The World Food Prize Foundation

The World Food Prize Pays Tribute to 2015 Laureate Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

12/20/2019

On behalf of all of the World Food Prize Laureates and our Council of Advisors, the World Food Prize Foundation extends its deepest condolences to Lady Syeda Sarwat Abed and the family, friends and BRAC colleagues of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, 2015 World Food Prize Laureate, who passed away on December 20, 2019.

Sir Fazle was honored as the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate for his unparalleled achievement in building BRAC, a unique, integrated development organization that many have hailed as the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world.  

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, paid tribute to Sir Fazle, stating, “Sir Fazle made an essential contribution to the single greatest period of poverty reduction in human history. He was an inspiration to so many, especially the millions of women and girls who have been empowered through BRAC. His memory will be preserved by the thousands of families in Bangladesh and all over the world that have benefited from his and BRAC’s efforts, and here in the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa.”

Sir Fazle, who was knighted by the British Crown in 2009, grew BRAC (formerly known as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) into the world’s largest non-governmental organization. BRAC has provided the opportunity for nearly 150 million people worldwide to improve their lives, have enhanced food security and follow a pathway out of poverty. The scale and impact of BRAC's work in Bangladesh and ten other countries is unprecedented.

He pioneered a new approach to development that has effectively and sustainably addressed the interconnectedness between hunger and poverty. In this regard, Sir Fazle broke new ground by melding scalable development models, scientific innovation, and local participation to confront the complex causes of poverty, hunger and powerlessness among the poor.

On receiving the award in 2015, Sir Fazle commented: “Being selected to receive the 2015 World Food Prize is a great honor. I consider this award recognition of the work of BRAC, which I have had the privilege to lead over the last 43 years. The real heroes in our story are the poor themselves and, in particular, women struggling with poverty. In situations of extreme poverty, it is usually the women in the family who have to make do with scarce resources. When we saw this at BRAC, we realised that women needed to be the agents of change in our development effort. Only by putting the poorest, and women in particular, in charge of their own destinies, will absolute poverty and deprivation be removed from the face of the earth.”

The Chairman of the 2015 World Food Prize Selection Committee and the first World Food Prize Laureate in 1987, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, has praised Sir Fazle Hasan Abed as a “strategic thinker, and a man with a future vision.”

Dr. Swaminathan lauded BRAC and its founder, writing that: “While it was set up in the context of the post-war reconstruction in Bangladesh, and its initial focus was on basic needs and strengthening livelihoods, Abed soon realized that the better strategy would be to complement state efforts rather than repeating them. BRAC is constantly innovating.”

Dr. Paul Collier, professor of Economics at Oxford University and author of The Bottom Billion, summed it up when he called BRAC “the most astounding social enterprise in the world.”

When awarding the 2015 World Food Prize to Sir Fazle, Ambassador Quinn commented, “At a time when the world confronts the great challenge of feeding over nine billion people, Sir Fazle Abed and BRAC, the organization he founded and leads, have created the preeminent model being followed around the globe on how to educate girls, empower women and lift whole generations out of poverty. For this monumental achievement, Sir Fazle truly deserves recognition as the 2015 World Food Prize Laureate.”

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed Biography

Fazle Hasan Abed was born in 1936 in Baniachong, in Bangladesh’s Habiganj district. He attended Pabna Zilla School and went on to complete his higher secondary education at Dhaka College.

Sir Fazle attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland where he studied naval architecture. Following that, he pursued further education and a career path in accounting, graduating from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in London in 1962. 

Sir Fazle returned to his homeland in 1969, accepting a position with the Shell Oil Company in Chittagong. In just two years, he was promoted to head of the company’s accounting department and was living the comfortable lifestyle of a corporate executive. In 1970-71, however, his life—and the lives of millions of Bangladeshis—changed as the result of  two very dramatic events: a deadly tropical cyclone, which swept across the country, washing away farms, villages, and towns in its path; followed by the nine-month war of independence from Pakistan. The combined death toll from the storm and the war was estimated at well over 3 million people. An additional 10 million were displaced and further impoverished.

Sir Fazle resigned from Shell Oil in 1971, and the next year formed the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC’s original name) to address the terrible devastation suffered by the people of his country. Following initial relief efforts, the organization soon became involved in more long-term community development, with primary objectives of alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the poor—and was renamed the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

With his strong focus on growing its operations across a broad spectrum of agricultural, economic, and social enterprises, Sir Fazle set BRAC on a course that was different from other non-governmental organizations. He had concluded that economic development was one of the keys to helping the rural poor—and thus launched a microfinance program to provide very small loans to women borrowers as part of village support groups that participated in skills and organizational training.

BRAC’s multi-dimensional and dynamic methods of fighting hunger and poverty include the creation and support of a range of integrated enterprises, such as: seed production and dissemination; feed mills, poultry and fish hatcheries; milk collection centers and milk processing factories; tea plantations; and packaging factories. The income generated from these social enterprises is used to subsidize primary schools and essential health care.

Under Sir Fazle’s leadership of more than 40 years, BRAC’s agricultural and development innovations have improved food security for millions and contributed to a significant decline in poverty levels through direct impacts to farmers and small communities across the globe.

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