BRAC was set up in 1972 and is now one of the largest non-governmental organisations in the world.
BRAC’s programmes currently span fifteen thematic areas, from agriculture and food security to water, sanitation and hygiene, and support more than 110 million people per year.
Initially, the organisation focused on disaster relief, but its focus soon shifted to long term community development. Early on, BRAC started to pilot micro-credit schemes and to develop and improve a model of training women to be Shebikas, community workers who could provide information and advice to others in their villages.
“If you want to tackle poverty in a country like Bangladesh, with 130 million people, you need to have large-scale programmes, otherwise you don’t bring about any significant change”
BRAC founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed
Moving into delivery of health programmes gave BRAC the opportunity to go to national scale. In 1980, it launched the Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) programme, using its community workers to train 20,000 households to mix oral rehydration solution to treat diarrhoea.
At this point BRAC was still relatively small, employing some 300 people. When the Bangladeshi government started rolling out immunisation, BRAC delivered this alongside ORT training. According to founder Fazle Hasan Abed, the link up with a government programme “gave us the confidence that we could reach the whole country”.
By the end of the decade, BRAC had trained over 12 million households to mix ORT.
BRAC specialises in ‘vertical integration’, developing and taking ownership of whole supply chains. It’s set up several commercial businesses that market the things it supports people to produce, such as a chain of stores that sell Bangladeshi handicrafts, clothes, jewellery and shoes and a commercial dairy production centre, which processes 10,000 litres of milk, yoghurt and ice cream an hour.
Photo: Conor Ashleigh for AusAID, via Flickr CC