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Sir Fazle Abed -top 70 alumni networks & 5 scots curious about hi-trust hi-tech

the archives of fazle abed - collected by friends - have we missed a keynote lecture rsvp chris.macrae@yahoo.co.uk

Beyond%20power%20games.docx

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over last 40 years 1 billion Asians ended extreme poverty

WHICH OF FAZLE ABED'S TOP 5 PARTNERS women empowering CURRICULA INTEREST YOU?

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 chris.macrae@yahoo.co.uk 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 ...
download 50 year report of sir fazle abed on university &      
download linked organigram brac first 30 years

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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.

Introduction

 

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.

 

Advocacy

 

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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Bangladesh: Realities of People’s Lives

 

By Fazle Hasan Abed

 

This article by Fazle Hasan Abed appeared in The State of the World’s Children, 1988, a UNICEF publication. 

 

 

The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) is attempting to take ORT to every home in a nation where 250,000 children die every year from diarrhoeal dehydration. So far, 9 million mothers have been reached. The Executive Director of BRAC, Fazle Hasan Abed, summarizes the lessons learned.

 

After our first few months in the villages, follow-up surveys showed that only 10 percent of those reached were actually using ORT. So began a long process of learning about the relationship between information and behavioural change.

Our first lesson was that teachers must believe in what they are teaching. I discovered that our own workers were not using ORT themselves. They still believed more in pills and tablets. However, after hospital demonstrations, they were convinced about the salt and sugar recipe. When they began to believe, those whom they taught also began to believe, and the usage rate began to rise.

We also learned that the whole community has to be prepared for new knowledge. If the men have not heard of ORT, they will discourage their wives from wasting time with it. Our male workers always meet with the men first and with constant radio messages to back us up, ORT has become familiar to 80 percent of adult males in Bangladesh. They now expect their wives to know about it. Similarly, if ORT is accepted by the school teachers and the leading people in the community, then mothers will be more likely to use it.

To create this climate of acceptance means using every channel of communication. We even set up loudspeakers and demonstration stalls in the market-places which are important communication centres in rural Bangladesh. We make sure all teachers train their pupils in ORT and encourage them to take health messages home. 

We have also now begun to tap the potential of the mass media, using television advertising to get across nutrition messages. We know that the poor don't have television but nowadays the most influential people in the community do. And unless they accept new knowledge, the chances of the poor accepting it are very much reduced.

Once the community is prepared, our workers - and there are now 2,500 of them -go house to house, spending half an hour with each mother talking about ORT and other ways of protecting children.

Above all, you have to bear in mind the realities of people's lives. If you tell people to boil water for ORT, this may mean that 50 percent will not use the therapy. So you have to make a pragmatic decision - should boiling water be part of the message or not?

I believe everyone should know about things like ORT and immunisation, birth spacing and proper weaning. Then we will see a synergy between these improvements, leading to a fall in the dreadful death rate among our children. In this way, we can build primary health care in each mother and in each household. That is where the battle has to be won.

However, communities must also demand, and governments must provide, basic health services. An informed community is more likely to do this. And an informed government bureaucracy is more likely to respond. So there is a job of advocacy to do in both directions.

Sometimes I have been discouraged. The knowledge road to health is not easy. We have reached 9 million women. Of those, about 40 percent have begun to use ORT and of those, half are using it correctly. But if we look fifteen years into the future, I am certain that ORT and other vital health messages will not only be known to 100 percent of Bangladeshi mothers - they will also be part of our culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pinch, A Fist, A Cup of Water- Bangladesh Rises

By Philip J. Hilts

This article by Philip J. Hilts is taken from ‘Why we must rise to the global health challenge’ published by the Penguin Press, New York, 2005.

At its base, any proposal to greatly increase aid to poor countries will depend upon a belief that the projects will have good results. Unfortunately, for many years, foreign aid efforts have been subjected to caustic criticism, and too many projects have deserved it. But it is wrong to say that we have learned nothing in the past fifty years of administering aid to the developing world, or that we cannot run successful projects now if we have good leaders for the work. That is no longer a responsible argument. There are simply too many first-rate aid projects on the record over the past two decades for those objections to hold up. Models have emerged to guide the way about how money can be best directed, and perhaps no such model is more impressive than that developed by the Bangladeshi businessman who returned home to help save his country.

Fazle Hasan Abed, when he was growing up in Bangladesh, dreamed of building ships. After training for that, he eventually realized that not too many ships were going to be built in Bangladesh, and settled on the more likely career of accountancy. After a British education he joined Shell Oil, and rose rapidly to become a top accounting executive by his early thirties.

Then, politics and history pulled his career out from under him. On the night of November 12, 1970, the Indian Ocean conspired to end his career as an international executive.

There was a full moon over the Bay of Bengal on that night. That meant the tide was already high when a storm roared up the bay, driving it even higher. It was a cyclone, massively broad and throwing winds more than 150 miles per hour and tidal surges up to twenty feet high. But it was not the breadth of the storm or its wind speed that eventually put it above all other storms; it was what followed. U.S. forecasters saw it coming, and government forecasters in what was then East Pakistan saw it. Notice never reached the people where it would strike the next day, November 13. The counting is still vague, though it is believed that five hundred thousand people, maybe more, died in that storm—the worst in recorded human history.

Bangladesh was already in turmoil—both political and social—when the great storm arrived. Leaders were pushing for independence from Pakistan. When the storm arrived President Yahya Khan, who lived a thousand miles away in wealthier western Pakistan, ignored it. Instead, he flew on a junket to China. It was a turning point in history; the revolt against him soon began, and within months all-out war between East and West in Pakistan had started. After a startling rampage of rape and slaughter by the western troops, India intervened and helped push the West Pakistani troops out.

Out of this double catastrophe Bangladesh was born, an independent and utterly devastated state. And with the independence also was born a small group of well-educated Bangladeshis who went to the villages and borders to give aid to the victims of the storm and the war. Ten million refugees who had fled to India and Burma were now streaming home to villages that no longer existed.

For Fazle Abed, it was the end of one life, the start of another. He had been living both in Europe and in Bangladesh comfortably; now he could see his country ruined, yet struggling to be born. He happened to be in Europe and quickly went home to help. ‘Two years,’ he thought, ‘or maybe a few more.’ Abed once described the moment to a reporter: ‘I was suddenly confronted with the massive death and destruction after the cyclone. It was a life-changing experience, immediately followed by the political turmoil.’ Then, as he began the work of building Bangladesh back up, he said, ‘It was a continuous process of questioning your own existence, and the kind of life you lead.’

That was a third of a century ago now. Fazle Abed never went back to his job in international business. He began with refugee work, carting bamboo for houses, supplying tools for workers, and organizing medical aid. But as he worked, month by month, and then year by year, he was drawn further in. He could see that Bangladesh, while it was dirt poor, was nevertheless united by language and culture and religion; a completely new start was just possible, building on the glories of ancient Bengali culture, known for it high-mindedness, its poetry, its music and art.

continued part 2

Hilts part 2

Mr. Abed often wears dark suits, his face is mahogany brown, and above it all floats a shock of all-white hair. He wears rimless spectacles. His face is round, gentle, and almost cherubic. Journalists coming through have said his gentle demeanor makes him seem like a holy man without the robes, or maybe a Mother Teresa who can count and manage.

His office is in a building that is among the tallest in the country—it’s nineteen floors—and he points through the window to the sprawling city of Dhaka below. There are 13 million people in the city, pressed cheek by jowl in one of the greatest encampments of the poor in the world. Next to his office is a narrow lake. On one shore are modern roads, apartments, and shops, and from his window you can see the corrugated tin shacks jammed in rows along the other shore, so close to one another it is hard to walk between them. ‘Look there,’ he says, ‘We have shastho shebika [health workers] in that neighborhood. We started with the rural areas, but now we are in the city. Two for every one in the rural areas are needed in the city.’

Accountant Abed is now nearing seventy years old and he is the head of an organization that has become well known among those who work in the teeming field now called ‘development.’ It is the field you go into when you want to build society from the bottom. Among organizations that do this work, the one led by Mr. Abed is actually more than just famous; it is in danger of becoming a legend. It has even been referred to as ‘the world’s greatest NGO.’

Here is the accountant’s-eye view, just the basic numbers, on its work since those days after the storm and the war of independence.

It is the largest nongovernmental organization in any developing country. It started with six people (Abed and five friends) who borrowed $300,000 dollars from family and others who sympathized with refugee care. The group had no intention of staying with the work, or of growing larger. But as the government of the new nation was unable to muster all the effort needed, the duties and opportunities kept coming to the little group that gave itself the name (remember, he’s an accountant) Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

Now, from six people, BRAC has 146,000 workers. Over the years, it is said, BRAC has become so large and powerful that it is in fact a parallel government within Bangladesh, though it has actively avoided trying to become that. It has taken on three basic missions for the rural poor: first, a few key health services; second, primary schooling for dropouts; and third, microfinancial services for poor villagers. It has intentionally limited its work to the poor only. (BRAC discovered that providing services for all made it certain that the better off would swamp demand and push out the poor.) Its work was limited largely to women, who also ran the programs in villages. (BRAC learned that offering services to women gave their efforts great leverage—women and children were the worst served but the most likely to benefit from health, schooling, and small loans.)

Still, BRAC is a large and potent organization, touching in some way the lives of about half the country’s people every day. The original intent was to try to help build the nation from the bottom up. Now, after three decades, it is difficult to say what proportion of progress in Bangladesh is due only to BRAC. Many other groups have been begun as well, and the government shoulders a substantial part of the burden, as do charities and commercial companies.

            However the parts are added up, Bangladesh has far outstripped all predictions for its future. In the 1970s, when referring to the dregs, the worst in the world, it was usual to mention Bangladesh. American secretary of state Henry Kissinger publicly called it, ‘a basket case.’

About that time, deaths of children under five stood at 248 dead for every 1,000. Because each woman was having, on average, about seven children, this meant every mother probably lost at least one. But by 2003 the death rate among young children had dropped by more than two-thirds, from 248 to 69 per 1,000. As the children were saved, and as family planning methods were made available, families then decided to limit their growth. Family size went from about seven children per family in 1970 to three per family now.

In 1970, a baby born in Bangladesh could expect, on average, to live about forty-four years. Today babies can expect sixty-three years of life. And that life will be in a different environment. Bangladesh was one of the few countries in history where women had lower life expectancies than men; that has reversed. In 1970, boys went to school and girls stayed home—now both are educated in the same numbers. Literacy has doubled, from 26 percent to more than 51 percent. Polio was eradicated in Bangladesh years before it was eliminated from India, Pakistan, and many other, wealthier countries. The rate of economic growth at the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s fluttered not far above zero. It has now run above 5 percent per year for a decade. The country was importing food; now it can more than feed itself, and three-quarters of the economy has turned to other business.

Among the most interesting figures about BRAC is the one for donations. BRAC started with gifts totalling about $300,000 from local families. International donors later began to chip in. By 1994, BRAC had a budget of about $64 million; 72 percent of it came from international donors. But the idea was not to take handouts forever. BRAC weaned itself away, and by 2004 BRAC had a budget of $235 million, and only 20 percent of it came from donors. The rest was raised by BRAC programs themselves with its own workers’ enterprises and sales. It might be tempting to think that an antipoverty program might even turn a profit, but BRAC is satisfied to produce 80 percent of its needed resources.

 

The first BRAC programs—and the most famous—are the health programs. That is probably because their outcomes are measured in lives rather than dollars or years in school. It is also because the BRAC village workers carried out the single greatest ‘technology transfer’ in history, though it is little noted in the West. Researchers, first in other parts of the world, then crucially in laboratories in Dhaka and Calcutta, had discovered the key to the deadly diarrheas that come with the age-old plagues of cholera, rotavirus, shigella, and E. coli. With an accountant’s care and a revolutionary zeal, the BRAC workers proved that a medicine used for decades in intravenous solution in hospitals to save babies could be made at home—and used there successfully by women who were illiterate. Against the advice of doctors, and under the cloud of regular attacks, their scientifically rigorous tests proved the method. Then they began a ten-year-long project to teach the mothers of Bangladesh how to make and use the lifesaving solution. Using it, the death rate for babies with severe diarrhea dropped from 50 percent to less than 1 percent.

House by house, in its first years the volunteers trained thirteen million women in the techniques, beginning in 1979. Now, after more than two decades of working the villages the method has simply been absorbed as part of Bengali culture. The method, called Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT), eventually caught on elsewhere and is now being spread worldwide under the official aegis of the World Health Organization. It is credited with saving more than a million babies every year around the world. And world figures reflect the change: In 1970, more than five million babies died each year of diarrheal disease worldwide; by 2003, two million were dying of it.

BRAC health workers, at the request of the government, also worked on delivering basic immunization. There are cheap vaccines for six diseases that children get, and in Bangladesh in the 1980s only about 2 percent of the population got them. After the BRAC and government work, the figure rose rapidly to over 65 percent, and now about 80 percent of Bangladeshi children get immunized.

