Donors are likely to jump ship once Bangladesh becomes a middle-income country, meaning the local non-governmental organisations will have to find alternative sources of finance to carry out their development activities, said a top official of Brac.
Bangladesh is on course to graduating from the least-developed country bracket and on to the developing country in 2024.
“Some of the donors will move out to those countries where the need is greater, and Brac is well aware of the challenge,” said Asif Saleh, senior director of strategy, communications and empowerment for Brac and Brac International.
To put it in good stead, Brac has been following a strategy of not depending on donor funding alone.
“It is a model that makes it possible to generate our own resources through investments and social enterprises. On the one hand, social enterprises meet social needs, and on the other it generates surplus to support our development programmes,” Saleh told The Daily Star in an interview recently.
Brac has 13 social enterprises, including Aarong, Brac Dairy and Brac Seeds. It is set to acquire 26 percent stakes in edotco Bangladesh and has invested in software company BITS, which is automating Brac's services.
It is also making small investments in socially aware start-ups.
“Our founder says all the time that in order for Brac to be relevant, it has to evolve with the changing needs of the society,” said Saleh, who joined Brac in 2011.
For instance, Brac expanded its programmes to address the problem of youth unemployment, urban development, migration and financial inclusion.
On the other hand, it has scaled down some of its programmes, such as the one on water and sanitation as the problem of open defecation has mostly been addressed.
“One success criterion for the sustainability of the impact of our work is government adaption,” said Saleh, who worked as a policy specialist for the UNDP-funded Access to Information Programme (A2i) at the Prime Minister's Office prior to joining Brac.
But one area where Brac's focus is steadfast is graduating the ultra poor from poverty.
Brac will spend Tk 300 crore on a cohort of half-a-million ultra poor by providing them assets and trainings.
Once upon a time, the focus was on ensuring access to basic services. Now, the focus has shifted towards affordable and quality services, as the need for the basic services was met thanks to Bangladesh's economic and social development.
“But, we see a role for Brac there, too,” said Saleh.
The NGO is also setting up a school, which will open its doors in 2019.
To be called Brac Academy, the school will focus on giving education and training to children so that they have the skills required for the 21st century.
“We will emphasise on critical thinking,” said Saleh.
At present, Brac provides training to youth through the Brac Institute of Skills Development.
“We are talking with the private sector regarding their skills requirement and providing training in 13 different trades, which include graphic design, hospitality and tourism, and construction.”
Brac is also working with the government to scale up high school and madrasa-based vocational training programme.
“We have a target to train 5 lakh youths by 2021 and ensure employment for them so that they can bring about positive changes in their lives,” said Saleh, who has an MBA from the New York University's Stern School of Business.
Brac is the largest responder in the Rohingya issue, he said, adding that about 3,000 employees of the organisation are providing assistance in nine areas including education, health, sanitation, and protection of women.
At the beginning it was providing support to the Rohingyas with its own funds. But later other donors such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Australia and Canada came forward to support the work.
Regarding the success of Brac, Saleh gives all credit to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed's vision and management capability and the dedication of its staff, who work like a family.
Abed's continuous focus on building a very strong organisational culture that gives a lot of space to its workers has been the key to Brac and its sister organisations' success, said Saleh, who previously worked for illustrious names such as Goldman Sachs, Glaxo Wellcome, Nortel and IBM.
Today, the NGO has 43,000 full-time employees and another 30,000 project staff, teachers and volunteers across the country.