“Hope is an element in which people take action, and energize themselves out of poverty,” said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, at the South Asia Institute Annual Harish C. Mahindra lecture on April 24, 2014 at the Charles Hotel. BRAC is the world’s largest NGO dedicated to development and fighting poverty, and Abed’s lecture provided the 150 attendees with an enlightening account of the extraordinary accomplishments of the global organization.
Abed was introduced by Martha Chen, Harvard Kennedy School, who explained that BRAC is the only NGO from a developing country that has “gone truly global,” with a presence in 12 countries in Asia and Africa. With a goal of alleviating poverty, BRAC delivers microfinance, health, education, agriculture and livestock services based on an integrated approach that proved to be a success story in Bangladesh.
Born and raised in Bangladesh, Abed was working as an accountant when the 1971 Liberation War broke out and deeply impacted his future. After advocating for his home country in London, he returned to Bangladesh after liberation, and launched relief and rehabilitation efforts for refugees. He founded BRAC with the goal of alleviating poverty by helping the poor develop capacity to manage their lives. This model has been successfully implemented in other developing countries around the world.
Chen explained that it was Abed’s corporate management background that was crucial to this strategy’s success; Abed’s ability to analyze and develop models that can then be then replicated on larger scales was essential in expanding BRAC’s work outside of Bangladesh. Moreover, Chen said Abed’s moral compass “keeps him focused on the poor and disadvantaged” and has been the driving force in BRAC’s growth over the last four decades.
Abed began his lecture by sharing statistics related to development in South Asia, highlighting that Bangladesh has experienced an extraordinary turnaround because of BRAC’s efforts. The numbers on life expectancy, infant mortality, fertility rate, under-five mortality, and child survival all show that Bangladesh has experienced the most dramatic change compared to other South Asian countries.
Poverty in Bangladesh was “intense” when BRAC started, and at the beginning Abed set out to work on many issues “at the same time, with the same sense of urgency”: health, drinking water, hygiene, sanitation, and family planning. He said that he is proud of the progress made in Bangladesh, but there is still work to be done.
Abed explained that maternal mortality and child health have always been vital issues, saying “a woman giving birth to a child and dying – there is not a greater tragedy than that.” BRAC University is working to train midwives, and Abed said he would like to have 10,000 midwives throughout the country to help reduce the death rate. Another initiative to help children was to go directly into the community and teach members how to create oral hydration therapy at home to prevent diarrhea. A campaign for immunization of the country’s children was also launched under his leadership.
Throughout his lecture, Abed’s experience in business and management was evident in his innovative approaches to these social problems, as well as his deep understanding of the needs of his people. BRAC has given out $1.5 billion in small loans, mostly for $100 to $150 per person, which he said has been helpful especially for empowering women. BRAC’s bank became the largest lender to small and medium enterprises after Abed found that BRAC was not doing enough for these types of businesses, where many jobs are created. Turning to working with the ultra-poor, Abed realized that microfinance did not reach the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. BRAC set up a program that gave them a stipend, “held their hand,” and nurtured them until they could get on their feet and then use microfinance. This model has helped 180,000 people get out of poverty.
BRAC has also worked on education, especially for girls, which has helped empower mothers and reduce child marriage. Abed noted that this day was the 1 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. This tragedy prompted BRAC to work to implement new safety regulations to help improve the quality of life for factory workers, especially women.
Abed took time to answer questions from the audience, ranging from climate change, teacher retention, to genetically-modified seeds. On a question about the role of government, Abed explained that because government does not usually reach the village level, NGOs fill the role of working in villages. Abed sees development as a joint effort between businesses, the public sector government, and NGOs.
See the gallery below for photos of the event.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC, will deliver the annual Mahindra Lecture on April 24, 2014, ‘Poverty and Development in South Asia.’ BRAC’s primary objectives emerged as alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the poor. Under his leadership, in the span of only four decades, BRAC grew to become the largest development organisation in the world in terms of the scale and diversity of its interventions.
Thursday, April 24, 2014 5:00 pm
The Charles Hotel
1 Bennett St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Sir Abed was recently named one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Forbes magazine: http://money.cnn.com/gallery/leadership/2014/03/20/worlds-best-leaders.fortune/32.html
In Bangladesh, BRAC sees a tremendous opportunity to use mobile money to innovate, better serve clients and become more efficient.
Have a great idea on how mobile money can be used by BRAC in Bangladesh’? Share it!
Up to six of the best ideas will be implemented at BRAC in 2014. Can’t think of an idea now? Browse through other people’s ideas, vote and comment—maybe an idea will come to you!