Progress against disease and poverty comes not only from smart work and organization on the ground. It also comes from science and technology. Poverty workers sometimes complain that basic science gets too much glory and money, while the people on the ground are actually making the progress one spadeful at a time.

But both are necessary, and in Bangladesh, like everything else jammed together, they work side by side in the same buildings, the same rooms, and sometimes in the same person. As one former diarrhea researcher there put it, the job was to ‘take the science to where the diarrhea is.’

At the time of the first worldwide cholera epidemics, scientists, statisticians, and politicians were just beginning to use figures and graphs to see the big picture in human health and wealth. It soon was clear that in times of great trouble human anguish becomes centered in the bowels. During disasters like hurricanes and wars and in the most neglected places on the planet the condition that seizes the moment is diarrhea.

To Western ears it sounds like something from the past. Deadly diarrhea is caused by a variety of organisms, and to us they have an antique sound—cholera, rotavirus, shigella. But they are deeply embedded in our language. The guts are the seat of courage and of our fundamental moods; melancholia, the evocative term for depression, comes from the ‘black bile’ of the gut that was thought to cause it. In the Bible the psalmist says his bowels instruct him what to do, saying his inward conviction issues from them, and when Joseph ran to his brother, the text says that he made haste because his bowels did ‘yearn upon his brother.’ Elizabeth I in asserting her authority said, ‘I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, a king of England, too.’ When Shakespeare was speaking of political trouble he called up images of the innards: ‘Civil dissension is a viperous worm that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.’

All this because the gut is one of the more vulnerable parts of the anatomy. The digestive tract is a remarkable organ system, in the shape of a skin hose that can deftly separate water, chemicals, and nutrients, absorbing the required while flushing out the unneeded.

That is where the heroism in development begins. Researchers for years puzzled through the strange central event of diarrhea—that the intestine which usually absorbs water and nutrients suddenly changes in disease, at the level of individual bowel cells, and reverses their flow. They not only reject new fluids coming by, but dump out their own inside fluids, ultimately causing a total collapse of tissue walls and bloodstreams. The body is mostly water; during these events a massive internal drought breaks down the structures in the body and forces the heart and other organs to stop. Research eventually focused on the receptor molecules that dot the outsides of cells, and on how they were controlling the entry and exit of salts called electrolytes.

Some of the key work was done in Calcutta and in the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka. (It is still there, and is now called the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. In fact, after the slashing of international public health funds in the 1980s and 1990s, it is the only major international research lab left standing in the developing world, after years when labs dotted the continents. Now, with a large HIV laboratory in Botswana, it is hoped a new cycle of research in developing countries is starting up.)

In principle, by the 1970s, the physiology was clear. Cells of the intestine must keep a balance of water and salt inside and outside themselves to carry on working. Some disease organisms, in an effort to get themselves spread from one person to another, have evolved the ability to create a huge flushing action of water by attacking receptors on the outside of intestinal cells, breaking down the inside-outside balance and turning the cells into outward-only pumps. Until these crucial years of research, it was thought that during disease cells could only dump their water, not absorb more at the same time. But the research proved there were two pumps available on the cells, and if the cells were given fluids with sugar in them, the second set of pumps would start working to take in water while the other pumps were still flushing it out. This was the key—sugar to get cells to stop the one-way outflow, and salt to get the normal operational levels back.

In hospitals it is possible to pump enough fluid into a cholera patient using an intravenous tube. But trying to translate this hospital procedure to the field was difficult. In fact, the first real experiment with the idea was disastrous. Robert Phillips, working during a cholera epidemic in the Philippines, tried giving a simple sugar-saltwater solution to patients by mouth. All were very sick, but five of thirty quickly died. His solution had too much salt, and the experiment killed the patients before the disease got them. Phillips was mortified. He began to think such field-rough treatment for diarrhea would never be possible. A few years later, he found himself the director of the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka just as new discoveries on the physiology of diarrhea were made, ones that hinted at what might have saved his earlier patients. But he could not bring himself to approve further life-threatening experiments. As it happened, though, a small satellite clinic of the Cholera Research Laboratory came under different funding and jurisdiction than Phillips’s main laboratory. It was in Matlab village, south of Dhaka. Scientists there wanted to go ahead; Phillips agreed to not try to stop them if they worked in Matlab.

The doctors there felt they had to try again. After all, during the years of crises in Bangladesh the tragedy was painfully clear—Children in the villages were dying in waves. A lucky few near hospitals got intensive Western-style intravenous drips. It involved getting a doctor’s diagnosis as to severity, and a nurse to get a bag of expensive intravenous fluid into the patient’s arm with a sterile syringe, then someone to monitor the flows and progress.

At bottom, though, it seemed that the difference between the living and the dead was just some sugar and saltwater. The multiplication of cholera bacteria or rotavirus in the gut would gradually stop on its own. But the loss of fluid caused in the first day of illness was what killed the children. Replacing fluids was the key.

The turning point came with a couple of experiments. In one at the Cholera Research Laboratory, patients were started on intravenous drips, and then switched to oral fluids. The experiment showed they could eliminate the need for 80 percent of the IV fluid and setups. Then, during 1971, in one refugee camp in West Bengal when a cholera epidemic was cutting down children, a doctor from Calcutta took the next step, out of necessity. As the patients around him were facing death, he couldn’t even start with IVs. He gave homemade solutions to patients entirely by mouth, a sip at a time and with the right salts, until the worst danger had passed. It worked.

So in Bangladesh and India, the answer was in the air. The labs where the scientific work was being done were in the same building where the children were dying by the hundreds, and that alone moved the work to the next possibility. Fazle Abed and his assistance workers knew the scientists as well, and had followed the work.

            It was then, in 1979, that the BRAC group met to talk about increasing the size of its health work from a few villages to the greater part of the entire nation. They did not want to try to deliver too much; they decided to pick one intervention, one treatment that would make the most difference.

This was the 1970s; modern Western technology and medicine were greatly desired, while local products and technologies were denigrated. Medical authorities in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, as well as authorities from the World Health Organization, were actively opposed to treating deadly diarrhea with homemade solutions in the hands of local women. Though it had been proven in lab work and shown in emergencies, it was not credible that village people could take over and use this medical technology. In fact, they said, it would be irresponsible to depend on illiterate women for such medical care. And they were right in a way; there was a serious problem. A study in the United States had shown that fully trained nurses, when taught how to make the oral rehydration solution in a lecture class, often failed to get it right. If they couldn’t do it, how could village women?

If mothers were to treat severe diarrhea, they had to know when to act, how to make the lifesaving liquid, and how to administer it. The liquid, in medical terms, was a ‘balanced electrolyte solution for rehydration.’ It was mostly water, with some sugar and a small amount of salt. But the proportions had to be correct. If it was too salty, it would accelerate the fluid loss and kill the infants instead of saving them. If it contained too little sugar, it would be ineffective, as if no treatment at all was given. Some researchers at the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka, and at the Indian Council for Medical Research in Calcutta, now believed they knew more about how to get it right—just the right mixture and just the right delivery.

While the argument among medical people was going on, the BRAC group was ready to build a health campaign in the villages.

Abed led the discussion at BRAC over what to attack, and how—the diseases killing the most were pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, and tetanus. Which one could be attacked most successfully? Diarrhea looked like their best chance because of the possibility that they might be able, as John Rohde of ICD said at the time, to ‘take the science to where the diarrhea is.’

For the BRAC leaders, as they sat in the village of Sulla in rural Bangladesh discussing their strategy, it was clear that the high death rate from diarrhea would continue. They walked through the problems.

Bags of saline were sold by local doctors in Bangladesh, but the price was one hundred taka per bag, and five to ten bags would be needed to treat each patient. At the time, the average income in the villages was about fifteen hundred taka per family per year, and the average child had three bouts of serious diarrhea per year, so the bags could quickly bankrupt a family. Packets of soluble salts were also beginning to be manufactured—couldn’t they be mixed at home? They were cheaper than saline, and in theory could be sold in Bangladeshi villages, where the women would then buy them in emergencies, take them home, and mix them in water to give to their sick babies. But no distribution system was in place, and if the government were to buy the packets for distribution, it would take hundreds of millions of packets to cover the country. And in the end, would the marketed packets reach the ones who needed them most? The instructions on the packets might or might not be clear; but in any case, 80 percent of the women intended to use them were illiterate. And finally, even with relatively inexpensive packets, it would still have to be the mothers who would diagnose the problem, buy the salts, mix them in water at home, and give the solution to their babies.

It was clear the center of the problem were questions about the mothers, not the solution. Why not acknowledge it and deal with it?

‘From the beginning we had this sense that you must trust people,’ said Abed. ‘Trust the mothers. We had a great belief that illiterate people, any human being, trained to do certain things could be very good at it. Put in a position to help their own communities, they could do it.’ In the long run many of the most basic problems came down to whether they should ‘get local people to do something, or get professionals to come in and do it for you. We are too poor to hire professionals everywhere, all the time.’

After thinking it through, they decided the first issue was the mother’s ability to mix the solution.

Directions that called for using a teaspoon would be no help; the village people don’t have or use teaspoons routinely. Sugar was to be used, but which sugar? Refined white sugar was not commonly available and was expensive. What the villagers more often had was gur, a brown sugar made from local cane or date juice. Analysis soon showed that gur was actually better than refined sugar because it often contained small amounts of potassium and bicarbonate—which were ingredients in the official oral rehydration solution.

So Abed started from scratch, in his own kitchen, with ingredients from the street. He took local salt, lobon, gur, and a tin cup common in the villages, a seer. After Abed and his wife cooked up dozens of batches of differing measures, they were sent to the Cholera Research Laboratory. The homemade concoction that proved closest to the official WHO formula was the following: a pinch of salt (in Bangladesh, it’s a three-finger pinch using the index finger, middle finger, and thumb), two small scoops of gur, and half a seer of water. Later it was modified slightly in the field, because women use their hollowed palms to measure scoops. One ‘fist’ was about two scoops.

After much more work, the formula finally became a simple chant: ‘a pinch, a fist, and half a seer.’ The mixture was dubbed ‘lobon-gur solution’ and the first great trial of the fundamental question—could illiterate mothers be taught to make and use lobon-gur successfully?—began in Sulla, Bangladesh, in February 1979.

BRAC carefully selected teachers (the first two were young village women, Hemlata Sarkar and Shwapna Bowmick), wrote and tested a teaching method several times, and only gradually spread the experiment from Sulla to other villages. Routinely, they took samples from the solutions made by mothers and sent them to the Cholera Research Laboratory for analysis.

Doctors in Bangladesh felt their turf was the treatment of human illness and that BRAC’s experiments were now starting to invade that territory. One official from the World Health Organization rushed to Bangladesh to try to get the government to greatly expand its anti-diarrhea program to head off BRAC. But that program was poorly planned and did not take into account the scale and difficulties of the problem.

BRAC went ahead, and over the next year young women trainers in groups of six moved through 662 villages, a few weeks in each village, attempting to train 58,000 mothers in the new treatment method.

One thing distinctive about this project when compared to many ‘development’ projects over the years is that it was carried out entirely locally, by people who had become deadly serious about making it work. So the many mistakes and repeated trouble in this or that part of the program were confronted, not ignored. That doing and redoing turned out to be the most difficult part. After the first thirty thousand women were trained, and their competence had been checked and rechecked by visits from monitors, Abed said, they reached a first plateau. It was thrilling to have built the project up so far, especially as it was under fire even as it carried on.

‘This was our first opportunity to scale-up programs from small areas to the whole nation,’ he said. ‘When we got done teaching the first thirty thousand mothers, we went back to check how we had succeeded. But we found that of all the women who had been taught the method, only six percent were using it when their children became sick. I was very disappointed. Disheartened. Why should we be going from house to house teaching women to do this if then they are not going to use it?’

Abed and the other leaders of BRAC believed in it. It was technically sound and medically potent, truly lifesaving. ‘We decided there must be something wrong with our teaching. The commitment we had was not being transmitted, somehow.’

They heard of one case when a mother with a very sick baby was visited by a young BRAC worker. The worker quickly suggested running down to the medicine shop for some diarrhea medicine. saying, ‘It will be quicker.’

Abed, talking about it now, looks down at his desk. ‘So we found out that some of our workers didn’t believe in what they were teaching. They thought our homemade solution was crude, second-rate.’

Abed realized their earlier explanations had been too sketchy and had not caught the imaginations of their workers. So he rounded up all three hundred workers of the time and started from the beginning, explaining why this solution was lifesaving and that anything else, short of intensive hospital treatment, could be deadly. They explained the infections that cause diarrhea and the reaction of the bowel; they gave details of why sugar and salt were crucial. They talked about the number of deaths of children in the villages in which they were working.

‘Once workers became convinced this was the best therapy, their whole attitude changed, their behavior changed. They became committed,’ he said.

