Tuesday, 29 September 2015 18:00

#GirlHero: The Story of Basemera From Uganda

A girl from Uganda has made it her mission to help other girls realise their potential


As world leaders shepherd in a new era of international development with the UN's Global Goals, Basemera, a young girl in rural Uganda dreams about her future and that of her friends and family.

Basemera comes from a Catholic family and is one of seven children. Her father is a primary school teacher and tried to earn enough to keep his kids in education, but didn't succeed; Basemera had to drop out of secondary school after only four years.

Yet she dreams big. Despite her challenging circumstances, she wants to start a business, so she can ensure that the next generation is fed and educated. She knows first-hand that food and schooling aren't a given for girls. And she is determined to change things.

Life-changing moment
Basemera is a leader, a dreamer, a change maker. But that wasn't always the case. Once, she was resigned to living in the kitchen and worrying about her prospects and those of her brothers and sisters with no solutions, no course of action. Life was bleak, the future uninspiring.

Then Basemera met Rosemary Akello. Rosemary works for BRAC, an organisation dedicated to bringing financial inclusion and economic empowerment to vulnerable populations. In her words, "It's important to invest in girls, because even if men build houses, women will always build homes."

That's why Rosemary runs financial inclusion and economic empowerment programmes, such as Goal, across 156 villages in Uganda, She knows firsthand that financial inclusion will ensure girls stay in school, keep them from early and forced marriages, and grant them the opportunity to determine their own future.

Feeling empowered
Basemera joined the Goal programme and her world opened up. She learned about her human rights; she learned about her body; she learned about effective communication, and she learned that she matters. Perhaps most importantly, she learned that she had options. She could be financially independent if she had the right tools, capabilities and resources.

Rosemary taught Basemera how to budget, save and plan her family finances. Basemera became financially literate - a critical milestone to achieving financial inclusion. And because BRAC is a microfinance institution that provides microloans to poor and vulnerable individuals, Basemera learned about entrepreneurship. She discovered that she could start her own business and control her economic destiny. That was the game changer.

Empowering others
Now, Basemera is not only dreaming about her future business, but also mentoring and coaching other girls in her community. She is encouraging them to make informed personal and financial decisions; she is pushing them to pursue their ambitions; she is ushering in the new generation of girl entrepreneurs across Uganda.

Basemera wants every girl to have a goal, as well as the right tools to achieve them, such as financial education and access to finance. As the Global Goals are celebrated around the world this week, let's remember Rosemary and Basemera in Uganda. They prove that if we invest in girls and women, we will change the world.


The potential for youth to multiply agricultural production globally is huge.

Increasingly, however, young people from rural areas see their futures in urban centers, rather than in the fields—spurring a global wave of urban youth migration.

“Often young people don’t want to be in agriculture because they don’t see opportunities in agriculture,” said Rekha Mehra, Senior Associate for Gender and Economic Equity at Creative Associates International, speaking at the 2015 Making Cents Youth Economic Opportunities Summit in Washington, D.C.

“For young men and women to have opportunities in agriculture, it is critical to grow agriculture,” she said, leading an Oct. 7 panel of experts on inclusion of youth, women and girls in agriculture value chains.

Roughly half of the world’s population is younger than age 30, with 9 out of 10 youth living in developing countries. And some 70 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, where farming is a major source of employment, according to the World Bank

Bringing youth back to the land

As youth migration to urban areas grows and population levels climb, the need to bring young people back to agriculture is also expanding.

“Farming is an aging business, and young people are getting away from farming,” said Joyjit Deb Roy, Senior Vice President of Programs at Winrock International.

Yet upon arrival to cities, said Deb Roy, many young people from rural areas are finding only low wage jobs and poor living conditions, or end up unemployed. “But we can reengage the youth and bring them back to the land,” said Deb Roy.

By working with young farmers and rural communities to improve agriculture value chains—through micro-lending, vocational education, training in better planting, harvesting and selling practices, land grants, mentorship through youth farming groups and more—development practitioners can help build compelling counter arguments to convince young urban migrants of the income-generating opportunities back home.

