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Freedom from Want: The Remarkable Success Story of BRAC, the Global Grassroots Organization That's Winning the Fight Against Poverty [Paperback]

Ian Smillie
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 Mar 2009
Unlike Grameen Bank, the microcredit giant whose Nobel Prize heaped it with accolades and publicity, its Bangladeshi cousin BRAC is barely known outside the country. Author Ian Smillie predicts that BRAC, which is arguably the world's largest, most diverse and most successful NGO, has little time left in the shadows. The spread of its work dwarfs any other private, government or non-profit enterprise in its impact on development, on women, on children and on thousands of communities in Asia and Africa. "Freedom From Want" traces BRAC's evolution from a small relief operation indistinguishable from hundreds of others, into what is undoubtedly the largest and most variegated social experiment in the developing world. BRAC's story shows how social enterprise can trump corruption and how purpose, innovation and clear thinking can overcome the most entrenched injustices that society can offer. It is a story that ranges from distant villages in Bangladesh to New York's financial district on 9/11, from war-torn Afghanistan to the vast plains of East Africa and the ruins of Southern Sudan. Partly an adventure story, partly a lesson in development economics, partly an examination of excellence in management, the book describes one of the world's most remarkable success stories, one that has transformed disaster into development and despair into hope.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Kumarian Press (15 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565492943
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565492943
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 394,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"BRAC changed the lives of many people, not least those of its founders. It is these personal stories that make this book such a fulfilling read."

About the Author

Ian Smillie is an Ottawa-based development consultant and writer. He has lived and worked in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Bangladesh. He was a founder of the Canadian development organization, Inter Pares, and was Executive Director of CUSO. In 2000 and 2001, Smillie served on a UN Security Council expert panel investigating the links between illicit weapons and the diamond trade in Sierra Leone. Today he serves as Research Coordinator on Partnership Africa Canada's 'Diamonds and Human Security Project' and is a participant in the intergovernmental 'Kimberley Process,' which is developing a global certification system for rough diamonds.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Development works if done right 8 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Recently there has been a lot criticism regarding development work. In most cases it was probably justified. This book highlights this problem as well. Fortunately there is much more to it. It is a story of Brac, a charity set up by Bangladeshis themselves. Even though most people have never heard of it, Brac is probably the largest NGO on the planet. What's more important, though, it is also one of the most effective ones. If you are interested in development this book is a must.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "no country should be written off, no people are beyond redemption" 26 April 2009
By Monica I. Restrepo - Published on Amazon.com
These are the words of Fazle Hasan Abed, an extraordinary and authentic leader who has transformed the lives of millions of people through meticulous `experiments' that have grown into highly scalable solutions to poverty. If you've never heard of Abed, that's precisely the reason for his success - he has built an organization without political interests on the world stage, with the sole motivation of tackling poverty at its root. It's an extraordinary journey.

Considering the complexity of the organization, Ian Smillie has presented the story in a both easy-to-read and thorough way (he has plenty of experience in development and has typically been critical of western NGOs). If you're interested in microfinance, you'll learn how BRAC has managed to reach the poorest of the poorest, people that no other NGO (including Yunus' Grameen) could reach. If you're interested in health, you'll be captivated by BRAC's efforts to eradicate Tuberculosis (the cure rate in Bangladesh is now 90%). If you're interested in education, you'll see how BRAC has managed to salvage the education of thousands of young children who've fallen out of the public school system. This is all managed by one man, one organization, and to scale.

Most encouraging is the fact that Abed is now taking BRAC beyond Bangladesh. In Afghanistan they were the first microfinance organization to thrive, and have paved the way for others to enter. They are now also engaged in Africa. The secret to their success in such destitute and often war-torn countries, as Smillie explains, is that "BRAC's modus operandi is very different from that of most Western NGOs. It isn't part of the standard expatriate community...BRAC's Kabul office is not in the best part of town; and beyond Kabul, most staff live at or near one of BRAC's 247 offices. One result of all this is that the organization is not well known or understood amongst other international aid workers. But if they were going to succeed, this is the way it had to be done: they had to be in the village, and of the village; they had to be able to go to the homes of the people they wanted to reach."
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great adventure story on the evolution of an amazing organization 17 April 2009
By M. Chaplin - Published on Amazon.com
Freedom From Want: The Remarkable Success Story of BRAC, the Global Grassroots Organization That's Winning the Fight Against Poverty

Freedom From Want is an amazing adventure story that starts with a fight for freedom and the fight to help a country survive a devastating cyclone. Then, BRAC founder Fazle Hasan Abed takes relief a step further, joining the fight against poverty by using a unique combination of ingenuity and social entrepreneurship to enable people to empower themselves to climb out of poverty.

The book is an insightful look into how a good idea and some perseverance can be cultivated into the largest anti-poverty organizations in the world. Listen to what the likes of Bill Clinton, Amartya Sen and Pierre Omidyar are saying - this is a great read about an amazing organization that many have probably never heard of!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strongly recommended for those studying international development / social entrepreneurship 26 Sep 2011
By Premal Shah - Published on Amazon.com
As President of Kiva.org, I read "Freedom From Want" to better understand the details behind BRAC. In 2007, I had a chance to visit BRAC's new program in Uganda and was incredibly impressed with their efficiency and integrated development approach. The visit was brief, but it left me curious about how this well-reputed organization ticks. Luckily, "Freedom From Want" delivers. It helped me understand not only the personal story of an incredible founder, but it chronicles the several phase development of the world's largest NGO in a way that's helpful to leaders of much younger social enterprises, like Kiva. BRAC is impressive not because it has scaled, but because it is constantly evaluating, tweaking and seeking to address root cause issues. Highly recommended for anyone interested in international development or social entrepreneurship. If you like books like Half The Sky (Kristof / WuDunn), Banker to the Poor (Yunus) and The End of Poverty (Sachs), then this is a must read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Freedom from Want 3 Jun 2009
By JAJ - Published on Amazon.com
Freedom from Want is the most in-depth book about BRAC that has been written in many years. It gives a useful background of the historical context in which the organization was founded. It also gives a cogent explanation of 2 important aspects of the organization's success:(1) how BRAC is much more than microfinance, and (2) how its development/creation of every step along the production/marketing chain of a new profit-making enterprises.

I have heard many people speak of BRAC as a paradigm of successful development work, and anyone interested in such work would find something interesting/beneficial in this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A key acquisition for any library strong in global social issues and solutions 17 Oct 2009
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
BRAC, the global grassroots organization actively and successfully fighting poverty, is recounted in Freedom from Want, a survey of its change from a small, little-known relief operation focused on Bangladesh to its spread in health, education and world rescue operations. BRAC's success story holds many insights for others and makes for a key acquisition for any library strong in global social issues and solutions.
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