BRAC founder: Why aid must refocus on the 'ultrapoor'

    Sir Fazle Hasan Abed remains unwavering about the cause he took on four decades ago. When we spoke with him recently in New York, he was, as he has always been, eager to talk about an idea that has become his trademark and underlines the model for eradicating poverty of what many consider the world’s largest nongovernmental organization.

    Abed and his team at BRAC focus on the ultrapoor, or those that survive on less than 50 cents per day. Extreme poverty, as widely defined, covers people living on $1.25 daily.

    As such, if lifting people from extreme poverty is a struggle, it’s an even bigger challenge to address the condition of the ultrapoor.

    “It’s the people who are really at the bottom of the pecking order in the village,” the multiaward-winning social worker told Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar on the sidelines of the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative annual gathering. “[T]hey are so marginalized that you find that … even microfinance organizations don’t touch them.”

    For BRAC, helping the ultrapoor means addressing their condition at the family level.

    Abed explained: “The way it works [is that] we go into a village, let’s say 200 families and we say find the poorest 10 families in this village. So the villagers will sit down and they rank houses according to what they think would be the richest to the poorest and then there would be lots of debates about, is he the poorest from this family, that family should come here, things like that. So one whole day of discussions within the village, so we’ll come out with a poorest 10 or 20 families, and in Bangladesh it comes outs approximately 8-10 percent of the population that are very poor, then we start working these families.”

    Watch the above video for more of our interview with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed.

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    About the author

    • Eliza Villarino

      Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.

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