In Bangladesh, approximately half of the adult population is unbanked. Over the past three years, a mobile banking industry has emerged to meet these individuals’ needs, and has already reached 13 million users. As Bangladesh is urbanising rapidly, young adults working in the city send money home to their families through mobile money. In 2013, over USD 500 billion was transacted via mobile money.
BRAC sees a tremendous opportunity to use mobile money to innovate, better serve clients and become more efficient. With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab is establishing the BRAC Innovation Fund for digital financial services. In the context of Bangladesh, the rapid adoption of mobile money creates exciting opportunities for new approaches in poverty reduction. As an organisation, BRAC hopes to improve operational efficiency, decrease costs, and make services more accessible to clients. Through a portfolio of diverse pilots, BRAC will experiment with mobile money to improve its existing programmes and establish new ones. The project will run from September 2013 to August 2016, with the first set of pilots launching in June 2014.
Through this initiative, BRAC hopes to accomplish the following objectives:
- Increase the adoption of digital financial services at BRAC, particularly in service delivery
- Increase the adoption of digital financial services by BRAC’s clients
- Contribute to the global discourse on digital financial services
BRAC Innovation Fund Challenge
There will be two rounds, one in 2014 and one in 2015. From March to May 2014, the Social Innovation Lab will hold the first round for BRAC programmes to generate ideas about how mobile money can be incorporated into existing initiatives or new pilots. The most promising will receive support from the Innovation Fund.
On the challenge web site, anyone will be able to submit ideas. We are hoping this will spark conversations and introduce new ideas that may be implemented at BRAC.
What role does engineering education play in our modern society? According to Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, engineering is crucial to a well-rounded society.
On Thursday, February 27, SAI hosted its first webinar of the semester, titled ‘Societal Grand Challenges and the role of Engineering Education in the 21st Century’ with Professor Narayanamurti, who described engineering as “the ultimate liberal art” because of its role as a linking discipline.
Using videoconference software provided by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC), 15 sites in South Asia were able to participate live and interact with Narayanamurti. Viewers were also able to watch the webinar live on SAI’s website, and submit questions via Facebook and Twitter.
Narayanamurti started by describing the importance of engineering at leading universities like Harvard, saying that “we want renaissance engineers who not only know how things work, but how the world works.” He explained that all of the major accomplishments throughout history have happened because of engineering, and the economic impact of engineering is huge. “Engineering underpins the economy,” he said.
Explaining the role of engineering as a linking discipline, Narayanamurti said, “engineering is not applied science; it is science that is applied engineering.” He made a strong case for a well-rounded education in all fields, and said that we must encourage students to learn the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurship.
Another ‘grand challenge’ of engineering education is getting women involved, which Narayanamurti explained is vital for societies. He explained that women’s access to science education is more of a challenge in the developing world, but not one that cannot be overcome. Having women leaders in all fields is an important step: “Can women be renaissance engineers? Yes!” he said. “We need more women role models so that it is an accepted reality.”
Narayanamurti spent time explaining what skills are vital to engineering education. From teaching his own class, he has learned that creativity, as well as analytic and problem-solving skills, are essential. Since Harvard has a strong global presence, it can serve to be a leader for this sort of education.
Throughout his presentation, Narayanamurti emphasized the importance of merging the study of engineering with biology, by combining the perfection of biology with the creativity of engineering, because “nature perfected how human beings and the living world were created.” Technology is evolving to become more human-like, which means merging biology with engineering is more important than ever.
After his presentation, Narayanamurti took questions from students and education leaders at the participating sites, as well as questions on social media from viewers in Pakistan, India, and Australia.
The universities participating live were: Bahria University Islamabad, Bahria University, Karachi, Comsats Institute of Information Technology, Attack, Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education, Fatima Jinnah Women’s University, Rawalpindi, Institute of Space and Technology Islamabad, Kinnaird College For Women, Lahore College of Women University, Lahore, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, NED University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences Islamabad, University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore, University of Malakand, and University Of Sargodah, Sargodah.
Mariam Chughtai, Ed.D. Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education, moderated the discussion, and Meena Hewett, Executive Director of SAI gave an introduction. Erum Sattar, SJD Candidate, Harvard Law School, tracked the discussion on social media.
SAI’s webinars are made possible with the support of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC).
Harvard is a long way from rural Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, but that hasn’t stopped Maung Nyeu, currently an Ed.D. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, from trying to make a difference for children there.
SAI talked with Nyeu about his work with Our Golden Hour, a nonprofit working to improve educational opportunities for indigenous children in Bangladesh and to preserve indigenous culture through education.
