Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The fastest growing NGO in the world

The fastest growing NGO in the world today has its roots in Bangladesh, but no, it is not the Grammen Bank. BRAC stands for the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. They have recently opened up branches in the US and Europe to help spur fundraising efforts to spread their program into more countries.

BRAC is unique because of instead of hiring people to provide solutions for the poor. They hope to train the poor to provide the solutions themselves. One person who receives a microcredit loan for their small business could one day run BRAC small business efforts for an entire district.

From Fast Company, writer Alice Korngold tells us more about the fast growing NGO.

BRAC's vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. Its interventions aim to alleviate poverty on a large scale through economic and social programs. BRAC has created 8.5 million self-employment opportunities and made $5 billion in micro-loans to over 6 million borrowers. BRAC's schools graduated 3.8 million students from primary schools and 2.3 million from pre-primary schools, with nearly 1.8 million children currently enrolled in its 66,000 schools. You can read more here.

Originally known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee--now simply called BRAC--the organization was founded by Abed when he was overwhelmed by the sight of death and extreme poverty among refugees returning to Bangladesh after the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. Abed left his corporate life, sold his London home to fund his project, and set up relief efforts in a remote area in northeastern Bangladesh. Next he raised funds from Oxfam to further advance the organization. Abed's work ultimately led him and BRAC to deal with the long-term task of improving living conditions of the rural poor. He directed his policy towards helping the poor develop their capacity to manage and control their own destiny.

In "Freedom from Want," author Ian Smillie notes that "[Abed] did not know that, in the years ahead, he would confront and surmount some of the greatest development challenges on the planet and everything he knew about economics, health, and education would be turned on its head."

Smillie describes the unique BRAC culture that was established from the outset: "Brutally honest about what had been achieved and what [BRAC] had learned ... The idea was not to prove they had all the answers before they started, but to find out what worked and apply the lessons." From the beginning, BRAC let incompetent staff go and set up a training center for those who remained. As BRAC facilitated the development of small enterprises by the people they serve, BRAC sought and found ways to lower the costs of production in order to reduce the expenses of borrowing.

You'd think I'm writing about an ambitious, highly competitive company. And yet, I'm writing about what is referred to in The Economist "by most measures the largest, fastest-growing non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the world--and one of the most businesslike."

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