Fazle Hasan Abed

Year founded: 

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Reaching an estimated 110 million people in Bangladesh with its health, education and microcredit programmes, BRAC improves the quality of life for the poor.

Focus: Education, Enterprise Development, Financial Inclusion, Health, Rural Development, Women
Geographic Area of Impact: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

In 1970 Bangladesh was hit by a cyclone that killed 225,000 people. The following year the country fought a war of liberation, in which more than one million Bangladeshis were killed. These events devastated the country leaving millions, especially those in remote areas bordering India, without any means of survival. When Fazle Abed, then an executive in a multinational corporation, returned to Bangladesh he encountered widespread poverty and disease, and an inefficient government wholly unequipped to respond to the country's problems. He resolved to apply his knowledge of management techniques and accountability mechanisms to the task of rebuilding his country from the grassroots level up.

Innovation and Activities
For four decades BRAC has been fighting poverty, illiteracy and child mortality, while supporting women's health and development on a large scale in rural Bangladesh. BRAC mobilizes the capacity of the poor to improve their own lives through self-organization.

BRAC's programmes address problems such as unemployment, environmental hazards, gender inequality, education and health. In the 1980s for example, its campaign to disseminate oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoeal disease played a major role in halving Bangladesh's infant mortality rate.

BRAC’s clients monitor and evaluate programmes themselves, as well as conduct systematic research and development. As a result BRAC has identified backward and forward market links needed to boost economic opportunities for the poor. When BRAC found that poor women were not profiting from rearing milking cows, it improved the breed of cow (a backward link) and set up a modern dairy (a forward link). Above all, it helped shift the global development paradigm from that of helping needy beneficiaries to encouraging the self-development of villagers, particularly women.

BRAC’s full-time staff of 28,000 has helped 3.8 million poor women establish 100,000 village organizations. Its health programmes reach 10 million people, its non-formal schools cater to 1.2 million children (of which 70% are girls), and its microcredit programme has disbursed US$ 1.8 billion in loans with a reported 98% repayment rate. BRAC is now working in Afghanistan to support reconstruction efforts.

The Entrepreneur
When war broke out with Pakistan, Fazle Hasan Abed was living in Bangladesh. The war had a profound impact on him, causing him to leave his job as a corporate executive at Shell Oil and go to London, where he devoted himself to supporting the war of independence. In 1972 he moved to a remote area in north-eastern Bangladesh to focus on relief and rehabilitation efforts, thereby establishing the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.