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Alumna countering radicalism and improving disaster risk reduction in Bangladesh

Posted: 26 June 2024

Bangladesh, Alumni, Bangladesh, Gender Equality, Grants,

Nahid Sultana Mallik from Bangladesh is an alumna who has contributed to Bangladesh’s development by leading capacity-building activities on fiscal and international trade policy, countering violent extremism, cybersecurity, and disaster response and recovery.

Nahid completed a Master of Arts (by research) from Flinders University in 2016, with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. During her study, Nahid researched the effectiveness of two social protection programs for elderly people in Bangladesh. She undertook qualitative research and evaluation at the grassroots level by conducting interviews, focus groups and field visits to local villages.

After completing her master’s degree, she joined the Bangladesh Ministry of Public Administration as a Deputy Secretary. Her Australian experience led her to contribute to the National Strategy for the Health Workforce at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, conduct project evaluations in the Ministry of Finance, and publish an article in the Bangladesh Journal of Administration and Management titled ‘Achieving sustainable social safety nets in Bangladesh’.

Nahid has a strong sense of personal motivation and is committed to continually improving her capabilities and contributions to her workplace. “My education in Australia has enabled me to confidently take on multifaceted, complex governance and development challenges as a policymaker. The technical knowledge, leadership competencies and networks I developed during my study have broadened my mindset and improved my confidence in pursuing and leading changes,” she says.

In 2019, when Nahid was working as a Deputy Secretary in the Economic Relations Division of the Ministry of Finance, she got the opportunity to complete an Australia Awards Short Course on International Trade, delivered by the University of Adelaide.

This Short Course helped her to understand the trends of international trade and gain a better awareness of the global economy for the benefit of the Economic Relations Division. It also helped her deal with issues like foreign resource mobilisation, address the challenges of Bangladesh’s scheduled graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) category in 2026 and understand the trade impacts of LDC graduation.

Nahid inaugurating the Teachers’ Club and consultation on ‘using social media to counter radicalism’ at the Government Teachers’ Training College in Comilla, Bangladesh.

To extend her experience beyond national boundaries as an alumna, she attended the Australia Awards 2019 Regional Alumni Workshop in Sri Lanka, the theme of which was ‘Celebrating alumni success’. The Workshop allowed her to engage in professional development activities such as seminars and guest presentations on powerful storytelling, leading effective advocacy campaigns using social media and technology, and understanding oneself as an instrument of change.

In 2022, Nahid benefited from another Australia Awards opportunity by completing a Short Course on Using Social Media to Counter Radicalism, delivered by the University of Queensland. At the time, she was Joint Project Director (Joint Secretary) in the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme under the Cabinet Division and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Division. She used her Short Course knowledge to contribute to developing strategies for the deployment of counter-narratives and activities that could reduce the effectiveness of radicalising elements operating within the social media networks of local communities in Bangladesh.

“This Short Course on Using Social Media to Counter Radicalism has enabled me to examine the role of social media in the radicalisation process and explore recent initiatives to counter online threats,” says Nahid.

Following her Return-to-Work Plan, Nahid continued to share her learnings about both countering violent extremism using social media and implementing prevention strategies for Bangladesh. As a2i Programme Lead, Nahid organised a workshop on these topics on 25 October 2022 in the ICT Division for multiple stakeholders, including police officers, digital forensic analysts, the Bangladesh Government’s e-Government Computer Incident Response Team and the Bangladesh Computer Council. The then Australian Deputy High Commissioner (now Acting High Commissioner) Nardia Simpson also spoke at the workshop.

In 2023, Nahid received an Australia Awards Alumni Support Grant to promote a ‘Multi-stakeholder approach to preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalisation that leads to terrorism’. Using this grant, she designed a gender-aware program on countering violent extremism that recognises the different impacts of violent extremist messaging on women, men and children. It also seeks to analyse how traditional stereotypes, attitudes and behaviours differently affect women and men, and how they may inadvertently encourage violent extremism.

“The Australia Awards Alumni Support Grant has strengthened my capability to understand a gendered perspective on countering violent extremism and to examine these issues from the point of view of both women and men. I will seek to identify differences in their needs and priorities, and in their abilities or potential to promote non-violence and peace building,” Nahid says.

Through the grant project, Nahid has trained approximately 200 participants, including teachers, students, religious leaders, political leaders, journalists, police officers and public administration officials. She also formed a Teachers’ Club in the Govt. Teachers’ Training College in Comilla district, similar to MotherSchools Tajikistan, to build awareness about online threats and counter radicalism when using social media.

To reach a broader audience, Nahid also published a video on a2i’s Teachers’ Portal about ensuring cybersecurity, being aware of cyberbullying and countering radicalism through social media. a2i launched the Teachers’ Portal to provide a modern, far-reaching tool to supplement traditional teacher training. It allows teachers to access professional development without any language barriers and free of charge.

Nahid at the inauguration of Teachers’ Club and consultation on ‘using social media to counter radicalism’.

In addition, Nahid introduced legislative measures and prevention strategies to address the challenge of violent extremism, including blocking online content and access; filtering and removing content; empowering online communities to counter the narratives of violent extremism and terrorism; promoting positive and alternative messages; and building digital resilience and media literacy.

Nahid is dedicated to ensuring that everyone, including children, can navigate the digital landscape safely. With the support of the a2i Programme, she published Cyber Security for Kids, an educational resource book for children, through the Digital Security Agency of the ICT Division. She distributed these books at the Govt. Teachers’ Training College in Comilla district and the Agrani Girls School and College in Dhaka district.

Nahid now holds the Joint Secretary and Director position at the Department of Disaster Management under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief. She is strengthening the Bangladesh disaster management system’s capacity to improve disaster response and recovery at all levels. Given increasing urbanisation and industrialisation, together with climate change, Bangladesh is set to experience newer and more severe risks.

“In my new role, I am committed to building resilience through improved disaster risk reduction policies and practices, while maintaining and improving the capacity for disaster response and recovery as part of the humanitarian mandate of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief,” says Nahid.