The tumultuous history of Bangladesh means that for many children, getting a good education is not a reality. Chittagong Hill Tracts is a mountainous, rural area where many indigenous people live; a population that is distinct in language, culture, and religion from the majority of the Bengali population.
Increasing militarization in the region has led to traditional farmlands being given to incoming Bengali settlers, and according to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of people are landless because of the failure of the Bangladeshi government to uphold the legal rights of the lands in this area and not recognize indigenous people. As a result, many people are internally displaced.
This has led to violent clashes between local people and Bengali settlers – a life of massacres, village burnings, and girls being sold into the sex trade, hardly the environment that ensures a quality education for many children. More than half of the residents have no formal schooling.
Moreover, one of the biggest problems blocking children from attending school is a language barrier. As a result of the government’s one-language policy, most of the instruction is in Bangla, which most children in Hill Tracts do not know. Unable to keep up with an education in a language that is not native to them, many children drop out.
Nyeu himself grew up in Hill Tracts, and was able to break the cycle by being educated at American universities, first getting a degree in engineering, and then an MBA from the University of Southern California. He knew first-hand the obstacles facing children in the area, and set out to make a difference: “I realized that, these children, growing up without any education, their future is robbed of them without any fault of their own. They are victims,” he says.
After his education in the US, he returned to his home region and built the Padmau Residential Education Center, which provides educational opportunities to disadvantaged children so that they can go to school in their own indigenous language. He says that the demand for an education was so high, that he had to turn some students away because of a lack of resources. He launched a nonprofit, Our Golden Hour, and continued to look for ways to help children in Hill Tracts.
He recognized that many students were missing out on a quality education because the government was not providing adequate schools in rural areas, which forced children to go far from their family for an education. Nyeu focused on building more schools for children in younger grades close to rural villages, so that students do not have to leave their homes and families or walk long distances to get an education.
Through his work with this school, he developed a deeper understanding of the challenges facing children in the region. He realized that the language problem was not only hurting kids in their education – it was a barrier to preserving their culture.
Nyeu realized that not only are children not being instructed in their native language, they are also being taught with content that is not culturally relevant to their own indigenous culture. “When we lose a language, we don’t just lose what we speak,” Nyeu says. “There is also all of the wisdom that is passed down through generations.”
While talking to locals about this problem, he found that it was a concern for many people. He recalls one woman telling him, ‘‘Language isn’t just a tool for communication – it’s how our ancestors speak to us. It’s how we learn meaning in the world.” Without a space where their culture and language is nurtured, Nyeu said that these people are gradually losing their culture.
Nyeu then realized that his education initiatives could help solve this problem. He launched the Oral History Project, which is working to solve this problem by ingeniously making children ‘co-creators’ in their education, which is also a focus of his dissertation research at HGSE.
His method asks teachers to give their students an assignment: Interview their grandfather, grandmother, or an elder and ask them to tell the student a story, which they share at school. Someone records the presentation, and travels to the nearest town with computer access and sends the video to the team at Harvard.
Nyeu then translates the story into English, and works with a children’s book author and illustrator to create a beautiful, colorful children’s story that goes back to the classrooms in Bangladesh. This allows teachers to instruct students about their own culture, in their own language. These are stories that have been passed down orally for hundreds of years, and are for the first time printed in books.
For example, Nyeu says that he now has a physical book telling a story that he heard countless times from his grandmother as a child. This is strengthening the culture for generations to come. “If the children grow up learning the language, learning to speak and write in the language, and developing a sense of confidence about their culture and language, after some years, they will become a teacher in our school, and they will educate the next generation of students,” he says.
Through his work with Our Golden Hour, Nyeu is not only giving children of Hill Tracts a valuable education, he is saving their lives. The name for his charity reflects this idea: “In the ER, this is common knowledge among physicians: If someone has an accident, if you can bring the person to the emergency room within 1 to 2 hours of the incident, the probability of saving life and preventing long-term damage increases 70 to 90 percent,” he says.
“For our children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, we saw that if the child doesn’t go to school within 5 to 11 years [of age], this is a window. So for our children, these 5 to 11 years, it is a Golden Hour,” he explains. “If we need to save them, this is why we need to bring them to school and get them an education.”
Read more about Our Golden Hour here.
The organizing committee of the annual Harvard University Seminar on Bangladesh invites you to attend the International Seminar on ‘Globalization and Sustainability of Bangladesh Garment Industry’ on Saturday, June 14th, 2014 at Harvard University. The day-long seminar is being organized jointly by South Asia Institute at Harvard, Harvard University Center for Environment and International Sustainable Development Institute (ISDI), Inc. and South Asian students and professionals at Harvard Medical School, HSPH, Harvard Law School and Harvard College.
The objective of this year’s seminar is to explore the linkages among development, garment sector and environmental health and safety issues in low-income economies, with a focus on Bangladesh. It will highlight the actors and factors that impinge on this linkage at national and global levels. The deliberation will explore how the development partners can more effectively facilitate and assist in solving the key problems for sustaining the competitiveness of the Bangladesh garment industry. How to enhance the role of international community and experts for practical solutions will be a topic of discussion.
The seminar plans to bring together experts, industry people, NGO representatives and practitioners from development agencies and high level policy makers from Bangladesh and USA. Participants will include representatives from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), workers rights groups, international organizations such as the ILO, United Nations Agencies, and representatives from international financial institutions.
The organizing committee welcomes papers and presentations dealing with aspects of the global economy, garment industry, trade and development in the context of Bangladesh garments and apparel industry and the role of international community and development partners.
For further information, please contact:
Mohammed Iqbal Yousuf
On July 26, Diana L. Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Divinity by the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, at its graduation ceremonies in London. She was introduced to the Faculty and students by Professor Gurharpal Singh, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Professor in Inter-Religious Relations and Development. Her citation commended both her work on India and on the South Asian diaspora communities of America, especially the Pluralism Project and its focus on the challenges of religious diversity.
In her address to the graduates, Professor Eck spoke about her own time at SOAS as a Fulbright scholar and a master’s degree student in the 1960s, recalling especially the life of the Common Room, with students from all over Asia, from the Middle East and Africa. She noted how much the world has changed in the decades since then, with the revolutions in communication and all that is signaled by “globalization.” In these years, SOAS has also grown into one of the premier centers in the world for the study of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
“But over these years, some things have hardly changed at all. Deep differences –economic, political, and religious—continue to fracture and divide the world, locally and globally. We understand one another too little. The globalization of our conscience and consciousness is still underdeveloped. Our ignorance and prejudice circle the globe along with our credit card numbers and our greenhouse gases.”
“It is this,” she said, “that makes your work as SOAS graduates essential to the world we live in today and more urgent than ever before. Diversity is just a fact, but pluralism is a creation. It is the achievement of a place like SOAS. It is forged by the engagement across differences of cultures and continents that you have found here; it is forged by the energies on display in the SOAS Common Room, by the relationships you have made, and by the intellectual strengths you have found here. In the world in which we all live today, you are lucky to be graduates of this place. Negotiating difference, creating the infrastructure of pluralism, is both a global and local challenge. It is your challenge as citizens of a fast-changing interdependent and complex world.
It’s not too early to think about what you’ll be doing over Winter Session. Consider applying for a SAI winter grant. Deadline: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Application details: http://southasiainstitute.harvard.edu/winter/
The South Asia Institute has held several alumni events this summer, connecting alums with current and incoming students and faculty in Dhaka, Delhi, Karachi, and Lahore. A snapshot of the events are below. Visit our Facebook page to see photos from the various locations.
Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan
The India & South Asia Program at Harvard Kennedy School announces the Harvard South Asia week from April 8 to 12. Speakers include Cameron Munter, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary to India, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Senior Correspondent and Associate Editor, Washington Post, Ashok Gadgil, University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs.
SAI will cosponsor the lecture with Ashok Gadgil on ‘Solutions for the Bottom 2 Billion‘ as part of our Social Enterprise Seminar Series.
What does the “business” of corruption-fighting look like? What are the key challenges and how does one measure successes? Corruption is the top issue in emerging market economies — and transparency is the most potent tool available to combat corruption. In a video conference with thirteen sites in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (see list below), Professor Karthik Ramanna of Harvard Business School described his recent work on how entrepreneurs in China, Russia, and India built organizations to combat corruption. These entrepreneurs have leveraged transparency in their anti-corruption businesses, although they differ in important ways in their reliance on the Internet, their use of anonymity, and their engagement with local political and cultural institutions.
In China, Professor Ramanna talked about Caijing Magazine, which works within the Chinese elite to enforce accountability from a privileged near-insider position. Learn more about the case here. In Russia, Rospil.info is a crowd-sourced website that uses the anonymity of the internet to fearlessly enforce anti-corruption and whistleblowing with a much greater militancy. In just over a year, Rospil claims it has prevented $1.5 billion in bribes. Learn more about the case here. Finally, Profsesor Ramanna discussed the website ipaidabribe.com, based in India (though there are sites in several other countries). The website encourages people to report bribes they have paid or resisted paying.
Common themes from these three examples include the use of transparency as a tool against corruption, the Internet as a key vehicle for this transparency, and the deployment of transparency is contextualized by political/cultural barriers.
Professor Ramanna then opened the discussion to questions and input from participants on what entrepreneurial corruption-fighting in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka might look like.
To follow the conversation on twitter, check out #SAItroublemakers.
The participating sites included:
BRAC University, Dhaka
Foundation for Advancement of Science and Technology (FAST), Lahore
Higher Education Commission (HEC), Islamabad
Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore
Institute of Business Administration (IBA), Karachi
College of Business Management (CBM), Karachi
University of Gujrat, Gujrat
COMSATS Institute of Science and Technology (CIIT), Lahore
University of Agriculture, Faisalabad
Karachi School for Business & Leadership (KSBL), Karachi
QuaId-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad
Forman Christian College University (FCCU), Lahore
American Center, Colombo
International Seminar on the Environment – Development Relationship in Bangladesh
Saturday, April 13, 2013 from 9 AM – 5 PM
Tsai Auditorium, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA
This event will explore how the development partners can more effectively assist countries like Bangladesh in their leap into the middle income status. Also how to enhance the role of international community in this endeavor will come up for discussion in the seminar. The organizing committee requests for your attendance and welcomes papers dealing with all aspects of environment-development in the context of South Asia including a wide variety of topics like natural disasters, climate and weather, water sharing, public health, climate change refugees, government policies and the role of international organizations and development partners.
To register or submit a paper, please contact Mohammed Iqbal Yousuf, Co-ordinator (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-416-9036)
Organized by South Asian students and professionals at the Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard College
Co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute at Harvard University
On January 19th, SAI and Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB) co-hosted an afternoon tea to introduce visiting Harvard School of Public Health students to Harvard alumni and local leaders in development and education. The students shared their reflections on a very busy visit, which had included a few trips into rural Bangladesh for fun and to see some of the projects contributing to the country’s impressive gains in public health in recent years.
Local participants in the event included Professor Omar Rahman, Vice Chancellor of IUB and leader of the local HAA chapter, Ms. Nasim Ferdous, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Alliance for Women Leadership, Mr. Mosharraf Hossain, Country Director of Action on Disability and Development International, and Professor Fahima Aziz, Vice Chancellor of the Asian University for Women in Chittagong. Several recent alumni, including Mridul Chowdhury and Rubayat Khan (HKS), also attended.
After fifty years of development efforts, 80 per cent of states are still at low, stagnating or failing levels of capabilities. Why? What could be done better?
Professor Lant Pritchett, Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School gave a public lecture at Brac Development Institute on Sunday, December 2, 2012.
November 30, 2012 – Speakers include David Bangsberg, Director of International Programs at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Director of the International Program for the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research and Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Global Health, Asif Saleh, Senior Director of Strategy, Communications and Capacity Division at SAI’s partner BRAC and BRAC International, and Maria May, Program Consultant, SAI Dhaka. Learn more here.
Participants of a three-day national workshop on leadership developed and offered by Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC), the country’s first leadership institute, and supported by the Canadian High Commission in Bangladesh, were awarded certificates at a graduation reception held at the Canadian High Commissioner’s official residence on Saturday, November 24, 2012. The event was organized by Harvard Kennedy School Alum Ejaj Ahmad. Click here for more.
Last week, SAI Regional Coordinator Maria May was one of 1,800 participants in the second Global Symposium on Health Systems Research held in Beijing, China. Much of the conversation centered on achieving universal health coverage, and both Bangladesh and India were highlighted for progress and innovation towards achieving this goal. Several Harvard faculty, including Drs. Peter Berman, Richard Cash, and Bill Hsiao presented on their research. One evening, the Harvard School of Public Health sponsored a alumni and faculty reception that approximately twenty people attended. Maria presented a poster on BRAC’s combination approach to community health workers. BRAC University was one of the co-sponsors of the event.
Learn more about the conference here:
Are you interested in providing an internship opportunity for a Harvard student?
Please considering becoming a SAI partnered organization to offer summer internships to Harvard undergraduate and graduate students. Organizations in various sectors, (health, government, education, microfinance, social enterprise, etc.) are welcome to fill out this survey. SAI will advertise these opportunities on our website, newsletter, and through outreach events on Harvard’s campus.
Please contact us if you have questions about the SAI Internship program!