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Eliminating Extreme Poverty Through InnovationThe Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC) was formed in 1972 by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, is an excellent example of a nonprofit bringing transformation through strong business practices.

Today, BRAC reaches around 138 million poor spread over nine countries in Asia and Africa, and employs 125,000 people, primarily women. And yet, BRAC has remained quite unknown in the West. BRAC U.S. and BRAC U.K. were launched to spread awareness about its approach and mobilize its resources as well as raise funds for its fight to eliminate extreme poverty through innovation. It has created self-employment opportunity for 8.5 million people, educated over 3.8 million children from 66,000 of its schools, and given microloans to six million borrowers. Its approach is, “small is beautiful but big is necessary.”

What They Do

The following goals are listed on the official BRAC website:

  1. Improve well-being and resilience through disaster management and climate change, health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene.
  2. Assist economic development and social protection – agriculture and food security, microfinance, enterprises and investment, targeting the ultra-poor.
  3. Expand horizons of education, migration and skills development.
  4. Empower communities, women and disadvantaged, human rights and legal aid, with urban development.
  5. Support programs for governance, management and capacity building.

Social Innovation Lab (SIL)

BRAC believes in eliminating extreme poverty through innovation. SIL was formed to explore the best practices and ways of creating impact at scale and incubating new ideas. It began in the 1980s, when diarrhea was the biggest killer of children under the age of five. BRAC successfully made the most illiterate population in the world adopt oral rehydration therapy, teaching poor households to prepare homemade saline. Now, they continue to work toward bringing family planning to people despite social opposition.

BRAC has accomplished quite a lot through frugal innovation, making Bangladesh the fastest-growing mobile money market with 13 million users, and creating large-scale financial inclusion.

Current Efforts

Hundreds of Rohingya children are living in Cox’s Bazaar on the border of Bangladesh. BRAC has made initiatives to ensure prevention of widespread diseases, by providing 167,000 individuals with oral cholera vaccinations. 153,000 health services through 60 mobile health camps and 10 fixed camps have been provided to treat fever, pneumonia and diarrhea. BRAC is providing access to safe water, sanitation, child-friendly spaces and critical supplies.

The “poverty graduation” scheme offers a way of eliminating extreme poverty through innovation by tackling poverty as well as providing social confidence. Women are given an asset, usually livestock. In return, they must look after the animal, their children must be sent to school and they must save a small amount of income, along with a tiny stipend to cover their food needs. A BRAC member visits them regularly to assess improvements for two years, after which they are expected to “graduate,” or break the chain of ultra-poverty.

In the next five years, BRAC plans to empower 20 million people to gain access to resources. They are working toward completely eliminating extreme poverty through innovation by 2020 with integrated efforts.

Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr