BRACBRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh, is the largest non-governmental development organization in the world, in terms of number of employees as of June 2015. Established by Sir Fazle Hasan Abed in 1972 after the independence of Bangladesh, BRAC is present in all 64 districts of Bangladesh as well as other countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

BRAC employs over 100,000 people, roughly 70 percent of who are women, reaching more than 126 million people. The organization is 70-80% self-funded through a number of commercial enterprises that include a dairy and food project and a chain of retail handicraft stores called Aarong. BRAC maintains offices in 14 countries throughout the world, including BRAC USA and BRAC UK.

BRAC considers itself to have a unique philosophy towards eradicating poverty. As one author has said, “BRAC’s idea was simple yet radical: bring together the poorest people in the poorest countries and teach them to read, think for themselves, pool their resources, and start their own businesses” (Barber). BRAC has mobilized to organize what it calls “the isolated poor” or the “ultra poor”. Women and girls have also been a strong focus of BRAC’s anti-poverty approach.

In April 2009, Freedom from Want, a book that traces the evolution of BRAC by author Ian Smillie, was published by Kumarian Press.

Known formerly as the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee and then as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (currently, BRAC does not represent an acronym), BRAC was initiated in 1972 by Sir Fazlé Hasan Abed at Shallah Upazillah in the district of Sunamganj as a small-scale relief and rehabilitation project to help returning war refugees after theBangladesh Liberation War of 1971. In nine months, 14 thousand homes were rebuilt as part of the relief effort and several hundred boats were built for the fishermen. Medical centers were opened and other essential services were ensured.[8] At the end of 1972, when the first phase of relief work was over, BRAC turned towards long-term development needs and re-organised itself to focus on the empowerment of the poor and landless, particularly women and children.

By 1974, BRAC had started providing micro credit and had started analyzing the usefulness of credit inputs in the lives of the poor. Until the mid-1970s, BRAC concentrated on community development through village development programmes that included agriculture, fisheries, cooperatives, rural crafts, adult literacy, health and family planning, vocational training for women and construction of community centers. A Research and Evaluation Division (RED) was set up by BRAC in 1975 to analyze and evaluate its activities and provide direction for the organization to evolve. In 1977, BRAC shifted from community development towards a more targeted approach by organizing village groups called Village Organizations (VO). This approach targeted the poorest of the poor – the landless, small farmers, artisans, and vulnerable women. Those who own less than half an acre of land and survive by selling manual labor were regarded as BRAC’s target group. That same year BRAC set up a commercial printing press to help finance its activities. The handicraft retail chain called Aarong, was established the following year.

In 1979, BRAC entered the health field by establishing a nationwide Oral Therapy Extension Programme (OTEP), a campaign to combat diarrhoea, the leading cause of the high child mortality rate in Bangladesh. Over a ten-year period 1,200 BRAC workers went door-to-door to teach 12 million mothers the preparation of home-made oral saline. Bangladesh today has one of the highest rates of usage of oral rehydration, and BRAC’s campaign cut down child and infant mortality from 285 per thousand to 75 per thousand. This initial success in scaling up propelled rapid expansion of other BRAC programmes such as Non Formal Primary Education which BRAC started in 1985 – a model that has been replicated in about a dozen countries.

In 1986 BRAC started its Rural Development Programme that incorporated four major activities – institution building including functional education and training, credit operation, income and employment generation and support service programmes. In 1991 the Women’s Health Development program commenced. The following year BRAC established a Centre for Development Management (CDM) in Rajendrapur. Its Social Development, Human Rights and Legal Services programme was launched in 1996 with the aim to empower women with legal rights and assist them in becoming involved with community and ward level organisations. In 1998, BRAC’s Dairy and Food project was commissioned. BRAC launched an Information Technology Institute the following year. In 2001, BRAC established a university called BRAC University with the aim to create future leaders and the BRAC Bank was started to cater primarily to small and medium enterprises.

In 2002 BRAC launched a programme called Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction – Targeting the Ultra Poor (CFPR-TUP) designed specifically for those that BRAC defines as the ultra poor – the extreme poor who cannot access conventional microfinance. The same year BRAC also went into Afghanistan with relief and rehabilitation programmes. It was the first organization in Bangladesh to establish, in 2004, the office of an Ombudsperson.

