It may be the national day and offices across the country are closed, but that doesn’’t mean you won’’t find Jim Ford at his desk.

The development expert who has worked in the field for the National Rural Electric Association (NRECA) of the United States for decades, spent many years in Bangladesh directing technical assistance projects in support of the rural electrification program that NRECA was contracted to deliver with funding provided by the US Government through the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

“I’t’s clear that having access to electricity is a catalyst for economic development,” says Ford. “Many rural people thought at the beginning that they would never get electricity and consequently it was initially difficult getting people to sign up to be member-consumers.

But need electricity they did. In Bangladesh, 90 per cent of the population lives in rural settings. There are about 80,000 rural villages. One of the many positive side effects of the electrification program has been that migration to cities has been significantly reduced. With the availability of electricity, employment opportunities are now available in rural areas thus the need for moving to the cities is no longer required.

“Considering the size of the program, it’’s been remarkably successful,” admits Ford. In fact, this rural electrification program has been identified by many as the most successful in South-East Asia to date. In addition to USAID, fourteen other development partners have provided financial support for this Program.

“It’’s been one place that you’’ve really seen it emerge from very small into something very significant,” says Ford. The Program followed the RE cooperative model that electrified rural America and there are now 70 rural electric distribution systems operating on cooperative principles in Bangladesh. “At the beginning rural people didn’’t dream it was possible to have electricity in their villages.”

“It is a credit to the people of Bangladesh who contributed to this effort, many of whom dedicated their entire careers to making the dream possible for millions of their fellow citizens. “I had the good fortune of being involved in such a program which touches people’s lives and it continues to touch people’s lives and it’s a great feeling,” concludes Ford.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: