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Facts About BRAC
The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) is a non-governmental organization founded in Bangladesh in 1972. It is surprisingly obscure despite its impacts. These are 10 facts about BRAC that are necessary to understand more about the organization.

10 Facts About BRAC

  1. BRAC is the largest non-governmental organization (NGO) in the world. The Economist described it as “the largest, fastest-growing non-governmental organization in the world–and one of the most businesslike.”
  2. BRAC’s mission is to alleviate poverty and encourage economic participation by empowering people through social and economic programs.
  3. Founder Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC after becoming disillusioned with poverty in Bangladesh. Now, BRAC has a positive impact in the poorest Asian and African countries in the world, reaching an estimated 138 million people.
  4. BRAC is funded by the Omidyar Network, which invests in impactful NGOs to bring about social change. This allows BRAC’s programs to be very effective and far-reaching.
  5. In 2016, BRAC successfully put 400,000 young children in primary school, gave 90 percent of households in obscure locations healthcare and lifted 86,975 households in Bangladesh out of extreme poverty.
  6. BRAC uses its money wisely. It was awarded an AAA rating by the Credit Rating Agency of Bangladesh Ltd (CRAB). This is the highest rating that it could have received from CRAB.
  7. BRAC approaches poverty differently than other NGOs. Using a businesslike approach, BRAC understands that there are factors beyond economics that account for why people are impoverished. BRAC tackles social issues and inequality as well as using its funds to ensure its impacts are more sustainable.
  8. BRAC has four main projects, including social development, social enterprises, investments and a university.
  9. BRAC University is in Dhaka, Bangladesh and is modeled after the NGO. It fosters goodwill by encouraging students to work in careers involved with national development and progress post-graduation.
  10. BRAC enterprises allow individuals to break out of the chains of poverty by equipping them with the necessary tools needed to have a more profound participation in the economy. As a result, it has established many enterprises, one of which is BRAC Dairy, which has become Bangladesh’s top dairy producer and ensures fair prices and treatment for dairy workers. Another example of a BRAC enterprise is BRAC Sanitary Napkin and Delivery Kit, which produces feminine hygiene products to encourage women to stay in school, and home birth delivery kits to ensure that births are sanitary and safe.

These 10 facts about BRAC truly show how influential BRAC is as an NGO. Despite making such large strides already, BRAC does not foresee slowing down anytime soon. In 2021, it aims to empower 20 million individuals to get the services they need and help 110 million people in Bangladesh that are living in poverty.

– Mary McCarthy

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in SamoaSamoa is a state that consists of nine volcanic islands located in the central Pacific Ocean. The islands of Savai’i and Upolu account for more than 99 percent of Samoan land, and before 1961c, it was governed by New Zealand.

Samoa’s economy has, for the most part, depended on development aid, tourism, agriculture, fishing and family members sending money to their relatives from abroad. Agriculture and fishing account for about two-thirds of the labor force and produce 90 percent of the nation’s exports.

A company that manufactures electrical harnesses for vehicles and ships them to a plant in Australia has more than 700 employees and accounts for 65 percent of exports, but is set to close by the end of 2017. This will leave many people unemployed and create a significant void in the economy. Something like this can get people thinking about how to help people in Samoa.

The nation is very vulnerable to disasters and extreme weather as well. An earthquake that caused a tsunami dealt a serious blow to transportation and the power grid and killed about 200 people in 2009. In 2012, Tropical Cyclone Even caused heavy flooding and wind damage which displaced more than 6,000 people and damaged or demolished around 1,500 homes in Upolu.

Projects Abroad, a leading international organization for volunteers, reported on goals they set to help people in Samoa from 2016 to 2017. English is the language of business for most of the world and is also the official language for business on the island nation. This means that having a good handle on it can significantly increase the chances of a good education and future employment prospects. Volunteers with the organization taught basic English to young. They also assisted students and teachers with improving their phonetics, pronunciation and grammar.

Volunteering is not the only way to help people in Samoa. People can also help by donating to nonprofit organizations. One such organization working in Samoa is Hesperian Health Guides, which focuses on providing health education. They assist various communities with finding the right healthcare needs for them and preventing poor health. They also publish a free wiki available in many languages.

There is more than one way to help people in Samoa. Volunteering and donating are two, but people can also contact their governors and representatives and ask that they support legislation that helps struggling nations.

Fernando Vazquez

Photo: Flickr

Development ProjectsWe have all been exposed to effective development projects, as well as to ineffective development projects. Sometimes these look like carefully constructed and well-funded projects created by NGOs, and sometimes they are drives created by high school students to help disaster victims. The scale and scope are not necessarily the key determinants for whether or not a development project will be effective. The following areas are useful to consider in order to create a development project, large or small, that does the most good for the most people.

Participation
“Participation is involvement by a local population and, at times, other stakeholders in the creation, content or conduct of a program or policy designed to change their lives.”

In other words, participation is placing the input of a local population at the forefront of the process of creating effective development projects. If a project is going to affect them and address their needs, they must have the primary say in tailoring it to their situation.

Needs Assessment
Needs assessment goes hand in hand with participation – it is most effective when the target population shares their needs, instead of projecting a set of presumed needs onto them.

By involving people in the process, development organizations can hear from the local population and find out exactly what needs they most want to address.

Cultural Sensitivity
Cultural sensitivity is the awareness of another culture’s norms and traditions and the ways in which they differ from your own. If you do not understand a community’s culture, it is difficult to develop solutions. For example, if a predominantly Muslim community was experiencing a food shortage, teaching them to raise pigs would not be a culturally sensitive or effective solution.

Gender Equality
Men and women often have different needs in a community based on the distinct roles they play. Sometimes women need to be specifically empowered in order to overcome gender disparities. It is important to consider gender dynamics in a development project. Will this project produce greater gender equality? Will it exacerbate inequality? Will it help or harm women or men disproportionately? These are all important questions to ask.

Accountability
Effective development projects must hold themselves accountable to the people they are trying to help, to the government of the local population, to any NGOs they are partnering with and to their donors. To avoid issues like inefficiency, resentment, unmet needs or corruption, all stakeholders should communicate and be held accountable for their agreements.

Capacity Building
Capacity building is “those sets of activities in which vested parties develop the ability to effectively take part in governance.” In other words, it is helping a community develop the skills to help themselves after a development project or organization pulls out of the region. Like everything else in this list, capacity building should be country specific and meet the needs of the target population. Effective capacity building can lead to more sustainable projects.

This all seems very nebulous and difficult to juggle – and in some ways, it is. No organization does all of this perfectly. So, what does this look like in practice? If you decide you want your school to help improve education for children in a particular village in Tanzania, you should ask yourself a few questions when deciding what to do. What do these children actually need? Is it resources? Textbooks and supplies? Transportation to and from far away schools? If they need books, on what subjects? In what language? How will you get them there, and how will they be processed once they arrive?

The main take away is this – if you are struggling with questions like these while trying to create effective development projects, the best people to ask are the children in Tanzania. They know exactly what they need and you should listen to them.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in KazakhstanThe Republic of Kazakhstan faces many medical and environmental challenges; however, human rights violations and failure to adhere to the rule of law are also significant problems. Kazakhstan secured independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and subsequent major investments in the oil sector brought large gains economically with sustained growth. This is primarily attributed to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was reelected after the Soviet break-up and elected again four more times. The economic growth that he spurred has solidified his popularity, but he allows no challenges to his power.

In examining how to assist the people of Kazakhstan, attention should be given to the organizations that monitor and assist human rights in the Central Asian nation. So, what can be done to help the people of Kazakhstan?

USAID is a U.S. government agency that is working in Kazakhstan monitoring human rights. Soon after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan and USAID partnered together to work toward creating and implementing laws, regulations and infrastructure vital for capital markets. Part of USAID’s focus in helping the people of Kazakhstan is creating programs that “address the limited media activity and low civic participation.” They also work closely with the government to further democratic reforms.

USAID maintains that the corruption in Kazakhstan is a continuing problem. The nation’s executive branch maintains a large portion of control with little allowance to the media, political institutions, civil society or the judiciary system. Dividing power more equally is pivotal in allowing Kazakhstan to flourish, and USAID programs serve to help Kazakhs create a democratic culture. USAID states this is accomplished by “supporting civil society, increasing access to information, strengthening citizen initiative groups, promoting an independent judiciary and encouraging the protection of human rights.”

According to the Human Rights Watch, in a March 2016 resolution, the European Parliament called on Kazakhstan for the cessation of harassing journalists. The U.N. Human Rights Committee called on the Kazakhstan government to redouble efforts regarding violence against women, eradication of torture, guarantees of liberty and security and protection of an independent judiciary. In October 2016, the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan expressed concerns about the convictions and sentencing of two journalists in a rare statement regarding media freedom.

The Executive Summary of the Kazakhstan 2016 Human Rights Report by the U.S. State Department noted the same human rights problems as the Human Rights Watch. In addition, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights observed that the last presidential election was marked by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition.

In order to help the people of Kazakhstan, support of these organizations and ongoing communications with congressional leaders is necessary. For the benefit of all Kazakhstan citizens, continued vigilance must be maintained.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in AzerbaijanMany have probably heard very little about the small Eurasian country of Azerbaijan. Even fewer have considered how to help the people in Azerbaijan. With regions like the Middle East and countries like North Korea flooding mass media, major human rights violations in lesser known areas can go unnoticed and relatively unspoken of.

Does Azerbaijan need global help? Is the country in some sort of civil struggle requiring foreign assistance? If the breach of free speech and unlawful imprisonment of Azerbaijani antigovernment activists constitutes this need, then the answer is yes.

At the heart of the issue lies what the Human Rights Watch calls a lack of “space for independent activism [and] critical journalism.” Critics of the practices of the Azerbaijani government are not only given no space to speak, but are also being persecuted unfairly for crimes they did not even commit.

“In August, in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum, the government arrested eight activists on a range of false, politically motivated charges, including drug possession, hooliganism, incitement and illegal business activity,” states the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report on Azerbaijan.

Most of this activism is in reaction to allegations made against Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan. He first gained office in 2003 in a landslide election, reportedly winning over three-fourths of the votes, and then winning twice more in 2008 and 2013 with even higher percentages of votes. A 2015 report from the U.S. State Department recognizes that Aliyev seems to have dictated both the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as his own office and calls suspicion toward the legitimacy of the 2013 presidential election.

How to help people in Azerbaijan is a difficult question to consider, as human rights violations like genocide are often more readily addressed as opposed to a lack of free speech. However, there is a way foreign aid can benefit Azerbaijanis’ rights to free speech and press.

There are strict laws governing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Azerbaijan as the Azerbaijani government sees them as a threat against governmental media control. Some of these NGOs such as the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety and the Media Rights Institute have been harassed by the Azerbaijani government through both legal and economic means. As these NGOs are meant to oversee the freedom of speech and press in Azerbaijan, it is imperative that they remain secure from the government’s mission to seize their influence.

Protecting these NGOs and organizations like them is how to assist people in Azerbaijan. This can be achieved by bringing awareness to the issue or through monetary donation. Contacting a congressperson or donating to one of these NGOs can help secure that the Azerbaijani government does not gain full control of the media and free speech in the country.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Timor-LesteTimor-Leste is a Southeast Asian country home to about 1.1 million people. The country is currently in a transitional period, recovering from political instability that occurred from 2006 to 2007. Progress has been made: since Timor-Leste’s 2002 independence, infant and child mortality have decreased by 50 percent, gains have been made in health and education and state institutions and democratic processes have strengthened. However, poverty in Timor-Leste is still high, particularly in rural areas. Here are a couple of ways to help people in Timor-Leste during this crucial post-conflict period.