In all BRAC work, that is now a vital test of whether a project will succeed or fail. Do the workers understand it? Are they excited, committed?

When they went back a little while later to check again, ‘we found things had improved a little—now twenty-one percent of mothers were using the method. But again, we were not very happy.’

There was another element they hadn't considered enough. They decided to bring in some anthropologists to talk to the mothers and other villagers about BRAC and diarrhea and their lives in general.

‘We found that the women were not the only ones we had to convince. They were not the sole decision makers in the house or in the village,’ he said. There were the husbands and brothers, who would say, ‘Don’t use that cheap method, I don’t trust it.’ And there were the local traditional healers who advised against using the BRAC method. So they added to their effort visits to the men in the villages, talks in the marketplace, and later added even radio advertising.

This round of effort pushed the rate of usage up over 50 percent, Abed said. Still not enough.

On further probing they found some of the workers were doing their teaching in too rote a fashion when they were tired, and some even cheated, skipping the teaching and mixing up solution themselves and sending for tests as if the mothers had made it. So a further round of fixes went in. They set up monitoring and paid the rehydration teachers not on the basis of houses covered, or sessions with mothers, but on the basis of a sampling of the actual performance of the mothers. For each mother who could answer questions and make an effective lobon-gur solution, the worker would get paid a certain amount. For each mother who was taught but did not perform well, the BRAC workers earned less.

And on it went. ‘The commitment grew, and the teachers began to get more creative and involved,’ Abed said. Eventually they were able to get the quality of teaching up and routinely get mothers to make the solution right over 98 percent of the time. The rate of death from diarrhea began to drop across the nation.

‘I have seen a lot of bad development projects,’ Abed said. ‘It is not that the people doing them are not sincere. They are. But in many cases, whether they come from outside the country or from inside, they expect to work a project for three years, do the best they can, and then go on to something else.

‘But in BRAC we were there for the long haul. We were committed to building the country forever. We wanted to make sure things really change. We were totally results-oriented from the beginning. That made quite a lot of difference.’

The project took ten years, but by the time it was over it was firmly rooted in the national psyche. Entrepreneurs soon began to take advantage of it, and started importing and selling packets of rehydration salts throughout the nation and in all the village medicine shops. Mothers could now make their own or, if they could afford it, buy the salts and work from there. The treatments of deadly diarrhea were now in their hands. The whole BRAC project from 1979 to 1990 cost about $9.3 million.

By 1990, the word had spread, and oral rehydration was being used in dozens of countries around the world. In 1991, one of the worst epidemics of cholera since the nineteenth century struck South America and Mexico. But the usual rate of death—one-third to one-half—did not materialize. In this epidemic millions of packets of salts were flown in and put in the hands of local medical people and villagers. The death rate when the epidemic died down proved to be nearer 1 percent than 50 percent. The transmission of Bangladesh’s success was, in fact, another kind of globalization.

In the end the object is really to give the people in the villages some mental and physical skills so they can do the work on their own, in their own villages.

 

During the years of scaling up the diarrheal disease treatment, BRAC also began its project to start village schools. Many girls in the villages were never sent to school, or soon dropped out because the work seemed irrelevant (mostly to parents) to their daily chores at home. So BRAC decided to take the village dropouts, about 70 percent of them girls, and offer a few hours of instruction per day. This is Bangladesh, the country with the densest population, so teaching just dropouts became a large task. Now BRAC has thirty-four thousand schools, which is said to be the largest private school network in the world. Each school is a single room with jute mats, chalk slates, and a few books for thirty students. Across Bangladesh, there are now 1 million students in the schools, and over the last couple of decades the system has graduated 2.8 million children; 92 percent of them have gone on to secondary school. The cost of the whole system is about eighteen dollars per pupil per year. To keep up the mental opportunities for the village girls after the primary years, BRAC added on libraries—there are now 873 libraries, 168 mobile libraries, and 8,800 discussion clubs for the village girls after they graduate.

BRAC was also among the first to create a ‘Micro-finance’ plan for the poor. It works as a series of village cooperative ‘banks’. About twenty-five to thirty-five mothers in each village join the BRAC Village Organization, then with BRAC’s help begin to make microloans. At this level, they take on only poor women who have no collateral and want very small loans—essentially those people commercial banks have no interest in. By 2004, the number of women in these Village Organizations was 4.7 million.

All the members are poor, and virtually all are women, by design. They give out loans, along with doing some other community duties. The average loan the women give to their neighbors is $117. It is to be paid back over a year, in weekly installments. This is enough money to buy a few chickens, or a milk cow, or to get a big patch of vegetables going for food and for resale. One woman bought her husband a rickshaw, which now is the family transportation business. The loans are not always used for burgeoning businesses; the women may buy a few chickens but not build up to a large chicken farm. But about 15 percent succeed in building the tiny loans into bigger things—a success rate said to be about the same for small business loans (tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars) in wealthy countries.

Though the women are poor, the organization is tidy, and the accounting careful: The repayment rate is above 98 percent and has remained steady at that rate for more than two decades. The total amount loaned so far to the villagers is more than $2.5 billion, and their current savings accounts total about $122 million.

 

It was as the programs for women and girls began to take off that fundamentalists began to notice BRAC and take it seriously. Some of the schools teaching village girls were burned down; the facilities lending to women were attacked; some called for the arrest of Abed. Eventually BRAC headquarters was bombed. But Bangladeshis condemned the actions and kept working with BRAC. This is interesting evidence of just what kind of work can successfully counter terrorism at the grassroots level.

‘The reaction,’ said Abed, ‘confirmed our belief that we were on the right track.’

Bill Gates Sr. once visited a BRAC village school and asked the girls in one class, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Gates wrote later that one girl stood up and said, ‘I am going to be a doctor.’ Not, ‘I want to be a doctor,’ but, ‘I am going to be a doctor.’ ‘I will never forget that moment,’ Gates wrote. ‘A little girl, daughter of poor, illiterate parents, sitting on a grass mat, over a dirt floor, in a one-room hut with a tin roof, telling me with total confidence: ‘I am going  to be a doctor.’ I thought: this little one-room school house is changing the world,’

During the hardest times, when BRAC was beginning, Abed now says that he would sometimes recite to himself a poem of the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. When you go out to begin your journey, the poem begins, ‘if you call out to your friend to join you...and your friend upon hearing your call does not come along with you, then start to walk this path alone.’

 

 

In recent years, visitors to BRAC have come away impressed to the point that they begin to say unlikely things. BRAC has been called ‘the greatest development group ever’. It has been said to be ‘the world model for creating health and wealth in poor places.’ But there is really no model for the world; that is one of the things BRAC has proved. Model is the wrong word, the wrong idea. But its work has established some attitudes, some guiding ideas.

Abed and BRAC started with disaster relief, but soon enough the underlying truth became clear: The disaster was not a hurricane or a war; it was in the desperate poverty that had already existed and had gone on without useful aid year after year.

But now we know a few things about this state of affairs. We know that citizen organizations can be effective, not only in small programs but in very large ones. We know that villagers can be trained to do effective, lifesaving work. We know that continuous monitoring and reworking to achieve results is vital. And through it all, the workers must believe in what they are doing.

Abed himself says that changes began at least in part with the spirit of independence that reminded people here of Gandhi and Nehru in their grand quest, and that led to enthusiastic Bangladeshis who became determined to change life at the ground level. Some of them worked for BRAC, some worked for other groups. The government of Bangladesh, while often unable to lead the effort, cooperated and encouraged and partnered at key moments. This is nation building from the inside, but not without help from the outside.

The creation of BRAC took years, and the successes did not just fall naturally from goodwill and effort. But something was learned in BRAC and similar projects over the past three decades. This learning is, I suspect, the equal of any of the great technology and science discoveries of the past half century. In numbers of lives saved alone, even though the development work is just beginning, these discoveries may already be greater.

Now they must be applied.

            In early 2005, in his Dhaka office, though Abed is nearly seventy he is talking about the future. A whole new ‘BRAC’ has begun in Afghanistan, he says, and he has already told the minister of health that the program will cut infant mortality in half within five years in the district where they are working.

‘When she heard that she said to me: ‘Good luck!’ He laughs, draws on his pipe, and says immunization has been scaled up in all the districts where they are working. Now, he says, the government has asked him to expand to more districts.

Isn’t that risky? Will you prove it out in the few districts first or will you go big so soon?

‘Go big!’ he says, and smiles. ‘We can’t wait around with the children dying; we’ve got to try.’ Now, he says, he is sending teams to some African countries to consider getting BRAC-like groups started there as well.

Abed ends by quoting an old BRAC saying. “ ‘Small is beautiful,’ ” he says, “ ‘but big is necessary.’ ”

Mr. Abed often wears dark suits, his face is mahogany brown, and above it all floats a shock of all-white hair. He wears rimless spectacles. His face is round, gentle, and almost cherubic. Journalists coming through have said his gentle demeanor makes him seem like a holy man without the robes, or maybe a Mother Teresa who can count and manage.

His office is in a building that is among the tallest in the country—it’s nineteen floors—and he points through the window to the sprawling city of Dhaka below. There are 13 million people in the city, pressed cheek by jowl in one of the greatest encampments of the poor in the world. Next to his office is a narrow lake. On one shore are modern roads, apartments, and shops, and from his window you can see the corrugated tin shacks jammed in rows along the other shore, so close to one another it is hard to walk between them. ‘Look there,’ he says, ‘We have shastho shebika [health workers] in that neighborhood. We started with the rural areas, but now we are in the city. Two for every one in the rural areas are needed in the city.’

Accountant Abed is now nearing seventy years old and he is the head of an organization that has become well known among those who work in the teeming field now called ‘development.’ It is the field you go into when you want to build society from the bottom. Among organizations that do this work, the one led by Mr. Abed is actually more than just famous; it is in danger of becoming a legend. It has even been referred to as ‘the world’s greatest NGO.’

Here is the accountant’s-eye view, just the basic numbers, on its work since those days after the storm and the war of independence.

It is the largest nongovernmental organization in any developing country. It started with six people (Abed and five friends) who borrowed $300,000 dollars from family and others who sympathized with refugee care. The group had no intention of staying with the work, or of growing larger. But as the government of the new nation was unable to muster all the effort needed, the duties and opportunities kept coming to the little group that gave itself the name (remember, he’s an accountant) Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

Now, from six people, BRAC has 146,000 workers. Over the years, it is said, BRAC has become so large and powerful that it is in fact a parallel government within Bangladesh, though it has actively avoided trying to become that. It has taken on three basic missions for the rural poor: first, a few key health services; second, primary schooling for dropouts; and third, microfinancial services for poor villagers. It has intentionally limited its work to the poor only. (BRAC discovered that providing services for all made it certain that the better off would swamp demand and push out the poor.) Its work was limited largely to women, who also ran the programs in villages. (BRAC learned that offering services to women gave their efforts great leverage—women and children were the worst served but the most likely to benefit from health, schooling, and small loans.)

Still, BRAC is a large and potent organization, touching in some way the lives of about half the country’s people every day. The original intent was to try to help build the nation from the bottom up. Now, after three decades, it is difficult to say what proportion of progress in Bangladesh is due only to BRAC. Many other groups have been begun as well, and the government shoulders a substantial part of the burden, as do charities and commercial companies.

            However the parts are added up, Bangladesh has far outstripped all predictions for its future. In the 1970s, when referring to the dregs, the worst in the world, it was usual to mention Bangladesh. American secretary of state Henry Kissinger publicly called it, ‘a basket case.’

About that time, deaths of children under five stood at 248 dead for every 1,000. Because each woman was having, on average, about seven children, this meant every mother probably lost at least one. But by 2003 the death rate among young children had dropped by more than two-thirds, from 248 to 69 per 1,000. As the children were saved, and as family planning methods were made available, families then decided to limit their growth. Family size went from about seven children per family in 1970 to three per family now.

In 1970, a baby born in Bangladesh could expect, on average, to live about forty-four years. Today babies can expect sixty-three years of life. And that life will be in a different environment. Bangladesh was one of the few countries in history where women had lower life expectancies than men; that has reversed. In 1970, boys went to school and girls stayed home—now both are educated in the same numbers. Literacy has doubled, from 26 percent to more than 51 percent. Polio was eradicated in Bangladesh years before it was eliminated from India, Pakistan, and many other, wealthier countries. The rate of economic growth at the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s fluttered not far above zero. It has now run above 5 percent per year for a decade. The country was importing food; now it can more than feed itself, and three-quarters of the economy has turned to other business.

Among the most interesting figures about BRAC is the one for donations. BRAC started with gifts totalling about $300,000 from local families. International donors later began to chip in. By 1994, BRAC had a budget of about $64 million; 72 percent of it came from international donors. But the idea was not to take handouts forever. BRAC weaned itself away, and by 2004 BRAC had a budget of $235 million, and only 20 percent of it came from donors. The rest was raised by BRAC programs themselves with its own workers’ enterprises and sales. It might be tempting to think that an antipoverty program might even turn a profit, but BRAC is satisfied to produce 80 percent of its needed resources.

