Daahuk has come up with a unique approach to sustainable tourism — an integrated for-profit development model — to clean up the area and help both itself and the community profit while doing so.
Tanguar Haor is a serene place where people can escape from the never-ending buzz of their hectic urban lives. This unique wetland ecosystem of Bangladesh has received international attention and as part of the country’s tourism master plan, the government is looking to turn the place into an ecotourism hub.
But environmental pollution has always been the biggest challenge for the greater Tahirpur region, where Tanguar Haor is located.
Plastic littering by tourists, uncontrolled fishing, mismanagement of the local markets, and lack of awareness among local residents are among the several factors that are threatening Tanguar Haor.
At least a tonne of plastic waste is dumped in the haor water per day during the peak season, TBS reported last year.
The solution to this challenge is not rocket science, but traditional approaches have sadly failed to make a sustainable change.
So, Daahuk has come up with a unique approach — an integrated for-profit development model — to clean up the area and help both itself and the community profit while doing so.
Ever since its inception, Daahuk has always prioritised preservation of nature, as it is a core part of sustainable tourism. Now it is collaborating with the Bangladesh Tourism Board for waste management and awareness programmes in Tahirpur. It has recently installed bins on all local boats as well as at local market entry points.
There is a traditional practice of waste reselling in rural areas, known as ‘bhangari’ business in Bangla. Daahuk connects local waste collectors with district-level waste resellers or recycling parties. It makes money from a facilitation charge and creates earning opportunities for the locals too.
“We believe that only a people-inclusive and profit-incentivised model can treat the tremendous amount of waste in Tanguar Haor most effectively. We have done our part as a development entity. Now industrial and governmental support can turn this project into a grand success,” said Daahuk’s founder Magfi Reza Siddique.
Sustainability through business
A few years back, when haor tourism started to evolve, massive investment drove local boatmen and enterprises out of business. Siddique, then a postgraduate student, realised that inter-community cooperation could be the key to sustainable development for Tanguar Haor.
Since then, the organisation has been revolutionising climate-vulnerable lives at Tahirpur, Dharmapasha, and Madhyanagar regions in Sunamganj. It has now expanded its operation among various communities in Sirajganj, Cox’s Bazar, Kurigram, and Munshiganj districts as well.
Daahuk is a for-profit research and development organisation. While most development organisations usually work in a non-profit model, Daahuk introduced an approach of creating financial incentive for development among the community, which they call ‘Development for Profit’ model.
The model works by involving rural people directly in the business and making money together. The waste management project is a good example of it. Siddique believes that a for-profit model can be effective and sustainable for rural communities since it incentivises the community.
Daahuk specifically targets people having local business potential.
“We used to consider tourists as mere passengers before, but now we see them as our guests. Now we are aware how to welcome them and maintain hospitality. And we are not only boatmen to them anymore, we act as their tour guides. This practice was not built in a day. That is where Daahuk made an impact,” said Mohammad Samaun Kabir, a local boatman at Tanguar Haor.
One of Daahuk’s core revenue generators is the tour package reselling business. Daahuk improvises local services such as boat renting, food etc. and resells it as a ‘community product’. It offers them as a package to tourists at an affordable price. It is now the first and biggest boat-based tourism marketplace in Bangladesh.
However, Daahuk does not have any product of its own, not even any boats. All it does is upgrade and resell. Such an approach makes its operational process smooth, cost-effective and more sustainable.
Strength in community
Daahuk has established three active community cooperatives with over 400 members from local villages. The cooperatives have proven to be crucial for sustainable community development and empowerment, allowing rural people to work collaboratively and make collective decisions. The region being highly climate-vulnerable, these cooperatives allow communities to respond collaboratively and strategically to recover from crises.
The organisation connected the community members with local governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as marketplaces. It has trained over 1,000 people for different livelihood options, facilitated employment of around 500 villagers and inclusion of more than 200 women in the tourism market through catering service and poultry.
In addition, they provided consultation for improved management and operational strategies in compliance with government-approved structures.
Most of the local boatmen are farmers in the winter and fishermen in the mid-season. This created a seasonal unemployment problem during the monsoon, while the Covid-19 outbreak exacerbated the situation. In response, Daahuk launched a program to offer seed money to this community with the goal of minimising the impact of job loss and helping them in transferring to alternate work prospects.
The scheme has been highly effective, with over 500 boat-based professionals already benefiting from it. Daahuk aims to empower the local community by developing economic resilience and encouraging sustainable livelihoods for all.
Daahuk also played a role during the catastrophic flood in 2022, using its boatmen network chain. Team Daahuk effectively leveraged their integrated network of boatmen for disaster rescue and response. They designed a logistics route across the flood-affected region in order to rapidly and efficiently deliver relief to the affected people. Thousands of relief workers and rescuers utilised this route during that crisis.
In 2022, Daahuk was awarded ‘Project of the Year’ under the Social Impact category in the Bangladesh Project Management Symposium and Excellence Awards 2022. In 2023, it again received the same award and an academic recognition by the Project Management Institute (PMI) of South Asia for its contribution to the community.
“Daahuk aims to become the biggest name for creating rural employment in the country. Our aim is to become, undisputedly, the best rural development organisation, and we believe we are on track,” says Siddique.