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over last 40 years 1 billion Asians ended extreme poverty


1 financial services to end poverty - goal 1

2 food last mile services to end famine

3 health last mile services to end unnecessary deaths of children a...

4 lifelong livelihood teaching and learning

5 inclusive and resilient communities - prepped for disaster and re...

-rsvp to help first 50 university coalition curricula share

from 1970: join exp learning of Asian regional ceo shell oil multinational who faced 3 by one million-death disasters- cyclone, war , famine ?-overall fazle abed's 50 year learning curve innovated 2 systems changing humanity of aid and international relations
1 bottom up disaster relief 
2 microfranchises which turned village mothers into small business and family leaders

1 before fazle abed, international disaster relief agencies flew in, rebuiilt and flew out- their charitable funds were for relief not learning with people living there;
iBUT bottom up disaster relief empower grassroots networks can be better at building $15 homes , vaccinating nation and scaling village solutions with alumni of fazle abed and since his death 2019 at brac/abed university coalition
2 village mothers more economically deliver food security to end starvation, and provide last mile basic health services , and ...
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download linked organigram brac first 30 years


developing nation  Speech: The Complementary Role of Civil Society Organisations in Government
 speech  by Fazle Hasan Abed at launch of South Asia Human Development Report,  in Dhaka on September 19, 1999.
Honourable Minister for Finance
Ms Khadija Haq
Mr David Lockwood

It is with a great sense of loss and sorrow that I recall Mahbub ul Haq's last letter inviting me to launch in Dhaka of 1998 report on Human Development in South Asia. I regretted I had prior commitments abroad. Today, the 1999 Report on Human Development in South Asia, which Mahbub ul Haq had planned and initiated but left unfinished, is completed under the leadership of his devoted wife and co-worker. We mourn his passing, but take courage from his conviction that South Asia will emerge out of its dehumanising poverty.

We are here for inaugural launch in Bangladesh of this year's report on Human Development in South Asia. Since the first report in 1997, we are reminded that South Asian region has human development level amongst the lowest in the world. Though significant improvements have been made in certain sectors, problems of dehumanising poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnutrition, women and children abuse and environmental degradation loom large. Unfortunately, old and centralised systems of governance have proved their inability to handle the development crisis alone.

As Report points out, “A vast majority of people in South Asia remain alienated from the formal structures of political and economic governance. The political and economic institutions of governance have tolerated, if not perpetuated, multiple inequities in South Asia. High unemployment, poor living conditions, and increasing squalor have led to a growing sense of frustration amongst the people and have pushed many to the very brink of despair.”  Shocking are the daily headlines of violence against women such as acid burns, rape and dowry deaths. The Report makes the startling revelation that Bangladesh has the highest reported rate of rapes against women in the region - 33 times the rate in Nepal. This works out to 10 reported rapes per 100,000 women. As we know, there is no dearth of laws to eliminate discrimination against women. However, we do not need to look deeper to find that despite this, gender discrimination and women's exploitation continue to be a malaise in our society.

Our judicial system is heavily burdened as a result of which prompt justice is not available, causing untold human distress. The report points out that in the South Asian region, Bangladesh has the highest number of cases pending in the courts - 14 times the rate in Nepal, that is 5,285 cases pending in courts per 100,000 people. Bangladesh is the most iniquitous of the South Asian nations where income of the lowest deciles of our population is only 5.8 percent of the highest 10 percent.

This report rightly highlights problems confronting human development in our society. However, I should like to remind ourselves that Bangladesh has made significant progress in many fields. Food production has doubled, life expectancy has increased by 30 percent, infant mortality has declined by 40 percent and the fertility rate has recorded a dramatic decline, reflecting our people's awareness of the dangers of high population growth. Some advances have been made in the education sector, but it is not adequate to improve Bangladesh's standing in this region. The stark reality: even after a quarter of a century almost one half of our people are still living below the poverty line, malnutrition is pervasive, while health problems such as high maternal mortality, anaemia and tuberculosis cause widespread concern.

One of the greatest impediments to good governance in Bangladesh is the polarisation of party politics. Almost any policy or action initiated by the party in power will elicit the wrath of the political opposition, regardless of the merit of the case. Street action, accompanied by violence and intimidation, is the stock in trade of the political parties. All major parties consider it their democratic right to call hartals accompanied by violent picketing to make people cower in submission. That these hartals cause great hardship to the poor and incalculable damage to the economy is hardly of any consequence to our political parties.

Another disturbing aspect of our political scene: all the major parties unashamedly harbour anti-social elements, use them for extortion and intimidation and, when needed, for vote-rigging and street action.  Heedless of the consequences of this abhorrent practice on the economic and social life of the nation, the political parties, I regret to say, are transforming themselves into a legalised mafia.

This year's Report correctly underlines that in many South Asian states democracy is fast turning into an empty ritual. Strong institutions operating within their respective mandates are necessary for good governance. However, one of the problems confronting the well being and autonomy of the civil society institutions in Bangladesh is their indiscriminate politicisation. Associations of professionals such as doctors, teachers, lawyers and organisations of interest groups such as Trade Unions and students have all been utilised by political parties for furtherance of their selfish party political ends.

When institutions are politicised in this manner, their purpose and role in serving their respective constituencies are distorted and emasculated, leaving a frightening vacuum. Dominant political personalities hold sway over their respective parties, within which democratic processes and norms are painfully absent. Loyalty to individuals is prized above loyalty to ideals. This year's Report rightly points out that powerful ruling personalities and weak institutions have fortified misgovernance in our region.

An important area in which we have made the greatest progress in Bangladesh over the last 25 years have been the women's organisations in rural and urban Bangladesh and the NGOs who have facilitated their emergence through grassroots work in empowerment and poverty reduction. It is estimated that some 6 million women are members of their community organisations, accessing micro finance for their economic enterprises, health care and education for themselves and for their children.

Whilst NGOs would be expected to applaud the pro-poor stance of every government policy or programme, it is their duty to protest when the government tends to ignore the needs of the poor. If the smashing of squatter settlements by bulldozers without provision of any alternative shelter did not elicit protest from the civil society organisations, particularly NGOs, the legitimacy of these institutions would come under question. These protests are part of the ingredients of good governance. Responsible governments must not resent these protests but effectively respond toward the mitigation of the grievances.

Recently, there has been irresponsible talk alluding to NGOs as alternative government. Nothing can be further from the truth. NGOs are civil society organisations voluntarily created by citizens for the express purpose of dealing with the multiplicity of social or economic problems. Legitimacy of an NGO has to be earned through service to the community, by being responsive to the needs of the people it serves, by being accountable to donors and government and by providing opportunities to its own staff to reach their creative potential in the performance of their service. This year's Report correctly states, “The NGOs can supplement and complement government efforts but can never replace them.”

Over the past 27 years, successive governments have pronounced piously on the need for decentralisation and devolution. Each government instituted their own form of a local government structure, only to be set aside by the next regime. As a result, there is no stable local government other than the lowest tier - the Union Council. Bangladesh has the most centralised government power, the protagonists of which are reluctant to share it within a decentralised framework. Consequently, services such as provision of primary education and basic health are administered by the central government far removed from the people. As a result, basic services in the field of human development are of such indifferent quality.

In 1990, with the help and support of UNICEF and the NGOs, immunisation coverage in Bangladesh reached nearly 80 percent. Over the last eight years, however, as a result of poor quality service, indifferent management and lack of commitment to children, the coverage of immunisation - the most important health intervention known to humans - has now declined to less than 55 percent. Although the impact of this decline resultS in higher mortality among the children of the poor, no protest has been heard in the centre of power. As long as centralised authorities remain in charge, significant improvement in the quality of services cannot be expected. Decentralised governance, allowing people to participate in their own development and empowering them to respond to their own needs is a sine qua non for lasting progress in human development.

This Report of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre is a reminder to all of us of the nature and extent of the unfinished agenda of our time. Mahbub ul Haq's legacy will continue to guide us in the long and difficult journey that lies ahead of us to ensure for our people a dignified and meaningful existence.


Thank you.


Lecture: Development


This lecture on development was delivered by Fazle Hasan Abed at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands on October 11, 1999.



A quarter of a century ago Bangladesh began life with a wrecked economy. The infrastructure normally associated with nationhood did not exist. Colonised for centuries, brutalised by war and natural calamity, its people were poorly equipped for the sudden task of making a country. Schools, health facilities, communications and industry, stunted from the outset, all lay in ruins. Against insurmountable odds, however, Bangladesh has done more than simply survive. Food production has almost doubled. Life expectancy has increased by almost 30 percent and child mortality has decreased by 40 percent. Infrastructure has developed, new industries have come up and the people have reaffirmed their commitment to democracy.

The image of Bangladesh has slowly started to be redrawn. It is no longer the 'international basket case'. Depressing statistics of natural disasters, runaway population growth, high maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition and poverty are gradually being replaced by encouraging examples of success.

Over the last decade and a half Bangladesh has achieved world class results in many fields. The coverage of immunisation reached 80 percent from a low of 2 percent in 1985, although it has again started to decline more recently. The contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) has risen to nearly 50 percent from under 10 percent in the mid-seventies, with a consequent drop in total fertility from 7 to about 3. Net enrolment in schools has increased to 77 percent, with girls equalling boys. Poverty alleviation programmers have made impressive gains. Major credit programmes now serve more than seven million poor and destitute families, more than half of the country's poor population. Those who had the least access to credit now have the most; it comes literally to their doorstep. The percentage of poor households has declined from 54 percent to 38 percent.

The private sector has also grown substantially and here the ready-made garments industry deserves a special mention. With over 2,500 factories employing over a million workers, most of whom are women, it has already become one of the country's major export earners, with long-term implications for the empowerment of women.

However, in spite of these successes Bangladesh still remains one of the poorest countries on earth, ranking 12th from the bottom of 192 countries in the World Bank's new system of measuring the wealth of nations. Almost 40% citizens live below the poverty line and cannot meet their basic minimum needs. The poorest, who constitute the bottom 10 percent of the population, still sadly remain outside the reach of most development programmes. Poverty alleviation and the empowerment of the poor remain an unfinished task for this nation. 

Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and their Role


One of the most important groups of institutions that have emerged in Bangladesh to deal with rural and urban poverty is the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). The emergence of development-oriented NGOs in the Third World is of fairly recent origin. Once the Vietnam War ended, conflicts and starvation in Africa, Latin America and Asia returned to the centre screen of global news. The viewers in Europe and North America, touched by scenes of misery, gave money to charity organisations of their countries to do good in faraway countries. Established Northern NGOs became bigger and new ones entered the arena. In addition to receiving donations from the public, they began to receive substantial sums from their governments and the United Nations agencies. The new generation of Northern relief workers nurtured the growth of indigenous NGOs proving that they were worthy of the trust and confidence of the donors. With support from the donors, increasing experience, expertise and recognition at home, the local NGOs have expanded their horizon beyond relief to development. They now address the more delicate and difficult social and economic issues on a national scale. They still respond to emergencies when the need arises.

The emergence of indigenous NGOs and their involvement in development is also a reflection of the failure of the elite system to respond to the needs of the very poor. The end of colonial days led to the emergence of a powerful elite that increasingly concentrated economic and political power in its own hands. More experienced in collecting rent than managing productive assets, the privileged class has been proficient in appropriating existing wealth. In many instances they actually depleted the productive assets of the country, especially environmental assets. Social and economic power was divided among the politicians, the military, the bureaucrats and the businessmen. Students, trade unions and the conservative religious establishment were wooed and manipulated. Personal loyalties changed from time to time, but the overall alliance remained the same. Any benefits of development were divided up among themselves. Short-term gain and long-term power remained the motivation of the elite and the greatest obstacle to social reform and the economic betterment of the rest of society. Robert Chambers has called this elite section the 'over-class' and has described succinctly how they dominate the 'under-class'. The solution to today's development challenges lies, in the opinion of Chambers, on how the two classes converge, narrow the gap by enabling the 'over class' to accept less and the 'under class' to gain more.

A coalition of socially conscious individuals who led the NGOs sought a larger sense of fulfilment than simple charity. They wanted change - social and economic change. But they were also conscious of the human nature to resist change, unless people were convinced that there is a reasonable chance that there will be benefits and that they will get at least a share of it. For us, in Bangladesh, the experience in neighbouring West Bengal and elsewhere had shown that trying to force radical change by mobilising the poor to confront the elite often ended up making their situation even worse. We believe that the politics of confrontation is ultimately counter-productive. We chose to focus on the fundamental elements that empower the people to achieve strength.

The problems faced by Bangladesh are so numerous and of such magnitude that the government alone cannot effectively address all of these at once. The need for others, such as NGOs, to remain involved over the long haul has become increasingly apparent. In addition, one of the most important factors leading to the growth and scale of the NGO programmes in the South has been the use of NGOs as a preferred channel by the bilateral and multilateral institutions. The failure of the state to manage development in an effective manner at the grassroots have led many donor agencies in search of alternatives. This was readily provided by the vibrant NGO sector active in the South.

Adopting a National Development Agenda

Empowerment of the poor and poverty alleviation are the two facets of BRAC's primary goal. Social mobilisation is the sine qua non for the empowerment of the poor. It is the most cost-effective way of reaching large numbers of households. We look at poverty from a holistic viewpoint. In the words of Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, “The point is not the irrelevance of economic variables such as personal incomes, but their severe inadequacy in capturing many of the causal influences on the quality of life and the survival chances of people.” Along with income and employment generation, BRAC helps in forming organisations of the poor, conscientization and awareness- building, gender equity and training for human resource development. The logic of these programmes is the creation of an 'enabling environment' in which the poor can participate in their own development. But increasing awareness alone cannot bring change. Economic empowerment is at the heart of other forms of empowerment.

The Rural Development Programme

Our income generating programmes and other activities in the economic field have brought BRAC into the world on the free market economy. Until quite recently, the conventional wisdom was that NGOs are inherently incapable of entering the rough and tumble world of business. Although we have had our fair share of failures, we have also proved our ability to create economic institutional value without sacrificing our values.

Providing credit to the poor is an important component of our Rural Development Programme (RDP). An equivalent of US$ 750 million has been given as loans to rural poor women without collateral. The repayment rate is 98 percent and the members have accumulated savings of over US$ 51 million. Consciousness, peer group dynamics and BRAC staff supervision are important factors for the success of the credit programme.

Realizing the fullest potential of micro-credit to improve the lives of the poor on a sustainable basis had been held back by the virtual absence of modern production technology in rural Bangladesh. Much of the micro-credit has been used for traditional activities, and not enough has been done to include new technology. The profit made from traditional activities is modest, not enough to generate an investable surplus. In the case of BRAC, 70 percent of its loan portfolio is in traditional activities. The need for infusion of more productive technology is being gradually recognised, and BRAC has made a significant commitment towards this. BRAC provides training, improved raw materials and marketing support in certain sectors. Examples are high yielding varieties of birds, vaccination, hatchery and chick rearing units in poultry, artificial insemination in livestock, fish hatchery development, seed multiplication, tissue culture and use of hybrid seeds in crop production, improved varieties of mulberry trees, quality production of cocoons and modern reeling facilities etc. About 30 percent of the existing loan portfolios are devoted to technology-oriented/intensive activities. Such activities increase the profit margin of the participants through increased productivity.

Wherever possible, BRAC seeks vertical and horizontal integration in its income generating projects. For example, in the case of its poultry programme, activities cover the whole process - from eggs to chicken to eggs. BRAC financed hatcheries sell day-old chicks to women who rear them as broilers or layers. The eggs and birds are then sold to the consumers as well as to BRAC hatcheries. BRAC is also involved in such ancillary activities as training, veterinary care and feed. BRAC pioneered poultry-raising in Bangladesh. Today, it is a thriving industry and eggs and chicken are no longer the food of the fortunate few. Similar backward and forward linkages have also been successfully established in other programmes. Before taking up a new experiment, we do consider whether it would be financially and operationally feasible on a national scale.

Reaching the Very Poorest

For many years, development meant macro-economic development - infrastructure, steel mills and so on. "Trickle down” inherently meant that the poor would be at the very end of the benefit stream. Reality was even worse, for those who benefited from development had other assets that worked in conjunction with the new inputs. Through this process the rich become richer, and the poor, poorer. If it is hard work for a rich person to become richer, it is infinitely more so for a poor person to break out of the prison of poverty.

Reaching the poorest of the poor - those who have nothing at all, households headed by women with small children and no ostensible means of income, or where the head of the household is chronically sick, is an extremely difficult challenge. These “ultra poor” who constitute the bottom 10 percent of the population (or about 12 million) are unable to take advantage of the traditional development programmes of the government or even the more grassroots programmes of the NGOs. Still, BRAC believes that they are not entirely beyond reach. Whatever we can do to help them would make a critical difference in their lives.

BRAC has responded to the needs of these people by initiating a programme called the Income Generation for Vulnerable Group Development (IGVGD). The government of Bangladesh, since the 1970s, has been providing a ration of 31 kg of wheat per month for 18 months to the utterly destitute women in rural areas. BRAC had been working with the government since 1988 in providing training on poultry-raising to these women for the period they receive the free wheat. With the help of the government, BRAC has provided easy loans to them to purchase and rear poultry. The idea is that when the ration is withdrawn after 18 months, the women can continue to earn an income from the poultry equivalent at least to the value of the food ration. BRAC has also linked these women with the government livestock development to receive vaccines for their poultry. Currently, there are over 300,000 women participating in this programme. 

Non-Formal Primary Education 

In 1986 BRAC started experimenting with non-formal primary education programmes for children from poorer families. We knew from our years of experience in rural areas that there was much demand for education among the poorer families. Accordingly, we developed the Non-formal Primary Education Programme (NFPE) that best suited the realities of rural Bangladesh. We are humbled by the overwhelming response of the parents and children, and proud of our ability to open and operate more than 34,000 one-room schools where more than a million children - 70 percent girls - are receiving an education they would have never received otherwise. Unlike the micro-credit programme, which now supports most of its own costs through interest earning, NFPE requires donor support. Although the unit cost is very low (US$ 18 per child per year), supporting 1.1 million children requires US$ 22 million a year. We would have liked the government of Bangladesh to fund this programme because this group of children is not covered by the public sector. Unfortunately, we remain totally dependent on overseas donors, and I am grateful to the government of the Netherlands and NOVIB, as well as to the other donors, for their generous support. The effectiveness, popularity and need for this programme bestows upon BRAC a responsibility to continue. We expect to bring the joy of learning to several million children over the next five years.

Women in Development

BRAC has been promoting a new culture in the development field with women at the forefront of all activities. Most of the recipients of credit are women, 70 percent of students and 80 percent of the teachers of BRAC schools are female, health and poultry workers are all women. Breaking the barriers of a predominantly conservative traditional Muslim society, BRAC has even succeeded in training female field workers to use bicycles and motorcycles in performing their duties. Women are running rural restaurants, vaccinating poultry, treating patients, doing carpentry and managing people. All these activities were traditionally in the male domain.

Our efforts have not won us universal approval. Many programmes and staff have been subjected to physical attack and harassment. Under the guise of safeguarding Islamic values, the vested interest groups whose realm of influence is receding, is fighting a rear guard battle to safeguard its own interests. Their reaction confirms our belief that we are on the right path. 

Measuring Programme Impact: The BRAC-ICDDR,B Study

 BRAC and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) jointly carried out a study which examined the impact of BRAC programmes on human well-being. In one area of Matlab Bazar, which the ICDDR,B has had under demographic surveillance since 1964 and which has a health intervention programme, BRAC introduced the following integrated development activities: micro-credit, basic education for children and adolescents and organisation of the poor. The impact of this integrated programme on nutrition, child survival, household expenditure patterns, education, women's empowerment etc. were compared with a similar area in Matlab under surveillance but with only a health programme. A few of the results are summarised below.

The BRAC-ICDDR.B project collected mid upper arm circumference (MUAC) information at two points of time - 1992 when the BRAC intervention was about to start and 1995 when the intervention was about three years old. Table 2 compares the severe protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) (represented as MUAC<125 mm) over time and between BRAC members and poor non-members. It shows that the prevalence of severe PEM has significantly declined among BRAC member households but there was no such change among poor non-members.

International Policy Formulations

Because of its success in implementing pro-poor programmes in Bangladesh, BRAC is called to serve in international commissions and committees, and on the boards of different foundations and academic institutions. Examples of such involvement include the World Bank NGO Committee, the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation, and the International Commission on Health Research for Development. ThUS, we have been able to influence the agenda and recommendations of these in favour of the poor.

Critical Questions for NGOs:

How Can NGOs be Made Sustainable?

Broadly, BRAC looks at sustainability from two angles - sustainability of the impact of BRAC's interventions on its participants and sustainability of BRAC itself. The impact on participants can be seen from different dimensions such as material, social/institutional and environmental. A number of evaluations have documented the kind of lasting impact that BRAC is bringing in the lives of the poor -see previous section.

The sustainability of BRAC as an organisation is also important if the current crusade against under-development is to continue. When it became apparent that poverty alleviation and social development needed long-term commitment and that our own work was contributing towards the improvement of the conditions of the poor, we looked at ways to assure our own existence. In order to reduce dependence on donors, BRAC started setting up commercial ventures and developing income generating assets of its own. One of BRAC's early projects to help women market their handicrafts, has turned into the most popular handmade clothing and handicraft marketing operation in the country. 'Aarong' has seven retail outlets in the country and a sizeable export business. Thousands of women earn an income from this venture, as does BRAC itself. A number of other revenue-earning projects are at various stages of maturity or development. At the moment, over 60 percent of BRAC's budget comes from its own sources.

 To Whom are NGOs Accountable?

In Bangladesh, the NGOs have proved their ability to make a significant contribution to society, yet we constantly hear the criticism that the NGOs are not accountable. However, the people levelling these criticisms, from the political arena or media, have no clear idea of the meaning of accountability or any firm understanding of how NGOs should be accountable, or to whom. While the NGOs are financially accountable to the donors and fiscally to the government, most significantly they are morally accountable to the people because of their extensive involvement in people's lives.

BRAC has followed a reflexive bottom-up approach: this allows us to design policies and programmes according to the priorities and needs of the people on the ground. At the village level, the participants of BRAC programmes meet at regular intervals to discuss issues relevant to their lives and voice their problems. These priorities and concerns are taken as the basis of BRAC's programmes. The series of weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings of the field and headquarter staff ensure two-way flow and responsive actions. In an effort to ensure this connection with the priorities of BRAC's participants, all programme ideas emanating from management are fine-tuned through a series of focus group meetings with potential participants prior to their implementation.

In addition, BRAC has entire departments including Internal Audit, Monitoring and Research that are devoted to ensuring the organisation's effectiveness, accountability and transparency. Our activities are carried out within legal and contractual frameworks mandated by both the government and donors which include regular audits by national and international audit firms and the yearly publication of our income and expenditure statements in our Annual Reports. As these policies demonstrate, BRAC is conscious of the many partners with which it must maintain open and transparent relationships.

Are NGOs Growing too Big?

The NGO sector in Bangladesh has been called “The Invisible Government”, “The Third Sector” and so on. Such labels are not always appellations of admiration. There is sometimes a sense of apprehension and envy. The bigger they grow, some say, the greater is the potential that the NGOs will rival the political parties.

How large should an NGO be? Traditionally NGOs have been small and worked in small areas. “Small is beautiful” has been their motto. This is changing. Now scores of NGOs can be found that work nationally (such as BRAC or Grameen Bank in Bangladesh) or regionally (such as AMREF in four countries of East Africa). From the experience of BRAC, our size has given us access to many a fora that we might not otherwise have reached.

In the words of a researcher on NGOs - where poverty is pervasive, 

  • 'Small scale' merely means insignificant
  • 'Politically independent' can mean 'powerless' or 'disconnected'
  • 'Low cost' can mean 'under financed' or 'poor quality'; and
  • 'Innovative' can mean 'temporary' or 'unsustainable.'


The problems of Bangladesh and other third world countries are so big, multifarious and pervasive and the governments are so beset with big issues of macro management that they cannot reach the people. Their primary preoccupation turns out to be preservation of power and hence the reluctance to share it in a decentralised structure. Thus, the creative talents of local politicians and functionaries and the people themselves, cannot blossom. Consequently these programmes often lose touch with the reality on the ground and are executed indifferently rendering those ineffective. This creates frustration and indignation in a society which looks upon these as exercises in futility.

The NGOs, on the other hand, start at the bottom and start small. The successful ones among them grow riding on their success and thereby gaining in experience. Often their programmes are undertaken in response to the demands of or in consultation with programme participants at the grassroots level and are therefore easily accepted by these for whom these are intended.

Over the past few years, NGOs are increasingly being co-opted into government programmes as sub-contractors at the behest of bilateral and multilateral donors. Their involvement in the implementation of state administered programmes open up new avenues for their funding and growth. Through this process, however, NGOs risk losing their autonomy and legitimacy as civil society institutions. It is imperative that Southern NGOs reflect on these dynamic processes and remain vigilant in protecting their roles as advocates for the distressed and disenfranchised.

Special Problems Faced by Southern NGOs

The Southern NGOs need to work in diverse and often difficult situations. They face problems at home as well as with the NGOs and donors in the North that support them.

Problems at home

BRAC has been able to operate and grow for the last 27 years in spite of the great political uncertainties that the country has at times experienced. While successive governments, both civil and military, have subjected the country to major policy shifts, I should like to believe that recognising our contributions they have allowed us to go on with our work. The problem we face with all governments alike is that we are subjected to a host of regulations and cumbersome procedures in the approval and implementation of our programmes. We are also occasional victims of overzealous bureaucrats who believe that they are the final arbiters of what is good for the nation. Their policies, procedures and practices that test our resolve, can at times frustrate our efforts. The NGOs also at times face opposition from political parties of all spectrum - the religious fundamentalists usually being in the front line. The NGO goal of empowerment of the poor is often interpreted by fundamentalists as an attempt to diminish the power of the politicians and the bureaucrats. This is because they regard NGOs as power brokers in competition with them. The NGOs view things from a different perspective, believing that the empowerment of people with better awareness and education will create a society that will be able to achieve the nation-building agenda of the future.

Relations with Donors

A lot has been said about the problems that the Southern NGOs face with their Northern donors. Southern NGOs have argued for a more equitable partnership with their Northern partners based on mutual recognition of the contribution of each side. The over-dependence of Southern NGOs on their Northern partners affects the type, quality and quantity of their work. In a world where the location of the next disaster and the call for compassion is unpredictable, Southern NGOs are trying to reduce their dependence on external funds. Although most of BRAC's Northern partners have had confidence in BRAC from its earliest days, it too is working on reducing its vulnerability.

The Changing Role of Northern NGOs

If the Southern NGOs reduce their reliance on funding and technical support from the North, does it mean that the need for close collaboration will cease? I think not. I see far more important roles in store for Northern NGOs. I will discuss two - development education and advocacy.

Development Education

The concept and promotion of development education is very recent. It started around 1970 in Europe, which coincided with the end of the first UN development decade. Western volunteers and other development workers returning home wanted to share their experiences with their compatriots in government and society. The compassionate tradition of Europe and in Canada provided a conducive environment, but it took several years to receive enough support in the United States, which was preoccupied with the aftermath of the Vietnam War and domestic political problems. However, through a 'framework' published in 1984, the US private voluntary organisations put forward their own commitment to development education.

Development education is not based on pure economic theory or social research but empirical evidence and experience. It is the outcome of putting the most probable theories into the reality of underdevelopment, drawing lessons and sharing them with people concerned with third world development. It is a new field. It is also an important field because we need people who have a solid grounding in the underlying issues so that they can educate their societies as to the value of supporting development in other countries.




Another role of NGOs of the North is advocacy with their national governments and international bodies. The NGOs have been quite successful, particularly in Europe, in their advocacy role. Apart from increasing the quantum of aid, other ways of protecting the interests of the poor in the Third World should be explored. I should like to address a concern I have with respect to the type of advocacy that is needed. The idea of measuring growth based primarily on increases in GDP is very limited in its approach. In principle, no one can seriously dispute the need for growth, but to what extent is it the necessary and sufficient condition for poverty reduction? I think this needs to be examined very carefully.

We would do well to remember that GDP-based development in East Asian countries has been successful in reducing poverty only in societies where agrarian reform and universal education preceded the growth-oriented model of development. Reforms in the countries of East Asia destroyed the power of the landed elite and created the ground for sustained poverty reduction. In countries such as mine that have not gone through any meaningful agrarian reform, the access to growth by the most disadvantaged populations remains limited. It is this access that NGOs like BRAC are engaged in developing. The advocacy for structural adjustment and policy reform by the Bretton Woods institutions should be aimed at first facilitating this process, a process of creating an enabling environment in which the poor can participate in their own development. Liberalisation of imports and reduction of the crushing debt burden of countries facing severe economic hardship will remove the glass ceiling which is holding them back. In my view, giving people the power to earn an income through their own efforts is better than spending money to remedy the consequences of impoverishment.

Structural bilateral aid

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the Netherlands government's policy on 'Structural Bilateral Aid' announced earlier this year. As we understand it, the Netherlands government plans to concentrate its aid in a smaller number of countries that meet three criteria - namely, the level of poverty and aid requirement, the quality of recipient government's policy and the quality of governance. In principle, we wholeheartedly endorse the objective of the policy, that is, to achieve greater effectiveness.

The level of poverty in Bangladesh and the aid requirement are well known. The honourable minister for Development Cooperation has said in her letter to the Lower House of the Dutch Parliamenton 26 February that: “[Aid] is most effective in poor countries where the quality of governance and policy is good.” 

I share this conviction which conforms to both common sense and empirical evidence, but I would like to examine this statement a little further. The sentence implies that in order to qualify for aid, the country has already established good policy and achieved good governance. Good governance is more than ensuring democratic elections, freedom of speech and press, and commitment to free trade. These fundamental conditions exist in Bangladesh, and we are pleased that Bangladesh has been selected as qualifying for structural bilateral aid. What I would like to propose is that achieving good governance should be a development objective in itself. As we look to the future the issue of democratisation and governance looms large. 

Democratization, Governance and Civil Society

This last decade of the 20th Century bears unmistakable indications of the democratisation of the word's political system. We have seen the fall of autocratic regimes in and around us. There has been an upsurge of democratic ideals that will only empower the civil society. According to a recent World Development Report, 177 countries - nearly two out of three - use popular elections to choose their leadership. In the 1970s, only one out of four countries had governments according to their people's choice. We do not have to look far to see the reason for the revival of the civil society. Many states had failed to uphold the inherent rights of the people. Fear, intimidation, and an absence of reward had stunted creativity, innovation and the free flow of ideas necessary to move with the times. States had lost their way in the labyrinth of their own organs and short-sighted interests. In short, states had failed to meet the expectations of the people.

But road to good governance is much more arduous and delicate than the introduction of the democratic process. There are many factors that influence or are an integral part of good government. To cite a few - respect for and enforcement of law and order, transparency and accountability, 'the public servant' awareness and respect for people's rights, the people's own awareness of rights and recourse to and the existence of an independent and honest judicial system. In developed countries, the positive factors are taken for granted and the negative factors are relatively insignificant. The situation is the reverse in poorer countries and directly correlated to income disparity. The wealthy and the powerful are often an obstacle to good governance as much as the poor and women are victims of bad governance.

   Conceptually, there is a merit to the contention that where there is good governance, aid is effective. I also believe that where there is good governance, Non-Governmental Organisations can be even more effective. In Bangladesh, some elections have been reasonably free and fair, but the progress has not been consistent. The last election, under a neutral caretaker government and with the active support of many international and local organisations, afforded the NGOs an opportunity to carry their empowerment agenda a step further by encouraging more women to vote and voice their opinions. Hundreds of BRAC's village organisation members have become their communities' representatives in local government.

    We are convinced that the main thrust for development of a country must come from within, but we must remain mindful of the fact that the world community is inseparably linked through interdependent economics and shared socio-political views. There are common problems such as environmental degradation, AIDS, drugs and organised crime that transcend national boundaries. They are not 'government problems' to be resolved in intergovernmental conferences. They are people's problems. The people need to be empowered to deal with them, and for this there will continue to be the need for NGOs, both in the South and in the North.



 Speech: BRAC University  (abrudged)


Delivered by Fazle Hasan Abed at the inauguration of BRAC University in Dhaka on June 16, 2001. 

The Chief Guest Hon'ble President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Mr. Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, Vice Chancellor of BRAC University Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, Excellencies, the Faculty and the 1st batch of students of the BRAC University, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a matter of great privilege and satisfaction for me to be here today on this occasion of the inauguration of BRAC University. This is indeed a momentous day in BRAC's history. In the three decades of BRAC's existence we have traversed a long and challenging course in support of a singular mission - that of poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. Pervasive poverty is the outgrowth of a specific pattern of development and reflects a lack of certain values and priorities. Tackling poverty and hunger cannot be done simply by providing food and jobs. The system that perpetuates that condition also needs to be undone and this is the most challenging task of all. Poverty is the result of a complex interlinking of political, economic and cultural systems that have a long history and are deeply entrenched. Ending poverty and deprivation entails what is tantamount to 'cultural revolution' where the causes and not the symptoms are addressed.

Addressing this culture of poverty necessitates change at both the societal and individual levels. BRAC had been addressing the needs of the poor at the grassroots with its economic and social development programmes and has also been building institutions that would spearhead changes at the societal level. The logic of BRAC programmes is the creation of an 'enabling environment' in which the poor can participate in their own development. Providing credit to the poor has been an important component of our programmes since 1975. Over six thousand crores of taka have been given to poor women with a repayment rate of nearly 98 percent. The women members who number more than 39 lakhs have accumulated over 400 crores of Taka in savings. Consciousness, peer group dynamics and BRAC staff supervision are important factors for the success for our micro-finance programme.


Ladies and gentlemen, 

We knew from our years of experience in rural areas that there was a great demand for education among the poorer families. Accordingly, we developed the Non-Formal Primary Education (NFPE) programme that best suited the realities of rural Bangladesh. We are humbled by the overwhelming response of the parents and children and proud of our ability to open and operate 34,000 one-room schools. As I stand before you this morning, I am happy to be able to tell you that more than ten lakh poor Bangladeshi children are attending classes in these schools and nearly twenty lakh others have already graduated. We expect to bring the joy of learning to several millions in the years to come.

With the help of over 20,000 village-based female volunteers, BRAC reaches out with essential preventive, reproductive and curative health care to three and a half crore people. The seminal programme that brought oral rehydration for diarrhoea to the doorstep of the people all over the country in the eighties is all too well known to be mentioned. BRAC pioneered the 'Directly Observed Therapy Short Course' or DOTS for the treatment of tuberculosis even before the World Health Organisation formally started promoting it.


Ladies and gentlemen, 

We believe that the success of development is not assessed by the number of programmes run or the amount of money spent, but by the measurable improvement in the lives of the people that are served. BRAC has long realised the importance of research and evaluation to both policy design and programme implementation. Since 1975 our Research and Evaluation Division (RED) has played a critical role in designing and assessing the impact of BRAC's development initiatives. Recent works of this division have shown how BRAC has impacted on the lives of its participant including income, literacy, nutritional status, child survival and women's status. A recent study has found that BRAC's contribution to Bangladesh's GDP stood at 1.15 percent in 1998 as against 0.7 percent in 1995. The impact of BRAC research is also seen beyond BRAC. Several national and international institutions have found their work useful in policy formulation and for academic purposes. The value of BRAC research is attested by the number of collaborative researches done with other institutions including Cornell University, London School of Economics, University of Manchester, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR, B), to name among many.

BRAC is also active in training at the national and international levels. The Global Partnership for NGO Leadership and Management provides post-graduate diploma and Masters level training in collaboration with an NGO in Zimbabwe and the School for International Training Vermont, USA.


Ladies and Gentlemen, 

BRAC's has been an epic journey over the last three decades and for those involved in it, a most exhilarating one. BRAC has been a learning organisation, and one of the things we have realised is that in spite of present economic hardships and the consequent deprivation of the mind, in this land of ancient civilization, where institutions of learning had flourished, even when the concept was scarcely known in large parts of the world, knowledge and learning are still valued and revered. I, here, refer to the civilization that was nourished centuries ago by knowledge acquired in the centres of learning like Mainamati, and Paharpur. This was followed by Islam's message of peace, brotherhood and enlightenment which enriched our minds. Stressing on the primacy of knowledge for human existence, one of the messages of Islam enjoined that should need be, 'we must go even to China to seek knowledge'. But somewhere along the line, during the centuries of domination we fell back. For a variety of socio-political reasons, the situation was even more unsatisfactory in the area that now constitutes Bangladesh. The armed liberation struggle for Bangladesh and the consequent necessity of the building up of its war-ravaged economy had additionally put Bangladesh at a comparative disadvantage in relation to other developing countries, where transition from colonial rule to independence has been smoother and more peaceful. It is, therefore, a national imperative for us to endeavour now to close that yawning gap. The learning process of BRAC has made us realise that despite extremes of poverty in our society, despite the obvious backwardness of our economy, Bangladesh must harness its human resource to enable us to compete in today's global economy, extricate our people out of poverty and flourish in tomorrow's knowledge society. The BRAC University is our modest contribution to that effort.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Education, as has been rightly said, is the backbone of a nation. Our age is replete with examples of countries and of people who have prospered because they have intelligently invested in education. We in this country are grappling with the complex problem of poverty. We now know that its elimination does not merely entail a rise in income, it involves a widening of choices and we can widen the choices of people by providing them with greater learning. Education is undoubtedly the key element in empowerment. BRAC is therefore involved in education and wishes to be so, even in a more diverse fashion in the days and years to come.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this August gathering, I need hardly point out that the University is not a collection of fine buildings but a gathering of fine minds. Some of the best institutions of learning in human history have been nurtured by humble surroundings. Remember that Plato's Academy was a garden and his dialogues were held under the shade of a tree. While we will make every effort to procure the best possible equipment and provide the most appropriate ambiance, we need the co-operation of the society as a whole for achieving quality in the gathering of the best available minds, teachers and students alike, under the roof of this University. We are confident that BRAC University will be strategically placed to spearhead such changes.

It is our fond hope that this University becomes a centre of excellence for training the minds of our youth, not just one for the learning of knowledge per se, but where knowledge, so gathered, is made useful for the society we live in and for purposes for which this University has been set up. In contemporary times knowledge has become a key factor of production that can immeasurably advance any nation's productive capacity. As we see all around, new knowledge has given nations the scope to leapfrog across stages of development and has opened up countless opportunities. For reasons I have touched upon earlier we can indeed move in giant steps. Universities such as ours can become a tool for the acquisition of this new learning and therefore an agent for social change and progress.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the march forward of the humankind, we have examples both in the East and the West, of educational institutions enduring through centuries. A day may indeed come when, for the Bangladesh society, development organisations like BRAC, as they are today, will be redundant, and will need to redefine their goals. But it is our dream that BRAC University, as a Centre of Excellence in Education, will thrive and prosper through the centuries ahead and provide vigour and vibrancy to the society, as is still being provided by Heidelberg, Sorbonne, Oxford or Harvard.

What distinctive features of education can BRAC University will offer its students? We are determined to provide students opportunities to acquire breadth of knowledge and interest by exposing them to a range of disciplines over and above their chosen field of specialisation. Students will be encouraged to acquire a sense of history, an appreciation of the arts and sciences, a love of language and an understanding of the streams of human activity that form one's culture. A general fund of knowledge and basic understanding of the major intellectual disciplines will form the foundation, and rigorous study of at least one discipline will be required. They will gain appreciation of the subtleties of arguments and complexities of conflicting evidence and interpretation which will take them beyond the superficial. A really good education should not only challenge students to learn what is known in a discipline, it should help them to grasp how knowledge is created. Students should be brought to the boundaries of what is known and should be helped to experience what it takes to move the boundaries back. It is not only the acquiring and imparting of knowledge that a University should cater for. The University must also be the centre of knowledge creation, as is the case with many Universities in the West. Research will form an integral part of regular activities of the BRAC University and one of its distinctive features. The students and faculty will have the unique access to the world of BRAC, as a laboratory which, I am sure, no other University in the world can offer!

I hope BRAC University will be able to offer students undergraduate education of sufficient depth and breadth to be powerful, flexible and profound. Multifarious and complex problems that characterise today's Bangladesh cries out for creative leaders in various professions, occupations and disciplines. It is my hope that BRAC University will produce a new breed of leaders who will play a vital and proactive role in our national development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to thank friends and colleagues from Bangladesh and abroad who have served on the BRAC University's advisory committee and those who have contributed to the University's preparatory phase. My grateful thanks to: 

Mr. Faruq A. Choudhury, Adviser BRAC

Mr. M. Syeduzzaman, former Finance Minister

Prof. Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University

Prof. Lincoln Chen of Rockefeller Foundation

Mr. Francis Sutton of Ford Foundation

Prof. Hafiz G. A. Siddiqi of North South University

Dr. Riaz Khan, formerly of BRAC and

Dr. David Fraser, former President of Swarthmore College

I wish to recall the guidance that was provided by the late Professor David Bell of Harvard University whose recent passing away has been a great loss to us.

We are grateful to the Hon'ble President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Mr. Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed for his presence on this occasion as chief guest. This gives us immense joy and encouragement. I thank all of you for being present here today on this happy occasion.

Let me conclude by reciting what the great Chinese philosopher Confucius had said about knowledge and development two and a half thousand years ago.


            When knowledge is extended.

                        the will becomes sincere.

            When the will is sincere.

                        the mind is correct.

            When the mind is correct.

                        the self is cultivated.

            When the self is cultivated,

                        the clan is harmonized.

            When the clan is harmonized,

                        the country is well governed.

            When the country is will governed,

                        there will be peace throughout the land.


Thank you.


The Emergence and Present Status of NGOs in Bangladesh: A BRAC Perspective

This article by Fazle Hasan Abed appeared in the Weekly Holiday on December 2, 2002.


For the last three decades I have devoted myself to work relating to the alleviation of poverty and the empowerment of the poor. My experiences have been largely tied to my work on the ground and I have thus learnt from experience. I am therefore not a theoretician. However, this is not to say that I am not aware of the rich history and tradition of the NGO movement and that my path has not been lit by the achievements of individuals and organisations who have been engaged in the development field, both in this country and abroad.

My experiences have defined for me what I conceive as the NGO movement. I view this as a movement carried out by individuals or organisations that are essentially out of the governance structure of the society, who do not formulate state policies, but can, in varying degrees, influence them. It is not possible to locate exactly the time in history when the NGO movement commenced, but I suppose one can make the point that it commenced from the time when an individual or a group of people living in a remote age and not belonging to the ruling class thought of the development of their weaker compatriots and took some actions in that regard. This may take us back to the world of prophets, social reformers or for that matter to anyone who wished to bring about a change that would uplift and empower the weak.

In Bangladesh and many other developing countries, non-government organisations (NGOs) are playing an increasingly important and critical role in national development. Historically, their role in development has tended to address the need of the disadvantaged sections of a society, such as the poor women, children, ethnic or religious minorities, refugees, slum dwellers, or more recently in Africa, the orphans left by epidemics such as AIDS. In many countries, NGOs wield healthy influence on local policies. Internationally also, they are becoming more active and relevant in the wake of globalisation and other new and emerging international orders. In my article I shall look at the recent history of non-governmental development in this part of the world and how NGOs and contemporary thinking have shaped the developmental evolution of society. Naturally, in doing this, I shall share with you our experiences at BRAC.


NGOs Internationally

In recorded history, the early NGOs or similar organised activities are found as early as in the first part of the seventeenth century. At that time aid was sent to British and Irish Protestants who were fighting the Indians in North America. Such aid later culminated into more organised 'developmental' activities including setting up of schools and health services for the Indians, Afro-Americans and poor whites, as well as colleges and universities for the affluent population. In this context the Quakers deserve mention. In the United States today human slavery is regarded as not only wrong but utterly indefensible and an affront to humanity. It was the work of the Quakers in the 1750s and the anti-slavery movement in post 1830s that gradually caused slavery to become a thing of the past in America.

Although some contemporary European NGOs such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army or the Catholic Relief Services were formed during or immediately after the First World War, the major thrust came after the Second World War in the rebuilding of Europe. CARE and Oxfam, for example, are the products of World War II. The difference between the NGOs set up before and after World War II is that the latter were more secular in their approach than the former. Following the 'rebuilding' of Europe, the NGOs turned their attention to the developing countries. Soon they found support in this work from their own governments in the North. Donor countries turned to NGOs, seeing them as more efficient conduits for development assistance than official agencies.

NGOs that emerged in the Third World in large numbers are of very recent origin. Poverty, natural disaster, war and other misfortunes provided grounds for NGOs to grow and proliferate in the developing world. "When someone perceives a need, an NGO is likely to follow,” remarked an NGO analyst. The most popular motto of most NGOs in the Third World is "empowerment of the powerless". They refer to the neglected and poorer sections of the community but they have also involved themselves in a host of other activities, including local infrastructure development, family planning, education, employment and income generation. Many others provide various services such as health care, agricultural extension and micro-finance.


History of development and NGOs in Bangladesh: Tagore a pioneer

The lives of the poor in Bangladesh have been characterized by hunger, misery and subjugation through the centuries. They have been subject to exploitation by colonialists and their local agents. There is little known in the written history about any organised efforts for their development. Rabindranath Tagore was among the first who saw the need for their development and coined the term 'rural development'. Tagore was sensitive to the contradiction between his responsibilities as the representative of his family including those of looking after its land interests and the uplift of the 'riots'. In his own words:


ÈpfKhj kuäLV´JPo KZPuo fJPT fjúfjú TPr \JjmJr ßYÓJ IJoJr oPj KZuÇ âPo FA kuäLr hM”U ‰hjq IJoJr TJPZ xM¸Ó yP~ Cbu, fJr \Pjq KTZM Trm FA IJTJ–ãJ~ IJoJr oj Zala TPr CPbKZuÇ fUj IJKo ßp \KohJrL mqmxJ TKr, KjP\r IJ~mq~ KjP~ mq˜, ßTmu mKeT-mOK• TPr Khj TJaJA FaJ KjfJ∂A uöJr Kmw~ oPj yP~KZuÇ fJrkr ßgPT ßYÓJ Trfáo TL TrPu FPhr oPjr ChPmJij y~, IJkjJPhr hJK~fô FrJ IJkKj KjPf kJPrÇ'


Some intellectuals and journalists of the then Bengal also felt the need for the development of the 'riots' even before the time of Tagore. For example, Paryichand Mitra writing in The Bengal Spectator on November 1, 1843, eighteen years before the birth of Tagore, believed that the development of the country depended on the development of the 'riots'. In his own words, "Promote their (riots') well being and the well being of the country is promoted." You will appreciate that such an utterance was quite bold for that time in history. In this context it is pertinent to recollect the contribution of reformers like Raja RamMohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Bidyasagar and Begum Rokeya. RamMohan Roy lived in Bengal in late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. His untiring efforts and the work of his Brahmasamaj led to the abolition of the practice of Suttee (xfLhJy k´gJ) in 1829. Soon afterwards, Bidyasagar came forward for societal reform. His assault paved the way for the acceptance of the remarriage of widows in Hindu families. The contribution of Begum Rokeya in education for Muslim women is well known to us.

But Tagore added new dimensions and scale to such reforms. His philosophy of development evolved and was guided by his interactions with the poor as their 'zamindar'. He experimented in building institutions and cooperatives for rural development. He realised that a major problem of the poor was indebtedness, and he started providing credit to them at low interest rates. He also saw the future in the introduction of modern technology. He introduced tractors but was frustrated when their use was found to be restricted because of fragmentation of the land.

The landmark work of Tagore in his experimentation on rural development was the setting up of 'Sriniketan' at Bishwabharati. Through this he initiated self-reliant development programmes for the poor by setting up cooperative societies. The cooperative societies that flourished in this part of the subcontinent afterwards have their origin in Sriniketan.


Other approaches since Tagore

Separate and independent civil society movements distinct from the work of Rabindranath Tagore or similar others that followed him can also be identified. These are initiatives taken to serve specific needs. The civil society created organisations to cater to such needs. The orphanages and x“TJr TKoKa (the last rites committee) are among this group. The Anjuman-e Mufidul Islam is an illustrious name in this respect in Bangladesh since the pre-partition days.

The Family Planning Association of Bangladesh is another example of civil society initiative to introduce and popularise a new concept. Set up in the fifties, the Association's seminal work has now made family planning a way of life. Although many other organisations and the government must share in the success, the Association did the initial ground breaking work.


The Comilla model

Following the cooperatives proposed by Tagore, the Comilla approach to rural development earned name and fame nationally and internationally. The approach or model grew out of a series of experimental programmes conducted by the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) in Comilla in the sixties and early seventies.

The essence of the model is the belief in the capacity of human beings to solve their own problems. The model prescribes a two-tier cooperative system and building of three kinds of infrastructure - administrative, physical and organisational - for rural development. The work of BARD has transformed agricultural growth in the Comilla area. Unfortunately, it faced problems in replication because of over-dependence on bureaucracy.


The post-liberation NGOs: a new breed

Today's NGOs stemmed from the 'volunteer activities' that came into being in 1972 following the independence of Bangladesh. The War of Liberation resulted in the birth of a new nation. It also brought in its trail a massive task of relief and rehabilitation. Imbibed with the spirit of the Liberation War, many Bangladeshis took part in the rehabilitation work and created voluntary organisations. A large number of Bangladeshi NGOs emerged through this process.

The number of NGOs has increased manifold since then. Currently there are around 15,000 registered entities, big and small. Around 1,500 of these organisations are registered under the Foreign Donations Regulation Ordinance of 1978, and are authorised to receive foreign assistance. Over 900 NGOs are involved in operating micro-credit programmes. Although there are many types of NGOs, we refer here only to those that have development orientation. While most of the large NGOs that are active in Bangladesh started off with relief work following the liberation of the country, a great many have now transformed themselves into development organisations. They now address the more delicate and difficult social and economic issues on a national scale. The end of colonial days had led to the emergence of a powerful elite that increasingly concentrated economic and political power in its own hands. More experienced in collecting rent than managing productive assets, the privileged class has been proficient in appropriating existing wealth, in many instances actually depleting the productive assets of the country, especially environmental assets. Short-term gain and long-term power remained the motivation of the elite and the greatest obstacle to social reform and the economic betterment of the rest of society. The government, as the main agent of change, could not live up to the expectation.

The emergence of indigenous NGOs and their involvement in development is a reflection of the failure of the elite to respond to the needs of the poor. A coalition of socially conscious individuals who led the NGOs sought a larger sense of fulfilment than simple charity. They wanted change - social and economic change. But they were also conscious of the tendency of human nature to resist change unless people are convinced that there is a reasonable chance that there will be benefits and that they will get at least a share of it. Experience in neighbouring West Bengal and elsewhere had shown that trying to force radical change by mobilising the poor to confront the power-holders often ended up making their situation even worse. Learning from history that the politics of confrontation is mostly counter-productive, the NGOs chose to focus on the fundamental elements that empower people.

The problems faced by Bangladesh are so numerous and of such magnitude that state initiatives alone cannot effectively address them at once. The need for others, such as the NGOs, to remain involved in development action over the long haul has become increasingly apparent. To remain small and beautiful is comforting but it is not enough. Poverty in Bangladesh is not in small and isolated pockets but exists throughout the country, and is much more deeply entrenched than is normally apparent. By any definition Bangladesh is a very poor country in spite of its rich and varied cultural tapestry, its literature, its music, a history rich in heroism and daring deeds. It is an incomparably beautiful and fertile land, capable of supporting a larger population per square mile than any other on earth. These things are often lost in crushing statistics.

Bangladesh began life with a wrecked economy. The infrastructure normally associated with nationhood did not exist. Colonized for centuries, brutalised by war and natural calamities, its people were poorly equipped for the sudden task of making a country. Schools, health facilities, communications, industry were stunted from the outset, and all lay in ruins. Against insurmountable odds, however, Bangladesh has done more than simply survive. Food production has more than doubled and life expectancy has increased by more than 30 percent. Both total fertility and infant mortality have been halved. Primary school enrolment has reached nearly 80 percent and the gender gap in enrolment has disappeared. Infrastructure has been set in place, new industries have flourished and people have reaffirmed their commitment to democracy. It is now well recognised that the contribution of NGOs in many of these achievements has been significant. Let me now briefly dwell on BRAC since its inception in 1972.

Younger than Bangladesh by a few months, BRAC and the BRAC experience parallel the development of the country and are a reflection of the capacity of its people for hard work, innovation and achievement. The last century has seen enormous improvements in the quality of life worldwide. In this situation, I believe that mankind's greatest failure and greatest challenge is its inability to eradicate poverty. It should be our greatest embarrassment that at this point in time, when we are able to produce more than enough food to feed the entire population of the world, there still remain 800 million people who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. A quarter of the population in the developing world lives on less than a dollar a day. In Bangladesh, 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. They struggle everyday in an effort to make sure that their families can eat something and are not denied opportunities for education and basic health care.

Those of us that have grappled with the dilemma of poverty know that it is not an accident and it is not our lack of ability that has left this problem largely unaddressed. Pervasive poverty is the outgrowth of a specific pattern of development and reflects certain values and priorities. The poor are oppressed by a profound lack of opportunity to access the basic necessities of life, thus creating a perpetual under-class that live in conditions that many would characterize as sub-human. Attacking poverty and hunger is not done simply by providing food and jobs. The system that perpetuates this condition must also be undone and this is the most challenging task of all. Poverty is the result of a complex interlinking of political, economic and cultural systems that have a long history and are deeply entrenched. Ending poverty entails what is tantamount to a 'cultural revolution' where the causes and not just the symptoms are addressed.

Addressing this 'culture of poverty' necessitates change at both the societal and individual levels. This requires organisations that are prepared to work as agents of change in their own societies. It is this role that BRAC has been seeking to fill for the past thirty years. But however much we strive to be agents of change, we must also admit that we are all, to some extent, products of a society dominated by the very attitudes we are seeking to alter. In this context, a change agent must work within the organisation while at the same time working to make a bigger impact on society at large.

Allow me to describe our experience at BRAC so that you can understand the events and history that has shaped my current thinking. BRAC is a development organisation now with more than 26,000 full-time staff and 34,000 part-time functionaries working in more than 60,000 villages of Bangladesh. When BRAC was started in February, 1972, it was essentially a relief and reconstruction effort to help the victims of the liberation struggle in one of the remotest parts of the country. We soon realised, however, that the needs were much greater than we had imagined. Poverty was so pervasive that we could not just walk away from the people. Even so, we thought we would take a limited number of initiatives and in a couple of years develop replicable models of the kind of work that needed to be done to eliminate rural poverty. The rest would be up to the national government and the people. As time passed, however, we realised that we had been too optimistic.

Just after the war there were no organisations, governmental or otherwise, that were capable of implementing our models on a national scale. We realised that we had to do this work ourselves. So we set about replicating our pilot projects to demonstrate that they could be effectively scaled up. We also worked at building an organisation that was capable of tackling poverty on a national scale.

One of our earliest programmes, which succeeded in going nationwide, was the Oral Therapy Extension Programme. Our pilot project had shown that mothers who received proper training could make and administer a homemade rehydration fluid for children suffering from diarrhoea, which was a major killer of children in Bangladesh. We decided to expand the programme nationwide. Over a ten year period, 2,000 BRAC workers, 90 percent of them women, visited households all over rural Bangladesh, training 13 million women to prepare and use the oral rehydration therapy. Ongoing monitoring and an incentive payment system for field workers improved the programme's quality and contributed to consistent increases in efficiency and effectiveness. ORT is now a part of the Bangladeshi culture and the recent drop in infant and child mortality in the country is attributed largely to this effort. This early experience proved to others as well as to us that BRAC could tackle poverty-related programmes on a national scale.

Presently, nearly four and a half million poor women, representing as many families, are directly involved in BRAC's development endeavours. We have extensive programmes in many aspects of food and cash crop production, as well as other income-generating activities. We run 34,000 non-formal primary schools for children who have been deprived of education due to poverty and gender bias. 70 percent of the students of BRAC's schools are girls which, we hope, will contribute towards the empowerment of the next generation of women. BRAC provides services to a population of 35 million, with the help of more than 20,000 village health workers in preventive, curative and reproductive health. We have also been one of the pioneers of the "Directly Observed Therapy Short-Course" (DOTS) for treating tuberculosis, which has been described as a breakthrough by the WHO. Empowerment of the poor and poverty alleviation are the two facets of BRAC's primary goal. Social mobilisation is the sine qua non for the empowerment of the poor and the most cost effective way of reaching a large number of households. We look at poverty from a holistic viewpoint. In the words of Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, "The point is not the irrelevance of economic variables such as personal incomes, but their severe inadequacy in capturing many of causal influences on the quality of life and the survival chances of people." Along with income and employment generation, BRAC helps in forming organisations of the poor, conscientization and awareness building, training for gender equity and human resource development. These programmes contribute to the creation of an 'enabling environment' in which the poor can participate in their own development. But increasing awareness alone cannot bring change; concrete steps must be taken to promote the economic empowerment of the poor.

Providing credit to the poor is an important component of our programme. Over Taka 8,100 crore have been loaned without collateral to poor women. Our programme confounded many of the sceptics with its repayment rate of 98.6 percent and the members' savings of Taka 465 crore. Consciousness, peer group dynamics and BRAC staff supervision are important factors for the success of this programme. The full potential of micro-credit in improving the lives of the poor has been held back by the virtual absence of modern production technology in rural Bangladesh. Micro-credit has been used for traditional activities that do not generate sufficient profit to create an investable surplus. Though 50 percent of our current loan portfolio is invested in traditional activities, BRAC has made a significant commitment towards promoting new technology. Our investments in technology have included: tissue culture and use of hybrid seeds in crop production; high yielding varieties of birds, vaccination, hatchery, and chick rearing units in poultry; and improved varieties of mulberry trees, quality production of cocoons and modern reeling facilities for our sericulture programme. Effectively using these technologies requires training that can substantially increase productivity and profits.

BRAC seeks to capitalise on its network of producers by creating vertical and horizontal integration for its income-generating projects. For example, in the case of our pioneering poultry programme, activities cover the whole process from eggs to chickens. BRAC financed hatcheries sell day old chicks to women who rear them as broilers or layers. The eggs and birds are then sold to the consumers as well as to BRAC hatcheries. BRAC is also involved in such ancillary activities as training, veterinary care, and feed production. Today poultry rearing is a thriving industry, and eggs and chicken are no longer the food of the fortunate few.

Reaching the poorest of the poor - those who have nothing at all - is an extremely difficult challenge. These extreme poor, who constitute the bottom 15 percent of the population (approximately 20 million people in Bangladesh), are unable to take advantage of the traditional development programmes of the government or even the grassroot-based programmes of the NGOs. BRAC has responded by initiating the Income Generation for Vulnerable Group Development Programme (IGVGD). Since the early 1970s the government of Bangladesh has been providing a monthly ration of 31 kg of wheat for 24 months to utterly destitute women in rural areas. BRAC has been working with the government since 1988 to provide training and credit so that these women can start small poultry rearing enterprises. The programme's goal is that after the food rations are withdrawn the women will be able to earn an income equivalent to, if not greater than, the value of the food ration. Currently, there are over 300,000 women participating in this programme and over a million of these very poor women have been mainstreamed into BRAC's Development Programme.

In 1986, BRAC started experimenting with non-formal primary education programme for children from poorer families. We learnt from our interaction with the people in rural areas that there was a great demand for education among the poor and the existing public system lacked the imagination to respond to such a demand. Accordingly, we developed our Non-formal Primary Education (NFPE) programme which best suited the realities of rural Bangladesh. We are humbled by the overwhelming response of the parents and children and proud of our ability to open and operate more than 34,000 one-room schools where currently 1.2 million children, of which two-thirds are girls, are receiving an education they would have never received otherwise. Two million children have already graduated from our schools, a large number of whom have transitioned on to secondary schools. We expect to bring the joy of learning to several million more children in the years to come.

We believe that the success of development is not assessed by the number of programmes run or the amount of money spent, but by the measurable improvement in the lives of the poor. BRAC has long realised the importance of research and evaluation to both policy design and programme implementation. Since 1975, BRAC's Research and Evaluation Division (RED) has played a crucial role in designing and assessing the impact of BRAC's initiatives. I should mention one such study which was carried out jointly with the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) that looked at the impact of BRAC's programmes on a variety of indicators of human well-being. It found that the BRAC member households spent significantly more on food than poor non-member households. This expenditure was reflected in higher calorie intake, decline in malnutrition and increase in the rates of child survival among BRAC households as compared to those that were not involved in BRAC programmes. BRAC's education programmes also showed significant impact. The performance of students in both BRAC-member and non-member households improved in the longitudinal study between 1992 and 1995, but the study showed that improvement was significantly higher in BRAC-member households and in girls over boys. A recent study has found that BRAC's contribution to Bangladesh's GDP stood at 1.15 percent in 1998.

BRAC has been promoting a new culture in the development field with women at the forefront of all activities. Most of the recipients of credit are women, 70 percent of students and 90 percent of the teachers of BRAC schools are female and health and poultry workers are all women. Breaking the barriers of a predominantly conservative society, BRAC has even succeeded in training female field workers to use bicycles and motorcycles in performing their duties. Women are running rural restaurants, vaccinating poultry, treating patients, doing carpentry and managing people - all these activities were traditionally in the male domain. Our efforts have not evidently won us universal approval. Over the past few years many programmes and staff have been subjected to physical attacks and harassment. Under the guise of safeguarding Islamic values, the vested interest groups whose realm of influence is receding, are fighting a rear guard battle to safeguard their own interests. Their reaction confirms our belief that we are on the right path.

Despite our focus on the economic and social empowerment of women within our programmes, we have discovered that an organisation cannot stand apart from the society in which it belongs. Societal norms and values that exclude or devalue women affect the attitudes of staff and managers, the way agenda are set, what they focus on and who participates in decision making. In the late 1980s we began a concerted effort to bring more women into the organisation as programme organisers, our front-line staff. We found ourselves experiencing difficulty attracting and retaining female staff to work in the field, not because of the rigours of the work, but because of the subtle harassment and lack of respect they faced inside the organisation from male colleagues and outside from men in the communities in which they worked. We then took up a long and arduous task of transforming our organisation.

We are enthusiastic about the results of these efforts at organisational change but we realise that changing a gender-biased culture within an organisation of 26,000 people is a process that will take many years. Gender biases are deeply held and they manifest themselves in a wide range of behaviour, attitudes and work practices. But we are optimistic that our dual track approach of changing gender-biased values and norms and the organisational systems and practices in which they are embedded, and continuing to focus on women's empowerment in all aspects of our programming will mutually reinforce each other. We expect that it will move us in the direction of creating a productive and enabling environment that is well equipped to promote gender equality in the communities within which we work.

A country's greatest asset in the global economy is its people. Bangladesh, to compete in the globalised economy of the 21st century, will need to commit itself to the development of its human resources. Although good progress has been made in increasing enrolment in primary schools, the secondary schools are providing very low quality education to our children. There is huge wastage. Untrained and demoralized teachers, inappropriate curricula and the widespread practice of cheating in examinations produce high school graduates with low educational attainment. These students are unprepared to positively contribute in professional or higher learning environments.

