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Wednesday, 24 September 2008 18:00

A change of hearth

25 September 2008, Dhaka. Politicians of Bangladesh who have used the state apparatus to further the interests of their own and those of their cronies keep making news because of their corrupt deeds.

Over the past 35 years, a section of the country’s urban middle class has also amassed wealth through dishonest means.

Even as several corrupt politicians are either brought to justice or forced to be on the run, the country is in search of the right leader and the right formula for the future.

The fate of more than 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s 145 million people — deprived of proper education, sanitation and healthcare facilities and other basic needs — is also gradually changing for the better.

Over the years, the rural poor have remained left out of any plan for development.

They were, in fact, left to the mercy of God and a handful of non-government organisations.

One of these, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), which is the world’s largest in terms of reach, has been training Bangladesh’s rural poor on education, sanitation, nutrition and healthcare since its inception in 1972, right after the independence of Bangladesh.

Focus on back of beyond

BRAC is now focusing on how to save the rural poor from the recent food crisis, at a time when the global economy is trying to come to terms with high oil prices and shortage of food.

“Just grow more food per hectare and use better quality seeds that will ensure better yield," Fazle Hasan Abed, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and BRAC’s founder and chairperson, told Weekend Review in an interview recently.

“Increased productivity in the agricultural sector with better quality seeds could help most agriculture dependent economies to become self-sufficient in food.”

While some economists struggle to assess the magnitude of the situation and find out what went wrong with capitalism, Abed is helping his compatriots cope with the crisis.

“Chinese farmers produce eight tonnes of rice per hectare while we grow only five in Bangladesh.

"If we can match the Chinese efficiency, countries such as Bangladesh will be able to meet the growing food demand and be able to store for the future,” he says.

Forbes recently ran a feature on Abed, saying he should have been considered for the Nobel prize. Many in Bangladesh share this view. The belief gained strength after Mohammad Yunus won the Nobel prize in 2006.

Born in 1936 in Bangladesh, Abed is the son of a rich landowner. He was educated in the Dhaka and Glasgow universities.

The 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh had a profound effect on Abed, then a professional accountant in his thirties holding a senior corporate executive’s position at Shell Oil in Chittagong.

The war changed the direction of his life. In the face of the brutality and agony of war, the comforts and perks of a corporate executive’s life ceased to have any attraction for Abed.

As the then East Pakistan was under virtual occupation, Abed left his job and went to London to devote himself to the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

There Abed helped initiate a campaign called Help Bangladesh to organise funds for the war effort and raise awareness in the world about the genocide in his homeland.

Abed launched BRAC in 1972 to help rebuild a nation ravaged by a nine-month war that claimed 3 million lives and displaced 10 million.

He sold his property in the United Kingdom for $17,000 and invested the money in BRAC, leading him on a difficult journey that eventually succeeded.

Since then, his organisation has engaged itself in a silent revolution by providing rural healthcare, education and income-generating schemes to millions of poor people in a country where the birthrate averaged seven children per mother.

Poverty eradication

“Poverty eradication helps people access knowledge and credit and empowers them to become consumers," Abed says.

“We will disburse more than $1.2 billion in microfinance this year to more than 7.4 million borrowers in Bangladesh.

"We have brought 120 million people within our reach during the past 35 years, including 110 million in Bangladesh.

"This makes BRAC the world’s largest NGO in terms of reach. We are not the richest but the largest. We are also the only southern NGO that has gone global.”

BRAC has a presence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

It has a network of 33 offices in Pakistan with 1 million borrowers. BRAC has a strong social development network across 23 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Population explosion had at one stage become the biggest threat to Bangladesh’s economic growth.

In 1977, the Bangladesh government identified population growth as a national problem, gradually helping to bring down the growth rate to 1.7 per cent.

Through BRAC and other NGOs, the Bangladesh government and large international donors have made cheap contraceptives available to millions of couples and educated them to use these products, breaking a social taboo.

Use of contraceptives and prevention of childbirth was considered an act against God’s will in parts of Bangladesh, which fuelled the high birthrate.

“We have managed to bring down the birthrate per mother to 2.7 from 7 in the 1970s,” Abed says.

In 1979, about 135 infants out of 1,000 in the country died before their first birthday and 250 before reaching 5.
Cuting down mortality

“Over the past 35 years, we have been able to help cut down mortality among infants and children. This has come down to 65 per thousand, which we are trying to reduce further,” he says.

