BRAC: The golden jubilee of an organization that has grown from a relief project to one of the largest NGOs in the world
BRAC, a non-governmental organization, was established in Shalla, a remote area of Sunamganj, with the aim of providing relief and rehabilitation to refugees returning to war-torn Bangladesh.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed started the relief work for the people of a war-torn town in Shalla. The Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistant Committee or BRAC was established there on 21st March 1971.
That company has now become the largest private company not only in Bangladesh but in the world. Apart from Bangladesh, the company is now conducting development activities in 10 countries of the world.
Crossing the boundaries of the private sector, BRAC has now created an institutional ecosystem, which involves a wide range of initiatives, including banking, universities, and social business.
Although it started with a small loan, the company is implementing programs in various sectors like health, education, awareness.
Initially, Bangladesh was started under the name of Rehabilitation Assistant Committee or BRAC, but when BRAC started its activities as a full-fledged development agency in 1973, its name was changed to ‘Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee’. However, the short name is BRAC.
But how did BRAC turn from a private company into a huge one?
The economist said. Nazneen Ahmed says BRAC emerged just after independence. BRAC’s journey begins with the need to strengthen the rural economy in order to develop a war-torn country. This was the most urgent issue for that time.
The economist wants to prioritize the point of view behind BRAC’s current position.
“The philosophical point is that realizing that the rural economy may lag behind in developing a war-torn country. The philosophy behind reviving that economy has played a big role in this success. At the same time, the role of Fazle Hasan Abed – to streamline BRAC’s activities over time – has also played a key role in BRAC’s progress and survival so far, “he said.
The way BRAC’s path began
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: 1937-2019
After independence, the government as well as a few other organizations like BRAC came forward in the development work to rebuild war-torn Bangladesh.
Chartered Accountant Fazle Hasan Abed used to work for a foreign company before independence.
But seeing the terrible calamity of the seventies and the suffering of the people after the liberation war of Bangladesh, he felt the urge to do it on his own.
During the cyclone of the 1970s, he formed an organization called ‘Help’ with a few others who worked on Monpura Island in Bhola. There they work to provide relief to the affected people and to build houses. Seeing the misery of the people there, a big change came in his mind.
After independence, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed left his job in a foreign company and came to Bangladesh and started development work, Afsan Chowdhury told BBC.
Researcher Afsan Chowdhury told BBC Bangla, “Many families were returning from India at that time. One day Fazle Hasan Abed was watching the people coming to the country, but they lost everything in the war. He then started working on their development. The one who started did not go back. ”
It was there that the first ‘Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistant Committee’ or ‘BRAC’ was established. They began work to rescue and rehabilitate war-torn people. They started their business with a sale of the house for 16,000 pounds and money given by some friends.
The list of affected people was first compiled by involving the local youth of Shalla in Sylhet. Then their rehabilitation work was started. A project to build 10,200 houses was started there.
The members of the seven-member governing board of BRAC at that time were poet Begum Sufia Kamal, Professor Abdur Razzak, Kazi Fazlur Rahman, Akbar Kabir, Vikarul Islam Chowdhury, Er R Hossain and Fazle Hasan Abed.
Poet Sufia Kamal is the first chairman of BRAC. Fazle Hasan Abed took over as the Executive Director. Syed Humayun Kabir was the Chairman of BRAC from 1980 to 2001.
Fazle Hasan Abed was the chairman from 2001 to 2019.
The beginning of the improvement of BRAC
Although he started selling the house and started working with the money saved, then BRAC got the help of foreign donor Oxfam-GB.
BRAC CEO Asif Saleh
In an interview, Fazle Hassan Abed said that Oxfam-GB paid around two lakh pounds in 1982. With that money, BRAC took on many projects. Later, more foreign aid was available.
BRAC started microfinance activities in 1984.
With that small loan, BRAC’s developmental training and assistance, the fortunes of millions of beneficiaries like Zarina Begum of Pirgachha in Rangpur have changed.
After her husband Zarina Begum left with her two sons, she started a small grocery business in 2005 with a loan of Tk 10,000 from BRAC. Later he expanded the shop with a few more loans.
Now he farms with his big shop, pucca house, a few cows and a few bighas of land mortgaged. His monthly income is over 50 thousand rupees.
Zarina Begum tells BBC Bangla, “I used to work in people’s homes. Now a lot of people come and ask for my advice. BRAC helped me, I worked too. ”
Researcher Afsan Chowdhury says, “The big advantage of micro-credit is that these low-income people got the capital to do something.”
He says, “BRAC started two activities seriously in the beginning. One of them started the activities of educating the children and youth in the village along with the education of the elders. Second, it involved women in economic activities. ”
BRAC CEO Asif Saleh says, “People have a lot of misconceptions about microfinance. No need to get out of here, it’s a service.
