Lindsay Coates shares insights about BRAC’s commitment to justice and transforming systems to deliver long-term change.
In 2007, the United Nations named February 20th World Day of Social Justice to recognize that everyone deserves equal opportunities and equal social, economic, and political rights.
This year’s commemoration has special resonance in the context of sustained mass demonstrations in every U.S. state and in dozens of countries in response to the devaluation of Black lives and brutal racial injustice—and in the context of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color and people living in poverty—exposing glaring disparities in access to health care, jobs, and other safety nets.
In 2021, World Day of Social Justice lays bare the urgent need for the international community to prioritize a search for solutions to achieve sustainable development, poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, universal social protection, gender equality, and access to social well-being and justice for all.
Central to BRAC’s mission are a dedication to addressing the most pervasive forms of inequality and an unswerving commitment to advancing social justice.
Through BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative (UPGI), we are scaling our holistic, innovative Graduation approach to help millions more people around the world lift themselves from extreme poverty for the long term.
At a time of unprecedented crisis, when the world’s poorest and most marginalized people are being left even further behind, Lindsay Coates, the Managing Director of UPGI, highlights the need to put social justice at the center of international development.
Dr. Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC International, shares reflections on Sir Fazle’s life and legacy on the anniversary of his passing.
By Dr. Muhammad Musa
On December 20, 2020, we marked the first anniversary of the passing of BRAC’s beloved founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. On this day, I am reflecting not just on Abed Bhai’s life and legacy, but also on who he was as a person and how he touched the lives of those around him.
Abed Bhai—as those of us who knew him called him with respect and affection—contained multitudes. He was a global leader with vision and purpose, a courageous decision-maker and institution-builder, a humble personality who didn’t like the spotlight, and a loving family member and father. He built one of the largest and most successful development organizations in the world, but always highlighted the work of others above his own. A pioneer of social enterprises as a tool to address poverty and social injustice—and a lover of poetry, music and art—Abed Bhai was many things, but above all he was a man with a calling to help make the world a better place, not only for the current generation, but also for all those yet to come.
I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to work closely with Abed Bhai, especially in the last four years of his life. I was fortunate, as our offices were facing each other, to have many chances to interact with him informally on a regular basis. I will always cherish the days (and occasional late nights) of conversation and reflecting on work and life together.
Although I miss our conversations in the office, I learned the most from Abed Bhai in the field. I believe his last field visit was to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in March 2019. We were together for two full days, driving miles to reach the refugee camps, followed by hours spent walking the narrow lanes in between the hundreds of tents in which Rohingya families were living. Together, we visited BRAC’s innovative Humanitarian Play Labs for the children of Rohingya refugees, observed in-camp income-generating centers for refugee women, and witnessed learning centers where children were receiving education services.
Abed Bhai was tireless, walking from morning to evening, intently observing each program. He was always appreciative of the great work that our team members were doing, while at the same time identifying ways to pursue even higher levels of excellence and challenging us to achieve even greater impact. It was one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my career. I realized on that trip that a BRAC leader needs to be extremely appreciative of the work of her/his/their team, but must never become complacent or satisfied. Abed Bhai wanted us to continually raise the bar of the quality and scale of our programs. That was our Abed Bhai, who never felt we were done, but, rather, always believed we still had a long way to go!
One year has already passed since our beloved Abed Bhai left us: I continue to miss him. I miss his voice, his smile, his affection, his teaching, and most importantly his enormous ability to help solve complex problems through simple and non-bureaucratic actions. Even though he is no longer with us, I still feel his spirit around me every day. In a year that has tested us all, the collective commitment of everyone in the global BRAC family—from field staff to management to donors, partners, and board members—to fight for a better world proves that the spirit of BRAC, the spirit of Abed Bhai, is still alive and well.
I am so grateful to have been able to know a man such as Abed Bhai, but I am even more grateful for the community, the BRAC family, that he built and so many are part of. Abed Bhai’s shining accomplishment is the people he was able to bring together—from his wife and children, to his lifelong friends who are still involved in the organization, to all the hundreds of thousands of people who make BRAC what it is.
Although today we look back in remembrance of Abed Bhai’s amazing life and accomplishments, tomorrow we look forward to carrying on his spirit and vision to create a world free of poverty, inequality, and injustice. Thank you for being a part of this collective effort.
I look forward to continuing Abed Bhai’s journey with you all.
Dr. Muhammad Musa is the Executive Director of BRAC USA.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC Founder, passed away in December 2019. Here, Abed’s friends and admirers reflect on his life and legacy.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the beloved founder of BRAC, passed away on December 20, 2019. An icon of international development and pivotal figure in Bangladesh, Sir Fazle pioneered innovations in the sector that changed the course of a country and reverberated around the globe. His belief in the dignity and value of every human being, especially the poorest, has defined the ethos of the organization since he founded it.
Born in 1936, in the Sylhet region of British India, now Bangladesh, Sir Fazle grew up with significant privilege. After studying accounting in London, he went to work as an executive at Shell Oil, where he quickly rose to head its finance division. He would later say his experience at Shell taught him how to run large operations effectively and efficiently.