“Survival of children cuts the propensity of a mother’s desire to have more children. As the child mortality rate was high, couples used to have more children, so that [at least] a few would survive.”

BRAC has brought more than 80 million Bangladeshis under its healthcare programme. “Bangladesh has been the most successful in this area. No other country has managed to achieve this so fast.”

If population is topmost on the list of Bangladesh’s priorities, then education and empowerment of people should come second.

However, both these tasks have proved to be huge challenges. BRAC has a network of 52,000 informal schools through which it provides basic education to more than 1.5 million students.

Bangladesh has 19 million students between the ages of 6 and 10. About 15 million study in 17,000 government schools while 2.5 million do not go to school.

“In the 1970s, the dropout rate in primary schools was 60 per cent, with a very low enrolment. Today Bangladesh has 85 per cent primary enrolment in which there is still a 30 per cent dropout,” Abed says.

“At least 55 per cent complete primary schooling, although the quality of teaching and learning remains an issue. We are now trying to improve this.”

BRAC has undertaken a programme to improve the quality of education in public schools by providing training to teachers. But this initiative has come under severe attack.

Hopes for a better life

BRAC has a borrower base of 7.4 million people who are trying to improve their lot with the help of microcredit. It has a recovery rate of 98 per cent — the same as Grameen Bank — another microcredit pioneer set up by Nobel prizewinner Mohammad Yunus.

“Many of them [borrowers] have already changed their livelihood and improved their lives.

'While more than two thirds of our borrowers have achieved significant improvement, several have also dropped out of the microcredit programmes as they could not make any headway,” Abed says.

The success of microcredit and microfinance schemes has successfully pulled millions of Bangladeshis out of absolute poverty.

In the 1970s more than 66 per cent Bangladeshis used to live below the poverty line or absolute poverty, earning less than $2 per month.

“This has come down to below 40 per cent because of income-generating schemes and microfinance projects run by NGOs,” he added. “We provide $200 million to the poor to come out of absolute poverty every year.”

BRAC has already established a footprint in southern Sudan as part of its plan to expand in ten countries in Africa.

“We are already present in five African countries and we plan to enter ten,” Abed said. “We want to make a difference in the lives of the people of these countries in terms of healthcare, education and anti-poverty programmes.”

By Saifur Rahman, Business Editor, Gulf News
 

25 September 2008, Dhaka – Celebrated American banker, statesman and philanthropist and current patriarch of the Rockefeller family, David Rockefeller Sr. presented the 2008 David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award to BRAC Founder and Chairperson Fazle Hasan Abed Tuesday evening in New York City, honoring his innovative work to empower the poor. The award was also presented to Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan.

The award was presented at an event titled University for a Night, which is a unique annual gathering of leaders from business, government, civil society and philanthropy, organised by the Synergos Institute. Prior to receiving the prize, Mr. Abed took part in a plenary discussion with Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai. From Wednesday to Friday, Mr. Abed will also be participating in the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual meeting hosted by former US President Bill Clinton.

 

All photos courtesy of Christine A Butler/Synergos 

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25 September 2008, Dhaka – Celebrated American banker, statesman and philanthropist and current patriarch of the Rockefeller family, David Rockefeller Sr. presented the 2008 David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award to BRAC Founder and Chairperson Fazle Hasan Abed Tuesday evening in New York City, honoring his innovative work to empower the poor. The award was also presented to Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan.

The award was presented at an event titled University for a Night, which is a unique annual gathering of leaders from business, government, civil society and philanthropy, organised by the Synergos Institute. Prior to receiving the prize, Mr. Abed took part in a plenary discussion with Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai. From Wednesday to Friday, Mr. Abed will also be participating in the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual meeting hosted by former US President Bill Clinton.

 

All photos courtesy of Christine A Butler/Synergos 

Abed-receiving-the-2008-Dav
2008-David-Rockefeller-Brid Abed-giving-his-acceptance
Mr.-Abed-giving-a-speech
Robert-H.jpg
Sarawat-and-Fazle-Abed-with.jpg

Abed-with-David-Rockefeller
Plenary-discussion

24 September 2008, Dhaka. We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Allan Rosenfield, Chair of BRAC USA and the former dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Dr. Rosenfield had been suffering for the past three years from diseases which affected his motor nerve functions. He was an icon in the world of public health, one of the most outspoken advocates for women’s health rights and an ardent supporter of BRAC. We are grateful for his unbending dedication to BRAC over the years and particularly to the amount of time and energy he gave to launching BRAC USA, in spite of his deteriorating health.