1. Support NGOs working for the people of Timor-Leste
Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) are working to advance social and economic causes. CARE Australia is working to decrease the country’s 35 percent literacy rate and they are also working to improve maternal health in under-resourced rural communities. Oxfam Australia is also working to lift rural communities out of poverty through efforts to improve food security, essential services and infrastructure development. Peace Fund Timor-Leste collaborates and funds NGOs that focus on peace-building activities in the youth development area. Using these organizations as examples, a great way to help the people of Timor-Leste is to research more organizations, evaluate their impact and donate or volunteer your time.

2. Call Congress
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is doing essential work in Timor-Leste. They’ve deployed USAID community police officers to 442 villages to contribute to post-independence stability. USAID is also working to improve the skills of the Ministry of Health staff in reproductive, maternal and newborn health; Timor-Leste still has the highest maternal and under five mortality rates in Southeast Asia. USAID also assists in increasing farm income and improving nutrition for rural households throughout the nation. USAID has been working in Timor-Leste since the early 1980s, with both the government and other development partners; in the fiscal year 2016, the agency spent about $14 million in Timor-Leste. As of now, the 2017 fiscal budget is still under debate and USAID may be at risk of receiving budget cuts. One way to help is to contact Congress and urge them to protect the international affairs budget, particularly for the country of Timor-Leste.

On average, post-conflict countries take between 15 and 30 years to transition into stability. Considering this, Timor-Leste has made excellent progress thus far; however, there is still work to be done. The people of Timor-Leste deserve to live in a resilient nation where economic stability, political rights and social welfare are guaranteed to its citizens.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Flickr

Poverty_AidIn Paraguay, where the poverty rate is 35 percent, the challenges of providing strategic and meaningful aid seem overwhelming. However, the Poverty Stoplight, a newly developed technology to help families self-assess poverty in their lives, is transforming communities.

In the words of Martin Burt, founder of Fundación Paraguaya and creator of the Poverty Stoplight, the technology “enables poor people to self-diagnose their own level of poverty in 30 minutes using a smartphone or tablet.” The app works through a survey that utilizes images as well as a color-coded system to identify extreme poverty with red, poverty with yellow, or no poverty with green. Families complete the survey by examining their poverty level in a number of different areas: Income and Employment, Health and Environment, Housing and Infrastructure, Education and Culture, Organization and Participation and Interiority and Motivation.

These six categories encompass 50 different indicators of poverty in Paraguay and therefore provide a multidimensional understanding of the circumstances faced by families in disadvantaged areas. Once they receive their results, families work with local community support to come up with a plan for improvement in red or yellow areas.

The international community also recognized the Poverty Stoplight for its efficacy in supporting gender equality. Many of the aid plans for families in impoverished communities include microfinance efforts to provide opportunities for women as well as training to reduce sexual harassment. Thanks to the technology of the Stoplight, many Paraguayan women are lifting their families out of poverty as owners of their own micro-franchises.

The color-coding mechanism of the Poverty Stoplight works beyond helping families describe their living situation by creating maps of countries, regions, even neighborhoods, that reflect the level of poverty in any given category. These maps help struggling families to identify others who face the same challenges or those who may have already overcome them, providing an opportunity for support and mentorship.

The Poverty Stoplight maps also allow governments and aid organizations to more fully understand the problems in these areas so that strategic plans can better support those who need it. By encouraging people to think of themselves “less as beneficiaries [of aid] and more as empowered agents of change,” the Poverty Stoplight is a respectful, insightful, and exciting tool for change.

In 2014, with only $1.5 million in donations and funds, the Poverty Stoplight helped improve the welfare of 18,000 Paraguayan families, an estimated 92,000 people. The low-cost nature of the technology, as well as it’s comprehensive strategies for assessing poverty in any given community, make it incredibly versatile.

As this revolutionary tool continues to eliminate poverty in Paraguay, it is migrating to other regions around the world. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 18 different countries have already integrated this new technology into their support initiatives, demonstrating the name Poverty Stoplight is quickly making for itself as a means of revolutionizing our modern strategies for identifying and alleviating poverty.

Kathleen Kelso

Photo: Flickr