In the early 1970s, a devastating cyclone and the Bangladesh Liberation War ravaged his home country, dramatically altering the course of his life. Sir Fazle left his job and founded a small relief effort. After the war was over, he returned to a newly-sovereign Bangladesh. He founded BRAC to provide support for the 10 million refugees who had sheltered abroad during the war.
From the earliest days of BRAC to the global organization we know today, Sir Fazle was renowned for his famously dogged work ethic, keen eye for detail, and data-driven approach. Cited by Bill Clinton, Bill and Melinda Gates, the editors of The Economist, and many others for his extraordinary influence on global development, Sir Fazle avoided self-promotion, believing that BRAC’s work should speak for itself.
The organization he created and led for most of his life had historic impact, especially in his native Bangladesh, helping that country rise from the ranks of one of the poorest nations on earth to a lower-middle-income country and a model for successful development. Today, his remarkable legacy persists in the hundreds of millions of people around the world whose lives he bettered.
On my dear friend Abed
“Abed was one of the foremost leaders of thought as well as action of our time… An astonishing combination of clear-headed thinking and sure-footed execution made Abed the great leader that he was. We have had very few like him in the history of the world.”
Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in Economics
He was a great gift to humanity
“Sir Fazle Abed’s life was a great gift to humanity. His nearly 50 years of visionary leadership at BRAC transformed millions of lives in Bangladesh and beyond, and changed the way the world thinks about development. Driven by an unwavering belief in the inherent dignity of all people, he empowered those in extreme poverty to build better futures for themselves and their families… His legacy will live on in all the people whose lives are better, healthier and more secure because of his remarkable service.”
Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States and Founder and Chair, Clinton Foundation
We will forever draw inspiration from his work
“In 1972, after Bangladesh’s war of liberation had left many homeless, Fazle Abed left his job as a London oil executive and returned to his home country with £16,000 in his pocket — and the ambitious goal of building 10,400 houses. He ended up raising enough money to build 16,000 houses for some of the poorest people in Bangladesh and still had enough left over to start his next project. That’s who Sir Fazle was as a humanitarian, and that’s what he helped us learn about development work: How to build a big, efficient organization, while never forgetting who you were doing it for. We were saddened to hear of his passing and will forever draw inspiration from his work, as will the rest of the world, which he left so much better than he found.”
Bill and Melinda Gates, Co-Chairs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
His life is a lesson for us
“The scale and impact of what he has done, and yet the utter humility with which he has done everything, is a lesson for every single one of us.”
Jim Yong Kim, Former President, World Bank
One of the heroes of modern times
“I can think of few people who have done so much for humanity as Abed. He was a friend and someone I deeply admired and learned from: While US aid efforts in Afghanistan often flopped, his succeeded. Reflecting his humility, no one called him Sir Fazle. He was simply Abed.”
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times Columnist
We will never forget the example he set
“Over the course of three decades, under Sir Fazle’s inspiring leadership, the humanitarian organization he founded, BRAC, has become one of the world’s leading development organizations. From its humble beginnings in Bangladesh – the country he loved so well – to its expansion to 10 countries across Asia and Africa, BRAC has stood as an inspiring example of how we can gather people together in common cause to improve the lives of the most vulnerable… All of us at UNICEF will miss his ideas and advice. We will never forget the example he set.”
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF
My deepest condolences
“The hundreds of millions of lives he transformed will remember him as the spark of hope, especially by those from the most vulnerable and poorest communities now enriched by new possibilities. ”
Dr. Charles Chen Yidan, Founder, Yidan Prize Foundation
A set of rapid assessments on food and income security across ten countries reveals striking patterns
BRAC has conducted four rapid assessments on food and income security across ten countries in Africa and Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic. This webinar dives into the findings and shares how we can apply the learnings to enable the most vulnerable to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. The webinar features key BRAC leadership and staff; including Sajedul Hasan, Director of Humanitarian Programs; Ruth Okowa, Africa Regional Director; Kazi Eliza Islam, Associate Director of Monitoring and Program Quality; and Dr. Munshi Sulaiman, Africa Regional Research Lead.
Global leaders from across the BRAC family discuss COVID-19 response
Join global leaders from across the BRAC family as they discuss our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, informed by nearly 50 years of experience helping communities recover from emergencies. Moderated by Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, the webinar features Dr. Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC International; Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh; and Hasina Akhter, Area Director for BRAC’s humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
People from across the BRAC family share their memories of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed
BRAC’s beloved founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, or Abed bhai, pioneered innovations that changed the course of a country and reverberated around the globe. We are grateful for his leadership and vision and will always cherish the values that he embodied.
One man’s vision changed millions of lives.
BRAC’s beloved founder passed away on December 20, 2019. To the world, he was Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. To us, he was simply Abed bhai.
Hear from BRAC USA President and CEO, Donella Rapier
Donella Rapier, President and CEO of BRAC USA, shares why she loves working for BRAC. For her, working at BRAC is about serving vulnerable communities and witnessing up close how lives can change with the right support.