Operations outside Bangladesh
BRAC registered in Afghanistan in 2002 and covers 23 out of 34 provinces. Its major programmes in Afghanistan include Microfinance (funding from MISFA), Health, Education, National Solidarity and Capacity Development. Its Microfinance Program has 429 branch offices that have disbursed more than US$96 million to over 179,000 member households (895,000 people). BRAC runs nearly 2,371 schools which have seen 118,416 students graduate, almost all of whom are girls. BRAC Afghanistan has 3,617 community health workers and 1,390 poultry and livestock extension workers. It has established two Training and Resource Centres in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. BRAC’s staff in Afghanistan includes 3,463 locals and 180 expatriates. {Annual Report, 2007}

Sri Lanka
BRAC registered in Sri Lanka in 2005 following the devastating Tsunami and initiated relief and rehabilitation activities. Its rehabilitation and livelihood programmes in Sri Lanka covers three districts and 43 divisions. BRAC’s work in Sri Lanka includes the fisheries, agriculture, poultry and livestock, small business, income-generation activities, education and health sectors. In January 2014, BRAC sold its shares of BRAC Lanka Finance PLC to Commercial Leasing and Finance PLC (CLC), a company within the LOLC Group.

BRAC expanded into Pakistan in 2007 and now covers six districts. BRAC Pakistan employees 1000 staff members that work in 68 offices that are set up throughout the country. The Micro-finance Program supports 837 village organisations that have over 14,544 members,which is one of the leading MFI in Pakistan and a trend setter of vulnerable groups.From Aug 2, 2012 BRAC is field partner of Kiva Microfunds,BRAC Pakistan’s education programme has opened 200 primary schools in the Sindh province, and 100 pre-primary schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In 2013, 94,361 people benefited from BRAC Pakistan’s health services.

BRAC Tanzania, established in 2006, has created over 7,619 microfinance village organisations with over 116,000 members and already disbursed more than $160 million. Over 480 community health promoters, 65225 agriculture program farmers and 15681 poultry and livestock farmers have been trained. up to December 2012 it was a field partner of Kiva Microfunds.
As of July 23, 2010, Kiva reported BRAC Tanzania’s status as closed with a 0% Delinquency Rate.

BRAC Uganda’s Microfinance Program has formed over 2,145 village organisations with 59,844 members. To date, the program has disbursed $14.8 million with a repayment rate of 100%. BRAC Uganda has trained 200 community health promoters and opened 122 learning centers in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps that have enrolled nearly 20,704 learners. {Annual Report, 2007} It is a field partner of Kiva Microfunds.

South Sudan
In 2007, BRAC started operations in South Sudan. The microfinance program, which consists primarily of returning war refugees, has formed 220 village organisations with over 8,400 members. The cumulative disbursement in 2008 was $1,313,150. BRAC South Sudan has initiated a community-based health program under which community health organisers and health promoters receive training. {Annual Report, 2007} It is a field partner of Kiva Microfunds.

Established in 2008, BRAC launched programs in microfinance, health, agriculture, livestock and poultry; reaching more than 582,000 of the poorest in Liberia. BRAC employs 161 Liberians (71% women) and has mobilised nearly 300 community-based volunteers.

Sierra Leone
BRAC opened its offices in Sierra Leone in 2008 and started programmes in 2009. BRAC runs services in microfinance, health, agriculture, livestock and poultry, and by the end of 2009 reached over a quarter of a million Sierra Leoneans with their activities. BRAC provides jobs for 169 Sierra Leoneans (83% female) and supports 323 local volunteers.

BRAC has provided technical assistance to Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance organisation, to replicate BRAC’s ultra poor program. In 2010, they opened a Limb and Brace Center to support those who were injured in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

BRAC launched operations in the Philippines in 2012 in partnership with Australian aid agency AusAID, with plans to operate at least 1,600 pre-primary and primary schools in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. As of 2013, there are 1,010 learning centres that are benefitting 31,522 disadvantaged children. There are also 600 new learning centres in Sulu and Basilan, adding to the existing operations in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Tawi-Taw.


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