The Inaugural WISE Prize in Education

Acceptance Speech by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed
1 November 2011. Doha, Qatar

"Thank you very much, Your Highness.

It is difficult to express in words how honored and deeply touched I am by this recognition. At the same time, I must acknowledge that the award does not belong to me alone; it is recognition of BRAC’s work over the course of the last 40 years in development, particularly in the field of education. Therefore, it is on behalf of the 50,000 BRAC staff and nearly 40,000 BRAC school teachers that I humbly accept this Award.

40 years ago, when I decided to leave a Senior Executive position at a multinational corporation to join the war of liberation and later to start working with the poor people of war ravaged Bangladesh with £11,000, the sale proceeds of my Flat in London, my family and friends thought I was crazy.  Forty years later, I can testify that this crazy adventure to empower the millions of poor people in Bangladesh, and more recently in several other countries in Asia and Africa, was the best decision I have ever made. It has been an exhilarating, challenging and satisfying adventure.

In these last 4 decades, BRAC’s work has contributed to the reduction in child mortality in Bangladesh to less than a quarter of what it was in the mid 1980’s and decline in fertility by two third over the last 40 years. BRAC has worked to lift 1.5 million families out of extreme poverty and provided access to finance to more than 8 million poor households. But the achievement that I feel most proud of is that we have provided quality primary education to over 5 million poor, out-of-school children who would otherwise have remained illiterate, and another 1.2 million children are currently enrolled in our schools.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the large numbers. But we must always remember that the changes happen in individual lives and families. Many of the graduates of BRAC’s non-formal schools have gone on to receive University degrees and have become Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers. One girl has gone on to win Bangladesh’s version of American Idol. These young people may have achieved different things in their lives but one thing that they had in common – education has unlocked new opportunities for all of them. In our 40 years of working to empower the poor, we have seen that no tool is as powerful as education; there is no greater catalyst for positive change!

There are many unfinished agendas, much to do.  As we have begun working in other countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, we have learnt that countries and cultures vary but the realities, struggles aspirations and dreams of poor people are remarkably similar.  We are in a hurry to make significant difference because the cost of going slow is too high when measured in terms of opportunities and potentials lost.

I should like to conclude by thanking the Qatar Foundation for instituting this magnificent Prize and for honoring me and BRAC with its first installment. Once again, I am humbled by this great recognition and reaffirm our commitment to helping people realize their potential.

Thank you."