 

The first BRAC programs—and the most famous—are the health programs. That is probably because their outcomes are measured in lives rather than dollars or years in school. It is also because the BRAC village workers carried out the single greatest ‘technology transfer’ in history, though it is little noted in the West. Researchers, first in other parts of the world, then crucially in laboratories in Dhaka and Calcutta, had discovered the key to the deadly diarrheas that come with the age-old plagues of cholera, rotavirus, shigella, and E. coli. With an accountant’s care and a revolutionary zeal, the BRAC workers proved that a medicine used for decades in intravenous solution in hospitals to save babies could be made at home—and used there successfully by women who were illiterate. Against the advice of doctors, and under the cloud of regular attacks, their scientifically rigorous tests proved the method. Then they began a ten-year-long project to teach the mothers of Bangladesh how to make and use the lifesaving solution. Using it, the death rate for babies with severe diarrhea dropped from 50 percent to less than 1 percent.

House by house, in its first years the volunteers trained thirteen million women in the techniques, beginning in 1979. Now, after more than two decades of working the villages the method has simply been absorbed as part of Bengali culture. The method, called Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT), eventually caught on elsewhere and is now being spread worldwide under the official aegis of the World Health Organization. It is credited with saving more than a million babies every year around the world. And world figures reflect the change: In 1970, more than five million babies died each year of diarrheal disease worldwide; by 2003, two million were dying of it.

BRAC health workers, at the request of the government, also worked on delivering basic immunization. There are cheap vaccines for six diseases that children get, and in Bangladesh in the 1980s only about 2 percent of the population got them. After the BRAC and government work, the figure rose rapidly to over 65 percent, and now about 80 percent of Bangladeshi children get immunized.

Progress against disease and poverty comes not only from smart work and organization on the ground. It also comes from science and technology. Poverty workers sometimes complain that basic science gets too much glory and money, while the people on the ground are actually making the progress one spadeful at a time.

But both are necessary, and in Bangladesh, like everything else jammed together, they work side by side in the same buildings, the same rooms, and sometimes in the same person. As one former diarrhea researcher there put it, the job was to ‘take the science to where the diarrhea is.’

At the time of the first worldwide cholera epidemics, scientists, statisticians, and politicians were just beginning to use figures and graphs to see the big picture in human health and wealth. It soon was clear that in times of great trouble human anguish becomes centered in the bowels. During disasters like hurricanes and wars and in the most neglected places on the planet the condition that seizes the moment is diarrhea.

To Western ears it sounds like something from the past. Deadly diarrhea is caused by a variety of organisms, and to us they have an antique sound—cholera, rotavirus, shigella. But they are deeply embedded in our language. The guts are the seat of courage and of our fundamental moods; melancholia, the evocative term for depression, comes from the ‘black bile’ of the gut that was thought to cause it. In the Bible the psalmist says his bowels instruct him what to do, saying his inward conviction issues from them, and when Joseph ran to his brother, the text says that he made haste because his bowels did ‘yearn upon his brother.’ Elizabeth I in asserting her authority said, ‘I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, a king of England, too.’ When Shakespeare was speaking of political trouble he called up images of the innards: ‘Civil dissension is a viperous worm that gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.’

All this because the gut is one of the more vulnerable parts of the anatomy. The digestive tract is a remarkable organ system, in the shape of a skin hose that can deftly separate water, chemicals, and nutrients, absorbing the required while flushing out the unneeded.

That is where the heroism in development begins. Researchers for years puzzled through the strange central event of diarrhea—that the intestine which usually absorbs water and nutrients suddenly changes in disease, at the level of individual bowel cells, and reverses their flow. They not only reject new fluids coming by, but dump out their own inside fluids, ultimately causing a total collapse of tissue walls and bloodstreams. The body is mostly water; during these events a massive internal drought breaks down the structures in the body and forces the heart and other organs to stop. Research eventually focused on the receptor molecules that dot the outsides of cells, and on how they were controlling the entry and exit of salts called electrolytes.

Some of the key work was done in Calcutta and in the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka. (It is still there, and is now called the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. In fact, after the slashing of international public health funds in the 1980s and 1990s, it is the only major international research lab left standing in the developing world, after years when labs dotted the continents. Now, with a large HIV laboratory in Botswana, it is hoped a new cycle of research in developing countries is starting up.)

In principle, by the 1970s, the physiology was clear. Cells of the intestine must keep a balance of water and salt inside and outside themselves to carry on working. Some disease organisms, in an effort to get themselves spread from one person to another, have evolved the ability to create a huge flushing action of water by attacking receptors on the outside of intestinal cells, breaking down the inside-outside balance and turning the cells into outward-only pumps. Until these crucial years of research, it was thought that during disease cells could only dump their water, not absorb more at the same time. But the research proved there were two pumps available on the cells, and if the cells were given fluids with sugar in them, the second set of pumps would start working to take in water while the other pumps were still flushing it out. This was the key—sugar to get cells to stop the one-way outflow, and salt to get the normal operational levels back.

In hospitals it is possible to pump enough fluid into a cholera patient using an intravenous tube. But trying to translate this hospital procedure to the field was difficult. In fact, the first real experiment with the idea was disastrous. Robert Phillips, working during a cholera epidemic in the Philippines, tried giving a simple sugar-saltwater solution to patients by mouth. All were very sick, but five of thirty quickly died. His solution had too much salt, and the experiment killed the patients before the disease got them. Phillips was mortified. He began to think such field-rough treatment for diarrhea would never be possible. A few years later, he found himself the director of the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka just as new discoveries on the physiology of diarrhea were made, ones that hinted at what might have saved his earlier patients. But he could not bring himself to approve further life-threatening experiments. As it happened, though, a small satellite clinic of the Cholera Research Laboratory came under different funding and jurisdiction than Phillips’s main laboratory. It was in Matlab village, south of Dhaka. Scientists there wanted to go ahead; Phillips agreed to not try to stop them if they worked in Matlab.

The doctors there felt they had to try again. After all, during the years of crises in Bangladesh the tragedy was painfully clear—Children in the villages were dying in waves. A lucky few near hospitals got intensive Western-style intravenous drips. It involved getting a doctor’s diagnosis as to severity, and a nurse to get a bag of expensive intravenous fluid into the patient’s arm with a sterile syringe, then someone to monitor the flows and progress.

At bottom, though, it seemed that the difference between the living and the dead was just some sugar and saltwater. The multiplication of cholera bacteria or rotavirus in the gut would gradually stop on its own. But the loss of fluid caused in the first day of illness was what killed the children. Replacing fluids was the key.

The turning point came with a couple of experiments. In one at the Cholera Research Laboratory, patients were started on intravenous drips, and then switched to oral fluids. The experiment showed they could eliminate the need for 80 percent of the IV fluid and setups. Then, during 1971, in one refugee camp in West Bengal when a cholera epidemic was cutting down children, a doctor from Calcutta took the next step, out of necessity. As the patients around him were facing death, he couldn’t even start with IVs. He gave homemade solutions to patients entirely by mouth, a sip at a time and with the right salts, until the worst danger had passed. It worked.

So in Bangladesh and India, the answer was in the air. The labs where the scientific work was being done were in the same building where the children were dying by the hundreds, and that alone moved the work to the next possibility. Fazle Abed and his assistance workers knew the scientists as well, and had followed the work.

            It was then, in 1979, that the BRAC group met to talk about increasing the size of its health work from a few villages to the greater part of the entire nation. They did not want to try to deliver too much; they decided to pick one intervention, one treatment that would make the most difference.

This was the 1970s; modern Western technology and medicine were greatly desired, while local products and technologies were denigrated. Medical authorities in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, as well as authorities from the World Health Organization, were actively opposed to treating deadly diarrhea with homemade solutions in the hands of local women. Though it had been proven in lab work and shown in emergencies, it was not credible that village people could take over and use this medical technology. In fact, they said, it would be irresponsible to depend on illiterate women for such medical care. And they were right in a way; there was a serious problem. A study in the United States had shown that fully trained nurses, when taught how to make the oral rehydration solution in a lecture class, often failed to get it right. If they couldn’t do it, how could village women?

If mothers were to treat severe diarrhea, they had to know when to act, how to make the lifesaving liquid, and how to administer it. The liquid, in medical terms, was a ‘balanced electrolyte solution for rehydration.’ It was mostly water, with some sugar and a small amount of salt. But the proportions had to be correct. If it was too salty, it would accelerate the fluid loss and kill the infants instead of saving them. If it contained too little sugar, it would be ineffective, as if no treatment at all was given. Some researchers at the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka, and at the Indian Council for Medical Research in Calcutta, now believed they knew more about how to get it right—just the right mixture and just the right delivery.

While the argument among medical people was going on, the BRAC group was ready to build a health campaign in the villages.

Abed led the discussion at BRAC over what to attack, and how—the diseases killing the most were pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, tuberculosis, and tetanus. Which one could be attacked most successfully? Diarrhea looked like their best chance because of the possibility that they might be able, as John Rohde of ICD said at the time, to ‘take the science to where the diarrhea is.’

For the BRAC leaders, as they sat in the village of Sulla in rural Bangladesh discussing their strategy, it was clear that the high death rate from diarrhea would continue. They walked through the problems.

Bags of saline were sold by local doctors in Bangladesh, but the price was one hundred taka per bag, and five to ten bags would be needed to treat each patient. At the time, the average income in the villages was about fifteen hundred taka per family per year, and the average child had three bouts of serious diarrhea per year, so the bags could quickly bankrupt a family. Packets of soluble salts were also beginning to be manufactured—couldn’t they be mixed at home? They were cheaper than saline, and in theory could be sold in Bangladeshi villages, where the women would then buy them in emergencies, take them home, and mix them in water to give to their sick babies. But no distribution system was in place, and if the government were to buy the packets for distribution, it would take hundreds of millions of packets to cover the country. And in the end, would the marketed packets reach the ones who needed them most? The instructions on the packets might or might not be clear; but in any case, 80 percent of the women intended to use them were illiterate. And finally, even with relatively inexpensive packets, it would still have to be the mothers who would diagnose the problem, buy the salts, mix them in water at home, and give the solution to their babies.

It was clear the center of the problem were questions about the mothers, not the solution. Why not acknowledge it and deal with it?

‘From the beginning we had this sense that you must trust people,’ said Abed. ‘Trust the mothers. We had a great belief that illiterate people, any human being, trained to do certain things could be very good at it. Put in a position to help their own communities, they could do it.’ In the long run many of the most basic problems came down to whether they should ‘get local people to do something, or get professionals to come in and do it for you. We are too poor to hire professionals everywhere, all the time.’

After thinking it through, they decided the first issue was the mother’s ability to mix the solution.

Directions that called for using a teaspoon would be no help; the village people don’t have or use teaspoons routinely. Sugar was to be used, but which sugar? Refined white sugar was not commonly available and was expensive. What the villagers more often had was gur, a brown sugar made from local cane or date juice. Analysis soon showed that gur was actually better than refined sugar because it often contained small amounts of potassium and bicarbonate—which were ingredients in the official oral rehydration solution.

So Abed started from scratch, in his own kitchen, with ingredients from the street. He took local salt, lobon, gur, and a tin cup common in the villages, a seer. After Abed and his wife cooked up dozens of batches of differing measures, they were sent to the Cholera Research Laboratory. The homemade concoction that proved closest to the official WHO formula was the following: a pinch of salt (in Bangladesh, it’s a three-finger pinch using the index finger, middle finger, and thumb), two small scoops of gur, and half a seer of water. Later it was modified slightly in the field, because women use their hollowed palms to measure scoops. One ‘fist’ was about two scoops.

After much more work, the formula finally became a simple chant: ‘a pinch, a fist, and half a seer.’ The mixture was dubbed ‘lobon-gur solution’ and the first great trial of the fundamental question—could illiterate mothers be taught to make and use lobon-gur successfully?—began in Sulla, Bangladesh, in February 1979.

BRAC carefully selected teachers (the first two were young village women, Hemlata Sarkar and Shwapna Bowmick), wrote and tested a teaching method several times, and only gradually spread the experiment from Sulla to other villages. Routinely, they took samples from the solutions made by mothers and sent them to the Cholera Research Laboratory for analysis.

Doctors in Bangladesh felt their turf was the treatment of human illness and that BRAC’s experiments were now starting to invade that territory. One official from the World Health Organization rushed to Bangladesh to try to get the government to greatly expand its anti-diarrhea program to head off BRAC. But that program was poorly planned and did not take into account the scale and difficulties of the problem.

BRAC went ahead, and over the next year young women trainers in groups of six moved through 662 villages, a few weeks in each village, attempting to train 58,000 mothers in the new treatment method.

