Sir Fazle was born in 1936 in Bangladesh. He studied Accountancy in London, qualifying as a Cost Management Accountant in 1962. While he was working as a senior corporate executive at Pakistan Shell, the 1970 cyclone and 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh dramatically changed the direction of his life. He left his job and moved to London, where he helped initiate Action Bangladesh and HELP Bangladesh in support of the Liberation War.
Early in 1972, after the war was over, he returned to the newly-independent Bangladesh, finding the economy in ruins. The return of 10 million refugees, who had sought shelter in India during the war, called for urgent relief and rehabilitation efforts. Sir Fazle established BRAC to address the needs of refugees in a remote area of north-eastern Bangladesh, guided by a desire to help the poor develop their own capacity to better manage their lives.
Today BRAC is one of the largest NGOs in the world, operating across eleven countries in Africa and Asia. Its primary objectives are to alleviate poverty and empower the poor. In 2018, for the third consecutive year, BRAC was ranked first among the world's top 500 NGOs by Geneva-based 'NGO Advisor' in terms of impact, innovation and sustainability.
Sir Fazle has been honoured with numerous national and international awards for his achievements in leading BRAC, including the Yidan Prize for Education Development (2019), Dutch Royal Knighthood (2019), LEGO Prize (2018), Laudato Si' Award (2017), Jose Edgardo Campos Collaborative Leadership Award, South Asia Region (2016), Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health (2016), World Food Prize (2015), Trust Women Hero Award (2014), Spanish Order of Civil Merit (2014), Leo Tolstoy International Gold Medal (2014), CEU Open Society Prize (2013), Inaugural WISE Prize for Education (2011), Entrepreneur for the World Award (2009), David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award (2008), Inaugural Clinton Global Citizen Award (2007), Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership (2007), Palli Karma Shahayak Foundation (PKSF) Award for lifetime achievement in social development and poverty alleviation (2007), UNDP Mahbubul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development (2004), Gates Award for Global Health (2004), Gleitsman Foundation International Activist Award (2003), Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship Award (2003), Olof Palme Prize (2001), InterAction Humanitarian Award (1998) and Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (1980).
He is also recognised by Ashoka as one of the 'global greats' and is a founding member of its prestigious Global Academy for Social Entrepreneurship. In 2009, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George by the British Crown in recognition of his services to reducing poverty in Bangladesh and internationally. Sir Fazle was a member of the Group of Eminent Persons appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2010 to advise on support for the Least Developed Countries. In both 2014 and 2017, he was named in Fortune Magazine’s List of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.
The many honorary degrees received by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed include those from Princeton University (2014), the University of Oxford (2009), Columbia University (2008) and Yale University (2007).