Making women visible

Young women farmers face unique challenges in maximizing their   contributions to and income from agriculture.

While nearly 2 in 5 agricultural workers in developing countries are women, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, many of them do not identify their own labor as a key part of the agriculture value chain.

“If you ask most women who you see out in the fields working, they will say ‘I am not a farmer,’” said Mehra.

And not only are women invisible to themselves as farmers, she said, but often they are overlooked in agricultural development—where their potential to generate income and enhance the agricultural value chain is immense.

From planting to marketing to selling, women and girls play a variety of roles along the agriculture value chain, often in surprising ways, said Mehra.

To maximize the income-generating opportunities for these women and their families, “we need to be sure that we’re looking at both women and men. If you don’t look, then you definitely won’t find them,” she said.   

Planting seeds for the future

In order for the seeds of training and support to youth farmers to truly take root and reap benefits beyond the life of a given program, improvements to the agriculture value chain must be sustainable.

“If you do something without a sustainability component, you leave the beneficiaries vulnerable. Because they may not continue doing it if it is not sustainable,” said Esau Tugume, former Area Coordinator for the Agriculture Extension Program for BRAC International in Uganda.

In Uganda—where 78 percent of the population is under 30 and youth unemployment is 64 percent—sustainability in youth employment and agriculture is pivotal.

Working with young female farmers ages 15 to 30, the Agriculture Extension program provided access to better seeds and farmable land—something that is often not available to young women.

But to ensure long-term success, the women and girls received trainings in life skills, financial literacy, and vocational skills for better farming as well as ongoing peer mentorship through a local club, which Tugume said is one of the most critical components for lasting gains.

“These girls have been mentored and they are monitored by a leader,” he said, “So the beneficiary feels like she is part of the project. She owns it.”

Improving agricultural value chains and giving young men and women the tools and skills they need to grow their crops and their incomes is about more than boosting food production.

“We are all here to support young people in developing countries to lead hopeful and fulfilling lives,” said Mehra. “In doing so one of the most important things if giving them opportunities for meaningful work”


Sunday, 25 October 2015 18:00

Nutritious food for a billion people

One in three people in the world is malnourished. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron, and zinc can cause blindness, reduced IQ, vulnerability to disease, and even death. Biofortification—breeding new, more nutritious varieties of staple food crops to increase their micronutrient content—is one promising approach for combatting micronutrient malnutrition among vulnerable groups in many developing countries.

Thanks to the work of HarvestPlus and its partners, biofortified crops—namely vitamin A sweet potatoes, iron beans, and high zinc rice and wheat—are now being grown by farmers and consumed by millions of families every year in more than 30 countries throughout the world.

The program has an even more ambitious goal: to reach one billion people by 2030.  Can it be done? How? 

At a recent IFPRI policy seminar, a panel of experts from HarvestPlus as well as the research and NGO community discussed ways to scale up biofortification and ensure that nutrition remains a global priority.

  • Mainstream it.
    To reach one billion people, biofortified crops must be mainstreamed into the strategies and plans of a wide range of development organizations, governments, and companies.  According to Howdy Bouis, Director at HarvestPlus, this process already is well underway: the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN World Food Programme, the African Union, international NGOs such as World Vision, national governments, and private seed companies all either are including or have plans to include biofortified crops into their programs.
  • Reach more urban people.
    ”If we want to reach a billion people, we also have to reach the urban population,” said Anne Marie Ball, HarvestPlus manager of partnerships in Africa.  Some city supermarkets are already offering products made with biofortified crops, such as bread from orange sweet potato. “When mothers know that vitamin A is in the food, they make a choice. You want a better future for your children.”
  • Convince national policymakers.
    Mahabub Hossain, an advisor at BRAC and a member of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, emphasized the importance of getting national policymakers on board—particularly ministers of finance.  “It’s more than an issue of nutrition,” he said, noting that messages that show the link between good nutrition and economic productivity are powerful.
  • Partner with private companies.
    The panelists agreed that engaging the private sector is crucial to expanding biofortification’s reach. This, too, is already underway. Seed companies like Zamseed in Zambia and Nirmal Seed in India are now marketing and selling biofortified seeds. To scale up, HarvestPlus and their partners must get even more private sector partners on board, and bigger ones.
  • Create incentives and move demand.
    Demand for biofortified crops is already high—but it could be even higher. If countries establish national biofortification policies, enacting laws to sell more nutritious varieties of seeds and crops, and if companies see the benefit in buying and processing these crops from farmers, that will go a long way toward spurring demand. Having the right economic incentive structures in place also will ensure current efforts to scale up biofortification won’t take a step backward. As Bonnie McClafferty, formerly with HarvestPlus, put it, “Farmers will move away from [vitamin A] maize if they can make more money on [traditional] rice.”