One thing distinctive about this project when compared to many ‘development’ projects over the years is that it was carried out entirely locally, by people who had become deadly serious about making it work. So the many mistakes and repeated trouble in this or that part of the program were confronted, not ignored. That doing and redoing turned out to be the most difficult part. After the first thirty thousand women were trained, and their competence had been checked and rechecked by visits from monitors, Abed said, they reached a first plateau. It was thrilling to have built the project up so far, especially as it was under fire even as it carried on.

‘This was our first opportunity to scale-up programs from small areas to the whole nation,’ he said. ‘When we got done teaching the first thirty thousand mothers, we went back to check how we had succeeded. But we found that of all the women who had been taught the method, only six percent were using it when their children became sick. I was very disappointed. Disheartened. Why should we be going from house to house teaching women to do this if then they are not going to use it?’

Abed and the other leaders of BRAC believed in it. It was technically sound and medically potent, truly lifesaving. ‘We decided there must be something wrong with our teaching. The commitment we had was not being transmitted, somehow.’

They heard of one case when a mother with a very sick baby was visited by a young BRAC worker. The worker quickly suggested running down to the medicine shop for some diarrhea medicine. saying, ‘It will be quicker.’

Abed, talking about it now, looks down at his desk. ‘So we found out that some of our workers didn’t believe in what they were teaching. They thought our homemade solution was crude, second-rate.’

Abed realized their earlier explanations had been too sketchy and had not caught the imaginations of their workers. So he rounded up all three hundred workers of the time and started from the beginning, explaining why this solution was lifesaving and that anything else, short of intensive hospital treatment, could be deadly. They explained the infections that cause diarrhea and the reaction of the bowel; they gave details of why sugar and salt were crucial. They talked about the number of deaths of children in the villages in which they were working.

‘Once workers became convinced this was the best therapy, their whole attitude changed, their behavior changed. They became committed,’ he said.

In all BRAC work, that is now a vital test of whether a project will succeed or fail. Do the workers understand it? Are they excited, committed?

When they went back a little while later to check again, ‘we found things had improved a little—now twenty-one percent of mothers were using the method. But again, we were not very happy.’

There was another element they hadn't considered enough. They decided to bring in some anthropologists to talk to the mothers and other villagers about BRAC and diarrhea and their lives in general.

‘We found that the women were not the only ones we had to convince. They were not the sole decision makers in the house or in the village,’ he said. There were the husbands and brothers, who would say, ‘Don’t use that cheap method, I don’t trust it.’ And there were the local traditional healers who advised against using the BRAC method. So they added to their effort visits to the men in the villages, talks in the marketplace, and later added even radio advertising.

This round of effort pushed the rate of usage up over 50 percent, Abed said. Still not enough.

On further probing they found some of the workers were doing their teaching in too rote a fashion when they were tired, and some even cheated, skipping the teaching and mixing up solution themselves and sending for tests as if the mothers had made it. So a further round of fixes went in. They set up monitoring and paid the rehydration teachers not on the basis of houses covered, or sessions with mothers, but on the basis of a sampling of the actual performance of the mothers. For each mother who could answer questions and make an effective lobon-gur solution, the worker would get paid a certain amount. For each mother who was taught but did not perform well, the BRAC workers earned less.

And on it went. ‘The commitment grew, and the teachers began to get more creative and involved,’ Abed said. Eventually they were able to get the quality of teaching up and routinely get mothers to make the solution right over 98 percent of the time. The rate of death from diarrhea began to drop across the nation.

‘I have seen a lot of bad development projects,’ Abed said. ‘It is not that the people doing them are not sincere. They are. But in many cases, whether they come from outside the country or from inside, they expect to work a project for three years, do the best they can, and then go on to something else.

‘But in BRAC we were there for the long haul. We were committed to building the country forever. We wanted to make sure things really change. We were totally results-oriented from the beginning. That made quite a lot of difference.’

The project took ten years, but by the time it was over it was firmly rooted in the national psyche. Entrepreneurs soon began to take advantage of it, and started importing and selling packets of rehydration salts throughout the nation and in all the village medicine shops. Mothers could now make their own or, if they could afford it, buy the salts and work from there. The treatments of deadly diarrhea were now in their hands. The whole BRAC project from 1979 to 1990 cost about $9.3 million.

By 1990, the word had spread, and oral rehydration was being used in dozens of countries around the world. In 1991, one of the worst epidemics of cholera since the nineteenth century struck South America and Mexico. But the usual rate of death—one-third to one-half—did not materialize. In this epidemic millions of packets of salts were flown in and put in the hands of local medical people and villagers. The death rate when the epidemic died down proved to be nearer 1 percent than 50 percent. The transmission of Bangladesh’s success was, in fact, another kind of globalization.

In the end the object is really to give the people in the villages some mental and physical skills so they can do the work on their own, in their own villages.

 

During the years of scaling up the diarrheal disease treatment, BRAC also began its project to start village schools. Many girls in the villages were never sent to school, or soon dropped out because the work seemed irrelevant (mostly to parents) to their daily chores at home. So BRAC decided to take the village dropouts, about 70 percent of them girls, and offer a few hours of instruction per day. This is Bangladesh, the country with the densest population, so teaching just dropouts became a large task. Now BRAC has thirty-four thousand schools, which is said to be the largest private school network in the world. Each school is a single room with jute mats, chalk slates, and a few books for thirty students. Across Bangladesh, there are now 1 million students in the schools, and over the last couple of decades the system has graduated 2.8 million children; 92 percent of them have gone on to secondary school. The cost of the whole system is about eighteen dollars per pupil per year. To keep up the mental opportunities for the village girls after the primary years, BRAC added on libraries—there are now 873 libraries, 168 mobile libraries, and 8,800 discussion clubs for the village girls after they graduate.

BRAC was also among the first to create a ‘Micro-finance’ plan for the poor. It works as a series of village cooperative ‘banks’. About twenty-five to thirty-five mothers in each village join the BRAC Village Organization, then with BRAC’s help begin to make microloans. At this level, they take on only poor women who have no collateral and want very small loans—essentially those people commercial banks have no interest in. By 2004, the number of women in these Village Organizations was 4.7 million.

All the members are poor, and virtually all are women, by design. They give out loans, along with doing some other community duties. The average loan the women give to their neighbors is $117. It is to be paid back over a year, in weekly installments. This is enough money to buy a few chickens, or a milk cow, or to get a big patch of vegetables going for food and for resale. One woman bought her husband a rickshaw, which now is the family transportation business. The loans are not always used for burgeoning businesses; the women may buy a few chickens but not build up to a large chicken farm. But about 15 percent succeed in building the tiny loans into bigger things—a success rate said to be about the same for small business loans (tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars) in wealthy countries.

Though the women are poor, the organization is tidy, and the accounting careful: The repayment rate is above 98 percent and has remained steady at that rate for more than two decades. The total amount loaned so far to the villagers is more than $2.5 billion, and their current savings accounts total about $122 million.

 

It was as the programs for women and girls began to take off that fundamentalists began to notice BRAC and take it seriously. Some of the schools teaching village girls were burned down; the facilities lending to women were attacked; some called for the arrest of Abed. Eventually BRAC headquarters was bombed. But Bangladeshis condemned the actions and kept working with BRAC. This is interesting evidence of just what kind of work can successfully counter terrorism at the grassroots level.

‘The reaction,’ said Abed, ‘confirmed our belief that we were on the right track.’

Bill Gates Sr. once visited a BRAC village school and asked the girls in one class, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Gates wrote later that one girl stood up and said, ‘I am going to be a doctor.’ Not, ‘I want to be a doctor,’ but, ‘I am going to be a doctor.’ ‘I will never forget that moment,’ Gates wrote. ‘A little girl, daughter of poor, illiterate parents, sitting on a grass mat, over a dirt floor, in a one-room hut with a tin roof, telling me with total confidence: ‘I am going  to be a doctor.’ I thought: this little one-room school house is changing the world,’

During the hardest times, when BRAC was beginning, Abed now says that he would sometimes recite to himself a poem of the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. When you go out to begin your journey, the poem begins, ‘if you call out to your friend to join you...and your friend upon hearing your call does not come along with you, then start to walk this path alone.’

 

 

In recent years, visitors to BRAC have come away impressed to the point that they begin to say unlikely things. BRAC has been called ‘the greatest development group ever’. It has been said to be ‘the world model for creating health and wealth in poor places.’ But there is really no model for the world; that is one of the things BRAC has proved. Model is the wrong word, the wrong idea. But its work has established some attitudes, some guiding ideas.

Abed and BRAC started with disaster relief, but soon enough the underlying truth became clear: The disaster was not a hurricane or a war; it was in the desperate poverty that had already existed and had gone on without useful aid year after year.

But now we know a few things about this state of affairs. We know that citizen organizations can be effective, not only in small programs but in very large ones. We know that villagers can be trained to do effective, lifesaving work. We know that continuous monitoring and reworking to achieve results is vital. And through it all, the workers must believe in what they are doing.

Abed himself says that changes began at least in part with the spirit of independence that reminded people here of Gandhi and Nehru in their grand quest, and that led to enthusiastic Bangladeshis who became determined to change life at the ground level. Some of them worked for BRAC, some worked for other groups. The government of Bangladesh, while often unable to lead the effort, cooperated and encouraged and partnered at key moments. This is nation building from the inside, but not without help from the outside.

The creation of BRAC took years, and the successes did not just fall naturally from goodwill and effort. But something was learned in BRAC and similar projects over the past three decades. This learning is, I suspect, the equal of any of the great technology and science discoveries of the past half century. In numbers of lives saved alone, even though the development work is just beginning, these discoveries may already be greater.

Now they must be applied.

            In early 2005, in his Dhaka office, though Abed is nearly seventy he is talking about the future. A whole new ‘BRAC’ has begun in Afghanistan, he says, and he has already told the minister of health that the program will cut infant mortality in half within five years in the district where they are working.

‘When she heard that she said to me: ‘Good luck!’ He laughs, draws on his pipe, and says immunization has been scaled up in all the districts where they are working. Now, he says, the government has asked him to expand to more districts.

Isn’t that risky? Will you prove it out in the few districts first or will you go big so soon?

‘Go big!’ he says, and smiles. ‘We can’t wait around with the children dying; we’ve got to try.’ Now, he says, he is sending teams to some African countries to consider getting BRAC-like groups started there as well.

Abed ends by quoting an old BRAC saying. “ ‘Small is beautiful,’ ” he says, “ ‘but big is necessary.’ ”

Interview with Fazle Hasan Abed: RESULTS

 

This interview with Fazle Hasan Abed was taken by RESULTS during one of Abed’s visits to the United States

 

 

Fazle Hasan Abed is the founder and Executive Director of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), a non-governmental development organisation working to assist the landless poor in Bangladesh. BRAC was founded in 1971 during Bangladesh's war of liberation and has achieved worldwide recognition for its work in disaster relief, village-based basic education, micro-enterprise lending and primary health care. Mr. Abed was interviewed in the RESULTS office during his recent trip to the United States.

 

Harris: Before we hear about the work of BRAC, first tell us about the difficulties the people of Bangladesh face.

Abed: Bangladesh is a very poor country. 85 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where lack of food, education and employment opportunities conspire to make life for the rural Bangladeshi very, very difficult. The average Bangladeshi woman is probably the most malnourished female in the world because she tends to consume less than 1,800 calories every day. Some 20 percent of the children suffer from severe malnutrition. Bangladesh also has the highest percentage of low birth weight babies, 7 percent of the world's malnutrition and 6 percent of the world's child deaths.

Harris: What about illiteracy rates in Bangladesh?

Abed: The illiteracy rate in Bangladesh is almost 75 percent. Literacy rates among women are even less - only 16 percent of Bangladeshi women is literate.

Harris: Could you tell us about the mission of BRAC, and some of your successes?

Abed: In Bangladesh, the word success means trying to make do with the worst possible situation. Remember in Bangladesh in 1980, the infant mortality rate was 135 per thousand live births and in 1979 - the United Nation's Year of the child - we thought “what can we do as an organisation to contribute to the reduction of child mortality?" We looked at a number of different options. After being denied support from the Ministry of Health, we decided to initiate a project which Bangladeshis could do in their own homes and that they could afford. We realised that many poor families would not be able to buy oral rehydration packets in large enough quantities when there was a cholera or diarrhoea epidemic. With the help of 1,400 field workers, we began to go from house to house and teach one woman in every household how to make oral rehydration fluid with salt, sugar and water - ingredients most households had. Teaching was difficult because, initially, we did not have the cooperation of village doctors, who were saying that the oral hydration technique didn't work. We had to convince them that it was a good idea that produced positive results. It took 10 years for us to reach all the households in rural Bangladesh, 16 million households in all to ensure that the quality of teaching was maintained. We devised a very innovative system of monitoring. Six weeks after workers had swept through the countryside, we sent out a team of monitors to find out what the women's level of retention knowledge was. The field workers tested vials of salt and sugar solution the women made to see if the levels were within the acceptable range.

This year we had fewer deaths from diarrhoea, so I hope we have developed something which is going to sustain in Bangladesh and reduce child deaths in the long run.

