Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of Brac, has urged a shift in focus from school enrollment to quality of learning. Credit: Brac
Improving the quality of education on offer to children in developing nations will be a key factor in efforts to eradicate global poverty, the founder of the world’s largest non-governmental organisation said.
Investment in school systems rather than a narrow focus on enrollment numbers will be the next challenge for the global humanitarian sector, said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of Brac.
“We have been able to get children into school, but the next task is to give them high quality education. Many countries are failing to provide quality education to their children, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan,” said Abed, who recently won the 2015 World Food Prize for his contribution to reducing poverty in his home country Bangladesh and 10 other nations.
“There are so many children going to school but not learning much. This is going to be a big challenge – how to provide quality education to children.”
Abed left a job as a senior corporate executive at Shell Oil in London after the 1971 Liberation War that led to Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. He began with a small relief operation in 1972 in a remote village of Bangladesh after the country was hit by a major cyclone, before founding Brac. Today, the NGO employs 110,000 people in Bangladesh and works in areas such as microfinance, education, healthcare, legal services, community empowerment and social enterprises. Worldwide, Brac has helped around 135 million people, with operations in regions including Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Thanks to a funding model that helps it generate revenues from its different assets and funnel them back into Brac, the organisation relies on donors for only 25 per cent of its financing needs. This allows it to follow its own agenda and test new models without necessarily seeking donor approval.
To date, Brac has educated nearly 7 million children, including helping 5 million girls to attend primary school. The organisation has also helped reduce infant and child mortality in Bangladesh to 40 in 1,000, down from 250 almost a decade ago.
“If you are looking for challenges for the future, the other is how to eradicate extreme poverty in the world so that everybody has a decent meaningful life to lead,” said Abed. “These are the next generation of challenges that we must face and win.”
Another pressing topic is developing mechanisms that help developing nations adapt to climate change, which hits poorer communities hardest, he said.
“Climate is going to bring in its wake a lot of problems, which we need to solve. We need to adapt to some of them. We also need mitigation, in other words the lifestyle has to change in a lot of the developed world to be able to cut down carbon emissions. That has to happen in the West, but in our countries we need to adapt to climate change aspects like drought, saline water, water logging, and things like that,” he added.
The world is also becoming less equitable, and there’s a need to build societies that promote equal opportunities for everyone, instead of equality of wealth, he explained.
“People should have opportunity to rise through their own hard work. These are the kind of societies we want to build. We don’t want to build a society where opportunities are reserved for a few.”
Gender equality is at the top of Abed’s list of challenges to tackle through Brac’s programmes. Describing it as “the unfinished agenda of my life”, he noted that human societies would be much happier if gender equality was achieved.
“For our own sake we need to develop equality of opportunity or all men and women, girls and boys,” he said.