BRAC a non-government organisation was set up in 1972 by its founder executive director Fazle Hasan Abed in habiganj district. Originally its name was Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). Since 2009 the abbreviated name BRAC has been officially accepted as its name. BRAC initially provided relief and rehabilitation assistance to refugees returning from India after the war of liberation. Later, BRAC turned its focus on the long-term issue of poverty alleviation and empowerment of the poor in rural areas of the country. At present, BRAC promotes income generation for the poor, mostly landless rural people through microcredit and programmes on healthcare, literacy, and education and training.
BRAC is now a multi-faceted organisation with over 46,914 regular staff and 65,359 teachers working in 69,421 villages in all 64 districts of Bangladesh. The BRAC Development Programme has so far (2003) organised over 3.85 million landless poor, mostly women, into 113756 village organisations (VOs), each having 35-40 members. VOs serve as forums, where the poor can collectively address the key structural impediments to their development. These are also key institutions for the delivery of financial services to the poor. The number of Vos increased to 298,848 in 2009.
BRAC's credit programme was initiated in 1974. Until December 2002, it disbursed Tk 86.61 billion ($1.8 billion) among VO members to develop their income generation capacities. Members are also encouraged to save regularly. The savings deposited with BRAC stood at Tk 4.98 billion ($86 million) in 2000. BRAC believes that microcredit is an important tool in breaking the cycle of poverty. But it also gives emphasis to training of its members engaged in livelihood trades and income generating activities and in facilitating their linkages with consumer markets. BRAC's social development initiatives are designed to increase members' awareness of their rights and responsibilities and to facilitate ways of tackling discrimination in their villages and their region.
The Health, Nutrition and Population Programme of BRAC takes a broad approach to the health needs of the poor. Trained health workers raise the awareness of the poor villagers on health issues. They then impart simple training to them in curative and preventive health measures that can greatly reduce common diseases. The full range of reproductive health needs of members in particular and the community in general are addressed through programmes in adolescent family life education, contraception, STD/RTI control and HIV awareness, and special services for improving the health and nutritional status of pregnant mothers. BRAC's health services are available to more than one hundred million people.
The BRAC Education Programme has grown to encompass well over 38,250 one-room schools that provide education to 1.12 million children. About 65% of the students in these schools are girls. BRAC is also generating 26,350 pre-primary schools throughout the country. The importance of maintaining literacy outside the school setting has been addressed with BRAC's over two thousand community based libraries, 600 mobile libraries and about nine thousand development centres for girls give the over members access to a variety of reading materials.
BRAC provides support to its three core areas of activities through various programmes. Its training division is involved in all aspects of training of its staff and VO members. BRAC established 20 Residential Training and Resource Centres and two BRAC Centres for Development Management. Key support is provided to all programmes through the Research and Evaluation Division, the Monitoring Division, the Publication Department, the Audio-Visual Centre and the Construction and Logistics Department.
In attempting to link poor rural producers with expanding urban markets, BRAC undertook some programme support enterprises, such as Arong, a retail handicraft chain store. In 1998, a BRAC dairy division was commissioned based on an integrated system of milk procurement from 80 thousand small rural producers from 28 districts and production of quality dairy products. Nine poultry farms and two poultry feed mills were set up in rural areas to meet the demand of BRAC members.
Other programme support enterprises of BRAC include BRAC Printers, a cold storage, three grainages (sericulture), ten fish and prawn hatcheries, six seed centres, 1859 live-stock centres and a bull station at union level. The BRAC Information Technology Institute was established in dhaka to guide qualified IT professionals.
BRAC's IBM-ACE is operating to train people in the field of computer technology. Recently, BRAC established a commercial bank and a private university in 2001 under its own management. BRAC has a tissue culture laboratory, four seed processing plants and farmland to produce improved variety of seeds and new agricultural technology for VO members as well as for other farmers.
BRAC began it activities in the international arena in 2002 with its programmes introduced in Afghanistan. Since then its multilateral approach for poverty reduction is being practiced in eight countries of Asia and Africa. At present, BRAC is operating its programmes as an international development organisation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Tanjania, Uganda, South Sudan and Sierra Leone.
BRAC could build up a bright image in home and abroad through effective empowerment and sustainable development of the poor. In 2010, BRAC introduced a new logo as its institutional emblem and steps are underway for branding it globally. BRAC worked with the Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress in Zimbabwe and the School for International Training in the United States to create the Global Partnership Programme, which offered postgraduate diploma in NGO leadership and Management. The courses were designed to prepare students for a successful career, especially in the NGO sector at home and abroad.
At inception in 1972, BRAC had an annual budget of Tk 3 million ($247,000). The donors supplied the whole of this fund. In contrast, the projected budget for BRAC for the year 2009 was Tk 693.59 million US dollars and the donor contribution accounted for only 20% of the amount. [Shamsul Huda]