My primary destination in Bangladesh was to meet with BRAC, which is the world's largest NGO (nonprofit organization) with nearly 100,000 employees. BRAC is run as a social enterprise, and generates over 75% of its own budget through earned income. BRAC is one of the social entrepreneurship field's best example of what a results-oriented team can accomplish even in the most difficult and poverty-stricken environment.
Jim Fruchterman and Fazel Abed
I was able to meet with quite a number of that dynamic team, starting with BRAC's founder, Fazel Abed. Abed has accomplished an incredible amount since founding BRAC more than 30 years ago, but he is charging forward with expansion both inside and outside of Bangladesh. In an action-packed hour meeting, I heard about BRAC's efforts to create jobs, change the educational system, expand access to microcredit and other exciting ventures. All of this with a culture of accountability and results at a massive scale. The distinct impression you get is that if some organization or capability was needed, BRAC simply invents it. For one thing, they have roughly 50,000 schoolteachers working for them around the country, addressing the educational needs of those who otherwise would be missing out on a primary education.

One of the most exciting parts I heard about with my interests was BRAC's expanding network of libraries around the country: more than 1,000 with 300 of them with PCs. However, the PCs are not currently connected to the Internet. That's where another BRAC affiliate comes in: BRACNet is planning on bringing WiFi to the entire country. More on BRACNet in another post!

Bangladesh is politically activated these days, with a major upcoming election and a lot of protests. After I met Abed I was able to observe a large march on the street below.
Marching protesters on a street

I also visited BRAC University and met Dr. Mumit Khan, who is working on optical character recognition and other linguistic technology for Bangla (Bengali), the main language of Bangladesh. It was a technical pleasure to sit down and talk with an expert working in the field in which I started my career, and see how the work of his students was going to lead to technology that could help people with disabilities.


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