BRAC has taken up a pilot programme to improve teachers' education, curriculum development and effective teaching practices in the high schools of Bangladesh. Computer technologies, the use of websites and media, and access to quality materials by teachers and students should revitalize the country's neglected secondary schools. For many years the best and the brightest Bangladeshi students have left the country in large numbers to study at colleges and universities abroad. They have left because the quality of university education in our country has deteriorated and has not kept up with the latest ideas. BRAC thus established the BRAC University last year to provide quality, post-secondary education to our children. However, the state of education as a whole in Bangladesh is worrisome and I think secondary education is the weakest link in our educational chain. Without a good secondary educational base, proper human resource is difficult to develop. In BRAC we have been giving urgent thought to this problem and I urge the Government and the civil society to do likewise so that we tackle this problem through a combined national effort.

I should like to take this opportunity of sharing with you my views on some questions regarding the NGOs, which are raised in our country from time to time. One is that of their accountability. There seems to be a point of view that NGOs are not accountable enough about their activities. This is not borne out by facts. For instance, my organisation, BRAC, has departments of internal audit and monitoring that are devoted to ensure the organisation's effectiveness, accountability and transparency. Moreover, all of our activities are carried out within legal and contractual frameworks mandated by both the Government and donors, which include regular audits by national and international audit firms and the yearly publication of income and expenditure statements in our Annual Report. We are conscious of our many partners with whom we must maintain open and transparent relationships. While the NGOs are financially accountable to the donors and fiscally to the Government, they are morally accountable to their primary development partners - the poor.

Then there is the question of NGOs' involvement in commercial activities. It should be remembered that NGOs have initiated commercial ventures to support their programmes so that they are able to lessen their dependence on donor contribution. Many of these commercial enterprises have backward linkages. For instance, poultry farms have been established to supply the rural women with millions of day old chicks. Same is the case with poultry feed and seed processing plants. The milk plant of BRAC has been set up to connect the rural milk producers to the city market and to ensure fair prices for them. The Aarong handicraft outlets have been set up to market the handicrafts produced by the rural artisans to the urban areas. Establishment of commercial enterprises by NGOs is not a new phenomenon. A non-profit organisation like Harvard University has a number of hotels and other enterprises and have assets worth US$ 17 billion, and Oxfam has hundreds of shops in England. The profits of such ventures are diverted to the budget for financing the main programme of the NGOs. In the USA 8 percent of the GDP is contributed by the non-profit organisations. Such ventures in Bangladesh are neither funded by the donors nor are the NGO exempted from duties and taxes including income tax.

Then there is the question of NGOs' involvement in the politics of the country. As I have stated at the outset, I believe that only the people and organisations who are essentially out of the government power structure should conduct NGO activities. My three decades in development have further strengthened that belief. It is of course necessary for the NGOs to heighten the political awareness of their development partners, i.e. the grassroots people. But the NGOs themselves, I firmly believe, should not get involved directly in party politics. While NGOs should be alert and concerned with the broader political issues, direct involvement in party politics will not only limit the operational autonomy of the NGOs, but also, in the face of political antagonism, limit their operational autonomy and sustainability.

Ever since the emergence of Bangladesh the NGOs have been playing a role that has grown in significance over the years. This, I think, is largely attributable to the circumstances of Bangladesh's birth. Bangladesh was born of a bloody liberation struggle, amidst destruction of its infrastructure and disruption of its socio-economic life. At the time of Bangladesh's birth there was an absence in many areas of energy and action to get the country back on its feet and this void to some extent was filled by the NGOs. NGOs have since then grown not only in number but also their involvement in national development has witnessed manifold increase in response to the societal needs and requirements. In that sense the role of the NGOs in national development has been exceedingly wide and exceptional. The ethnic homogeneity and the linguistic and cultural cohesion of Bangladesh have lent the NGOs an unparalleled scope for success. Indeed, Bangladesh can take pride in a number of development innovations which have been replicated in many countries of the world.

I believe that with the passage of time the role of NGOs in the overall well-being of the country will acquire new depths and dimensions. Cutting across the barriers of disparities and diversities of nations the NGOs, all over the world, having common ideals, can act as bridges between the nations and can play an important role in mitigating some of the undesirable effects of globalisation. I believe that the NGOs in order to remain of value to society, must remain steadfast in their goals and ideals and refrain from being drawn into party politics. NGOs in this country have attained an unmatched reputation as contributors to national development and I hope that this legacy will continue to provide momentum to this nation in its march towards progress.

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19jan21 Bangladesh, Malaysia mobile wallets to use RippleNet for payments

Tuesday 19 January 2021 12:31 CET | News

Real-time gross settlement system Ripple has announced that Malaysia’s Mobile Money and Bangladesh’s bKash mobile wallet are connected via RippleNet for payments. 
According to company officials, bKash has partnered with Ripple in collaboration with Mutual Trust Bank of Bangladesh to deliver a cost effective remittance sending experience to more than 10 million non-resident Bangladeshis all over the world. 

More than 220,000 Bangladeshi workers remit money home from Malaysia, according to 2017 statistics. World Bank figures show that the current cost of sending money from Malaysia to Bangladesh ranges from 1.6% (Western Union) to a whopping 14.82%, with an average of 3.97%, according to 

In 2020, bKash signed another blockchain deal for the Bangladesh – Malaysia payment corridor. In that case, it was to send remittances from Malaysian fintech Valyou, using Standard Chartered Bank and powered by technology from Ant Group, the owner of AliPay. bKash is backed by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Ant Group, amongst others.

beijing paper 2007 Chapter 27
Microfinance Interventions to Enable the Poorest to Improve Their Asset Base
Fazle Hasan Abed

Microfinance has proven an effective tool in alleviating poverty, particularly
among the population living on less than a dollar a day. Worldwide, more
than 100 million people now receive microfinance, but not all of them are
below the dollar-a-day poverty line. Although microfinance is expanding all over the
world, probably fewer than half of the people who have access to financial services
through microfinance live on less than a dollar a day. The International Food Policy
Research Institute has estimated that India has 70 million borrowers, of whom
only about 6 million live on less than a dollar a day, suggesting that the majority of
borrowers are above the dollar-a-day poverty line. These people are also poor and
should not be ignored. These numbers suggest something that the experience of
the Bangladeshi organization BRAC (Box 27.1) has shown to be true—that microfinance has not yet reached the large numbers of very poor people for whom access
to finance would lead to better lives. When one is poor and has no money to start a
small business that can help improve one’s life, access to finance is very important;
it is kind of a dream come true.
People also need a service that will help them save small sums of money for a
rainy day. Even poor people practice saving in small quantities and would find it
useful to have a safe place to put these savings, to which they could add in small
amounts—a few cents every week.
Therefore, there is a need for an institution that allows the poor to save and
to borrow small sums of money when they need it. The actual amount borrowed
would depend on the ability of their enterprise to generate income to repay the
loan; the figure could be as low as US$50.00 or as high as, say, US$400.00 to
US$500.00. This is the service provided by a microfinance institution, and it is one
of the activities carried out by BRAC.
How Microfinance Works
How does microfinance work? Microfinance involves organizing poor individuals
within a community into groups, encouraging them to save, and lending them small
sums of money for which they are jointly liable. Amounts ranging from US$50.00
to US$500.00, depending on the enterprise, are lent to individuals in these groups,
340 fazle hasan abed
Box 27.1 About BRAC
BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) was founded to rehabilitate refugees returning to Bangladesh after the country’s 1971
war of independence. BRAC soon faced the long-term task of improving the
living conditions of the rural poor and expanded its work into fields such as
income generation, health care, population control, and primary education
for children. As BRAC grew, it targeted the landless poor, particularly women
in rural Bangladesh, a large percentage of whom live below the poverty line
with no access to resources. BRAC now works in more than 69,400 villages
in Bangladesh and reaches more than 110 million poor people.
BRAC employs a holistic approach to poverty alleviation and empowerment of the poor through programs in health, education, and social and legal
empowerment as well as economic development interventions such as microfinance. In BRAC’s work, empowerment of women is a precondition for
sustainable poverty alleviation. So far, BRAC has organized about 7 million
Bangladeshi women into more than 260,000 groups called Village Organizations. These groups form the basis for BRAC’s multifaceted programs,
which seek to create an enabling environment in which the poor can participate in their own development and improve the quality of their lives. In 2007
BRAC had disbursed more than US$4.6 billion in microcredit to its Village
Organization members, with a recovery rate of 99.5 percent.
In 2002, BRAC went international, using its early experience in the
postwar reconstruction of Bangladesh to help a war-ravaged Afghanistan.
In 2004 BRAC also registered as a foreign NGO in Sri Lanka to help the
country get back on its feet after its eastern coastal provinces were virtually
destroyed by the devastating tsunami. In 2006 BRAC launched operations
in Africa—currently working in southern Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda—
with plans to expand to several other countries over the next few years.
who then repay the loans with interest in regular installments over a specified period
of time, usually one year. Once the first loan is repaid, the borrowers are able to take
further loans, which tend to be progressively larger. Gradually they improve their
enterprise, increase their asset base, and lift themselves out of poverty. That is the
standard microfinance model, and it works for most people.
For some people—fewer than 10 or 15 percent of borrowers—it does not work,
not because their enterprises have failed but because something unexpected has happened in their family, making it difficult for them to repay their loans. For example,
the death or infirmity of the family’s main breadwinner may cause the borrowing
household to default on loan repayments. As a result the borrowing household loses
its access to microfinance and is not able to acquire any further financial support.
To overcome these issues, BRAC has put in place several measures, including death
benefits for borrowing households.
Failure to repay a loan occurs in only a small percentage of cases, however. For
the large majority of borrowers, microfinance has proven effective. It is the most
effective intervention known to us for attacking poverty at the level of the household
rather than the economy.
Microfinance for the Ultra Poor
The situation for the ultra poor, however, is quite different. BRAC’s definition of
the ultra poor is not people living on less than 50 cents a day but those living on
less than 35 cents a day. BRAC’s experience in working with more than 100,000
households in Bangladesh that fall under its definition of ultra poor has shown
that these families are not really microfinance clients. Existing microfinance group
members within the village choose not to include these individuals in microfinance
activities, saying, “No, she can’t repay her loan. She’s too poor. She is by herself,
she has no husband. She works in other people’s houses, she has five children, she
has no way of taking money and repaying a loan.”
So what can be done about the ultra poor? BRAC has recognized that before
providing microfinance to the ultra poor, it needs to invest in building up their
capacity to fully use such mainstream development interventions. This investment
involves transferring assets (such as livestock) to them through a grant—not a
loan—of around US$150.00 and, while these assets are earning income, providing a small stipend for them to live on and to use to send their children to school.
For 2 years BRAC “holds their hands,” allowing them to graduate out of ultra
poverty into “tolerable poverty,” at which point they can become microfinance
clients. As microfinance clients, they are able to graduate out of poverty using the
standard microfinance framework described earlier.
This is what it takes to lift the ultra poor out of poverty. It is an investment,
whereas microfinance is a business. Microfinance institutions not only recover their
enabling the poorest to improve their asset base 341
capital but also earn interest, which allows them to cover their costs and, if they are
successful, even make some profit so they can expand their portfolio. The ultra poor
need a “ladder” so they can climb up to a level of poverty at which, through microfinance, they can work toward emerging from poverty. This is what BRAC is doing
in Bangladesh with its program for the ultra poor. In 2002 the pilot intervention of
asset transfer and stipend provision included 100,000 ultra-poor families and was
supported with US$58 million of donor financing. Its success has allowed BRAC to
expand the program to 800,000 ultra-poor families, and in 2006 it planned to spend
US$188 million over the following 5 years (2007–11) to guide these families onto
the road out of poverty.
Institutions for Microfinance
Which are the best organizations to offer microfinance—banks or microfinance
institutions? If banks were able to provide microfinance, the extension of microfinance would be much easier given that banks are available all over the world.
Banks, however, have a fundamentally different culture from institutions that
provide microfinance services. Bankers do not go to villages seeking clients;
rather people go to banks to borrow money and repay it. In contrast, microfinance
institutions go to the villages, look for poor people, organize them into groups, and
get them to start saving.
One of the distinguishing features of the service provided by many microfinance
institutions is the organizing of borrowers into groups. There is solidarity among
microfinance group members, so if an individual member cannot pay this week’s
installment, one of the other members will say, “All right, I will help you out this week,
and if at some point in the future I don’t have enough money, you can help me.”
The success of microfinance is due in large part to the group settings in which these
programs operate. Individually, a poor person is powerless, but a group is powerful. A
group not only facilitates access to finance and saving services but also offers a gateway
into communities for approaching issues that affect them, such as the occurrence of
disease. In an organized microfinance group, one member can be trained as a village
health worker who can help her community deal with health issues such as dehydration and diarrhea. Microfinance builds a lot of social capital and trust between group
members, the full potential of which has not yet been explored. Therefore, much more
can be done to realize the full benefits of microfinance.
“Microfinance Plus Plus”
BRAC is not just a microfinance organization; it is a development organization. It
operates what is called a “microfinance plus plus” program, which provides support
342 fazle hasan abed
in the form of linkages along the different points of a microenterprise’s supply chain.
For example, when poor rural women borrow money to buy livestock, they often
face several problems, including lack of proper feed and veterinary care as well as low
demand for milk in rural areas and lack of access to more lucrative city and town
markets. BRAC works with its borrowers who buy cows, giving them training in
livestock rearing. BRAC’s poultry and livestock feed mills provide access to superiorquality animal feed, and its community extension workers provide door-to-door
immunization and veterinary care. Through BRAC’s artificial insemination program
the microentrepreneurs have access to better breeds of cows that yield more milk. On
the other end of the supply chain, for its 400,000 borrowers who have bought cows,
BRAC has put in place a system to collect milk from them, process it, and sell the final
product to more viable city and town markets. Therefore, in addition to providing
microfinance, BRAC also provides marketing and input support.
Similarly, when 400,000 of its women borrowers were planting vegetable gardens
but lacked access to good seeds, BRAC entered the seed business to provide them with
high-quality seeds that help improve the productivity of their enterprises.
Microfinance alone works well, but if it can go a bit beyond pure access to
finance—the “plus plus”—by, for instance, connecting borrowers to the right enterprises, providing inputs, and marketing their products, microfinance has an even
greater impact.
Addressing Constraints to Microfinance Expansion
Given the now well-known benefits of microfinance, it is useful to consider why it
is not expanding exponentially throughout the world. Constraints to the expansion
of microfinance and suggestions of ways to address them are as follows:
1. Government regulation. In China, provincial permission is required to start a
microfinance organization. Government regulation is fine, but the government should understand what it is trying to regulate. The governments of all
countries should give microfinance organizations free rein to provide microfinance to the poorest people. It is important for government representatives,
particularly in the central bank, to understand what microfinance is and what
it can do for the poor.
2. Institutional capacity. Some nongovernmental organizations are content to have
30,000 borrowers. The philosophy at BRAC, however, is that although small may
be beautiful, large is necessary. BRAC wants to reach millions of borrowers in order
to make a significant impact given the scale of global poverty. Organizations should
focus on building their capacity to quickly reach larger numbers of people.
enabling the poorest to improve their asset base 343
3. Wholesaling by banks. Banks should not be microfinance organizations, but they
should be wholesalers, and microfinance institutions should be retailers. In other
words, banks should offer financing to microfinance institutions.
4. Training. To provide 200 or 300 million of the poorest people with access to
microfinance it is crucial not only to understand the theoretical underpinning
of how microfinance works but also to have large numbers of people who can
go to a village to collect money, collect savings, and service loans. Training
organizations are needed to develop the capacity of microfinance program staff.
Universities, including some in Bangladesh, have started offering master’s of
business administration degrees in microfinance to develop the quality of human
resources involved in operating these programs

