BRAC Builds on Microcredit

Can you outline a brief history of BRAC?

In response to the humanitarian needs of Bangladesh following the War of Independence in 1971, I set up BRAC as a relief organization in February 1972. Initially, its activities were concentrated on [the] northeastern part of Bangladesh. After two years of relief and rehabilitation work, which included, among other things, building of houses for refugees returning from India after the war and restoring their livelihood, we found that the needs of the poor people went far beyond relief and rehabilitation. This realization led us, in mid-1974, to community development intervention in health, adult education, and credit for rural enterprises development. Shortly afterwards BRAC changed its emphasis from the village community to dealing with the poor directly as it became clear that a determined focus on the poor was essential if our efforts were going to have any lasting impact. With this . . . strategy for sustainable development, and [the] objective of alleviation of poverty and empowerment of poor and other disadvantaged sections of the society, BRAC expanded its activities to other parts of the country, ensuring accessibility of the poor to resources and services. While developing their capacity, BRAC also promotes direct involvement of the poor as entrepreneurs in agricultural sectors including vegetable cultivation, sericulture [silk production], fisheries, poultry, livestock, and the like.

Under its Rural Development Programme with microcredit as a principal component, BRAC now covers 2.2 million families in 37,000 villages. BRAC also provides skill development training and human rights and legal education to the women under its credit program. About 25 million people have been brought under its health program. It also works closely with other NGOs on education, training, and capacity development. In 1985, it initiated non-formal primary education for the unenrolled and dropout children of poor families. About 1.2 million children, 75 percent of whom are girls, are receiving free primary education in 34,000 BRAC schools. BRAC has 18,000 full-time employees and 33,000 part-time functionaries.

So far BRAC has disbursed loans amounting to US$500 million, and the savings deposit of its borrowers, a prerequisite of their membership in the village organizations, has gone up to US$45 million. BRAC’s annual budget for 1997 was US$102 million, 45 percent of which is generated internally.