BRAC visit illuminates progress and challenges ahead


APC’s recent visit to Dhaka highlighted progress in ethical recruitment, training, and support for Bangladeshi migrant workers.

For over two years, APC has been working with BoP Hub and non-profit organisation BRAC on the Migrant Workers Project. In 2023, we received approval from the Singapore government to launch the BCA Sandbox Scheme, which enables employers to bring in Bangladeshi construction workers at low fees (~SGD 3,000) and alleviating the financial burden on workers–who often pay upwards of SGD 10,000 to migrate.

In February this year, the APC team–Koon Peng Ooi, Carol Tan, and myself–together with Tony Tan and Jack Sim from the BoP Hub gathered a small group of representatives from Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), employers from the construction industry, as well as APC member Phillip Henderson (Robert N Ho Foundation) to Dhaka. We were there to visit BRAC to understand and see firsthand how they operate on the ground, in particular for this project.

A view of the bustling Dhaka city scene from the steps of our Hotel

We arrived on a balmy Wednesday evening to a city full of hustle and bustle, with Aminul from BRAC–one of the key team members dedicated to the Migrant Workers Project–picking us up. As a first-timer joining the mission, I was there to absorb as much as possible about the project, and I was not disappointed. During this trip, BRAC demonstrated the end-to-end recruitment and training process for all workers, as well as their reach deep into the hearts of the communities they serve. 

A particular highlight was a visit to Narshingdi village, where we could see clearly how BRAC’s on-site presence was important to villagers–who viewed them not only as recruiters but as trusted members of the community. Amidst offerings of tea, men in the village shared their stories on migrating overseas to places like Singapore to work, while children looked on at us visitors with curious smiles on their faces.

A man recounting his experience working in Singapore over 10 years ago

One worker recounted paying a staggering SGD 6,000 a decade ago to work at a shipyard in Singapore–an industry that supposedly has a better track record than construction for migration fees!

Workers receive theoretical training at BRAC Institute for Skills Development (BISD)

On the same day, we also saw a newly-renovated training facility in Kanchon, where workers train in relevant construction trades with BRAC before they are sent to Singapore for work.

Workers demonstrating practical tiling skills to the group

On the last day of the trip, we spoke to a team of counsellors from BRAC, whose job is to support workers both after they’ve arrived in another country or when upon returning to Bangladesh. This showcases BRAC’s unique strength as a humanitarian organisation: they are not just a recruiter but they care deeply for the overall welfare of workers.

Currently, they are the only organisation with facilities within the airport itself to provide support services for migrant workers–whether departing or returning; BRAC also has a healthcare arm providing high-quality and affordable services to those who need it.

A  trip to Bangladesh would not be complete without a visit to the Liberation War Museum, where we learned about the history and struggle of Bangladeshi people. Against the backdrop of the country’s history and the resilience of its people, BAC’s mission to empower communities post-independence takes on even greater significance. Indeed, this visit has only served to fortify my belief that workers who build the skyline of Singapore deserve much better from us–who benefit from the fruits of their labour.

A view of the Dhaka skyline from a BRAC office window

There remains a lot of work to be done, both in Singapore and Bangladesh to truly make this pilot into a scalable project with a viable, sustainable future. What this trip has made clear is that systems change takes time–requiring patience, working in partnerships, and most importantly–an unwavering dedication to the success of this mission.