This paper explores the political dimensions of the achievements of the Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) programme in Bangladesh, a large-scale programme of resource transfers and development interventions targeted at the poorest women, which has been in place since 1974. It focuses on documenting how political ideologies, interests and alliances at national and local levels have influenced the establishment, evolution and maintenance of the VGD programme. It also attempts to show how research and development ideologies and actors beyond the immediate domestic political scene have shaped the programme’s successes.
The paper is based on a review of the programme literature, stakeholder interviews, and on other recent empirical research into the politics of poverty in rural Bangladesh. Section 2 summarises how the VGD programme works and evidence of its impact. Section 3 looks at the political context in which the VGD programme emerged and evolved, and Section 4 at the ideological conditions and research and knowledge about poverty that shaped its origins and evolution. Section 5 discusses the roles of the Executive, donors, NGOs and local political leaders, while Section 6 looks more closely at the political dimensions of key features of how the programme works, focusing on corruption, leakage and bias in beneficiary selection. Section 7 concludes with a brief discussion of the extent to which the VGD has helped establish reasonable expectations among the population of official support for the ultra poor, as a form of social or political contract between the state and the poorest people.