Support helps aspiring entrepreneurs, many of them women, achieve their dream of a better life.
For Abdul Haque and his wife Golapi, starting their own business posed many hurdles.
"He [Haque] practically had no income," Golapi told Khabar. "We could not even guarantee three meals a day." Now, however, the couple operates two grocery stores located in Dhighirchala, a city in Gazipur.
What made the difference for them was a microfinance loan from the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). It enabled the two to set up their first grocery, with a starting budget of Tk 5,000 ($60).
"Now, we sell products worth Tk 4 lakh ($4,900) per month from our two shops," said Golapi, who is in charge of the business and handles its finances.
Founded in 1972 by Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC is now one of the largest NGOs in the world. Its projects include rural crafts, dairy and food products, tea estates, chicken farms, hatcheries and banking and home finance divisions. Microfinance now constitutes 34% of BRAC activities.
According to BRAC, it has impacted the lives of more than 138 million people in Asia and Africa, created 8.5 million self-employment opportunities, graduated 8.1 million students from its 66,000 pre-primary and primary schools and has a global staff of more than 44,306 people.
Seven years ago, Morzina Begum, 35, was selected for BRAC's ultra-poor programme that provided her with a subsistence allowance along with vaccine, medicine and training to rear cows for years.
Prior to becoming a beneficiary of the programme, she and her husband, 45-year-old Mofiz Uddin, struggled to feed their three children, none of whom attended school. Now things are different.
"The small cow started giving milk in two years," said Morzina. "I earned by selling milk and chabra (dried cow dung used as fuel) from the cow."
That single cow gave birth to three cows and changed her family's economic conditions.
"I can earn Tk 10,000 per month ($121.82) by selling milk and chabra. I have built two [thatched] rooms for my family members," Morzina said. Her 10-year-old daughter began to attend school.
Millions of women like Golapi and Morzina have received microfinance assistance from BRAC, which started operations in 1972 with a mission of helping to develop the war-ravaged country.
Making an impact
During the last 40 years, BRAC disbursed $8.6 billion to 5.2 million borrowers with a repayment rate of more than 98%. As of December 2011, the 'not-for-profit' organisation served 113 million people -- mostly women -- by developing programmes on health, education, and social enterprises with the aim of poverty alleviation.
Government figures show that in 2011, Bangladesh's poverty rate is 40%. In 1971 when the South Asian country emerged as an independent country through bloody struggle against Pakistan, the rate was 65%.
While instituting BRAC, Abed felt the government of a war-torn country alone would not be able to take people out of the vicious cycles of poverty. He tried to unlocking their potential, especially poor women out of the society’s mainstream.
"The NGOs no doubt have made some significant contribution to reduce poverty," Prof Q K Ahmad, former president of the Bangladesh Economic Association, told Khabar. He said the NGO's activities could help the women to establish status within their families.
Due to its expertise in microfinance and development issues in Bangladesh, BRAC has expanded its operations into 12 additional countries: Afghanistan (2002), Sri Lanka (2005), Tanzania (2006), Uganda (2006), United States (2007), South Sudan (2007), Pakistan (2007), Liberia (2008), Sierra Leone (2008), the Netherlands (2009), Haiti (2010), and the Philippines (2012).
In the process, BRAC has also attracted criticism for operating commercial entities, such as BRAC Bank and the Delta-BRAC Housing Finance Corporation. The late professor Mozaffer Ahmed filed a case in 2000 against BRAC for its 'profit-making' ventures, but lost the legal battle.
Officials say such ventures are needed in order to sustain the NGO's ventures.
"All of our income-generating projects are aimed at creating markets for our poor entrepreneurs, as a guaranteed market is a pre-condition to the projects' sustainability," BRAC Executive Director Mahbub Hossain told Khabar. "The commercial enterprises would help us with funds in case of our crisis," he said.
Newly-established entrepreneurs like Abdul and Golapi say their experience is proof that BRAC programmes change lives. Abdul's three brothers, he says, have now joined them in the business and are working their way to a better destiny.
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