A Conversation with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

An event hosted by Global Washington at the University  of Washington’s Magnusson Health Sciences Building with sponsorship from the UW Department of Global Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, May 25th 2010.  Open to the public, free of charge.

By Evan Forward

On Tuesday afternoon, I was privileged to attend “A Conversation with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed” at the Magnuson Health Sciences Center.    With Muhammad Yunus’ visit still fresh in my mind from Sunday at Town Hall, I was ready for more inspiration on the same plane.  Abed did not disappoint.  It has me wondering a bit what they have got in the water in Bangladesh that they could produce such world changing figures as Yunus and Abed in the same cohort.

The question of drinking water was the problem that set Sir Fazle Hasan Abed in motion in 1978 to create Brac. Brac is now the largest global development organization in the world in terms of scale and impact having served over 110 million people throughout Asia and Africa to date.  BRAC began when Abed decided to solve the problem of infant mortality in Bangladesh which was at that time largely due to dehydration from water borne illnesses. By creating a program for mothers to learn skills to perform infant oral rehydration, Abed found the solution. A simple model and yet incredibly powerful in its leverage. A piece of knowledge communicated to a mother can save her child.   True.

But Abed’s most remarkable quality, in my mind, is his uncanny ability to scale concept to need. Within months of starting Brac, Abed was leading a staff of more than 5,000 people eradicating diarrhea across the country in larger and larger swaths.  Over the 38 years since, Abed has diversified BRAC into dozens of ventures that touch on education, public health, banking and micro-lending, manufacturing industries, agricultural fields and others.


How do you maintain consistent quality in your programming while achieving such radical growth in the scale and scope of your offerings at BRAC (BRAC now employs a work force of over 50,000 people)?

“Quality control.” Abed said simply with a smile. It’s common sense, he seemed to say. Abed continued on to say that Brac has a substantial research and evaluation department that is continually monitoring impact.  Abed explains that impact is what Brac focuses upon when it comes to evaluating which brings to mind the Rick Davies and Jessica Dart’s Most Significant Change methodology.   I recommend checking it out. It’s a complete participatory M&E framework but its even more because the significant change concept can be adapted into many different types of qualitative research methodologies.  You can download the entire guide to it’s use by clicking this link. Or cut and paste: http://www.mande.co.uk/docs/MSCGuide.pdf.

Further on the topic of quality, Abed later shared more insights when he responded to a question about corruption:

Brac has 182 internal auditors,” Abed replied. Abed explained that this corps of accountants is responsible for checking the books in all of the arenas that Brac ventures in. If any of the numbers are slightly off, they investigate the problem.  Corruption solved.

In addition to continuing to scale its operations in Asia and Africa to service ever more needs, Brac has also decided to move into Haiti. But Abed explains that Brac’s recent entrance into Haiti is not simply intended as relief effort for the crisis that ensued the earthquake.

“When Brac enters a country, it is there for a lifetime,” Abed says without hesitation in his voice, “Brac will be in Haiti for the next 50 to 100 years.”  Life is fleeting perhaps, but a model for action, growth and change such as what Abed’s work has introduced to the world is everlasting.  I believe him what he claims.

I encourage you to have a look at BRAC’s website, www.brac.net.