22 February 2010

BRAC Earth

Last week I attended a reception in honour of Fazle Hasan Abed, who had been knighted the day before. Sir Abed is the founder and Chair of BRAC, probably the largest NGOs in the world and based in Dhaka.

BRAC provides services to millions of poor people in Bangladesh, and increasingly is working in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a BRAC UK, a BRAC USA and a BRAC University. I was invited to the reception because BRAC is one of IDS's key partners in areas such as microfinance, public health, and pathways from extreme poverty.

So what is it about BRAC that makes it so successful? Is it BRAC's constant innovation? Its adherence to empiricism--continuously monitoring and evaluating its work? Or is the brand itself is so strong with its "movement"-like feel that it inspires people to exceed their own expectations?

There have been several external evaluations of different bits of BRAC in the past--usually positive--but what is it in BRAC's DNA that generates this success? Will this success stand up to the most rigorous impact evaluations? And how can BRAC's success be replicated elsewhere? These are key questions for the international development community, one deserving of a more systematic review. For an excellent paper that begins to get at these questions, see the recent report by Naomi Hossain and Anasuya Sengupta.

We all need to learn from this remarkable organisation.

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