In his concluding remarks, IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan reminded the audience not to forget the roles of trade and policy research. “These are policy issues,” he said.  “Research on policy can identify successes and help us scale them up.”

All agreed that there is no one solution to malnutrition. “A diverse diet is where we want to be,” said Bouis. “We need all pieces of the puzzle, and agriculture has to be part of the solution.” The other pieces of the nutrition puzzle? Vitamin and mineral supplementation and commercial fortification.

Reaching one billion people at risk of hidden hunger with biofortified crops will represent a key step toward achieving the recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Sunday, 22 November 2015 18:00

Development: Whose fault is it anyway?

The millennium development goals (MDG) aspired to improve the lives of people in the developing world. There is a decline in the percentage of world’s population living in extreme poverty, but still a lot of the poor are living in middle income countries. There are more poor people living in India and in some of read more

We use our smartphones for numerous quotidian purposes: taking photos, accessing social media, browsing the web, and of course, making phone calls. But BRAC has been employing these devices for an entirely different purpose, and it is extremely innovative. On August 2014, BRAC’s integrated development programme (IDP), which operates in the hard-to-reach areas of Bangladesh, read more

Imagine a world where there is no access to financial services. You cannot save, which means you cannot set aside money for the future. You cannot access a loan, which means you are shut off from a limitless number of opportunities, including investing in an enterprise, purchasing a home or land, or maintaining household expenses read more

Sunday, 22 November 2015 18:00

New video: Here come the kabaddi champions

For young girls hailing from disadvantaged communities, activities such as competitive sports not only encourage them to discuss sensitive health issues but also empower them to take up leadership roles in their societies. For women, participating in team sports also enables a sense of unity that helps them be seen as champions within their communities. The Kabaddi Tournament sponsored read more

Sunday, 22 November 2015 18:00

BRAC chronicles: from Kabul to Kathmandu

A young woman in her mid 20s is shoveling debris of a completely ruined house, as her mother looks on. The older woman spots the camera and says, “Look they are taking your picture, smile!” Prior to the earthquake, the family of six used to live in a two-storied house. Now the parents along with read more


According to the World Bank an estimated 2 billion working-age-adults do not have an account at a financial institution.

To build global momentum around how to address the remaining gaps in financial inclusion, the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign celebrated FI2020 week from 2-6 November.

A worldwide event, FI2020 week involved over 25 partners who each organised conversations on how to make significant steps to advance financial inclusion. The range of participants included banks, policy makers, NGOs, microfinance institutions, investors, and financial capability experts.

The only partner from Bangladesh, BRAC seized the opportunity by launching a nation-wide dialogue with local government leaders on how microfinance is contributing to alleviating poverty in the country. Across the 64 districts of Bangladesh, deputy commissioners- representatives of local government- were invited to visit BRAC’s microfinance operations. They gained better appreciation of how microfinance empowers the poor, especially women, and how the provision of financial services serve as cross-cutting tools that complement the government's work towards the sustainable development goals.

The nation-wide engagement with local government is hoped to nurture the supportive environment that government has enabled for microfinance institutions to function. During his visit, the deputy commissioner of Chittagong Mesbah Uddin said, “Customised financial services reach out to those who remain unbanked. Besides providing economic opportunities, BRAC’s microfinance addresses gender inequality, legal and human rights and financial education.”

