Established in 1972 to assist with relief and rehabilitation of greater Rangpur-Dinajpur immediately following the War of Independence, the RDRS programme evolved into a sectoral then comprehensive effort. Formerly the Bangladesh field programme of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Service, RDRS became an autonomous national NGO in 1997. RDRS however maintains strong international connections with LWF (as an Associate Programme); with ACT Alliance; with its core partner agencies mainly in Europe, North America and Japan; and with regional networks such as AZEECON, SAGA and others.
RDRS is unusual is maintaining a concentrated geographic programme, focusing on 11 districts and 60 Upazilas (sub-districts) mainly in deprived northern Bangladesh and especially Rangpur Division, far from the overcentralized economic and political powerbase of Dhaka, Chittagong, even Rajshahi. In very recent years, the programme has expanded to a few north and south-eastern regions.
Once the regions of Rangpur and Dinajpur were considered among remotest in the country, and their people among the poorest and least developed. But the years since Independence in 1971 have seen great changes in both physical and the social landscapes. The opening of the Jamuna Bridge in 1998 was a significant step forward in linking the northwest to the rest of the country.
This corner of Bangladesh remains one of its most vulnerable, with regular flooding and riverbank erosion of the Brahmaputra and other rivers dominating life, particularly in the east of the region. The climate is colder and drier than the rest of the country, also causing problems for the poor, and drought in the west.
RDRS working area now covers 16 districts – Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Jamalpur, Rajshahi, Chapai Nawabganj, Natore, Pabna, Moulvibazar, Habiganj and Chittagong. The Central Coordination Office of RDRS is situated in Rangpur, while Head Office in Dhaka.