“Micro-credit was sold as an illusion in the nineties, it was not realistic. But to get a person out of poverty, you have to give some support. Education, health, economic instruments – microcredit is one of the most important instruments, “said Mr. Saleh.
Analysts say the partnership with the village was formed, the role of the village people was first. The relief that came internationally at that time was well used, it was in the hands of NGOs.
Dr. Nazneen Ahmed says, “If we talk about the development miracle of Bangladesh, how Bangladesh came from a bottomless basket to where it is today. BRAC is a pioneering NGO there. ”
At that time a large part of the economy of Bangladesh came from foreign loans or grants. From the eighties onwards, BRAC began to think that we could not continue to depend on foreign money for the rest of our lives. Then they began to build dependence.
At one time, BRAC worked on micro-credit and various development projects, but gradually their various affiliates were born.
Born in 1986, Arang is one of BRAC’s most successful affiliates, selling handicrafts made by grassroots women.
Periodic cold storage, the business of pasteurized milk and dairy products, higher education, investment, and banking.
BRAC CEO Asif Saleh says, “Enterprises started with the idea of solving various problems. Arang was created with the idea of creating employment in the countryside and getting the weavers paid on time. Then when it was seen that the work was good, it grew and became a profitable organization.
He said that the money received from these organizations has been a great help in the development activities of BRAC. By reducing its dependence on foreign donors, funding is increasing through its own institutions, which is being used for development.
Huge march from saplings
According to BRAC, the company currently has operations in 10 countries around the world. The company is considered to be one of the largest private companies in the world.
According to BRAC, the company currently serves more than 110 million people. The number of employees is more than 90 thousand.
BRAC International has been created to work outside the country. He started working abroad in 2002 by working in Afghanistan.
Besides Bangladesh, it is working in Myanmar, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Liberia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.
BRAC CEO Asif Saleh told BBC Bangla: “Since its inception, Sir Fazle Hassan Abed has emphasized on institutionalization so that it does not become a person-dependent organization. There should be a culture of work, a process. ”
“One of the things we’ve done is focused on the outcome, the outcome. Arang, BRAC Bank – if you look at all our institutions, there is a special emphasis on building as an institution.
BRAC now works towards three goals. One is development activities including education and health. There are 10 projects here. There is also a social enterprise. At the same time, BRAC has invested in some sectors like BRAC Bank.
Complaints of family centralization
One of the major grievances of the critics against BRAC is that the family members of Sir Fazle Hassan Abed are in the top positions of this organization.
BRAC has various programs and projects for the empowerment of women in Bangladesh
In response, BRAC CEO Asif Saleh said, “The chairman and members of our governing body are not members of the family.”
“It simply came to our notice then. Whether they can fulfill their responsibilities properly. But we had many options. From point of view, I have worked in many places including the United Nations, I have come to this position after going through different stages. We are all salaried, we would get paid more if we were in any other organization. We came to work out of persecution. ”
“We are all here for a limited time, but not forever. At some point others will also come forward, ” he says.
Another allegation is that BRAC is now largely a commercial entity, despite its development activities.
In this context, Asif Saleh says, “This allegation is not true at all. Most of our annual budget goes to the development sector. The work of the social enterprise is also developmental, 75 thousand artisans are being employed here. Education, health – we spend a lot of money on different sectors.
“This allegation is actually made by the people of the city who do not see these services of BRAC. They see more of BRAC’s bank, Arang. But marginalized people all know about it, “he said.
BRAC has often faced controversy or opposition in ensuring women’s participation in women’s education and development activities.
Economist Nazneen Ahmed says, “When they created the way to work, it may not have been easy at first. Many times they have taken up such programs in rural areas, which may not have worked equally in all areas. Maybe in some areas, it would have been a little slower. There has been a conflict over pushing. We need to go there strategically, that’s what BRAC did later. ”
Where will BRAC go in the next 50 years?
Asif Saleh, Chief Executive Officer of BRAC, says that BRAC has always changed its style of work in line with the times. They will continue to do so in the future.
“BRAC was a relief organization 50 years ago,” he said. Work began on building 10,200 houses in Shalla to serve the refugees. But BRAC has been dynamic from the beginning. The main reason for this is that as the problem changes while working as a social organization, I also have to find a solution to that problem.
“If we can come up with a solution to the changes that are taking place in the world over the next 50 years, we will be relevant to the people. If people can’t work, then there will be no need for BRAC. ”
Economist Nazneen Ahmed says, ‘I think, even if they create enterprises, to work for the poor or the extremely poor. Wherever BRAC has worked alongside poverty alleviation, their focus should be stronger. “