Pioneering tie-up with nursing college in Bangladesh is already paying dividends by improving life for women, says Valerie Webster
Nursing student Satu Mondal became something of a celebrity in her Bangladesh village when word spread that she would be coming to Glasgow to continue her studies.
The first local to study in the UK, Satu said: “I was treated like a star; teachers are still telling their classes about me.”
Satu was one of four graduates of the award-winning Grameen Caledonian College of Nursing (GCCN), a visionary partnership between Glasgow Caledonian University and the Grameen Healthcare Trust, to travel to Glasgow last year to continue their studies supported by the university and its Chancellor, Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.
After graduating with a BSC Professional Studies in Nursing this summer, the four nurses are back at GCCN in Dhaka undertaking research and sharing the cutting-edge skills learned at GCU with the college’s 150 students, while juggling nursing careers at a city hospital.
Established as a social business in 2010, GCCN is transforming healthcare and the lives of young women like Satu across Bangladesh, where 87 per cent of mothers give birth without professional medical support and just 23,000 registered nurses serve 156 million people – compared with the UK’s 680,000 registered nurses caring for a population of 64 million.
GCCN’s impact on healthcare and education was recognised in July this year at Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Awards, when GCU became the first university to win the prestigious Unilever International Award for its work with Grameen to establish and support GCCN.
The business community led charity’s “Big Tick” awards recognise businesses that are making an impact on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals – targets designed to promote development in areas such as education, healthcare and child poverty. Unilever’s Keith Weed, who chaired the judging panel, said: “The college is run with passion, belief and complete understanding of the cultural context. It is transforming nursing in Bangladesh and adding social value to women.”
GCU’s Professor Frank Crossan, who took over as principal of GCCN in January this year, said: “Those development goals absolutely reflect GCU’s motto, For the Common Weal (For the Common Good) and its commitment to providing opportunities to students, whatever their background, as well as using its expertise for the practical benefit of communities around the world.The UN and Unilever want to help break the cycle of poverty and GCCN does that through education. We educate girls to get good nursing jobs and lift not only themselves but their families out of poverty, while setting an inspirational example to their peers. Bangladesh needs lots of young women role models.
“We are a social business, we are not for profit. Our profit, if you like, is our young women graduates. We have young women arriving from very poor villages looking like cowering wee girls; eyes down. By second year they are telling me how they think I should be running things. They are unrecognisable and are a demonstration of how we are helping break a cycle, so that they recognise that they can be empowered. Within two years at GCCN they are bilingual, competent professionals.”
The seeds of GCCN’s success were sown in 2009 when GCU’s now chancellor, Professor Yunus, and GCU’s principal and vice-chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies CBE discussed how their institutions could work together to develop nursing provision in Bangladesh – providing international standard healthcare to the poorest communities and providing opportunities, education and training for the daughters of Grameen Bank borrowers across the country.
As founder of the Grameen Bank, Professor Yunus has helped transform the lives of millions of people through micro-lending to society’s poorest communities, and was impressed by GCU’s hands-on track record of establishing healthcare programmes in developing countries.
By early 2010, and with $2 million backing from Nike, the college, led by founding principal Professor Barbara Parfitt from GCU, was welcoming its first 38 students. A year on, HRH the Princess Royal accepted an invitation from GCU to attend the college’s inaugural capping ceremony, the Bangladesh nursing profession’s traditional rite of passage for students who have completed their training. Today the college has 150 students and almost 40 members of staff.
“GCCN gives young, rural women the opportunity to continue their education and prepare themselves to be leaders,” said Professor Yunus. “Bangladeshi girls can pursue their dreams as well as make a positive contribution to society, communities and families.” In September, GCCN will welcome ten students and two staff from GCU who will share their skills in a range of disciplines with the Dhaka College’s students and in some of Bangladesh’s most remote clinics. The study trip to Dhaka is just one of the opportunities GCU offers its students to explore and engage with communities around the world. For example, by visiting or studying at one of GCU’s partner universities in countries including the US, India, China, and Oman, or taking the opportunity to board South Africa’s Phelophepa “trains of hope”, travelling across the country dispensing healthcare in some of remote regions.
Professor Crossan himself gained extensive international experience working on GCU projects in, for example, Kosovo, China and South America and played a key role in the foundation of the College.
He says: “Our impact in some ways is still small. So far, just 97 of our nurse-midwives have graduated to serve an enormous population, but GCCN is having a huge impact on the nursing profession. It is showing that Bangladesh’s nurses can undertake education at an international level and demonstrating that an international level of education makes a major difference in standards. None of our nurses has a problem getting a job.
“Our goal over the next three years is to grow to 500 students, to move to a new purpose-built college within 18 months, and to keep demonstrating that you can achieve just about anything with the right support.”
• Professor Valerie Webster is pro-vice-chancellor and executive dean of the School of Health and Life Sciences at GCU www.gcu.ac.uk