16 June 2013, Dhaka. Central European University awarded its 18th Open Society Prize to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of BRAC and the affiliated BRAC University, at a commencement ceremony that included more than 600 masters and doctoral students from nearly 80 countries last week in Budapest, Hungary.
Sir Fazle founded BRAC, formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, in rural Bangladesh in 1972. The anti-poverty organization now works in 11 countries, reaching an estimated 126 million people.
In his commencement speech, he told students, “After my country’s independence, I began working to try to help the poor of Bangladesh. My early colleagues and I initially thought that BRAC would be a short-term relief effort. But the realities of entrenched poverty soon changed our minds.”
“I have learned much along the way,” Sir Abed continued in his speech. “Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that when you create the right conditions, poor people will do the hard work of defeating poverty themselves.” In addition to BRAC, Sir Abed is also founder and chairperson of BRAC University, a Dhaka-based institution of higher learning launched in 2001 to train future leaders, especially those from developing nations.
Previous recipients of the Open Society Prize include Sir Karl Popper, author of The Open Society and its Enemies, after which the prize is named; Vaclav Havel, writer and first president of the Czech Republic; Richard Holbrooke, U.S. diplomat; and Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations. The prize is given “to an outstanding individual whose achievements have contributed substantially to the creation of an open society.”
Both the Open Society Prize and Central European University have close ties to visionary philanthropist and investor George Soros, who founded the university and currently serves as its honorary chairperson.