A few reflections on last week’s board meeting

For those of you who weren’t able to attend the open session (one day of the Board’s discussions were shown in viewing rooms for staff), it was fantastic!  I walked away with a much better (although overwhelming) sense of what BRAC is working on, and where we can do better.

A few highlights on cool things that were shared:

Our “Targeting the ultra-poor” (TUP) model is being replicated in a number of other countries, including: Haiti, India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Kenya, Yemen, Peru, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan.  It’s a great example of how BRAC can be a leader in innovative models, and have an impact far beyond its direct reach.  What other practices and innovations should we be promoting and supporting others to adopt?

BRAC Programmes are working together in creative but very necessary ways: for the tenant farmer development program, agriculture and microfinance worked together to ensure that clients received the skills, credit, AND assets that they needed for success.  As they spoke about how their research incorporates climate change predictions and nutritional issues (for example, the prevalence of Vitamin A deficiencies), I wondered what other opportunities there are to have BRAC work on the entire value chain of activities, so that we not only provide farmers with the tools, but integrate the health, education, and marketing components that magnify the impact.  And, are sensitive to the legal and human rights issues that many of the farmers and sharecroppers face.  That’s a big challenge!  What’s the first step?

We know that context matters, but explaining how and why is much more difficult.  Even if we say that the BRAC model works well in post-conflict settings, what that looks like in Bangladesh in 1971 is quite different from today’s situation in Afghanistan, which is quite different from Southern Sudan.  And increasingly in Bangladesh, to say “the Bangladesh context” glosses over the immense diversity of country.  Indeed, one board member said that we need to start reviewing our assumptions, as “a poor man and woman may have much more in common than a poor woman and a middle class woman.”   Add in the dimensions of urban, rural, access to education, profession, technology, age, etc. and you’ve got dozens of contexts to think about.  Are BRAC’s approaches specific enough?  Are we sure?  BRAC’s new Impact Assessment Unit in RED will shed new light on our successes, as will the new visiting scholar from Japan hear to conduct research on the dynamics of poverty, but interpreting the results and acting on them will require program acumen and significant action as well.

One board member commented that the world is getting faster, and questioned whether in this “accelerated world,” was BRAC learning fast enough?  The themes of “collective learning” and “institutionalizing knowledge” were repeated throughout.  Particularly as our international programs mature and have learning to transmit back to Bangladesh, to improve programs here, these issues will become more critical.

One thing is clear: dialog and collective reflection is important.  Answering these questions and figuring out how BRAC can continue to grow and lead is an ongoing process.  Hopefully this blog and the Social Innovation Lab can provide a space for these discussions.  Feel free to drop by our office on the 19th fl anytime to offer your own insights.  It would make our day!

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