There are also other things we are doing. We are now involved in an education programme which is being scaled up. We are taking the children who are supposed to be unreachable - children who have never gone to school, mostly girls who are not sent to school by their parents. We are trying to reach out and give them basic education for at least three years. These schools are community-based schools, managed by the community. The teachers are mostly housewives who come from the villages and have had about ten years of education. We train them for two weeks, supervise them twice a week and provide refresher courses once a month.

Harris: How many villages are you in right now?

Abed: We have 200,000 children in 7,000 schools, which are really one class-room schools, with 30 children to one teacher. What we would like to do is have least one or two schools in every village to try to mop up all the children who don't enrol in the government system.

Harris: Why don't children enrol in the government system?

Abed: There are many reasons for that, one is the distance. Parents won't send their children, especially girls, to a school that is two miles away. Secondly, many children come from the poorest families and are needed by their parents to work and contribute to the family budget.

Harris: Many of the people who will read this interview worked very hard to highlight the World Summit for Children (WSC) and urge world leaders to keep the promises made last year. How important is the summit as a step in seeing to it that the needs of children are made a priority?

Abed: I think the WSC has brought the issue of children to the attention of decision makers in many countries including Bangladesh. I have found that a lot of things that happen in Bangladesh are initiated elsewhere. I always give the example of when Jim Grant, the Executive Director of UNICEF, came to see our president in 1986 and he got the president to accept the goal of universal childhood immunisations by the year 1990. Then the Minister of Health suddenly perked up and began trying to reach more children with immunisation in Bangladesh. One can forget about these things very quickly, so the pressure has to be kept up. People who are conscious should be constantly pushing the powers that be, to continue working on these issues which are important for the survival of Bangladesh and other developed countries.

Harris: How important is the kind of action-oriented consciousness-raising we do, this citizen lobbying work? What is the experience of BRAC and other groups in doing anything similar in Bangladesh?

Abed: Well, I think that your work has been a cushion for us in a way that the interdependent economies and the interdependent world system is coming to accept. We need this kind of work. I think consciousness-raising in developing countries is very important, although we have not done as well as RESULTS in our own country, in trying to do advocacy work and policy change. Our problem was we didn't have a democratic system. Now that Bangladesh has a democratically elected government, it will be possible for us to do the kind of work you are doing in your society. I think I look at your work as crucial for us also. These are some issues that I think have to be debated in this country as well as in our own country.

Interview with Fazle Hasan Abed: New Age

 

Through the Eyes of Fazle Hasan Abed: Soldiering Development all the Way

 

This interview with Fazle Hasan Abed appeared in the daily Bangladeshi newspaper New Age on August 27, 2004

 

 

'He is a shy person by his own admission-somewhat of an introvert who does not like talking about himself. Outside his close circle of friends and family, he is rather reticent in a way. But when he meets the working men and women on the job in the course of his travels all over the BRAC projects in Bangladesh, he converses a lot with them. It is, as if, he is trying to put himself in their stations and comprehend their work-ethic that is a part of their lives. This helps him in designing the future programmes for his organisation better. The fact that he heads the world's largest non governmental organisation, and bears on his shoulders the onus that comes with it, does not at all show when one is in his presence. He is known for his ever-pleasant disposition and the unflustered equanimity of his personality that are infectious, putting everybody around him at ease. Whatever pre-disposition one may have before entering his room, diminishes or vanishes altogether the moment he rises to greet one with his welcome smile,' writes Mahjabeen Khan.

 

Mahjabeen Khan (MK): What were your aspirations when you were growing up?

Fazle Hasan Abed (FHA): My father was a government official with the British-Indian government, having opted for Pakistan at the time of the partition of India in 1947. I was about eleven then and would normally have followed my father's footsteps while growing up and choosing a career. But by 1947, when we became independent of the British Raj, we started thinking differently and had ambitions to break out into the yet-unexplored fields and disciplines in order to make a career away from government jobs. When the time came for me to decide in 1954, I chose to study naval architecture. There was no naval architect in the country at the time. But I soon realised that then East Pakistan might not be home to a naval shipyard, notwithstanding a sea port in Chittagong and the mighty river-systems of the country emptying them into the Bay. As a naval architect, I would have to live in England, or Scotland, or Japan or any other country engaged and excelling in ship-building craft. Hence, coming back to the country to pursue an avocation in ship-building would be out of question. After three years of studying naval architecture, I switched to chartered accountancy. That's how the thinking process regarding careers worked in those days.

MK: Were you interested in politics at all as a student?

FHA: Yes, I was involved in student politics in London but somewhat peripherally. I was more interested in the study of Marx and Lenin. Tasnu bhai (Late Tasaddaq Ahmed) used to lead a study circle every Sunday in which I participated regularly. Most of my friends were Marxists in those days. Although there was no chance that Hampstead would ever elect a communist candidate to Westminster, I had, during the British general elections, always campaigned for my friend who was a nominee of the British Communist Party and voted for him. He always came last. I presume I always preferred to work for the underdog which I continue to do to-date.

MK: How would you trace the origin and development of the NGO movement in Bangladesh and what obstructions did you face till you came into your own?

FHA: There weren't much non-governmental developmental activities during the Pakistan period. I recall that in the mid-60s Oxfam in England sent me a report on their work in various parts of the world in response to a donation of a few pounds I sent them. The report showed that they spent a few hundred thousand pounds in West Pakistan and none in the East. I wanted to know as to why they did not extend their work to East Pakistan. They responded that since they did not undertake programme implementation themselves, they needed partner organisations and that they were unable to locate suitable partners in East Pakistan with whom they could work.

The first semblance of NGO work appeared on the scene in the aftermath of the tidal cyclone of 1970. The dynamic of voluntary relief and rehabilitation work in the coastal belt of Manpura in Bhola and many other bayside places, albeit in an organised fashion, and the immediate context of the liberation war of 1971, represented a paradigm shift in what used to be altruism and voluntarism in general. [It represented a new kind of soldiering within and beyond the occupied territory of Bangladesh, in as many fronts of physical struggle and armed resistance as there would be enemies, with their superior and organised firepower, wrecking the worst-ever genocide and pogrom beginning March 25, 1971 since the Second World War. The once-pacific people of the country, particularly the youth, responded to the call of the motherland both formally and informally, with or without arms, in a spirit and comradeship that cut across political, social, religious and gender divide. War provided young people a new way of looking at life - a paradigm shift - which only the spirit of resistance in a liberation struggle can bring about. Recall the liberation of Paris some sixty years ago.

It is in this backdrop that the NGO movement struck root, of which BRAC among few others working on the war-fronts led the way.

But it was not smooth as silk. The Cold War factor entered the NGO discourse, and the political commissars of the time sought to brand the NGO movement as an imperialist and CIA insertion. That hardly mattered, however, as the caravan of the NGO movement moved on. (Curiously, the camp-followers of the commissars, then wielding power and resources almost overnight chose to join what they considered to be the gravy-train of the NGOs after the fall of the Berlin Wall]. (Parenthesis, Editor's).

MK: When and how did you get the idea of BRAC?

FHA: The idea didn't come at one go. I was working for the Shell Oil Company when we had the 1970 cyclone. We were doing relief work and suddenly it occurred to me that life and death are such realities - realities that can unexpectedly take hold of you. You suddenly realise that the kind of life you lead is actually unreal. The shock and awe of the devastating cyclone woke me up to the real world. The second shock was Bangladesh's war of liberation when thousands and thousands of innocent people were killed. We were all out to mobilise our resources.

Suddenly life seemed quite different from what it used to be. I felt that there was more to do than living the cushy life of a covenanted executive in a multinational corporation. That's when I came back and it wasn't difficult to make the choice to serve my country. It was a natural transition, from participating in the liberation war and coming back to start something for the under-privileged people. That's how BRAC emerged as an organisation.

MK: You started with relief and rehabilitation in post 1970 cyclone and during and post-war humanitarian work. Will you give us an idea of how you extended to other fields of development and how you have extended to other parts of the world and with what results?

FHA: Our relief and rehabilitation was over in a year. But the people we served remained poor and vulnerable. We felt that we could not walk out on these people leaving them to their own devices to fend for them. We felt that we needed to commit ourselves to long-term development of rural Bangladesh - in the provision of education, healthcare, family -planning services, building organisations of the poor - and empower them to demand services from the state. We needed to develop new avenues and work opportunities for our poor people particularly for our women. That was how a holistic approach to bring about change and development in rural Bangladesh was conceived and initiated by BRAC.

MK: There are already 53 private universities. What difference can BRAC University make for the country?

FHA: When we thought of a university we didn't think of just providing higher education. We thought we should provide very high quality higher education. Our children go abroad to study and they need not do that. I am interested in the quality of education. If, over the next few years, we can develop a really high quality university that can be compared to some of the best universities in the world, then I would think that we were able to do something for Bangladesh.

Secondly, I think the leadership in our country is not really committed to the under-privileged. Through the university we want to develop a new generation who would be responsive to the needs of our people. If we can achieve quality and consciousness in our students, I would think we will have succeeded.

MK: When Aarong was started, I know that your primary purpose was to create work opportunities for the poor people. Did you have in mind the promotion and marketing of our traditional crafts and textiles?

FHA: Absolutely. There were two objectives behind starting Aarong. One objective was and is to revive and promote the traditional crafts of Bangladesh, and secondly to create job opportunities for the artisans in rural Bangladesh. It was a twin objective right from the beginning. The real boost for Aarong came when we started producing a lot of silk. Silk could not be marketed in rural Bangladesh. It had to have an urban consumer-base. We planted lots of mulberry trees for the silk worms to feed on and grow all over the country; the silk farmers started producing hundreds of bales of silk. But they needed proper marketing outlets. Aarong was created also with a view to providing services to the silk producers who could get paid on delivery.

MK: Being a member of the National Crafts Council of Bangladesh, I am aware of the awards your organisation gives to outstanding artisans in various fields. What kind of crafts do you recognise and promote?

FHA: Basically, I think, all crafts. Every year we choose a particular craft. Last year it was brass, the year before it was kantha, and so on. We have a board which chooses the best entries and reward the artisan or the artisans with fifty thousand taka for the top prize.

MK: Is it true that you were the designated cook among your friends in England?

FHA: I was not particularly interested in food during my youth but I liked cooking. I think I had a particular latent gift for cooking. Whatever I cooked, my friends seemed to enjoy immensely. I think my rezala was one of the best. My mother was an exceedingly good cook and I think some of her talents must have been transmitted to me. I remember cooking rezala for the great novelist E.M. Forster in his Kings College Cambridge flat. He said it reminded him of his time with the Maharajah he had served in India in the early nineteen hundreds.

MK: A particularly happy day in your life.

FHA: A happy day...I remember quite a few but the happiest was the day we got liberated.

MK: Can you see BRAC without Fazle Hasan Abed?

FHA: I have always thought of BRAC without myself. I am thinking of BRAC 200 years from now. You see I have made a study of 15th century institutions. Five hundred of them were looked at. Only thirty-three of them have survived - like Oxford, Cambridge, and Sorbonne. Twenty nine of these are universities, two are churches, one a parliament and one business. So, what are of essence in the institutions which survived? - They are self-regulated. Universities, because there is always a demand for education in society and they create leaders. All societies must have leaders. I just hope that BRAC and BRAC University will still go on surviving because they will be able to respond to the emerging needs of the society. I hope BRAC does it.

MK: If you could start all over again, is there anything you would like to redo?

FHA: I have not the slightest regret for the delay of a few years in starting a traditional professional career. Those carefree wonderful years shaped me as a person and made me aware of the human condition around me. I would like to think of myself as a free thinker - not having much faith in the rituals of religion but a strong mooring in the core ethical and human values. If I did not go through this phase of my life, I wonder whether I would be doing the kind of work I do today. However if I were thirty-five now instead of sixty- seven, I would do so many other things that I haven't done. I would develop lots of very high quality schools in Bangladesh and do something for the education system of the country. I wish I was thirty-five years younger! Now, at the twilight of my life, I feel that I must complete all the things I have started. I have bought land for the university - I want to build it and five years from now, it should be completed. I just hope I live long enough to see it.

MK: Books you enjoyed reading?

FHA: I recall reading an autobiographical piece by Charles Darwin, the great biologist and the author of the Origin of Species, who after spending long years on research and writing could not in his old age, get the pleasure and thrill he used to get from Shakespeare in his youth. He expressed great distress at the loss which he felt was too great to be compensated by his singular achievements in advancing his great theory of Evolution. I read that piece when I myself was passionately drawn to Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. In those days - I think it was late fifties - I lived in London working on an accountancy job while studying accountancy. But most of my time was taken up in reading, reciting and savouring the works of the great English poets - Shakespeare, Marvel, Dryden, Coleridge, Pope, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats and of course the modern poets, Yeats, Eliot, Pound and Auden - all of them major poets, and some minor ones too. Poetry gave me immense pleasure and solace in my youth. Fortunately, I have not lost out in my twilight years on the pleasure of poetry like Darwin had done. It still moves me by its sheer beauty and music which only words put in a unique magical sequence can create.