there are 2 completely different levels to study food goal 2 action solutions with fazle

the enterprises- these are national leaders eg in seed replication, in leading value chain of poultry to crate over 1 million jobs and so

the miccrofranchises - about 50 job skills corresponding to village businesses that are replicable with positive income generation in any village that doesnt yet meet the demand for the relevant food's last mile supply - its these franchises that from 1977 sir fazle teams helped replicate across hundreds of thousands of villages so women could build a food secure rural nation

how billion asians ended poverty empowered by women villagers

ways of microfranchising - as overall collaboration of women lift up half the sky

-the hunt for rural keynesianism - the economist from 1977 on in schumacher case earlier

nb in tech world this has vital connecxtion with what deep data are ai crunching before they become autonomus platforms or dominate what media messging you see

ways to micrifranchise

Train village moher to operate positive cashflow model

Licence to global nog or corporate to import microfranchise

Licence to local autotity -eg to operate a school

Educxation/trust overlap- community centres atract 24 hour franchises – from school to apprenticeship- to health/food centre, to bottom up professional services and swapping aps


Very poorest villages need 90% common optiliation of grassroots slution networking – across borders of billion poorest family connected by women hold up hal the sky

from world bank brief 1998

Summary of Discussion with NGO Representatives from IDA Countries
IDA Deputies Meeting, London, May 14, 1998
During the IDA 12 Replenishment meeting in London on May 14, 1998, the Deputies
met with a group ofNGO representatives from developing countries. The NGO representatives
Fazle Abed, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)
Charles Abugre, Integrated Social Development Center (ISODEC), Ghana
Mihir Bhatt, Foundation for Public Interest, India
Jocelyn Dow, Red Thread Women's Development Project, Guyana
Sheila Kawamara, Ugandan Women's Network, Uganda
lalal Abdel Latif, Inter-Africa Group, Ethiopia
Ravi Pradhan, Alliance for Energy, Nepal
Edwin Zablah, Federation ofNGOslF ACS, Nicaragua
Following is a summary of their presentations and the discussion with the Deputies.
Jocelyn Dow took the chair on behalf of the N GOs and said that she appreciated that, by
their presence at the Deputies meeting, the promise made by Mr. Wolfensohn to interact with
civil society was being honored. She opened her presentation by referring to recent events in
India, Mexico and Indonesia as being illustrative of the issues of conflict, environment and "how
fragile social integration could be in the face of large economic pressures." This, she said, was
why the NGOs saw a "very important and urgent need for the IDA replenishment to be real, great
and as proactive as possible." She said that the NGOs sought to improve the growing partnership
with the Bank and noted that the latter had taken on board a number ofNGO criticisms over the
years and put in place some important mechanisms for collaboration which needed to be
She noted that the issues that were raised by the NGOs at their meeting with the Deputies
in 1995-participation, poverty reduction and good governance--were still very important, and
added that, to the NGOs, good governance means a deepening of democratic processes in their
countries. Commenting that the Bank was cautious in its approach to that process, she stressed
the need for greater transparency and accountability by borrowing governments.
Fazle Abed sketched out recent economic and social progress in Bangladesh to which he
said IDA and a number of donors had contributed. Bangladesh now has the capacity to absorb a
larger IDA allocation, he said, noting that a large number ofNGOs were now collaborating with
programs funded by IDA and other bilateral and multilateral donors, with IDA playing the role of
coordinator. But he went on to say that there was a large unfinished agenda in Bangladesh in the
area of governance and corruption, and here, although the Bank does not see the issues from the
same perspective as the NGOs, it is now trying to address them more effectively than before. He
said that in a country like Bangladesh where democracy is not very strong, donors have a role to
Public Disclosure Authorized Public Disclosure Authorized Public Disclosure Authorized Public Disclosure Authorized
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play in pushing governments in ways that NGOs are not empowered to do.
The Bank, he argued, has too many economists and too few political scientists,
anthropologists and sociologists, but despite these and other criticisms, there was always
dialogue and debate with the Bank. He added that the Bank was now more open and that, under
Mr. Wolfensohn, had become more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of civil society. "So
I'm very hopeful that the Bank is going in the right direction, and I think you need to support it,"
he told the Deputies.
Sheila Kawamara expressed her appreciation for the Bank's efforts to involve civil
society in participation but questioned whether NGOs received enough information or had the
technical skills to engage with the Bank. She asked the Bank to define participation more clearly
and to help the poor with project formulation, planning, implementation and management so that
they can sustain IDA-financed projects. "Or are they white elephants in our countries?" she said.
She complained that, while work on gender is'mentioned in economic and sector work, it is not
actually being put into practice. "For example," she said, "we don't feel that when consultations
are going on, there is enough attention being given to gender-specific constraints that may inhibit
women from participating in discussions or consultations." She also asked the Bank to provide
more gender-disaggregated data.
Mihir Bhatt asked the deputies to maintain and, if possible, expand support for IDA.
Arguing the case for maintaining India's level of funding, he said that there are more poor in
India than anywhere else, there are more poverty reduction programs by state and national
governments, a long working relationship between the Bank and the Indian government, and a
varied and vibrant NGO community. He also suggested that India was a good place for IDA to
experiment with innovative and creative projects. He urged the deputies to look through and
beyond current events in India and see a country with a lot of poor people. Referring to states in
South Asia choosing to spend money on arms rather than on the poor, he said, "it is because the
climate is such, and that cannot be only resolved by India, but by the entire international
community together."
Referring to the Strategic Compact's commitment to strengthen efforts to reach the poor,
he said there is already some evidence of change at an operational level. He referred to the
Social Development Unit in the New Delhi Office and said that he was encouraged that, rather
than relying on one person to manage a project, there were now task teams which were able to
bring in people to work on gender and social development. Within the social sector, he argued
that funds should go into maternal and child protection and work security. He also said he would
like to see IDA fund "community infrastructure development" where the community would have
direct access to investments for its own infrastructure development. He went on to suggest that
private municipal investments should be audited from a social sector point of view. He said that
in its support for the private sector, the Bank focused too much on the corporate sector and
should look at the cooperative sector as well.
He said that participation had increased in a lot of Bank projects but that under IDA12
this could go beyond NGOs to direct participation of the poor themselves. "The poor are the
- 3 -
stakeholders, the users, the managers and the owners of the projects themselves," he said.
He concluded by referring to the Bank as a knowledge-creating organization that not only
gives money but creates an intellectual framework. If IDA did not have enough resources, a lot
of poverty-related intellectual work would not be done. "And, believe it or not, but a lot of the
poverty-related agenda is set by the World Bank's documents, through country assistance
strategies, through economic and sector work, and through poverty assessments," he said.
Jalal Abdel Latif started by noting that he wished that the NGOs had had access to some
ofthe IDA documents which their northern colleagues had given them earlier on as this would
have contributed to their input to the meeting. He pointed out that there is less access to
information when you are from a recipient country.
Noting that 10 to 14 countries in Africa are emerging from war, he said that there was a
close correlation between poverty and conflict. He said that groups that are not in power could
be marginalized and asked who benefits from IDA funds when a country is emerging from war.
He also questioned the sequencing and pace of reform when there are two tracks to be followed:
the transition to an open market and democratization. "How could a former rebel suddenly
become democratic, build a democracy, and suddenly sign a structural adjustment program?" he
asked. "It's a dilemma for the rebel group, for civil society and for the Bank and bilaterals." The
consultative process should include rebel groups who are currently waging war, he said.
"Tomorrow Sudan may come up, Somalia may have a government." In the case of Congo, he
suggested that holding back assistance might lead to new conflict. He didn't think IDA should
create a new post-conflict funding window. More well-informed analysis needs to be done first.
He said he didn't think that the Bank was in the best position to deal with questions of
political governance. "Lending policies have been very closed, not open, not public. I don't
think that kind of organization has clear higher ground on credibility to deal with governance
issues ... what are the best other multinational organizations that will be in a better position to
raise that issue?" he asked.
Turning to how IDA can best help the private sector, he noted that in Ethiopia, 90 percent
of small farmers are private and need to be supported through market information, extension etc.
He wondered whether IDA private sector guarantees would support power, telecommunication,
satellites and so on. "I think if existing instruments like MIGA, IFC and those from the AIDB
have not enabled Africa to attract private sector investment, what value added will be brought by
this new instrument? So, better not use IDA money for that. We are for IDA to go more into the
social sectors."
He said there was a big need for IDA funds in Africa and noted that ESAF and SPA were
competing for the same amount of taxpayer's money. "But why I am in favor of the IDA
replenishment, why I campaign for IDA, I think the engagement with you, the discussion with
the World Bank, the change in the Bank has allowed a space for us to speak."
Ms. Dow proposed that the group should take some questions from the deputies at this
- 4 -
point and have the other three NGO representatives take up issues as they arose. The first
question was whether any of the group had been involved in consultations with civil society on
country assistance strategies, and if so, how has it worked?
Charles Abugre said that during the second Ghana CAS preparation, the mission had
been in town for several weeks doing sector negotiations when the NGOs were asked to sit in as
observers on the final day of round table discussions with the government. They made some
comments and said that if the process was not final, they would like to regroup with civil society
and make an input to the discussion. "We were told yes, but there were only two or three weeks
to make that input. So the NGOs did get together and make an input, and that was the end of the
matter." He said the process varied from country to country. In some cases NGOs don't even
have the benefit of a day or two. In some cases one or two organizations are selected; in others,
it's a larger group.
He made two other points on the CAS process. In the Ghana CAS, there was a review of
progress on poverty reduction, but this was not an operational trigger point. "That happens in a
lot of CASs, meaning you talk about, but cannot actually operationalize, it as a point of
negotiation of influence." Secondly, he said, civil organizations in Ghana are becoming worried
that the CAS which is an important mechanism for consultation but is, in the end, a Bank
financing instrument, is starting to take over the planning process for the state. "It pre-empts the
ability of a very young democratic process to do planning, to debate among themselves and
generate a policy framework which it can own."
Edwin Zablah said that in Nicaragua, civil society felt like a ping-pong ball when the
CAS was being formulated, and they wanted to give their point of view. In the end, after quite a
bit of shuttling between the Bank and the Government, there was a very wide consultation with
private sector, NGOs, unions and women's organizations. "Now we are waiting for the CAS
document to be distributed among the people who were consulted."
Mihir Bhatt said the Bank had invited NGOs to Delhi to consult them on their
operational experience for the water and sanitation sector study. They were also consulted twice
for the CAS, once on the main 12-page document, and again for the gender aspects of the CAS.
He said he would like future CASs to include labor market analysis, especially for the informal
A Deputy asked how representative the NGOs were of people in their countries when
they commented on CASso
Jocelyn Dow said that she thought there should be a matrix for consultation that the Bank
should use and it should not be up to whether the government agrees or not. At the minimum
there should be the posting of a public notice saying, "the World Bank is here, we are about to
develop a country program, we urge members of civil society to make contact with the Ministry
of Finance." In some countries, she argued, programs are dealt with in the Ministry of Finance
alone, and the cabinet may not be involved, much less NGOs.
- 5 -
Fazle Abed said that NGOs are not elected, but that his 18,000 staff at BRAC see 2.3
million members every week, and he didn't believe that any member of parliament had that kind
of knowledge of the dynamics of poverty. Consulting people who are in touch with the grass
roots will make CASs more responsive to the needs of poor people.
Another Deputy asked Jalal Abdel Latif which organizations he had in mind when he
said the World Bank was not in the best position to suggest solutions to matters of governance.
Jalal Abdel Latif responded that new coordinated work needed to be done on political
reform and that enough has been done on economic reform. He said he thought that governance
should be looked into across the UN system, the Bank and the bilaterals. Some of the latter have
much more depth and knowledge in this area than the multilaterals.
Jocelyn Dow said she had a different perspective. She saw the CAS as a governance
issue: "is it not good governance for you to ensure that all sectors of society are informed and
knowledgeable about financial arrangements that are binding?" She suggested that the broader
NGO movement might prepare a paper on the mechanisms for deepening discussions between
the Bank and civil society.
Several Deputies asked questions:
• Have any of the panel been directly involved in executing Bank projects and is there any
evidence that changes the Bank is making are improving the effectiveness of Bank
• Has anyone on the panel been involved in an Inspection Panel request? What is the
availability ofInspection Panel reports (and management's action plans in response) to
the people who bring the complaint?
• NGO participation in the CAS sounds relatively passive. Should NGOs create the first
document and have the World Bank comment on it?
Fazle Abed, responding to the question on what has worked and not worked in NGOs'
involvement in project implementation, said that the experience had been good when IDA
funding had gone through a foundation for micro credits. Where the government is in full
control, NGOs might be asked to bid, which is difficult for them to do because they are not going
to make money in the process. In this situation, spurious NGOs might come up with the lowest
cost bid, and the project would not meet its objectives.
Charles Abugre said that ownership of the CAS started by getting basic democratic
mechanisms in place to formulate medium-term plans. On the basis of those plans, the Bank
could present its agenda, and the two agendas could then be debated. Civil society could have
input to the domestic process and the subsequent discussion with the Bank. This respects the
need for domestic consensus building.
- 6 -
While he had not been directly involved in the Inspection Panel, colleagues who had been
felt it was in danger of being undennined by the inability of complaining communities to have
direct interaction with the process once the complaint had been filed. The inability to access
infonnation and the sense that the Panel is engaging in (or losing) internal battles was slowly
eating away its energy and value. "It is important to reinforce this as an additional accountability
Ravi Pradhan, noting that one of his coalition partners had filed the first Inspection
Panel claim, said there is no due process, no access to infonnation, to the Panel members, or to
the analysis. Trying to restrict the eligibility to residents of a particular area would effectively
rule out many of the claims. "And when we hear news that the Bank's Directors are thinking of
abolishing the Inspection Panel or reducing its scope of operation, limited as it is, we are, of
course, worried because we have no access to any source of alternative hearing." He said he
would like to see its scope expanded.
Edwin Zablah complained that Nicaragua had used 48 percent of its IDA funds in the
economic recovery program so less was being used on poverty alleviation. The government
closed the National Development Bank and didn't open any alternative to provide credit for
small and medium producers. There had not been any participation from civil society in this
structural adjustment program. "Who is going to pay the social cost of the adjustment plan. We
know it's necessary, but the social cost is too high ... in a country that has been in a very intensive
conflict for almost 12 years?"
A Deputy said he was surprised that structural adjustment had not been raised before and
asked if the Bank had changed the way it handled these programs. He also wondered if any of
the panel was involved in SAPRI.
Charles Abugre said he represented the Third World Network secretariat in Africa,
which is the original center for the SAPRIs in Africa (Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mali and Ghana).
The process was delayed for five months as issues relating to disclosure policy were resolved.
Initial estimates of how much local mobilization would cost were too low. In addition, some
technical methodological issues need to be addressed, and efforts are underway to involve
bilaterals both for funding and for infonnal monitoring.
He said that the "political" approach to adjustment had changed with more attempts to
listen and even to allow for opposition participation and to pennit some debate. Nevertheless, in
substance, very little had changed. ESAF mandated deficit reduction measures, which are
outside the Bank's responsibility and are unchanged. For privatization, the emphasis is on speed
rather than the quality.
Jocelyn Dow said that in Guyana the structural adjustment program had exacerbated
racial tensions because there was pressure on public sector wages affecting Afro-Guyanese, and
positive responses towards private sector development which affects Indo-Guyanese. She
suggested that ethnicity should be considered when allocating resources. She added that she
thought skills were lost through adjustment programs and that as Jamaica must be one of the
countries that has experienced adjustment for the longest period, there should be a country