Dr. Lincoln Chen, BRAC USA board member and friend of Dr. Rosenfield, has paid the following tribute: “While none of us are immortal, and Allan's illness was clearly exacting a toll, he fought and braved the burden with enormous courage. I was amazed at how he kept pushing those of us around him to stay in touch, to keep interacting, to not let his illness slow us down. Indeed, he became even more invigorated while fighting his illness!

All of us owe a huge debt to Allan, for launching BRAC USA and so many other global health endeavors -- from his earliest innovative work in Thailand to his leadership at the Population Council, Columbia University, and in so many international health activities. To the end, Allan remained steadfast in his commitments, never bending to the enormous political pressures on him and his institution to compromise on women's health, human rights, and equity in global health.”

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rosenfield family.

 

 

12 September 2008, Dhaka. BRAC founder and chairperson Fazle Hasan Abed has been selected by the Synergos Institute to receive the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award for his innovate work to empower poor people, help them enjoy their basic human rights and enhance their opportunities to secure a better future. The award, which will also be presented this year to Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, will be given at an event in New York on the 23rd of September.

The David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award is presented each year by Synergos to extraordinary leaders who have shown vision and courage in bringing people together to address the most critical issues of our time. The first such honoree was David Rockefeller, for whom the award is named. Last year, the award was presented to former South African President Nelson Mandela as well as the Co-Chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and William Gates Sr.

21 August 2008, Dhaka. BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services Program (HRLS) together with the Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center), New York, is organizing a workshop themed ‘Reproductive Health, Litigation and Human Rights’ in Dhaka on August 28th 2008, at the BRAC Center, where activists, health rights advocates and experts in reproductive health and human rights will come together to discuss legal strategies for addressing key reproductive health issues in Bangladesh.

Women’s reproductive health in Bangladesh is a matter of concern for human rights advocates in Bangladesh and around the world. An estimated 12,000 women die annually from pregnancy-related causes, and although there has been a significant increase in contraceptive use since the late seventies, access to family planning services and information is unequal, leading to a higher incidence of adverse reproductive health outcomes among low-income and adolescent women and girls.

BRAC, together with the Centre and other Bangladeshi activists, will discuss legal strategies undertaken in other parts of Asia and Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe such as fact-finding, documentation, litigation and legal advocacy, and how these may serve to address reproductive health issues and to promote access to justice for victims of reproductive rights violations in Bangladesh. This discussion will determine a future course of action for health and reproductive rights in Bangladesh.
 

Friday, 01 August 2008 18:00

Rahul Gandhi visits BRAC pogrammes

02 August 2008, Dhaka. Visiting Indian politician and member of the Indian Parliament Rahul Gandhi, along with his 8-member delegation, visited several BRAC programmes in Gazipur district on Saturday. He was accompanied by BRAC Executive Director Dr Mahabub Hossain and other senior officials.

Gandhi began his day by visiting a microfinance group in Lahuri village of Kapasia sub-district and observed microfinance activities. He enquired about the range of loan sizes, how they are used by the women and the means of repayment. He interacted with the women and enquired about their economic condition after obtaining loans from BRAC. He learnt about various other income generating activities by the borrowers and paid a visit to a borrower’s household to see her cattle-rearing enterprise.

He then visited a BRAC pre-primary as well as a BRAC primary school. He observed classes in progress and watched the students engage in various extra-curricular activities. He also visited a BRAC community library and a BRAC Kishori Kendra (Adolescent Development Centre).

Gandhi then visited BRAC health programmes in Kapasia sadar and discussed health issues with BRAC Shastho Shebikas (health volunteers). He observed first-hand the role played by BRAC health volunteers in providing health education and treating basic ailments. He also visited an Ante-Natal Clinic conducted for pregnant women.

In the afternoon, Gandhi saw a BRAC’s human rights classes for rural women in progress. He also visited a BRAC training centre.

On his return to Dhaka, Gandhi and his team sat for exclusive talks with BRAC chairperson Fazle Hasan Abed for an hour and a half at the BRAC Centre. He was later expected to attend a dinner hosted in his honour by the BRAC chairperson.

30 June 2008, Dhaka. The European Commission (EC) will provide a grant of 13 million euros to Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (Brac) in support of sustainable recovery and rehabilitation of agriculture-based and non-agriculture-based livelihood in cyclone Sidr-affected coastal areas.

The delegation of the European Commission to Bangladesh signed a grant agreement with BRAC to this effect yesterday, said an EC press release.

Brac Executive Director Mahabub Hossain and Dr Stefan Frowein, Ambassador of Head of delegation of the delegation of the European Commission signed the contract.

This action will help to link the relief phase, for which ECHO already provided 20.425 million euro with the longer term reconstruction and development of the affected areas.

This new EC support under the instrument for stability will provide much needed interventions to boost rehabilitation of agriculture-based and non-agriculture-based, livelihoods in severely cyclone Sidr affected areas of Bangladesh.

The action is designed to build upon previous and ongoing ECHO emergency intervention and link with ongoing DIPECHO disaster preparedness activities and the longer term EC development support for disaster risk reduction and food security.

A Joint Damage Loss and Needs Assessment, financed through the instrument for Stability, estimated the total amount of damage and losses caused by the cyclone at over 1.1 billion euro, equivalent to 2.8 percent of Bangladesh's GDP. More than two-thirds of this was physical damage and one-third economic loss.

Ambassador Frowein stated, "This additional support from the European Commission underlines the solidarity which the European Union has expressed with the government and the people of Bangladesh in the wake of this terrible natural disaster."
 
Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Commission Dr Stefan Erowein, second from left, and Executive Director of Brac Dr Mahabub Hossain shake hands at a ceremony in the city yesterday after signing a deal worth 13 million euros to support the sustainable recovery and rehabilitation of agro-based and non-agro-based livelihoods in Sidr-hit coastal areas

20 June 2008, Dhaka. “The future of Bangladesh is very bright if everybody is getting the education [BRAC school students] are getting!”

UK Minister for International Development, Shahid Malik, visited a BRAC primary school located in the Korail slum area of Dhaka city on Thursday, as part of a three-day tour to Bangladesh. The minister spent time talking and interacting with the students and also enjoyed a lively song and dance performance by them.

Following the visit, the minister expressed his appreciation of BRAC’s education programme. “The future of Bangladesh is very bright if everybody is getting the education that these children are getting,” he said. “And the good thing is that over 93% of children who go to BRAC schools end up going into the state sector, so it’s a really positive initiative,” he also added. The Minister expressed his strong belief that if the Government of Bangladesh continues to work closely with civil society organizations such as BRAC in the education sector, Bangladesh would be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in education.

During his visit to the school, the Minister was accompanied by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) South Asian Division Director Jim Drummond and senior officials from DFID Bangladesh. BRAC Deputy Executive Director Aminul Alam and Education Programme Director Safiqul Islam were also present.

The Korail North primary school which the Minister visited is one of 11 BRAC primary schools in Korail, providing BRAC’s groundbreaking non-formal primary education services to nearly 400 underprivileged children living in the slum. In addition to primary schools, BRAC Education’s Adolescent Development Programme also runs an adolescent centre in Korail. Over 37,500 non-formal primary and 24,000 pre-primary BRAC schools provide education to nearly 2 million children across the country.

Shahid Malik is the UK Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and was elected in May 2005. Within a year, he was appointed to the influential Home Affairs Select Committee and served as a PPS to Schools Minister Jim Knight. In 2007 he was appointed Minister for International Development in Gordon Brown's first government.

09 June 2008, Dhaka. BRAC University’s James P. Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Nagasaki University of Japan to work together improve health education and research and build capacity of human resources in the health sector. Both universities agreed to develop collaborative activities in academic areas of mutual interest, on the basis of equality and reciprocity. These activities will include exchange of students, faculty, researchers, and other research and administrative staff, implementation of collaborative research projects, lectures and symposia, exchange of academic information and materials.

This Agreement was signed by Professor Hiroshi Saito, President of Nagasaki University and Professor A Mushtaque R. Chowdhury, Dean of the JPGSPH.

This agreement is one of many partnerships that the JPGSPH has developed with other leading schools of public health, including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK), University of Amsterdam (Netherlands), Karolinska Institute (Sweden), and Columbia University, Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University (USA).
 

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