The World’s Biggest Charity You’ve Never Heard of

Did you know that the world’s largest and most successful charity and nongovernmental organization (NGO) is from Bangladesh? It is the only organization from a poor country to rank among the top in the world.

Founded in 1972, BRAC—which once stood for the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee—was the brainchild of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, a wealthy corporate accountant who was horrified by the state of his country, particularly following a devastating cyclone, which killed 300,000 people, and a bloody liberation war that killed between 300,000 and 3 million people, most of them civilians..

Whereas most would have despaired at this hopeless situation, Abed got to work. Having lived and worked in the U.K. for a time, he could have simply fled there, but instead sold his London flat and used the funds to create BRAC. The new organization immediately built housing for war refugees and storm survivors; within a year, it reportedly built up to 14,000 homes, as well several hundred fishing boats to support the refugees’ livelihoods.

BRAC soon expanded into every possible area of human development. It worked from the ground up, at the village level, to invest in agriculture, fisheries, worker cooperatives, rural crafts, adult literacy, health and family planning, vocational training for women, and community centers. To ensure efficiency, it established a Research and Evaluation Division (RED) to evaluate its programs and projects for their success, and to learn from any mistakes or shortcomings. Based on what was learned, BRAC took a more targeted approach to charity by creating “Village Organisations” (VO) to assist the most vulnerable people in Bangladesh, such as the landless, small farmers, artisans, and women. To finance its activities, it set up a commercial printing press and a handicraft retail chain, both of which employed poor people.

When diarrhea emerged as a leading cause of death for children (as it was historically and in poorer societies), BRAC initiated a field trial in two village, teaching rural mothers how to prepare a simple oral rehydration solution (ORS) that could save their children’s lives. Overtime, it scaled up its operations, which in the span of ten years taught 12 million households across over 75,000 villages across the country how to prepare ORS. The country has one of the highest rates of diarrhea treatment, with child mortality rates plummeting from 133 deaths out of 1,000 births in 1989 to 46 deaths per 1,000 in 2014—a decline of 65 percent.

The scientific and open-minded approach to charity is part of BRAC’s company culture and brand. As the Economist reported:

[BRAC] is also one of the world’s best charities. NGO Advisor, which tries to keep score, has put it top of the heap for the past four years. Its corporate culture is a little like an old-fashioned engineering firm. BEACH employees are problem-solvers rather than intellectuals, and they communicate well—the organisation constantly tweaks its programmes in response to data and criticisms from local staff. Some of its innovations have spread around the world.

Today, BRAC has about 100,000 full-time staff, mostly in Bangladesh but increasingly abroad, too. According to the World Bank, its program in Afghanistan significantly boosted incomes and women’s employment; its after-school clubs in Uganda appear to have reduced teen pregnancy rates and encouraged girls to pursue careers; and its innovate anti-poverty program, focused on giving assets and training to poor women, has been adopted with great success by charities in Ethiopia, Honduras, and India.

As of 2018, BRAC lent money to almost 8 million people and educated more than 1 million children across Bangladesh and ten other countries. Per its multifaceted approach to charity, it has founded or been involved in just about every possible venture: A university, a bank, over 8,700 primary schools, a dairy processor, a cold storage company to preserve farmers’ goods, and so much more.

BRAC is a reminder that even the poorest nations, no matter how “backward” or benighted they may seem, harbor incredible talent, creativity, and potential for progress.

Source: The Economist

Partners in Health

One of my all-time favorite charities is Partners in Health (PIH), which ranks as one of the most transparent and cost-effective charitable organizations in the world.

To highlight just one of many examples of its good work, it has been working for over a decade in the very poor African country of Lesotho, whose 2.1 million people endure some of the worst public health problems in the world. One out of four adults have HIV, the rate of tuberculosis—a nasty respiratory illness—is second only to South Africa, and the maternal mortality rate is at crisis levels. Consequently, the country has a life expectancy of just 54 years.

Since 2006, PIH has been working with Lesotho’s Ministry of Health to tackle these issues while strengthening the nation’s know-how and institutions. In 2014, the government launched its National Health Reform, relying on PIH to help implement a universal healthcare system. Seventy-two underfunded and understaffed health centers, which serve about 40 percent of the population, have been revamped with better staff and equipment. Each of the reformed districts now employs a primary health care coordinator, pharmacist, and data clerk; medicine distribution, record keeping, and communications between health facilities and with patients have improved markedly, leading to more effective health outcomes.

The results speak for themselves: from 2013 to 2017, the number of people tested for HIV has increased an incredible 432 percent, while the number of people treated for HIV has more than double. The number of immunized children has boosted to 53 percent, while deliveries in maternal facilities—which are safer for mother and child alike—have also more than doubled. A massive number of people have been cured of TB. Public trust in the medical system has increased, thus initiating a virtuous cycle wherein more people get the treatment they need. This collaborative effort could serve as a model for other poor nations.

That is the power of civil society staffed and funded by common folks, working together with the public sector. There are plenty of ways your dollar can go far. Check out their website here to learn more and to donate. Rest assured it will be money well spent.

Turkish Charity fit for Ramadan

Given all of the bad news coming out of the Middle East lately, it is nice to see a flicker of light in the darkness in the form of Turkey’s desperately needed aid to the beleaguered peoples of Somalia, Yemen, and South Sudan.