I recall that just one week before my annual exam, I started reading James Joyce's Ulysses. I was told it was a difficult book to read. But when I started it, I could not put it down. It took me four days to read this voluminous book which I enjoyed immensely. My examination went overboard. The book was about a day in the life of a priest in Dublin in July 1904 - just over a century ago. It was the work of genius. A decade or so later T.S. Elliot wrote 'The Waste Land' in verse on a similar theme which I liked.

During adolescence, when I was in class six or seven I started reading fiction - first the redoubtable Mohan Series of detective thriller, then the novels of Sharat Chandra Chattapaddhaya, Bibhutibhushan, Tarasankar, Manik Bandapaddhya and finally the novels by Tagore. My uncle, the martyred Saidul Hasan, used to love poetry. When we were children he would select for us a particular poem of either Nazrul or Rabindranath to memorise in the shortest possible time. I always used to come first in this contest. Tagore's poems and songs first awakened in me the love of poetry, great chunks of which I could recite from memory. I later acquired great pleasure from the verses of the noted European poets.

In those days, literature was a good part of my life - I read voraciously - Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, Dante, Goethe, Rilke and many of the French and Spanish romantic poets translated into English. I read English and American 19th and 20th century novels and also the great Russian and French ones of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Hugo and Proust. My love affair with English and European literature continued for almost a decade.

MK: How about contemporary writers? Other than the ones you have already mentioned, any contemporary writers you enjoy reading when you want to relax?

FHA: Contemporary writers...of course many. Nowadays, I read more of the professional books - books on economics, development. I get little time to read novels. But then recently some Indian writers have been doing remarkably well. Arundhati Roy is wonderful. Her writing is superb. Jhumpa Lahiri is very good. I enjoy Madhavi Mukherjee. I read these kinds of books when I travel.

MK: Some films your remember.

FHA: The great Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman. His wonderful works like the Smiles of a Summer's Night, The Wild Strawberries, are stunningly beautiful films. They made a great impression on me. I like the works of the Italian director, Michaelangelo Antinioni's Blowup. We never missed films made by these directors. I don't think I have seen any films recently. Oh, I have recently seen 'Life is Beautiful'. One doesn't enjoy cinema as we used to do - one doesn't get the chance to go to a cinema hall to see a film anymore. Watching on the small television screen is not the same - that atmosphere is missing altogether.

MK: Do you ever get to see theatre when you are abroad?

FHA: Occasionally. My trips are usually very short, literally for four or five days. It's very rare that I get a day off for myself. I think the last time we went to see a live show was two years ago. We saw the musical, 'Cabaret' on Broadway in New York.

MK: What kind of music do you usually listen to?

FHA: I developed a taste for Western music, particularly of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, Schubert and Chopin which was augmented by my girlfriend Marietta, who loved opera. She and I would not miss any opera performed at Covent Garden in London. She was also a connoisseur of European Art of early renaissance painters of the 13th century and of the French impressionists. We frequently visited art galleries in London, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Padua, Verona, Paris, Madrid and Amsterdam. Music, art and literature left little time for accountancy for me.

But my all-time favourite is Rabindra Sangeet. I like listening to classical instrumental music, particularly sarod and sitar, but Tagore songs supersede all. At one time I loved listening to Kanika Banerjee and Hemanta Mukherjee. In my boyhood, I would be captivated by K.L. Saigal. Saigal used to sing Rabindra sangeet too - Ami tomai joto shuniye chilem gaan. I still remember the rendition in the deep bass voice of Saigal. Jaganmoy Mitra, Pankaj Mullick were all very good. I grew up listening to them.

Applying the science of setting and achieving goals leads to better outcomes in the social sector ... [+]

 kim starkey

The year 2020 finally drew to a close, with muted celebrations and a collective sigh of relief. Although the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought are far from over, the new year nonetheless provides a glimmer of hope and the opportunity to resolve, yet again, to do more and do better.

As the CEO of a grantmaking foundation that seeks to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the world’s poorest people by multiplying the impact of high-performing leaders, I have a strong professional interest in the science of setting and achieving goals. Indeed, it is a topic in which I have recently been immersed, in part through research that I have conducted with my colleague Maya DiRado Andrews, an Olympic gold medalist. It is also top-of-mind as our sector marks the one year anniversary of the death of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC, who used rigorous goal setting to transform the organization he started into one of the largest, most effective nonprofits in the world.

While disciplined and effective goal setting is critical to our social sector even in “normal” times, it is especially critical during this extended pandemic period in which we face rapidly escalating needs; the necessity to reinvent delivery models; a challenging fundraising environment; and unprecedented levels of uncertainty. If ever there were a time to eschew overly-broad and open-ended ambitions like “end global poverty” in favor of realistic, measurable, and attainable goals that will truly help bring extreme poverty to an end, this is it. For guidance in so doing, I highly recommend the example of top athletes who daily push themselves to achieve more. Indeed, as my Olympian colleague and I have discovered, organizational leaders who excel at their jobs—including such high-performing social sector leaders as the late Sir Fazle—exhibit many of the same qualities that top athletes use to summon peak performance in their field.

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Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder, BRAC

 BRAC

First and foremost, they set goals that are specific and measurable. Indeed, a lack of specificity is the main reason that, while goal setting is pervasive in our culture, goal achievement is rare. The classic example of this is, of course, New Year’s resolutions, which fewer than two percent of those who set them manage to fulfill. That’s because these resolutions tend to be vague and amorphous, lacking in specificity, urgency, and context: Lose weight! Exercise more! Be a better person! The right goal, by contrast, focuses on improvement over time—on achieving what athletes call their “personal best”—rather than comparison with other people or organizations. 

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 High-performing athletes further cite two common themes in their specific approaches to goal setting. First, they rely on the incredible power of incremental goals—the power of focusing proactively and explicitly on short-term (even daily) objectives. Second, they ensure they will achieve these goals by setting reasonable expectations—an especially critical point for beginners or novices. So, while the ultimate goal may be an Olympic gold medal, or an end to poverty in a particular place, the incremental goals are clear, measurable, and down-to-earth. High-performing people, be they athletes or social sector leaders, set goals that are:

  • The more specific the goal, the more effective it will be as a mechanism to improve performance. A useful goal is binary in outcome, with no room for ambiguity—either it was achieved, or it wasn’t.
  • Feedback-driven. Feedback is crucial to the goal-setting process. A goal that is theoretically measurable is better than a goal that is impossible to measure. An easily measurable goal, which works with immediate or near-immediate feedback, is even better. Cultivating a voracious appetite for feedback helps ensure that all existing feedback mechanisms are utilized and that better, more accurate mechanisms are developed when needed.
  • Self-referential. A self-referential goal is one that depends on your own actions, or those of your organization, and not on comparisons with others. “Control the controllables” is a common refrain in sports that also applies to non-athletic contexts. Indeed, the underlying concept forms the essence of the “serenity prayer” used in 12-step programs. Controlling things that you can control is essential to effective goal setting. 
  • Even the best, most specific goals need to be broken down into digestible chunks. The more complex the task, the more important “proximal,” or near-term, goals become to maintaining motivation. Research shows that in dynamic situations (read: almost everything in life), performance errors are often due to an inadequate breakdown of a complex task into intermediate or short-term goals.

BRAC’s founder, the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, was a master of this sort of goal setting and used it to positively impact the lives of countless people.

Born into a comfortable family in what is now Bangladesh, Abed held a plum job as head of finance for Shell Oil in 1970—the year that the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded hit his country and killed nearly half a million people. Struck by the suffering he saw, Abed loaded supplies onto a boat and went to help people on the country’s worst-hit offshore islands. What he saw forever changed his life, as he said in a 2014 interview conducted at Harvard Business School: “The scene was just horrendous—bodies strewn everywhere—humans, animals, everything. That shocked me to an extent that I felt that the kind of life I led hardly had any meaning in a kind of context in which these people lived—the fragility of life of poor people.”

BRAC’s founder, the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, used goal setting to positively impact the lives of ... [+]

 BRAC

Abed immediately started an organization to help cyclone survivors. Just a short time later, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out; hundreds of thousands of people died, and ten million refugees fled to India. When the war ended in December 1971, the refugees began returning to a newly independent Bangladesh that was in shambles. Once again, Abed set out to help. He quit his job at Shell at the war’s outbreak, sold a small flat he owned in London, and created BRAC. His goal was always large. “Everything we did in Bangladesh we did with one focus: getting poor people out of poverty because we feel that poverty is dehumanizing,” Abed told The Guardian in 2015.

But Abed and his colleagues always broke down the large goal of liberating people from poverty into specific, measurable chunks. In the aftermath of the war, for example, he targeted 200 villages in one region and set a very clear, self-referential goal that he hoped donors would support. “I told them, the first year, we’ll just build homes, keep the children alive, if we can, by distributing high-protein food, and help the farmers till their land,” Abed recalled. In just nine months, BRAC built 16,000 homes. It then went on to help people in this same region with agriculture, water, sanitation, hygiene, and more, adopting an integrated approach to poverty alleviation that was always driven by feedback and measurement. When Abed retired from BRAC in 2019, executive director Asif Saleh wrote a tribute that noted his ability to set and achieve goals:

“‘Small is beautiful, large is essential’—that was a mantra, that became part of BRAC DNA. He set targets that required a lot of courage and boy he delivered on all of them! From going to every single household in Bangladesh to teach mothers how to make oral rehydration saline, to covering half the country with latrines, to ensuring social protection for millions of ultra-poor, he was very clear in setting lofty targets in solving social problems. But there was also a clarity that he could convey in how to achieve those targets which made it look easier and much simpler than it actually was. He wanted to dream big and pushed everyone out of their comfort zone and such is his enigmatic personality that we all wanted to give our all to achieve those dreams.”

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Kim Starkey

My goal is to equip executives, board members, philanthropists and donors to achieve extraordinary impact. As president and CEO of King Philanthropies, lecturer in

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1 FINANCIAL SERVICES SOLUTIONS TO GOAL 1 END POVERTY

EconomistUN.com When nations gave birth to the united nations - san francisco opera house 1945 - it was agreed that the colonial age led mainly by white populations (less than 10% of humans) needed to end and worldwide lives matter civilisations needed to blossom all over mother earth

EVERY ONE OF 5 DECADES - FAZLE ABED INNOVATED A TRANSFORMATION IN FINANCE_ OVERALL SUBSTANTIALLY ALL ECONOMIC MODELS FOR POOREST WOMEN BUILDING NATIONS EMERGED FROM BANGLADESH OR CHINA_THIS OVERALL ECONOMIC SYSTEM WAS NAMEDRURAL KEYNESIANISM BY THE ECONOMIST IN 1977 IN ITS SERIES OF ENTREPRENEURIAL REVOLUTION

Fazle abed was the first world class engineer  at age of 33 regional -ceo shell oil company -to volunteer to help build the poorest new nation with one of 10 biggest populations from the bottom up -in franciscan fashion he became a servant leader living and learning with with poorest villagers (without access to electricity grids) -this was a diametrically opposite financial trust o foreign aid trickled top-down through governments. - he reinvented bottom-up (women empowerment) aid with 2 models- wherever possible he replaced charity with village microfranchises- positive income businesses that hard working village mothers could learn to sustain

in a few cases, grants on something with such immediate life-changing impact that donor brands gained from choosing the smartest grants foundations ever made

-this became the economic model a billion poorest asian women empowered- the 50 year race through which  women lifted a blllion family members out of extreme poverty has been confirmed in 2020 as probably the deepest human endeavour of our era 

over abed's 5 decades as servant leader of bangladesh rural advancement coalitions

1970s decade 1 discovered best first cases of :

microfranchises round last mile health and last mile food security

best grant ever- teaching rural village mothers the life saving process of oral rehydration without which one third of infants in humid rural villages died of diarrhea

by 1980s decade 2: hundreds of thousands of village mothers were applying these microfranchise-so brac innovated banking services for them- notably brac had in almost all cases taken responsibility for positive income microentrepreneurship as this was designed into the microfranchise and redesigning the markets value chain to include the smallest village enterprises- during this decade over a million livelihoods emerged around brac's redesign of the poultry market in bangladesh; meanwhile the greatest grant of the decade involve vaccinating the nation - see story of james grant at unicef

agricultural microfranchises include : up to 10 times more efficient local ways to produce rice than villagers previously knew; over a million livelihoods from poultry; veggies needed to supplement childrens vitamin needs - over decades there are nearly 20 agricultural value chains that brac has redesign to include the poor - more at 

