Twenty Years of Friendship

by Runa Khan
December 7, 2022

On the twentieth anniversary of our founding, I cannot help but think back on where we started, how far we’ve come, how strongly with dedication we have grown, and also on our hopes for the future.

At the turn of the millennium the world was stepping into an uncertain future—one with hopes and fears in equal measure. Covid, the war on terror, the political turbulence around the world, the Arab Spring were all yet to happen, and the degree of interconnectivity we have today was almost science fiction. Yet it was a world of infinite possibilities and opportunities.

Or so I thought, until I saw the state of chars, the riverine islands in the north of Bangladesh. These sedimentary islands form and erode constantly, and are prone to flooding, tornadoes, famine and continuous climatic effects.

When Friendship was created in 2002, we did not envisage a large organisation but rather one which made meaningful impact into the lives we touched, and doing it in a way which would be acceptable to the people and to the environment. There was no other way to work in the areas we had chosen to serve! Deep human respect and ensuring environmental respect, was the only way to work sustainably and with impactful continuity. 

Marc Elvinger, chair of Friendship Luxembourg observing the paintings at the anniversary celebration exhibition on November 25, 2022. ©Ayon Das/Friendship.

Realisation that I could do something to help, led to a responsibility which even today I uphold with all my belief. I knew that I had to do something. I could not go back to my way of life, and so Friendship was born.

The impermanence of the landscape meant there was very little by way of infrastructure or access to even the most basic of things—running water, electricity, gas, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, shops, shelter from the storms and floods, even legal representation or protection and awareness of their rights. These were ‘ultra poor’ climate internally displaced persons of Bangladesh, quite unseen and unvoiced.

I made it my life’s mission to bring to this courageous resilient community, an opportunity to reach their potential; dignity to understand that they can; hope that could lead them to aspire. I needed to ensure the best, most effective and sustainable way to do so.

Friendship evolved with the needs of the people. A Social-Purpose Organisation (SPO) that provides services to 7.5 million annually. We launched the first self-propelled ship hospital to ease suffering, and continued to innovate, adapt and improve on finding ways to bypass the geo-logistical barriers, and ensure efficiency in delivery of services with dependability and cost efficiency. Developed alongside was a holistic, robust, integrated, bottom-up, needs-and certainly rights-based development philosophy that puts the beneficiaries front-and-centre.  

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Friendship expanded with its 4 commitments of saving lives, weaving climate adaptation into all our work, poverty alleviation and empowerment, taking an all-inclusive mindset towards an overall change in the quality of life of the communities we work with.

Every one of these are designed and then implemented to a level of simplicity that ensures scalability and replicability. Elements needed to be tailored to the specific communities they served. Deeply imbuing strict commitment to our ethics and values. Integrity, dignity, justice, quality and hope are the very driving force of all the work that we do.

The poor cannot afford poor solutions, and so everything we offer them fits seamlessly towards a more self-sustaining life with access to justice and freedom from want and deprivation.

For 20 years our work has been locally-led, nature-based climate adaptation techniques deeply imbued preserving human right at its core, to preserve human dignity, lives and livelihoods along with the environment.

Models on stage at A Night of Tradition–the fashion show arranged to celebrate the twentieth anniversary. ©Friendship

Working closely with the Government of Bangladesh, their help has always been there with us for which we are very grateful. We also work closely with international development aid organisations, foundations, INGOs, NGOs, companies, academicians and individuals, always trying to ensure that collaboration is done with people and entities sharing the same goals and ethics.

I am at this monumental occasion full of hope. Friendship, our supporters, stakeholders, partners, friends—the entirety of our Friendship family have come a long, long way. Much further, much faster than I ever thought possible, and this is the kind of momentum that I do not wish to lose. Yet we must always strengthen the roots before the tree is allowed to grow – that is how we can keep ensuring quality and verity in our work.

Along with our board in Bangladesh and our International entities, I look forward to our future.

We have a substantial growing presence in Climate Action, with partnerships with climate groups internationally and working with the youths for the world is their future. Our Adaptation solutions are being looked into for scaling by International Governments and UN organisations. We have been working with dependability and quality with adaptation and mitigation solutions for Climate for 20 years, we can scale our existing solutions on the world stage today.

We are also in the process of starting a Friendship Academy for Development, ethics and management studies.

Founder Runa Khan at the press event announcing twenty years of Friendship’s existence in Bangladesh. ©Ayon Das/Friendship

Our floating hospital funded by Luxembourg Aid and Development is already in operation, further deepening our cooperation with the government of the country that has already supported us so much through our self-designed funding and partners who give us unrestricted funds. We hope to further our work with Governments of our partners in France, Netherlands, Belgium and UK. I deeply hope to work more with the Government of Bangladesh and with more organisations from Bangladesh. Our individual funding given by Bangladeshis and Bangladeshi organisations are growing daily.

Today is a new beginning. Friendship’s strength lies with the people. Our national and international staff and volunteers, the people we serve, our partners whose trust we have gained – now a momentum for strengthening roots and acceleration of work…

I am eternally thankful for all you have given us, your generosity, kindness and support. I hope that you will remain with us and encourage many more to join us in our quest for a better, brighter, happier, sustainable, equitable future, for serving those who need us in Bangladesh and beyond – Be with us, be a voice with us, for the ensuring a more equitable future for our planet.

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