.. - 7 -
review to see what skills are left compared to when the programs started. She suggested that
Nicaragua might also be reviewed. She suggested that accountability and participation could be
enhanced through the development of National Advisory Boards which would involve trade
unions, the public sector, members of the parliamentary opposition, and women's groups. She
said, "this would force, for certain, a government response at the national level which is
respectful of sovereignty but engages the government in another layer of accountability."
A Deputy asked what transparency they would like to see the Bank apply to NGOs to
ensure that they are representative of poor people in order to work with them, and would they
agree to have their accounts checked by people from the Bank?
Mihir Bhatt said that as his organization is a public charitable trust, anyone can pay five
rupees to the charity commissioner and will be given a complete copy of their accounts. But he
added that it was more important for them to be accountable to the people with whom they work.
Fazle Abed said his organization was accountable to the people they serve, to the
government to whom they must provide audited accounts, and to the donors who give them
money. He added that parliamentarians from donor countries come to see what they are doing in
the field.
A Deputy asked whether the NGO representatives were independent of their
Jocelyn Dow replied, "I don't believe that any of us sitting at the table is, as we would
say, in bed with the government." She agreed that some NGOs, through force of circumstance,
have a relationship with government in which they walk a very thin line, but the opening up of
space in most societies has made this less of a problem.
Charles Abugre asked the deputies how they saw the tradeoffs between IDA, SPA and
ESAF when allocating donor budgets.
A Deputy responded that they are all important and that in his country all three were
funded from the same ministry and that his country can fulfill all its financing obligations.
In closing remarks Jocelyn Dow she said that the NGOs were becoming more and more
fraternal with the Bank staff and management. They are still full of criticisms, but compared
with the WTO which some ofthem were about to visit, the Bank looks like an extremely friendly
institution. (In response to an earlier comment from a Deputy that he had expected the NGOs to
be on. the attack and had found them "very tame," she said "we are not going to hammer on the
most proactive window (IDA)." She said the NGOs had come to the meeting in a spirit of
partnership, not because they don't have serious criticisms of the Bank, but in recognition that
there are not a lot of ideological or other options. "We must, collectively, make the Bank as
people-centered as possible."
In thanking the NGO representatives, Sven Sandstrom highlighted the theme of not
thinking in terms of donors and recipients. "We are," he said, "all working to reduce poverty,
- 8 -
and I think the discussion here showed it." He said that what came out of this session was
similar to what the Deputies had discussed earlier in the day, and in particular, the need for the
CASs and the Bank's assistance strategy to be grounded in each country. He said there was a
need to work on making sure that the Bank's work-the country officer's perspective-is
grounded in each country, while at the same time making sure that the institutional perspectives
are looked at and discussed. He added that the idea of a National Advisory Board or similar
instrument was very interesting.

from harvard summit 2008

BRAC: Building Resources Across Communities
The Coproduction of Governance: Civil Society, the
Government, and the Private Sector
Fazle Hasan Abed
Mr. Abed will reflect on his own experiences and his own learning over the past 36 years
with regard to setting up and running BRAC. His main thesis will be that in a country like
Bangladesh, it is possible make a significant positive change in the lives of the poor and other
marginalized people, including women. In fact, “it is possible to bring hope back!” He will
recollect how he decided to move to the uncharted territory of “development” and to leave his
secure career in a multinational oil company.
BRAC started as a small relief and rehabilitation effort in a remote rural district of
Bangladesh after the liberation of the country. Early on, it became clear that relief was not the
way to make a sustainable improvement in poor people’s lives, and BRAC started
experimenting with “development.” Different projects on health, education, and economic
development were piloted. Some were successful while others were not.
Mr. Abed will explore a major question that BRAC faced with regard to successful
programs and agencies: how should they be dealt with? The traditional wisdom was that the
government would replicate them, but given the situation prevailing at that time, it was not
going to happen.
Mr. Abed will discuss the example of an early successful program. The year 1979
was named the “International Year of the Child,” and BRAC knew from its work that high
infant mortality and fertility were major problems facing the country. BRAC also knew that
people would not lower the number of children born to their families until they were sure that
their children would survive to complete a desired family size. Diarrhea was one of the most
prevalent causes of childhood death. BRAC decided to make the importance of oral
rehydration known to the mothers. With a successful pilot, BRAC started teaching mothers
about this in every household throughout the country. This was the first time that BRAC took
one of its programs nationwide. This gave BRAC the experience of how to organize and plan
for upscaling programs. After this, BRAC undertook nationwide programs in many areas,
including health, education, and microfinance.
Mr. Abed will demonstrate that BRAC’s strategy is to first test the effectiveness of an
idea through pilots, then to examine their efficiency before scaling up. BRAC is now the
Page 14 – Mr. Fazle Abed Keynote
largest NGO in the South, but it has not remained restricted to working within Bangladesh
alone. Its programs are now found in diverse settings such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri
Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania, and Southern Sudan.
One of BRAC’s distinguishing features is its belief, and consequent investment in
capacity development. To this end, BRAC has set up a university. It has graduate schools in
public health, development studies, and governance studies. BRAC University works with
many universities in the North, including Harvard, to improve its curriculum in terms of both
the science and art. BRAC also works very closely with national governments to improve
governance of the public sector. In fact, BRAC works with the government in implementing
many of its programs. These include a focused effort on immunization, and the two serious
problems of tuberculosis and malaria. BRAC believes in synergy, and thus works in
partnership with other stakeholders, including the government, the private sector, and donors.
BRAC trains government bureaucrats and doctors through short certificate courses and longterm master's programs. Dr. Gowher Rizvi helped BRAC design a master's degree program
for the government civil servants. Finally, Mr. Abed will conclude by highlighting another of
BRAC’s key distinguishing features—the fact that it finances its development programs. Of
the (USD)$430 million annual budget in 2007, BRAC generated 70% of it from its own
enterprises within the country.
Fazle Hasan Abed was born in Bangladesh in 1936. Abed was educated in Dhaka and
Glasgow Universities and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in London. The 1971
Liberation War of Bangladesh had a profound effect on Abed, then in his thirties and holding
a senior Corporate Executive position at Shell Oil. The war dramatically changed the
direction of his life: he left his job and went to London to devote himself to Bangladesh’s
War of Independence. There, Abed helped initiate the “Help Bangladesh” campaign,
organizing funds to raise awareness about Bangladesh. After the war, Abed returned to the
newly independent Bangladesh to find the economy of his country in ruins. Millions of
refugees, who had sought shelter in India during the war, started trekking back into the
country. The tremendous need for humanitarian relief called for urgent efforts. Abed decided
to take action by setting up BRAC (formerly, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement
Committee), dedicated to the rehabilitation of returning refugees in a remote area in
northeastern Bangladesh. This work led him and BRAC to deal with the long-term task of
improving living conditions of the rural poor. He focused his organization’s efforts on
helping the poor develop their capacity to manage and control their own destiny. Thus,
BRAC's primary objectives emerged as alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the poor.
In the span of only three decades, BRAC grew to become the largest non-governmental
development organization in the world, in terms of its scale and the diversity of its
interventions. Abed has been recognized with a number of awards, including the Ramon
Page 15 – Mr. Fazle Abed Keynote
Magsaysay Prize, the UNICEF Maurice Pate Award, the Olof Palme Prize, Schwab
Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship Award, UNDP’s Mahbub-ul-Haq Award, the Henry R.
Kravis Prize in Leadership, and the first Clinton Global Citizenship Award. He is also a
founding member of Ashoka’s Global Academy for Social Entrepreneurship, and has
received several honorary degrees, including Doctor of Humane Letters from Yale

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