National Inception Meeting – Dhaka

En route to the ENGAGE-SOR4D – inception workshop at Dhaka, Bangladesh

The ENGAGE-SOR4D (Solution-oriented Research for Development) inception workshop was organized in Dhaka, Bangladesh from June 12 to June 15, 2023. It formally marked the kick-start of the project by presenting the larger transdisciplinary research objectives and work agendas to a diverse set of actors including government officials, bureaucrats, grassroots workers, scientists and researchers, NGOs, and think tanks, ‘engaged’ in various ways with the Sundarbans region. As the project aims to ‘Elicit Needs-based Grassroots Action through Cross-Group Engagement (ENGAGE)’ towards fostering social resilience in transboundary Sundarbans, the inception workshop attempted to facilitate multimodal engagement be among the country partners through consistent exchanges or between different stakeholders crafting plurilogue. It further reaches out to a wider audience and transdisciplinary consortiums by successfully launching the project website ENGAGE4Sundarbans ( The workshop was arranged by the partner representatives from the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (Samiya Selim as co-investigator) and their outreach and implementation partner Sajida Foundation (Bangladesh) in an effort to start off the project along with the collaborators from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, (René Véron as the principal investigator) and Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (Jenia Mukherjee as co-investigator and Tapas Mandal as the Indian outreach and implementation partner from the Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Mancha).

Figure 1. The country teams along with ULAB VC, Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury Member of the National Parliament, Bangladesh, and Corinne Henchoz Pignani, deputy head of cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh

The workshop set the tone of the project inception in tune with the ‘ENGAGE’ framework. The first part of the workshop elicited the existing and perceived aspects of cross-group involvements in the context of climate-sensitive transboundary Sundarbans. The VC of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) highlighted the role of academia (in terms of Bangladeshi Universities and the Centre for Sustainable Development, ULAB) while addressing the possibilities for reciprocal dialogue between science and policy, and scopes of co-involvement of actors, networks, and sectors to resolve the imminent threats in the delta. Corinne Henchoz Pignani, the deputy head of cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, advocated for strengthening research collaborations and for translating data into development through meaningful partnerships across scales. Noting the importance of Sundarbans, she put emphasis on the term ‘engagement’ to reflect on the upcoming agendas of the embassy in relation to the sustainability of the deltaic livelihoods. Foregrounding their long-term partnership goal (85 years) with Bangladesh, Corinne Henchoz Pignani stressed upon different facets of engagement within cross-country organizations aligning to the relevant existing (UN Missions, G7, Paris Agreement) and future schemes (including Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan, Smart Bangladesh) for Sundarbans. Muhymin Chowdhury, Director, Impact Investments, Partnerships and Communication, SAJIDA Foundation Bangladesh on his note, addressed SAJIDA’s three-decade-long activities for ‘influencing’ (through research), ‘building’ (scalable solutions through activities forging resilience), and ‘mobilizing’ (green initiatives through involving) towards serving the vulnerable communities. He said that the significance of ENGAGE needs to be established through the SOR4D project. He subsequently explained how intensely the project could be the best fit in harnessing multi-sectoral involvement through multi-disciplinary research to fulfil the objective of community empowerment under the larger premise of their climate change programs in the Sundarbans.

Figure 2. Three country teams along with the outreach and implementation partners

In the next session three country PIs (Project Investigators) reflected on the orientation of the project. While the Indian PI Prof. Jenia Mukherjee focused on how a single disaster management approach fails to address the concern, apprehension, and needs of the local communities in the transboundary, the Swiss PI Prof. René Veron highlighted the importance of transdisciplinarity in the context of multiple risks arising out of cyclones, salinization, human-tiger conflict, protected area approach, and daily livelihood challenges. They resonated on how top-down measures like ‘managed retreat’ fail to fortify the community imagination through a linear DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) approach in the future where the notion of ‘staying’ gains more significance. While presenting the case study of Indian pilot experimentation on inland fishing (implementing co-produced knowledge through involving multiple stakeholders’ engagement), Jenia Mukherjee pointed out how the needs-driven approaches could be practical for fostering social resilience in the vulnerable delta. From the Bangladesh counterparts, Samiya Selim talked about the study site by underlining the ways in which marginal communities encounter climate change-induced hazards. She brought to the fore the scope of integrated farming practices toward supporting the vulnerable communities of integrated Sundarbans.

Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a Member of Parliament, attended the session from the government level. He reflected upon the critical role of the transboundary Sundarbans as an ecological unit in maintaining ecological balance. He presented the importance of inter-governmental engagement in terms of guaranteeing the survival and sustenance of the region. Referring to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU, 2011), signed by the two countries (India and Bangladesh) for the transboundary Sundarbans, Mr. Chowdhury pointed to the effective implementation of the same through harnessing all the possible avenues mooting out of a government-to-government collaboration that necessarily involves multidisciplinary research from both the countries. He emphasised the need to put the research’s findings into practice so that they might improve the community’s way of life and ensure sustainability across a wider area. He urged not to look at sustainability as an afterthought but to posit the same at the core of our work. Following then, Mr. Chowdhury unveiled the project website ENGAGE4Sundarbans in the presence of all the partner organizations, collaborators and audience. The session concluded with a question-and-answer session that took place between the country teams and dignitaries representing a variety of actors, networks, and sectors. Topics covered ranged from the technical details on integrated farming and inland fishing to collective approaches fostering social resilience.

Figure 3. The website launching by Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury Member of the National Parliament, Bangladesh

Figure 4. Flyer of the event