Dec 28, 2019
As visionary and determined as one possibly can, giving birth to unreal ideas and effecting them in real life and eventually going on to provide the poor a meaningful life, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed has been immensely impactful to the development of Bangladesh.
Sir Abed was born in 1936 in Habiganj, Sylhet and passed his intermediate from Dhaka College in 1954. Later, he traveled to the UK to pursue his bachelor's in naval architecture at Glasgow University. Young and resourceful, miles ahead of his time, Abed’s desire to bring about significant changes to the society has led him to shift his discipline from Naval architecture to accounting and joined Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in London.
After completing his formal Education, he returned to Bangladesh and served as a senior corporate executive for Pakistan Shell in the early 1970s. Moved by the damages caused by Bhola cyclone in the 1970s which took away approximate 3,00,000 lives, Sir Abed rose to the occasion and formed ‘HELP’ in an attempt to provide relief and rehabilitation to the displaced and destitute ones in the southern part of Bangladesh.
The Decade saw the best of Sir Abed. When the Pakistan Army launched its brutal attack on the unarmed Bangladeshis, he decided to shift to London seeking refuge. Sir Abed helped create ‘Action Bangladesh’ in London, an organization that inspired different movements across London.
After the liberation war, Sir Fazle returned to his homeland with a view to assisting people rehabilitate in war-torn Bangladesh. Hence, in February 1972 he initiated BRAC, Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee, afterward it was named Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, and later as Building Resources across Communities, which is currently the top NGO in the World.
Since its inception, BRAC has been playing a significant role in the development of the rural people in numerous frontiers. Immediately after its birth, it assisted in building 14 thousand houses and several hundred fishing boats within just nine months. But, it was only a harbinger of the great contributions that were yet to come. BRAC alone reduced the maternal mortality rate by 50% in the last 20 years. This helped Bangladesh achieve the 5th Millennium Development Goal.
BRAC functions as one of the biggest financial service providers to the poor. 95% of its beneficiaries are women and thus it contributed to strengthening the voice of women in rural Bangladesh. Alongside this, it established platforms for rural civil society for collaborating with local government in achieving local development goals such as preventing underage marriage or early childbirth prevalence in rural areas as well as ameliorating the overall hygiene and health scenario.
Furthermore, more than one million students are enrolled in BRAC schools, a school for the underprivileged who were left behind by the traditional schooling system. Since the beginning of this project, more than 10 million people have completed their education from these BRAC schools. BRAC also assisted in equipping poor youngsters with real-world life skills to ensure their way out of poverty.
Foreign remittance is one of the most important sectors for our economy. BRAC has arranged training for the migrants to make them acquainted with the whole process and learned enough to avoid possible hazardous behaviors.
In an interview with NextBillion, Sir Fazle firmly said, “it is possible to eliminate extreme poverty” & went on to describe how they classified different levels of people for ensuring their inclusiveness in the financial service framework. Under the leadership of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC revolutionized some fundamental aspects of rural agriculture. In collaboration with agriculturally advanced nations, BRAC introduced better input products in the agricultural sectors of countries of its operation. That increased agricultural production in these countries, helping many farmers to escape the poverty trap.
BRAC has 18 social enterprises and it directs most of its dividends into funding its development programs. Although, in its primitive years it was largely dependent on foreign donors for funding, now, the annual budget of BRAC consists of 70% of internal funding and the rest comes from different donors. It also established a research wing for overlooking and guiding its course of action. Now, BRAC is active in 12 countries including Bangladesh.
Sir Fazle was once asked how BRAC managed to achieve both scalability and sustainability, two key factors for any social enterprise which are very difficult to achieve simultaneously. His answer was, “...it’s about ambition. I was more ambitious, I wanted to change Bangladesh…” This portrays the mindset of this visionary. He emphasized on the initiation of a vision and later on replication of it by others for reaching out in various regions.
Apart from being the only Bangladeshi to be appointed as the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George by the British Crown in recognition of his services in the Commonwealth countries, he has won a number of awards. Most distinguishable of them are Dutch Royal Knighthood (2019), World Food Prize (2015), Spanish Order of Civil Merit (2014), Leo Tolstoy International Gold Medal (2014), Entrepreneur for the World Award (2009), David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2008), InterAction Humanitarian Award (1998) and Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (1980). He was awarded honorary degrees from world-leading universities like Princeton, Yale, and Oxford to name a few.
Behind these incredible successes, there was an equally incredible individual. In a recent interview with a local media, Sir Abed said that he was thoroughly content with how he lived his life and counted himself successful to have helped the poor section of the society. Sir Abed thus is deservingly termed “the friend of the poor". As Dr. Younus said, "There is no corner of the country which the refreshing wind of Abed’s activities did not touch. He is the main architect behind the monumental changes in Bangladesh’s society". Bill Gates quotes “Your life is gift to humanity”. These are reflective of how monumental a man Sir Abed was. His demise therefore is an irreparable loss to Bangladesh.
Istiak Ahmed is a sophomore at the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka and works as an Editor of DUCSU Law and Politics Review.
Tofail Mahmud is a junior at the Department of Economics, University of Dhaka.