HAPPY 80th BIRTHDAY – Sor Fazle Abed, BRAC,
45 Years of Building the Most Valuable Network on Sustainability Youth’s Planet
1 RESILIENCE NOT JUST RELIEF –INNOVATION’s CORE OF BOTTOM-UP DEVELOPMENT ECONOMICS
The seeds of BRAC were planted in the efforts of Sir Fazle and friends to assist families affected by the Brola cyclone in 1970. BRAC was then officially established after independence, supporting refugees to rebuild their lives. At a critical early juncture , we abandoned our focus on relief and adopted a longer-term objective of development, opting to work side by side with community members for decades to come.
We do not ignore emergencies and their impact on people living in poverty. We build community preparedness and grassroots platforms that activate in natural disasters to minimize damage and to channel relief. Our goal is to help households bounce back better.
Better often means changes such as stronger infrastructure or new livelihoods for families that depend on agriculture, for example, and are therefore increasingly vulnerable to climate change.
urbanizes, we have expanded our focus to include manmade disasters like fires
and building collapses, most recently in 2013. Rana
Massive natural disasters internationally have triggered us to expand into new countries like
and Nepal to
support national recovery the way we did in Bangladesh
so many years ago
2 Healthy Lives and healthy futures
Doctors and hospitals were scarce in
early days. We created an army of community-based entrepreneurs to bring
medicine to every doorstep. Over time, the army became all female, challenging
social norms and enabling women to access important products and information
We challenged the global health community by putting the life saving treatment for diarrheal disease in the “unqualified” hands of mothers, and generated evidence that they could use it effectively. We created a community-based tuberculosis control model, expanding over time to become the government’s largest partner in combating the disease.
The growing numbers of people living in poverty in urban areas face serios health risks, including maternal and infant mortality. Our network of healthcare entrepreneurs continues to ensure that women can access care safely, quickly, and with dignity.
Recent breakthroughs in cognitive science have shown that focusing on early childhood development has transformative effects over a lifetime. Pilot programmes are putting this research into action at the grassroots level
The primary challenge of healthcare now is less about access and more about quality. We are building financial tools to continuously ensure more people can access services that meet their evolving health needs.
3 EDUCATION FROM LITERACY TO LEADERSHIP
We started by teaching basic literacy to adults, then realised we needed to start from the start. We changed lour nor-formal primary schools as “second chances’ for people living in poverty especially girls. Our pedagogy focused on joyful learning, incorporating the best practices from around the world.
As students graduated from our schools. We felt a need for creative ways to continue learning beyond the classroom. Libraries offered reading materials, and adolescent clubs created safe spaces and opportunities to teach life skills.
Our focus moved towards quality, with universal access towards education in sight, through strategies such as teacher training and increased use of technology. We proactively recruited students with special needs and expanded our curriculum into multiple ethnic languages to ensure that our schools were successful to all children.
Our ultiimate goal is to build a nation, and for that we need leaders. That is where our focus is now – creating opportunities for youth to take responsibilities in programmes, as mentors, and as teachers themselves. Our university creates even more opportunities to contribute on a global scale.
4 Financial Inclusion
We started by bringing people living in poverty together. We quickly learnt that what they needed most urgently was access to economic opportunities and financial services.
We brought women together into village organizations to organize credit and savings arrangements, and then used these meetings as a platform by delivering a wider range of services.
Over time, we expanded our reach to unserved populations, such as the “missing middle” (enterprises that were too large for the loans offered by microfinance but excluded from commercial banks) and a comprehensive grants based programme for people living with poverty, who could not benefit from microfinance.
We are now building a broader set of financial products, including insurance and pensions, and leveraging the growing ownership of mobile phones to use digital channels for financial services.
5 Market Solutions for the Poor
A fundamental driver is a lack of power – at the individual, household and community level alike... Power dynamics need to change in order for people living in poverty to realize their potential , and they only change when people do it themselves.
We promoted consciousness raising and empowerment from our earliest interactions with communities, inspired by teachings on social movements. We underestimated the complexity of power dynamics though and learned the hard way that we needed to create new organisations, where women could come together in solidarity. These community action groups became important social platforms; for example, supporting health workers who faced harassment for their services.
We widened our work over time to help people living in poverty to participate in formal government structures and leverage public services. We also increased our engagement with public official and village leaders to build wider support for women’s empowerment. These discussions have risen to the national level, where we advocate policies that support gender equality and human rights. Internally we have worked to build a female-friendly work environment and actively strive to recruit women.
Gender equality remains one of the greatest unfinished works of our generation, and an area in which we have to continue changing power dynamics. We still see that child marriage is the norm, sexual violence is pervasive, and women are under-represented in the workforce.
6 Changing Power Dynamics
As we began to provide financial services to people living in poverty, we noticed that many rural communities did not have access to markets
We started building value chains, connecting thousands of farmers and artisans to national markets. We focused on silk, poultry, clothing and retail, in many cases the viability of new sectors in
The successful scaling up of one value chain often spawned new livelihood
opportunities, from poultry vaccinations to artificial insemination for dairy
Entrepreneurship is also a long standing part of our development approach. Over time we have built a national cadre of local change agents, usually women, who receive training and support from us, but are paid for their services by their neighbours. These grassroots entrepreneurs distribute a wide variety of products and services, from sanitary napkins to high quality seeds.
As local and global labor markets offer new opportunities. We are supporting migrants to seek and finance work abroad safely, and equip youth with in-demand skills
7 BRAC INTERNATIONAL
By 2002 we had over 30 years experience of piloting and perfecting programs, and scaling them to reach millions. The time had come to bring what we had learnt in
to the rest of the world.
Relief and rehabilitation were immediate needs after war and natural disasters plunged millions into poverty in
and Sri Lanka.
We focused on peace and building stability through jobs, education and
financial inclusion, continuing to put girls and women at the centre of
We expanded into
Africa four years
later, starting development programs in Tanzania
and Uganda. We
continued to pilot, perfect and scale rapidly never losing focus on
contextualising every opportunity created
Opening now in 12 countries gives us a rich knowledge base to further our work in
while providing us with a global network in which to pilot new solutions for
the world’s problems. In 2016, we create opportunities for one in every 50 people
in the world.