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Bangladeshi Pioneer Invests in Women From the ‘Ultra-Poor’
an article by Barbara Crossette, PassBlue (abridged)

Fazle Hasan Abed runs the world’s largest nongovernmental development organization. He has garnered numerous international prizes, honorary degrees, very important friends and a British knighthood. Yet in the United States, Abed’s successes, won through a creative self-help program centered on mothers and their families, are virtually unknown.


Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC, a 40-year-old organization dedicated to helping the poorest of the poor in 11 countries, reaching 135 million people.

click on photo to enlarge

So here is his story, and BRAC‘s.

The four-decade old organization Abed founded began work as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee in country villages in the early years of Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan in 1971. Now, having shortened its name to erase that small-scope image, BRAC has projects in 11 countries, reaching 135 million people.

It has evolved into much more than a rural development organization, with banks for the poor, 38,000 schools worldwide, a university, research projects in agriculture and aquaculture to meet the effects of climate change and a corps of nearly 100,000 community health workers who reach down to the small homes of people with the fewest resources, material or human. On all fronts, BRAC invests in people too poor to benefit from most aid programs, even microfinance. Many stay alive on as little as 70 cents a day or less.

In 2007, a BRAC USA opened in New York to support the global work of its Bangladeshi parent. Its president and chief executive is Susan Davis, a widely respected advocate for women in development who encountered Abed and BRAC while based in Bangladesh for the Ford Foundation. She later served as head of WEDO, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, among other offices she has held.

In Bangladesh, BRAC supports silk production, traditional unique embroidery and other local crafts of high quality, sold through its Aarong stores. But unemployed women at the heart of family life are the main focus of the latest campaign to crack the wall of barriers that keep the “ultra-poor” trapped in bare-subsistence lives, however hard they work.

“The poverty of women is one of the most difficult questions, but one of the most important questions,” said Abed, who was born in 1936 in what was then British colonial East Bengal (later East Pakistan). Speaking in an interview during a visit to New York, he described how BRAC starts with a small cash grant, enough to buy a two-year breathing space for a mother and her children and access to basic public services, including a family planning program that has helped the country lower its fertility rate and raise the level of maternal health. It is, in reality, an investment in poor families. . . .

“In Bangladesh, we have worked with about 1.5 million families,” he continued. “Over a two-year period, our investment has been about $300 per family. What we are trying to measure is what happens to this family. How many graduate after two years to a growth path? After five years, we find that almost 80 percent of the families have improved their conditions.” The Economist magazine has described BRAC as “the largest, fastest growing nongovernmental organization in the world — and one of the most businesslike” . . .

[Note: Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.]

DISCUSSION

Question(s) related to this article:


Helping the poorest of the poor help themselves, if millions took it up, could it be the foundation of a just world?

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LATEST READER COMMENT:

The following article by a Japanese professor  introduces the importance of the movement of World Social Forum and the role of Japan in Iraq.  It was sent to us by Takehiko ITO of CPNN Tokyo.

POINT OF VIEW
Kinhide Mushakoji: World forum in Mumbai shows Japan the way

The world does not need the so-called global standard that serves only to widen the gap between rich and poor. It was wrong of U.S. President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and cause suffering to innocent people for the weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist.

As many as 120,000 people who shared these convictions gathered in Mumbai, India, for the World Social Forum in January.

Neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative supremacy render it impossible for people to live safely, and most people accept this as fate. . ...more.


This report was posted on November 4, 2013.