Conversation with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

Conversation with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

September 18, 2014

Challenge is something you have to face when you are trying to create an impact.

                                                                                                        –    Sir Fazle Hasan Abed


Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, the world’s largest NGO with over 100,000 employees, needs no introduction as a personality. In Leadership Summit 2014, organized by Bangladesh Brand Forum (BBF), we had the chance to be up and close with such great social worker on the aspects of leadership and about his vision and the story behind BRAC.

Syed Ferhat Anwar, Chief Advisor, BBF, engages Sir Abed into an insightful conversation highlights of which are shared exclusively in this publication.

Syed Ferhat Anwar : What was your primary purpose of moving into such a challenging position?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: I used to be a business person. It was during the cyclone of 70s, I saw 300,000 people killed. It was then I vowed to help and serve the people who are disadvantaged. I started by helping people in Liberation War. My first project was: Action Bangladesh, which is the need for refugees’ rehabilitation for the refugees of war. Then I sold my flat in London and started BRAC in Shunamgonj. But I realized relief and rehabilitation is not enough. You need to give them a proper income source. So, my next agenda became to alleviate poverty. And for this I realized the first step that should be taken is to spread education. Although the whole journey up to now was challenging, full of hurdles, but challenge is something you have to face when you are trying to create an impact.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: How did BRAC achieve such exceptional growth? What were the factors that played an important part in BRAC’s extra-ordinary growth, both locally and internationally?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Initially, what we understood as an organization is, remaining a small organization would not help BRAC’s cause or the impact it wanted to create. So, we had to grow to create a change in the lives of the poor people. It was not only BRAC’s credit behind BRAC’s exceptional growth if you observe closely. BRAC works on a number of sectors, from educational sector to public health to social works. So, it is not only BRAC, but also a lot of other stakeholders involved with BRAC’s initiatives which played an important part behind BRAC’s success and its growth worldwide.

Syed Ferhat Anwar : Since you talked about having so many stakeholders, how do you manage to bring every stakeholder under the same umbrella? How do you make sure they share the same vision as BRAC regarding any initiative?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Stakeholders in BRAC’s initiatives are chosen based on whether they share the same vision of social benefit or not, for any initiative. So, all the stakeholders actually share the same core vision that BRAC does. However, there can be differences in how that vision can be implemented. To make sure all the shareholders are aligned with BRAC’s way of working, we run an effective training program where we familiarize our stakeholders with our works, so that a proper effective partnership can be created for the success of the project as well as for the benefit of the society.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: How do you integrate your grassroots stakeholders with BRAC’s vision?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: To integrate the grass-root stakeholders in BRAC’s initiatives, we make sure all our grass root stakeholders share the same value, and are committed to the same mission and vision. To involve the grass root stakeholders, we ensure the day to day field activity decisions are taken by the grassroots stakeholders. The decisions are mainly designed in a way where the field decisions are taken mainly by the grassroots stakeholders, from the lowest possible order. This is how we integrate the grassroots stakeholders in BRAC’s projects.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: How did BRAC manage to take an approach, such as self-financing, which is so different from that of other traditional NGOs?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Self-financing and sustainability have always been the core characteristics of BRAC’s projects and initiatives. Rather than relating it with a NGO, I like to think BRAC’s projects as social enterprises, where projects are run for social benefit. Although BRAC’s projects start as business, but here profit is not the core motive, rather helping the people in need is the vision behind such projects.

Syed Ferhat Anwar : BRAC is one of the few organizations which has an active research wing. Why and how did BRAC evolve into an organization with such an active research wing?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Research is a core part of every project that BRAC takes. BRAC is the only organization of its kind which has such an active research wing which focuses on continuous improvement and creative solutions. To operate worldwide in different countries with such diverse cultures, it is very important to design the projects based on the local needs so that the efficacy of the project can be increased.

Syed Ferhat Anwar : Continuous innovation has always been a core idea behind BRAC’s projects. How have you been able to continue such continuous innovation for such a long time throughout BRAC’s operation?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Continuous innovation doesn’t come only by creativity, a strong dedication behind creating the best out of limited resources is also needed. Our continuous innovation comes from our continuous search for new ways of work and innovation. Our team is always dedicated towards finding the best possible innovative solutions with the available resources.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: What would you consider as a major challenge in the future?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Limited resources is a major challenge in the future for BRAC. Resources such as funding is core to BRAC’s projects. Although BRAC has been successful in finding resources and donors in countries like Bangladesh, BRAC hasn’t yet got such success in the other countries yet. So, finding resources is going to be a major future challenge.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: Do you think the challenges which you faced earlier during the start of BRAC are the same as now?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: No, the challenges are not the same. They are quite different as time and situation have changed. The challenges we faced during the start of BRAC isn’t the same as we are facing now during its expansion. What you used to do in the past, isn’t quite enough now.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: Since BRAC focuses on bottom level leadership, how do you select the leaders from the grassroots level?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Leaders are people who emerge. Our HR team has been doing a great job in finding the leaders from the grassroots level. Although they start from bottom, through promotions and other practices, they ultimately reach a position where they can unleash the true potential of being a leader.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: If you were given a chance, or rethink, would you have taken any different turn? What changes would you have wanted to make?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: If I were given a chance to rethink and change something from before, I really would have loved to change the education system of our country. I wish there were more high quality educational institutes, I wish the education system was more creative, where the children were inspired to learn, not to memorize.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: What do you think is the future of micro credit?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Micro credit has been doing really good in Bangladesh. The future of micro credit would be more technologically driven, as more and more ways of introducing technology in micro credit system would be innovated to help the lives of the people in need.

Syed Ferhat Anwar: Any advice for the future leaders of Bangladesh on how to take Bangladesh forward in the future?

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: Whatever you do, do it in the best possible way. Be an ethical leader to be a great leader. Ensure quality work. Be the best in your job, be the best in what you do.

Compiled by

Amitabh Guha Roy

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