It is with deep sadness that I report the death of Md Saiful Islam (“Saiful bhai”) earlier this week in Bogra from a heart attack. Many Manchester colleagues have worked with Saiful over the last 20 years from when he was a Research Assistant on the Portfolios of the Poor project based in Madhupur to more recent times when he worked in Brac Institute of Governance & Development (BIGD) headquarters office in Dhaka.
Saiful was a model research assistant for so many social scientists in Bangladesh. Modest and polite, meticulously organized, and diligent in duty. His deep understanding of people and community, attained through years of experience, enabled him to handle any situation in the field and gently lead respected/high profile researchers away from their foolish suppositions into the day-to-day empirical realities of poor people striving to make a living and advance their children’s prospects. Long days in the field conducting interviews and long nights in a hostel transcribing field notes were taken on by Saiful with an enormous smile.
His amazingly genuine smile with a hint of shyness (and partly hidden away by his beard) made him so endearing. I fondly remember dinners with Saiful, at the Leprosy Hospital near Madhupur where he arranged team accommodation (it was excellent), with him gently explaining why a question we put to villagers was not working and how to get it right. None of us ever saw Saiful bhai lose his temper. He knew how to deal with the most difficult conversation with a smile and a gentle proposal about how everyone could proceed together.
After several years of freelancing with Imran Matin, Syed Hashemi, Stuart Rutherford, myself and many others Saiful bhai joined BIGD around 2010 providing research support in the office and in the field. Most recently he worked with BIGD colleagues to build a top class field research capability with a field oriented research culture. He dedicated himself to this task with his usual sense of total sincerity and commitment.
For those who do not know Saiful, they will not find his name on academic papers or BRAC Reports. But, his name appears in the opening acknowledgements of so many studies…as one of the unsung heroes conducting face-to-face research…to understand how poor people in Bangladesh cope with problems and opportunities, crises and contingencies. In his own way Saiful bhai made significant contributions to knowledge and made life more cheerful for those around him. Saiful bhai quietly helped so many of us to develop our thinking and our writing – always with that smile on his face. I shall miss him.
Professor David Hulme OBE
Global Development Institute
University of Manchester