Can you imagine a nation built by a network of livelihood trainers distributed through every community starting in places with the least. Not just any nation but the one born poorest of any populous nation- as Bangladesh was born 1971 with the worlds 8th largest population with the least infrastructure - ie over 80% without access to electricity grids or running water.
Its not clear exactly when fazle abed realised this was what the Bangladesh rural advancement committees unique purpose would be. It sort of happened organically. He was an engineer, regional ceo for shell oil company, when a cyclone killed a million of his compatriots. In comparison trading oil seemed a meaningless career path so he sold his flat in london for about 30000 dollars and got a grant from oxfam to build 15000 village homes for 100000 refugees. No sooner than the homes were built than it was evident brac was responsible for their lives let alone their livelihoods. So trainers of health and village farming were needed to live and learn in the village- famine and dehydration killed up to a million infants each of the first years of bangladesh as a new nation (henry kissinger's basket case). Mediators of every life matters were needed too because culturally women were an underclass. Most people were illiterate so peer to peer teachers were needed.
WOMEN HOLD UP HALF THE SKY
1976 accidentally turned out to be a magic moment on the continent. China was choosing what non-state corporations to legislate. Entrepreneurially there was much to like about abed's village microfranchise model. Because of the one child policy- half of chinese clans would over the next 20 years depend on their daughters education and microentrepreneurial spirit. So chinese village doctors and agricultural experts regularly started brainstorming with abed- see the book the quiet revolution by harvard's martha alter chen). These were not political exchanges - pure entrepreneurial ones in the original french sense of the word. Because abed was inspired by franciscan paulo freire - at an interpersonal and deep trust community level confucian, muslim and franciscan spirits mingled - for the first time since st francis contributions to the silk road.
There were a few traditional crafts people- preserving their skills through the community was needed, and a few villagers had exquisite design senses which match a period when brac operated silk farm microfranchises and may have planted bangladesh skills as a world leader in garment trade.
One way to map what abed built is to cluster 6 solution networks gravitated by 6 human development purposes. Four of the goals clearly match the un's sdg 1-4. Bracs 5th solution compass resilient communities of 100000 where every lives matter matches sgd 5 in exponential consequence even if the focus on women empowerment was also driven by the need for the whole community to self-organise against climate or other risks. Notably second generation children migrated to the cities so brac needed both to understand the new skills they needed and to help with financial remittances back to the villages.
Over 50 years brac brought in every sort of partner that might help rural village mothers maximise community sustainability. Solutions that the fist 100000 refugees valued microfranchising were replicated across rural bangladesh. At the time of sir fazle's death there were approximately 100000 livelihood field trainers- one per 200 families linking in most of rural bangladesh.
In addition to brac's full time fieldworkers there were over 100000 last mile health servants earning a living by distributing non prescription drugs and being best informed about special events such as nationwide vaccinations or how to end tuberculosis. Over 40000 primary schools had been sustained led by teachers who had peer to peer learned their own personal development and relationship to community building.
1996: Halfway through abed's mission to empower a nation built on women ending extreme poverty technology partners had started to appear with mobiles and solar panels. Billionaires like bill gates and george soros started wanting not simply to help but to transfer what was working across brac to communities they had deep learning and data responsibilities for. Abed was a bit uncomfy -there was so much development work bangladesh needed. He says it wasn't until mrs steve jobs questioned him why wasnt brac's knowhow shared outside bangladesh that he opened up brac international with an hq in the netherlands, and soon jim kim , bill gates, george soros were helping launch brac open a small us office out of new york which was where epidemiologists linked by unicef;s james grant had most helped abed scale bracs nationwide village health service by mothers for mothers and infants.
The 6th compass involves understanding the geonomic diversity - the future history of the place the world calls bangladesh. Knowns include bangladesh trades its way through 3 main streams- agriculture, garments, remittances. 50 years own it remains isolated from asia's biggest growth epicentres- look at its position on the coast hemmed in by myanmar and india.
Yet Extraordinarily if the world is ever to develop under 30s as a first sdg generation then bangladesh as the most cooperative partnership nation in the future of livelihood learning networks has a role t o play like no other in terms of lives, women, youth, poorest matter.
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