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BRAC is a development success story, spreading solutions born in Bangladesh around the world – a global leader in creating opportunity for the world’s poor. What started out as a limited relief operation in 1972 in a remote village of Bangladesh has turned into the largest NGO in the world.

Over the past two years, the BRAC Social Innovation Lab has led the Doing While Learning network, bringing together a select group of organisations from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to learn from each other and share their stories as they scale up diverse initiatives. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, they’ve produced What it takes to have social impact at scale, charting the learning from the project. Download the report.

At the event, Maria A. May from BRAC set the context for Doing While Learning: in South Asia, 980 million people live on less than $2 per day – equivalent to 15 times the population of the UK. This has led BRAC and others to think big – as founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed puts it, “small is beautiful, but big is necessary”. But the international development space is still plagued by ‘pilotitis’ and lacks know-how on how to scale up. Maria summarised some of the key lessons from the project, giving examples from the six programmes that participated in Doing While Learning – Gram Vikas and Nidan in India, Rural Support Programmes Network in Pakistan and the Access to Information Program and BRAC’s Property Rights Initiative and Model Ward Initiative in Bangladesh. Read detailed case studies of each of the project partners.

Professor Jaideep Prabhu from Cambridge University talked through the case study of RPSN in more depth. He highlighted the strengths of using a network model for scaling, enabling a central organisation to lead on strategy while local organisations could focus on implementation. He also showed how the RSPN model gives a model for South Asian cooperation. The model started in Pakistan and was replicated in India; later, Pakistani programmes could learn from adaptations that the Indian programmes had introduced, such as women-only networks.

The event concluded with a lively panel discussion exploring BRAC’s experiences of scaling up in Bangladesh and elsewhere.