Introducing ‘Hope Over Fate’: The Story of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and BRAC


Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC and “one of the unsung heroes of the modern age”, according to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Timesauthorized his own biography before dying of brain cancer in 2019. Author Scott MacMillan wrote: hope over fate based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Abed and his friends, family and colleagues. Credit: Courtesy of BRAC
  • Opinion by Scott MacMillan (Redding Conn, United States)
  • Inter Press Service

I had the privilege of being Abed’s speechwriter for the last years of his life, and I spent hours listening to stories from his remarkable life: from his childhood in British India, his love life in London in the 1960s, his three marriages and how in 1972, with a few thousand pounds from the sale of his flat in Camden, he founded a small non-profit organization to help refugees, originally called the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee. Many people would call BRAC, which Abed led until his death in 2019, the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world.

That seemed like a story worth telling in full, and after some urging, Abed gave me permission to ghostwrite his autobiography. However, he was an exceptionally private person and cringed at anything with a hint of self-promotion. “You make me pose!” he once scolded me after an early draft of a speech.

I was about halfway through his memoir when he told me to stop. The story, the way I had written it, didn’t feel right coming from him. He preferred to let BRAC’s work speak for itself – which may explain why so few people outside his native Bangladesh knew who he was or the extent of what he had accomplished.

Abed eventually came up with the idea that his story had to be told by someone, even if in the end it wouldn’t be him. He asked me to use the material I had gathered to write the book myself, in my own words – which I did, even knowing that many of those words were not up to the task. The book, Hope Over Destiny: Fazle Hasan Abed and the Science to End Global Povertyis being released today by Rowman & Littlefield.

An accountant’s story

Abed told stories, but he was not a good storyteller in the typical sense of the word. He did not sprinkle his speeches with anecdotes from the ‘ordinary’ people he had met, as politicians sometimes do. He was an accountant and for him numbers told stories.

So here’s the story he would tell about his native Bangladesh – no names or faces, just a series of statistics. At the time of its independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the second poorest country in the world with a per capita GDP of less than $100, a nation of sixty-six million people living on a patch of flood-prone land the size of Iowa. One in four children died before their fifth birthday. In 1990, the country still had one of the highest maternal mortality rates, at 574 per 100,000.

In the 1990s, however, things began to change quickly and almost miraculously. Quality of life improved at an unprecedented rate. By 2013, the under-five death rate had fallen to just 40 per 1,000 living birthdays; maternal mortality had fallen in the same way. These and other changes constituted “some of the greatest gains in the basic condition of people’s lives ever seen anywhere,” according to the report. The economist.

People who stand up for themselves

What happened? Abed’s work had a lot to do with it. BRAC trained and mobilized people, giving them a self-esteem many had never felt before. They began to stand up for themselves against landlords, corrupt government officials and imams who opposed women’s rights. He often found that what people really needed was hope—the feeling that, with a little outside help, their destiny could be in their own hands.

His methods were varied and new. Incentive-based training gave mothers health information so they could save the lives of their own children. Women took small loans from BRAC to buy cows and handlooms, the first time they had anything substantial. With nowhere to sell the milk and fabric they produced, Abed built up the dairy and textile industry by establishing businesses that bought the goods for women. These ventures, owned by BRAC, turned out to be profitable, so he plowed the money back into the poverty programs. Abed also launched 50,000 schools, plus a commercial bank and a university. BRAC now probably reaches more than 100 million people in a dozen countries in Africa and Asia. No other non-profit or social enterprise has reached such a scale.

Yet Abed was not an ascetic, self-denying Gandhi. He left the office at a reasonable hour and enjoyed coming home to the comforts of home life, the sound of family and the warm smell of spices from the kitchen. He was twice widowed and told me about his loneliness between his marriages and how, despite his preoccupation with work, he found it difficult to return to an empty house.

The Science of Hope

Then how did he do it? Remarkably, Abed sometimes said that BRAC had done relatively little to help Bangladesh move out of the ranks of one of the poorest countries on Earth. It created only the conditions: it was the poor themselves, especially the women, who worked tirelessly, once those conditions were in place, to change the circumstances of their lives.

I suspect that’s why he thought his own story didn’t deserve so much attention, especially when compared to the millions of women who had long labored on the fringes of society, who one day, in his words, “would become their own actors in history.” to be”. and write their own tales of triumph over adversity.”

So this is the biography of a man, yes, but it is also the biography of an idea – the idea that hope itself has the power to overcome poverty. Towards the end of his life, Abed spoke of ‘the science of hope’: the study and practice of giving people a sense of control over their own lives. “For too long people thought that poverty was something instituted by a higher power, as immutable as the sun and the moon,” he wrote in 2018. His life mission was to put that myth to rest, which is why Abed’s story is the story of the triumph of hope over fate.

Scott MacMillan is the author of Hope Over Fate: Fazle Hasan Abed and the Science of Ending Global Poverty (Rowman & Littlefield), from which it is adapted. This excerpt has been modified with permission from the publisher. The book is now available at major retailers.

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