DHAKA, Bangladesh – Founded in Bangladesh by Fazle Hasan Abed in 1972, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) began as a relief and rehabilitation operation in response to the end of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation. Since its inception, BRAC broadened its original function and began offering microcredit loans. Currently, BRAC is much more than a microcredit operation and is now committed to long-term community development in efforts of empowering the poorest of the poor. It is currently the largest NGO in the world by the number of employees and the number of people it has helped.
The Economist Magazine has described BRAC as “the largest, fastest growing nongovernmental organization in the world — and one of the most businesslike.”
BRAC targets the poorest of the poor; people making 70 cents a day. These individuals and families often are too poor to benefit from aid programs. For instance, BRAC noticed that 8-10 percent of families in Bangladesh are too poor to benefit from the popular aid found through microcredit — tiny loans to the destitute. These families face malnourishment, unemployment, and lack education. Therefore, BRAC assists these families through a holistic approach. In this way, they are much more than a microcredit operation.
Their mission is “…to empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. Our interventions aim to achieve large scale, positive changes through economic and social programs that enable men and women to realize their potential.”
Although Bangladesh continues to be a poor country, BRAC has expanded its efforts and is currently working in 11 countries and helping 135 million people. They work in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Liberia, South Sudan, Sierra Leon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Haiti.
Over the years, BRAC has won several awards in recognition of their work. Their effort takes a holistic approach to community development, focusing on 14 distinct areas. Here is a brief overview and interesting facts of each area:
1. Agriculture: Production distribution, marketing, research, credit support, and promotion of efficient farming techniques.
2. Community Empowerment: Creates stronger local governments through collective action.
3. Disaster, Environment, and Climate Change: Builds community competency to respond to natural disasters.
4. Education: Provides primary schools for over 700,000 students as a safety net for children who drop out of state schools. Has grown to 38,000 schools worldwide and a university.
5. Gender Justice and Diversity: Tackles violence against women at the political level and ensures both girls and boys receive an education.
6. Health, Nutrition, and Population: Consists of 100,000 health volunteers with mobile phones used to build a database of maternal and child-health patterns in remote villages.
7. Human Rights and Legal Aid Services: Has the world’s largest legal-aid program that works from a rights-based approach to human development.
8. Microfinance: One of the world’s largest providers of financial services to the poor.
9. Road Safety: Mobilizes communities to take ownership of their road safety through motivation, education, and self-help.
10. Safe Migration: Advocates for the rights of migrants.
11. Social Enterprise: 73 percent of BRAC’s financial needs are financed internally by BRAC from the surplus of its enterprises and the dividend from its investments. Their goal is to become 100 percent self-financed.
12. Socially Responsible Investments: BRAC partially or fully owns four companies as a means of protecting stakeholders from any ‘liquidity crunch’ in the financial industry.
13. Targeting Extreme Poverty: BRAC focuses on empowering women through asset grants, skill development, personalized healthcare support, and ensuring social security through community mobilization.
14. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene: Provides sustainable and integrated WASH services in rural and isolated areas.
All of these focus areas are carried out with community ownership and local government partnerships.
Ultimately, BRAC works to help families gain long-term self-sufficiency. This is done by meeting basic needs and increasing the investment potential of extremely poor families. This is accomplished through microfinance.
How does the microfinance aspect work?
BRAC starts with a small cash grant. This grant is provided over a two-year period and is enough to provide two meals a day. The program also provides access to basic public services, including a family planning program. The intent is that during this time the mother will be able to save money, ensure her current children are healthy and receive an education, while also working to lower the fertility rate.
1.5 million families have participated in this program in Bangladesh. The investment amounted to $300 per family over the two years. After a five-year period, a success rate of 80 percent was observed. These families graduated the program and grew in their investment potential. Additionally, fertility rates and maternal deaths in Bangladesh have significantly decreased since the program started.
BRAC’s success can only be attributed to their unique approach to fighting poverty. While they could have only provided microcredit loans to the poor, resulting in some becoming even poorer, BRAC chooses to focus on all the needs of a community.
By providing a holistic approach to community development, BRAC has been able to effectively reach the poorest of the poor and assist them in reaching their full potential.
– Caressa Kruth