

On August 26, Muslim Aid triggered the Start Fund. The following week, the Allocation Committee unanimously agreed to respond to this emergency with a £200,000 allocation, after an unprecedented deferment of the decision to await the results of the Joint Needs Assessment. Thirteen agencies applied, and a locally-based project selection committee awarded funds to four NGOs – Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, Oxfam and CARE Bangladesh.

Islamic Relief Bangladesh implemented in 3 flood affected Unions of 3 Upazilas (sub-districts) in the Jamalpur & Gaibandha Districts to meet the emergency food needs of the most vulnerable from September 4 to October 19. Through the project IRB provided 3,825 families with food parcels (20 kg of rice, 2 kg pulse, 2 litres of cooking oil, 1 kg of salt and 5 kg of potatoes). To collect learning, the Programme Quality Learning & Research Unit (independent M&E unit) conducted an internal evaluation with two objectives:

  • Effectively capture and track the lessons and best practices of the project
  • Document and disseminate learning for further use, follow-up and replication

Evaluation process and Methodology

The team members applied different tools and techniques as a part of the lesson learning exercise: talking to different stakeholders (eg project participants, communities, local elected bodies, government representatives and project) through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and other meetings. After completion of the field visit the team arranged a lessons learned meeting with key staff of the project and few members of the IRB management team. The learning from this exercise was also shared at the lesson learned workshop organized by CARE Bangladesh that involved all of the Start funded projects.

Key Evaluation Findings

  • Previous Experience and contextual awareness of IR: IRB kept the suppliers sensitized as well as the field teams prepared and equipped with response related documents, potential storage and distribution points, etc, at the pre-monsoon stage. As a result it became possible to achieve the distribution within 10 days of approval. In future, it is possible to reduce the response time further by strengthening disaster preparedness.
  • Local level (Union to Upazila) Coordination: Usually IRB coordinates at the national level but at the initial stage of the emergency, coordination at the local level (Union to Upazila) among different actors present in the area, helped to avoid duplication. In the future, for initial phase responses IRB needs to emphasize strengthening or establishing effective local level coordination mechanism to increase speed and efficiency.
  • Engagement of the local communities: Beneficiary selection was a challenge as the allocation was very limited comparing to actual needs and the number of affected families. Active and effective engagement of the local communities helped to overcome the challenge by identifying the most affected and most vulnerable families in line with proposed selection criteria. In the future, IRB needs to tighten the selection criteria further to minimize the challenges in beneficiary selection.
  • Information dissemination and Complaint Response Mechanism: Dissemination of information about the project (including contents of support package and quantities, date of distribution, place of distribution, complaint/suggestion submission point) enabled stakeholders to be aware of respective agency plans and entitlements and the means of raising any concerns or complaints. It also helped to build trust with beneficiaries and monitor a transparent and accountable selection and distribution process.
  • Pre-qualification and sensitisation of suppliers: The competitive bidding process not only gave the most competitive price but also created opportunities for added value. As quality, packaging, safety and security during transportation and delivery were embedded in the Purchase Order or procurement process, so reminding all suppliers about their social responsibility and moral obligation helped in negotiation. However, pre-disaster supplier development and continuously sensitising suppliers is increasingly important.
  • Inclusive Assistance Package: Special-needs groups require extra dietary consideration (e.g. additional nutritional requirements for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers). For future responses, IRB needs to plan for the needs of these special groups to address their requirements in an inclusive manner.


Key Issues

What went well?

What could have been done differently ?

Project Proposal
  • · Concise project proposal template saved valuable time.
  • · Having field staff present in affected areas and availability of JNA results helped in providing specific details in the proposal.
Pre-preparation on Start proposal format (and what makes a good Start proposal) and coordination with other stakeholders could reduce pressure during proposal development.
Procurement and Budget Utilization
  • · The competitive bidding process not only gave us the competitive price but also influenced us to make savings to allow more families to be supported.
Faster distribution (possibly saving one day) would have been possible if the procurement had been made at the local level rather than central (Dhaka) level.  For this suitable local level suppliers from different disaster prone regions need to be pre-qualified and enlisted.
  • · Coordination with all relevant stakeholders was very helpful in planning the project to complete the distribution within 10 days after approval. It also helped avoid duplication or overlap.
A local version of the Start Network for Bangladesh could help ensure greater local level learning and sharing amongst member agencies.
Participation of Local Communities
  • · Active and effective engagement of the local communities helped to identify the most affected and most vulnerable families in line with proposed selection criteria.
Given the gap between the size of the budget and unmet needs, many affected families could not be included in the final beneficiary list. Given this, the beneficiary selection criteria needs to be made even more stringent to minimize beneficiary selection challenges when faced with limited allocation in a particular area.



Although with a limited budget (£500) and on a relatively small project (£49,999), this lessons learned exercise was able to identify and reinforce some important lessons. The project was completed in line with the objectives, especially due to active participation of different stakeholders at each stage and good coordination. The evidence behind these lessons was made available thanks to the discussions with communities and other stakeholders and the sharing session. The learning from this project is being used to contribute to IRB’s ongoing work in Bangladesh.

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