2 food last mile services to end famine

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

by 1990s  the third decade brac saw that the 10% of very poorest were not yet included- so it developed the ultra graduation model- one of the last updates abed gave on this program was made in 2017 -it explains how brac has graduated about 1 million out of extreme poverty-and the program has been scaled in multiple countries - with funds from ford foundation, cgap and other -

a few weeks before abed's death academics in boston received the nobel economics prize for demonstrating how adaptable the ultra solution was- and ted assembled an audacious project connecting fazle abed's son with 60 million dollars of projects on ultra around the world

by 2000s 4th decade,  brac designed city bank for sons and daughters who were moving from bangladesh villages to cities and funding other small enterprises- also at the same time people like mrs steve jobs had inspired fazle abed to go international through an office in the netherlands- this also became the best place to start designing the most economical remittances services back to rural bangladesh  - it is worth noting that bangladesh earns 3 main sources of foreign currency - from remittances,  garments, agriculture

approaching 2010 fazle abed put together partners of www.bkash.com cashless banking with a particular focus on including any previously unbanked- bill gates who became a bkash partner after seeing its proof of operations has said a billion poorest could soon be served by adapting the bkash model around the world -more on bkash

each of the above has its own learning curves and histories of scaling - 50 years in case of the bottom up economic model - about 10 years in the case of the newest initiative bkash -we welcome suggestions of references which you find most clear to study- and of course financial services were matched to goals2-5 purposes - end hunger, end avoidable deaths, livelihood education, inclusive resilient communities

============================================

if you skim through abed speeches here, you will see that system innovation of the sort abed offers attracts a lot of opposition - discuss 2 acronyms-

POP is a franciscan acronym jim kim and pope francis asked friends of the younger half of the world to debate in 2013- according to kim Preferential Option Poor involves

leader living and learning with poor- leaders observes what system traps exist- where leader has disciplinary skills needed to mend system she or he does that; if broken systems require other skills servant leader will need to try and bring in other servant leaders- most of all pop is about timing tech leaps- each time there is a tech advance how can it be applied as a priority to the poorest- over 3 of the 5 decades abed empowered women villages -they had no access to electricity grids nor telecoms- so knowhow had to be networked person to person and many medical solutions world class hospitals use in developed nations were non-starters

over abed's last 2 decades , partners could be found who could bring in solar and mobiles- what pop solutions did brac choose sequentially 

PYP - the un talks of goal 17 PPP- public private partners- we suggest this misses the opportunity to triangularise by integrating youth's futures- PYP - if the younger half of the world is ever to be the sustainability generation ngo trusts valuing youth need to be every bit as integral to leadership decision making as the bg decision makers in public (ie .gov) and private (ie corporations)- another way of putting this is when democratic nations are led by parties pitching societal versus business philosophies- they miss the point of the best of both worlds- organisational scale solutions through positive cash flows -bottom up public servants  who fail to flow that are probably misusing media and professional trust

some questions students from different regions may ask - you can also download for free the special issue of 21st c journal os adam smith economics- now in its tenth year its first year included a special microcreditsummit edition which revealed how little of fazle abed's alumni were included in this network - for a network that has been more influenced by abed take a look at the first 20 years of the weforum schwab foundation entrepreneurs

asia- which nations most needed fazle abed economic model and which applied it -pretty much every continental asian nation needed fazle abed's model during the same decades bangladesh did- only china seems to have applied it to end extreme poverty- we welcome discussions of what conflicts got in the way  chris.macrae@yahoo.co.uk www.economistasia.net ;

america- how different might the usa's development of digital age been if tech had been used to help community banking flourish- in 2021 america the average family is in 8000$ of credit card debt and is within 60 days of running out of cash; the average student loan debt is over 30000 dollars- quite simply every tech leap in finances has not yet been designed to alleviate poverty but to widen the gap- some of the worst ngos actually backed stock market launches of microfinance networks in developing countries-  discuss www.economistamerica.com ;

europe - why did the european union never adopt fazle abed's methods ... discuss www.economisteurope.com

africa - what lessons from abed's model remain urgent in africa 2020s ...  discuss www.economistafrica.com ;

latin america - why did franciscan networks never build on their 1960s dreams?  ... discuss www.economistamerica.com

there is a point that asians may want to look at- namely from the first time that abed started scaling life critcal healthservices chinese village mothers want to join in sharing solutions of women lift up half the sky; while it is true that the cultural adaptations needed in china and bangladesh were very different, it would be a disastrous failure of transparent education not to celebrate how chniese and bangladesh village mothers led the greatest human development miracle of the last 50 years- at least any brit aware of the history of how britannia trapped the vast majority of the 70% of humans who are asian in continental poverty until 1945 must demand whole truth sharing of these lessons in our opinion as scottish alumni of adam smith

2 AGRICULTURAL/FOOD SECURITY SOLUTIONS TO END FAMINE &MALNUTRITION

During the second half of 20th c , the world's popluation doubled in size especially across poor rural areas of asia and africa

A billion people would likely have died of famine if it wasnt for alumni of borlaug

Norman Ernest Borlaug was an American agronomist who led initiatives worldwide that contributed to the extensive increases in agricultural production termed the Green Revolution. Wikipedia
Born: March 25, 1914, Cresco, IA
Died: September 12, 2009, Dallas, TX

Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.
Without food, man can live at most but a few weeks; without it, all other components of social justice are meaningless.
Yet food is something that is taken for granted by most world leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry.

Norman Borlaug - Wikipedia

en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Norman_Borlaug
Norman Ernest Borlaug was an American agronomist who led initiatives worldwide that ... Borlaug was born to Henry Oliver (1889–1971) and Clara (Vaala) Borlaug ... Borlaug's method would allow the various different disease-resistant genes from several donor parents to be transferred into a single recurrent parent.

Norman Borlaug Biography - Norman Borlaug Heritage ...

He received a bachelors in forestry. Parents & Siblings. Palma (sister), Clara (mother), Norm, Henry (father) and ...
====================================== fazle abed networks and china 1970s continued====

Proportionately the two places where the most people died of famine in asia of the 1960s were china and east pakistan; so this is where rural keynesiaism needed to apply borlaug most urgently

this might not have happened if it wasnt for 2 accidents of timing that occurred around 1977-

in bangladesh fazle abed was testing what solutions every village needed mothers to turn into micro businesses- crop science on rice and one other vitamin rich veggie turned out to be life critical

at the same time china was choosing how to triangularise 3 capitasm models havung totally broken with russian ideology from 1968-

for the people's party the intellectually least natural of the 3 models turned out to be the most natural- empower female villagers to small business network borlaug and barefoof medics- the other 2 types of business from 1976 legislated wwere/;

pretty much any diaspora china willing to inward invest tens of millions in dollars - eg in infrastructure which they had helped the islands an s korea build

former party leaders who were to train up as engineers once japan had agreed to make this knowledge transfer particularly through alumni classes of tsinghua- if a chinese politician has tsingua as their alma mater you can be sure of one of two thingfs - either they connect brilliant engineers or they are charged with understanding rural innovations

whether chinese rural women lift up halth the sky turned out because bangladesh's abed and china shared a lotofurgent problems an end poverty solutions can be debated, and is ultimately irrelevant- both used rural keynesianism to build the rural nation and lead a billion people out of extreme poverty

there is also another reason why neither bangladesh or china could afford to prolong cultures that wasted productivity of half the population because they were women; in china from about 1976 to 2020 every family became dependent on one child -this policy made half of all fanilies dependent on women- this is because china has improved its education out of recogintion every generation since 1976- unlike the west where tv journalists never ask how do we imprive education in any actionable way, pretty much every leading journalist in china makes this question central to anyone who calls themself an entrepreneur let alone a technologist

sadly the bbc of all media has got the wrong end of the stick on every aspect of crop science and girl empowerment as you can see from this hard talk interview-

  yes some big corporations have used very bad crop science - eg requiring small farmers to buy seeds from them annually; and when wind spreads their seeds across farms suing farmers who dont start paying up - pretty much every hi-tech advance in last 50 years has opportunities to sustain humans and opposite threats to sustainability- how a leading interviewer can not know this is beyong my ken as a statistician of media

fortunately the independent searcher can go to the world food prize- study alumni of each laureate - over 90% of the networks there are how goal 2 end hundger has come to many poorest parts of the planet but sadly because of the bbc less so in india and for other reasons less so in africa

3 HEALTH LAST MILE SERVICE SOLUTIONS TO END UNECESSARY DEATHS OF CHILDREN & MOTHERS

also- brac case ending TB for nearly 100,000 in bangladesh- 2011 write up-method adapted by paul farmer, jim kim, bill gates, george soros since early 2000s

4 LIFELONG TEACHING AND STUDYING LIVELIHOOD SKILLS AND PRODUCTIVE HAPPINESS OF YOUTH

37 YEARS AFTER CO-AUTHORING WWW.2025REPORT.COM I AM PASSIONATE ON SHARING EXCITING NEWS ON EDU TRANSFORMATION - WHILLE I BELIVE THIS PICTURE REPRESENTS 10 YEARS OF INTERVUEWING MY NUMBER 1 HERO IN EDUCATION AND POVERTY- ANY ERRORS ARE MINE ALONE

here is world bank short video launch of childcare sustains economic growth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGbJwICexuM as well as yidan prize and lego i know people in india and spain passionate about this- vincent is there anyone in your team who would have time to join a whatsapp group- i also wanted to mention there is a very small group at un in new york who know each other and are changing education with both gordon brown and guterres and dubai and geneva technologits - these include henrietta fore head of unicef and someone called yasmine sherif whom gordon brown has situated next to guterres office in the un- the one good thing about covid is these handful of people can get on with work without being interrupted by 200 nations politicians who usually co-habit un; do you by any chance already know either henrietta or yasmine or one of the inner circle? brown has also formed 2 education commissions- one with western national leaders - one wit asian national leaders - i am behingd in analysing the latter but its dulaity of epicentres is south korea and dubai (uae expo dec 2020 month after cop26)

this video suggests biden wants to make case for new universities- can you think of anyone who would enjoy it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtxRa9Xd4vw

5 INCLUSIVE SAFE AND RESILIENT COMMUNITIES BY AND FOR ALL

debriefing ultra poor sir fazle abed 2017

https://youtu.be/d_IGji4q1mI

 in 1995 we found that 10% of the poorest Bangladeshis didn't have access to finance
..we wanted to find out why
we found that the poorest are excluded
first of all they themselves didn't believe that they can use  financial services profitably
secondly they won't be able to repay the money
thirdly there was the group within the village who were themselves poor but they thought that
these are too poor - so they kept them out,
so we call these the ultra poor we define as those who are
living less than half the poverty threshold which in 2017 in bangladesh is  is 1.90 dollars a day
so these people are living on less than 0.9 dollars a day
07:43
 the ultra poor people are trapped trapped , they can't get out of poverty
08:05
so we wanted to design a program to get them out of poverty and that program was designed
firstly to identify the poorest  we involved the village itself all the villagers in ranking the poorest 10% the poorest and sent our staff to these households to double-check
 secondly we provided them with a transfer of assets- it could be a cow or half a dozen goats and so on- something-which could give them an earning
thirdly we provided them a stipend so that they could meert their needs
09:25
fourthly we provided them training and hand-holding coaching and getting them to save money s
09:39
we designed this to last for two years while we provided all this support to them and
 and we took the children to school-
so these are the combination of interventions that brac gave to each ultra poor family and each family it cost usapproximately five hundred dollars per family -after the two years they were on their own 
10:16
our aim was to  help them out of poverty gradually over time -so we called it the ultra graduation program
10:25
the program was seen by the Cgap the World Bank's affiliate 
consultative group assisting the poor and they and the ford foundation then replicated ultra poor
eight countries with ten programs and the
10:46
results of this program has now come out in number of different studies done by
MIT as well as the Yale University and they published in science magazine in
2015 and randomized control trials reported on on six countries studies
11:13
in all the countries the program had a positive return on investment
11:24
India Pakistan Ethiopia Ghana did very well, but Honduras and Peru did less
well but even then they were positive so
11:33
this stimulated quite a lot of debate on what is the most effective
anti-poverty program
.. Nicholas Kristof came out with an article in The New York Times saying
that it is the it is the power of hope-
11:55
 poor women heads of households have not only suffered from lack of resources but loss of hope until
suddenly getting a big push in terms of resources, in terms of help in terms of training, in terms of getting the children to school... suddenly see that their life could be changed by 
by their own work so they start actually
12:27
working more and overtime they even come out of poverty ..so the study
was done by the London School of Economics on the brac program where we
12:38
have now graduated 1.7 million families
 and and the London School economics showed that even after seven years after
the family have left the ultra program they still continue to improve their condition prior to compared to the control group so they have
13:07
continued to improve themselves..
it  seems to be some change that happens to people which sort
of propels them to improve their work hard and improve themselves so that's
the graduation program in short that we have been doing and right now there are
I think 20 or 30 countries that are doing this program in small scale and about
another million families are probably involved also in the graduation program
13:40
so 1.7 million by brac and probably another million by others who are now
trying out this program in various countries in a smaller scale
so there are other solutions but this is one of the ways in which we can tackle extreme
poverty in families particularly who feel trapped in poverty ...

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