How Sir Fazle Hasan Abed will be treated by the posterity remains to be seen. Will he be seen as one of the world’s top anti-poverty crusaders who somehow missed the Nobel Prize bus? Or will he be seen as an empire builder who created one of Bangladesh’s biggest private conglomerates having interests in seeds to tea, banking to insurance, clothing to mobile financing and then passed the batons to his close family members?
A Freedom Fighter, Sir Abed set up Brac to deliver services in areas where the government was failing or traditionally has been a poor performer. But as the government became a big behemoth with budget spending worth 60 billion dollars a year, Brac’s role in the country’s poverty reduction has declined sharply. It remains a top micro lender, but can we now consider micro lending a charity when it is turning up double digit profit growth every year.
Brac brought about a can-do attitude and has sold the idea that public sector can’t fix every problem. But some of its business operations remain opaque. We know how much the “greedy” garment factories pay to their workers. We steadfastly report all the wage negotiations between union and the garment manufacturers. But has Brac ever said how much they pay to their sewing girls, who make clothing for Aarong, the charity-conglomerate’s apparel and handicraft arm. What is the minimum wages of an Aarong seamstress?
But we do know that Brac tea estates pay their workers 120 taka (1.42 dollars) wages per day — the minimum wages fixed for the plantation industry.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed KCMG (27 April 1936 – 20 December 2019) was the founder of BRAC, one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations.
Sir Fazle was honored with numerous national and international awards for his contributions in social development, including the LEGO Prize (2018), Laudato Si’ Award (2017), Thomas Francis, Jr Medal in Global Public Health (2016), World Food Prize (2015), Spanish Order of Civil Merit (2014), Leo Tolstoy International Gold Medal (2014), WISE Prize for Education (2011) among others.
In both 2014 and 2017, he was named in Fourtune’s List of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. He was also recognized by Ashoka as one of the ‘global greats’ and was a founding member of its Global Academy for Social Entrepreneurship. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 2010 New Year Honours for services in tackling poverty and empowering the poor in Bangladesh and globally.
The many honorary degrees he received include those from Princeton University (2014), the University of Oxford (2009), Columbia University (2008) and Yale University (2007).
In an interview for the Creating Emerging Markets project at the Harvard Business School, Abed revealed his strong belief that businesses can positively impact society, that “you can do good also by doing business.”
In August 2019, Abed retired as the chairperson of BRAC Bangladesh and BRAC International, and took on the position of the Chair Emeritus