Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was a man with vision, but more importantly, he had the determination and highest level of efficiency to turn his vision into action, and that was what he used to establish and turn Brac into one of the world’s biggest development organisations.
Abed, a brand name in the development sector worldwide, had his heart set on the poor, and so he worked and innovated relentlessly to bring them out of poverty.
“Abed Bhai had the heart to love people. He held the hands of the people to help them stand up,” said Mazeda Khanam, one of the first teachers of Brac’s informal education programme in Manikganj, at a memorial service titled “Celebrating the life and legacy of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: 1936-2019”.
Organised by Brac at the city’s International Convention City Bashundhara yesterday, the event was attended by by dignitaries, including ministers, development activists, diplomats, business persons, and members of the civil society.
The event began with a one-minute silence in his memory.
Noted cultural activist and lawmaker Asaduzzaman Noor recited “Shahjahan”, one of Abed’s favourite poems by Rabindranath Tagore, while Tagore songs were performed by Shama Rahman and Adity Mohsin.
“Abed bhai is no more, but he is actually living amongst us through his work.” said Mazeda.
Brac, founded by Abed in 1972 at the age of 36 as a small relief and rehabilitation project in north-eastern Bangladesh, has grown to be one of the most effective development organisations in the world, touching the lives of over 100 million people worldwide.
It is specialised in development programmes focusing on health, education, microfinance, and social enterprises. Currently, Brac operates in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, with affiliate offices in the USA, the UK and the Netherlands.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a message for the occassion said Abed’s contribution in poverty alleviation and sustainable development are sources of great inspiration for the UN. UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo read out the message in yesterday’s event.
“Sir Fazle Abed’s vision became Brac’s vision. He was against all forms of exploitation and discrimination. He was a strong advocate for women and through Brac he designed development models that placed women at the centre,” said Guterres.
Abed also understood that opportunity starts with the help of education, and Brac’s education model has been replicated around the world.
“For Bangladesh, in the 1970s diarrhoea was the biggest killer. Sir Fazle Abed helped the country make dramatic advances in overcoming the disease through highly effective national campaigns.
“Today the focus is shifting towards resilience in the face of climate change and humanitarian crises. Brac today is among the main responders to the Rohingya crisis. I know that Brac will continue to keep alive the vision of its founder.”
Guterres said the UN will stand with Brac in carrying forward Abed’s important work.
Nobel Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus said Sir Fazle Abed had made extraordinary contributions in the development of Bangladesh and left his footprints everywhere in the country.
“Abed needs to be understood if Bangladesh is to be understood. If we forget Abed Bhai, it will be like forgetting our life,” he said.
The depth and strength of his thoughts are really inspiring, said Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank.
“He has actually changed the definition of NGO. We need to realise that,” he said, suggesting that an institution has been established to study Abed, which will enrich the next generations.
Gonoshasthaya Kendra Founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury said Abed has unequivocally supported the health programme that Zafrullah did, including the establishment of a kidney dialysis centre. He said he is working to establish a kidney transplant centre and name if after Abed.
“Abed’s smile was so inspiring. I don’t want to think that Abed is dead, but he is alive, smiling and inspiring,” he said.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), said Abed has helped establish many organisations, and CAMPE is one of those.
“He was like a banyan tree for us. We will continue to follow his legacy,” she said.
Dr Martha Chan, lecturer of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, said the world remembers Sir Fazle Abed as a hero and giant in the world of development.
“I think of you as a quiet revolutionary who was able to translate your radical, creative, expansive visions into practice -- like few revolutionaries were able to do,” she said.
Brac Global Board Chairperson Ameerah Haq said Brac has been recognised as the world’s best NGO for the last five consecutive years.
Laurie J Spangler, CEO of Enclude Capital UK Limited; Dr Erum Mariam of Brac University; Chandra Shekhar Shaha and Shukendra Kumar Sarkar of Brac; Sir Abed’s son Shameran Abed, daughter Tamara Hasan Abed, nieces Anadil Hossain and Tanya Murshed also spoke at the event.
Former finance minister AMA Muhith, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, former ministers Rashed Khan Menon, Dr Moyeen Khan and Abul Hasan Chowdhury, economist Rehman Sobhan, jurist Dr Kamal Hossain, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller, Australian High Commission Charge De Affairs Penny Morton, DFID-Bangladesh Head Judith Herbertson, among others were present.