During FI2020 week, BRAC also organised a debate among its staff on how microfinance fits into BRAC’s broader model of development. The main purpose of the discussion was to share insights into how financial services help the poor to cope with poverty, and ways in which BRAC could continue to improve its microfinance model in its mission to alleviate poverty.

Executive director of BRAC, Dr Muhammad Musa, who moderated the debate, observed, “As an organisation, when we work towards eradicating extreme poverty and helping individuals realise their potential, we need precise tools like microfinance to offer a more complete package of services to our clients. In a changing world we need to adjust, re-adjust, sharpen and strengthen microfinance so that it impacts a wider group of people.”

BRAC is a leading provider of financial services for the poor in seven countries including Bangladesh, Tanzania, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Myanmar and Pakistan. Its ‘credit-plus’ approach addresses the specific needs of the various target populations such as rural women, adolescents, landless poor, marginal farmers, migrant workers, urban poor and small entrepreneurs. As it expands its microfinance programme BRAC’s strategy of financial inclusion serves to complement its other programmes such as health and education, while keeping client protection at its centre. Access to financial services is a core element of BRAC’s holistic approach to development, helping households to save, consume, and work with convenience and dignity.




Founder of BRAC received this prestigious prize for giving nearly 150 million people worldwide the opportunity for enhanced food security and a pathway out of poverty.
BRAC founder and chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed has been honoured as the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate, on 16 October 2015 at 06:30am (Bangladesh time) at a ceremony held at the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. This highly prestigious prize was conferred to him for his outstanding contribution to enhancing the world's production and distribution of food to those most in need.

The chairman of The World Food Prize John Ruan III handed over the award to Sir Fazle at the event which was the centrepiece of a three-day international symposium. This prize which often referred as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture also includes USD 250,000.

Receiving the award Sir Fazle said, “I must acknowledge that the award does not belong to me alone, it is the recognition of BRAC’s work over the last 43 years in providing pathways out of poverty for millions of people in Bangladesh and other countries in Africa and Asia.”

He also said “The real heroes in our story are the poor themselves and, in particular, women struggling with poverty who overcome enormous challenges each day of their lives. Throughout our work across the world, we have learnt that countries and culture vary; but realities, struggles, aspirations and dreams of poor and marginalised people are remarkably similar. In order to solve the multidimensional problems of poverty, we have to think big, in terms of millions not thousands and holistically. In the coming decades we must refine methods of delivery at scale, placing solutions at the hands of poor people themselves and track progress. Only by putting the poor specially women in charge of their own lives and destinies will poverty and deprivation can be removed from the face of the earth.”

Guests and dignitaries present at the ceremony included US secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack, president of World Food Prize Foundation Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of Iowa senate Honourable Pam Jochum, speaker of Iowa house Honourable Linda Upmeyer. Former president of republic of Malawi and founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation Mrs Joyce Banda was present as distinguished special guest of honour. The ceremony was presided by the governor of Iowa Terry Branstad.

BRAC is widely credited as a major contributor to Bangladesh's achievement in halving poverty and hunger levels since 1990, in line with the UN's Millennium Development Goals, through its sustained efforts in the fields of poverty and hunger eradication and food security. By focusing on scalable solutions, BRAC’s food programmes have turned into sustainable social enterprises that provide inputs and access to stable markets for the rural poor. From its inception till today,

BRAC has helped nearly 150 million people worldwide with the opportunity for enhanced food security.

Earlier this year, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, announced Sir Fazle as this year’s winner at a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, DC.

BRAC's agriculture and food security programmes are part of a larger set of poverty eradication interventions working in 11 countries, empowering the poor, especially women and girls, using tools such as microfinance, education, health care, legal services, community empowerment, social enterprises, and a full-fledged university, BRAC University, in Dhaka.


Watch Sir Fazle's speech at the ceremony


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