BRAC is the world’s largest NGO and you have probably never heard of it. Founded in 1972 in Bangladesh to assist the population following the civil war with Pakistan and subsequent independence, BRAC employs over 120,000 people – more than most Fortune 500 multinationals – and through one of its eight umbrella programs ranging from microfinance to health services to schooling and adult education programs has touched over 138 million lives. The five of us were lucky enough to work with their Human Rights and Legal Service (HRLS) team for our four-week GCP.

BRAC is a fascinating organisation that has exploded it’s scope over the decades, and has given us all a whole new perspective on the material learned on the Cambridge MBA:

  • Non-profit to for profit: BRAC is the only organisation that we know of which was established as a not-for-profit, but has spun off several very successful for-profit enterprises. We can all think of a multitude of multinationals which have established corporate foundations or engaged in philanthropy, but you rarely see the opposite. BRAC runs a clothing and homewares company, a dairy, a bank, and various other agriculture-related businesses which are all very well-known and respected among the Bangladeshi middle-classes.
  • Social Enterprise innovator: Between 70 and 80 percent of BRAC’s operating budget is self-financed. This is almost unheard of in NGO circles. Although much of the funding comes from BRAC’s businesses, the programs themselves are also gradually moving toward being self-funded. No other NGO comes even close to adopting such a forward-thinking approach.
  • ‘Lean start-up’ approach: One of the first concepts we learned way back in Michaelmas term was that of the ‘lean start-up’. The idea being that no product (or service) withstands its first interaction with the customer and as such, entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business are focused on prototyping and adapting their offering to better meet whatever need it is their customers have. BRAC adopts exactly the same approach; piloting all new initiatives before rolling them out in one district at a time and learning from mistakes as they go along.  

In true BRAC style, our GCP with HRLS was similarly pioneering. Our mandate was to advise them on a social enterprise model that could be applied to a property rights and legal services office that they will be piloting from May. This was an incredible project for us to be working on because there is no example of a fully-sustainable legal services social enterprise worldwide, and as such our recommendations to them were truly firsts. At the same time such a service, if successful, would mean that BRAC is able almost single-handedly to address the 77 percent of criminal cases currently being pursued in Bangladeshi courts which relate to land. Finally, HRLS would be able to curtail the influence that middlemen and other unscrupulous individuals have as a result of the opacity and current difficulties solving land disputes.

The five of us were incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work on such a groundbreaking and important GCP, and at the same time to visit Bangladesh at such an exciting stage in its development.

GCP Team BRAC: Aurelia Kassatly, Diane Albouy, Lucia Palacios, Nicolas Moreno De Palma, and Juan Cacace.