As The New Arab reported:

“This aid will be sent to all the regions in Somalia. There is 1,000 trucks-loaded humanitarian aid in this ship,” Turkish Red Crescent President Kerem Kinik told Anadolu state news agency.

The ship carrying the cargo is due to arrive on Saturday, the first day of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Among the cargo is flour, sugar, medicine and baby food, which will help 3 million Somalis during the holy month.

Eleven ships have been sent from Turkey to Somalia in total, while two more are being prepared to be sent to Yemen.

“There is a cholera outbreak in Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan right now. After Yemen, we will try to reach to Cuba and northern regions in South Sudan. This is a big mobilisation,” Kinik said, adding that the aid should reach around 9 million people in total.

Turkey has also set up mobile bakeries in Somalia, including one in the capital Mogadishu which provides 4,000 loafs of bread a day, while a mobile kitchen distributes 7,000 hot meals to hospitals, orphanages and centres for the disabled.

As these nations reel from civil strife and potential famine, it is nice to see one of their neighbors step up and be a responsible member of the international community (notwithstanding some troubling political developments).

The James Bond of Philanthropy

If you were a billionaire, how much of your wealth would you give away to charity? No doubt most people would donate something, albeit only a fraction of their total wealth. But what about giving nearly every penny you had — and doing so without any credit for your generosity?

As the New York Times reported, 85-year-old Irish American businessman Charles F. Feeney just finished giving away the last of his fortune, after promising five years ago that he would do so by the end of 2016, a commitment few would make let alone follow through on. Continue reading

Kicking Off 2016 With A Big Milestone

It is not everyday that a nasty parasitic disease is wiped off the face of the Earth…in fact, this has yet to have ever happened — until this year, when the Carter Center seems poised to complete its decades-long work in eradicating the debilitating guinea worm infection.

Once the scourge of the developing world — affecting nearly 4 million people less than three decades ago — this painful disease has been reduced to less than two dozen cases as of 2015 (which in turn was 83 percent less than in 2014). Continue reading

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day, which commemorates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It also seeks to bring attention to global hunger and malnutrition, both of which have thankfully been markedly reduced over the years, but which remain intractable problems in a large part of the world.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of America’s most effective environmental charities, offers a helpful reminder that, even with the world’s population sent to grow by another 2 billion in the coming decades, there are viable solutions in sight — if we can muster the political and public will to take action.  Continue reading

How to Help Victims of the Refugee Crisis

For those of you as morally devastated by the migrant crisis as I am, The Independent has compiled a list of charities, humanitarian organizations, grassroots movements, and other ways in which you can help the thousands of refugees desperately fleeing sociopolitical disasters across Africa and the Middle East. See it here.

From donating funds to giving away well needed supplies to joining advocacy groups, there are plenty of options for those who may lack the time or resources.

Additionally, I recommend you check out U.S.-based CharityNavigator.comwhich can help you choose the reliable and effective charities to support. It also has a section dedicated to the Syrian crisis here, as well as another list of charities involved in the largely overlooked but equally catastrophic Yemen crisis (click here).

Do whatever you can, and remember that no amount of assistance is too small for a tragedy this desperate.

Ten Thousand Icelanders Offer to Shelter Syrian Refugees

Given the country’s small size, I believe this would instantly make it the largest per capita host of refugees, as well as immigrants in general, in the developed world. (Even the government’s initial offer of 50 is somewhat large relative to the population.) According to the Telegraph:

After the Icelandic government announced last month that it would only accept 50 humanitarian refugees from Syria, Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir encouraged fellow citizens to speak out in favour of those in need of asylum. In the space of 24 hours, 10,000 Icelanders – the country’s population is 300,000 – took to Facebook to offer up their homes and urge their government to do more.

“I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son… We can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket,” wrote Hekla Stefansdottir in a post.

Much bigger countries are wrangling over taking far fewer refugees proportionally. Although Iceland is a much smaller society, with citizens thus having a larger voice in government policy, many well-off Americans, Germans, French, and other developed-world citizens could just as well petition their officials to house the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

In any case, I expect nothing less in terms of moral leadership from the society that collectively mourned the loss of its first and only fatality from a police shooting in history — back in 2013.

The Problem With Wealthy Philanthropists

…With a decaying social welfare state, more and more public amenities exist only as the result of the hyper-wealthy donating them. But when the commons are donated by the wealthy, rather than guaranteed by membership in society, the democratic component of civic society is vastly diminished and placed in the hands of the elite few who gained their wealth by using their influence to cut taxes and gut the social welfare state in the first place.

It’s much like how in my former home of Pittsburgh, the library system is named for Andrew Carnegie, who donated a portion of the initial funds. But the donated money was not earned by Carnegie; it trickled up from his workers’ backs, many of them suffering from overwork and illness caused by his steel factories’ pollution. The real social cost of charitable giving is the forgotten labor that builds it and the destructive effects that flow from it.

— Why the Rich Love Burning Man, Jacobin

To be clear, the issue isn’t so much about individual elites donating their wealth to humanitarian efforts; no doubt at least some of them are benevolent and sincere, and their money often goes a long way for certain causes. But the problem lies in the aggregate, when entire societies — from their political and economic systems, to their media and public education — are at the mercy of a small class of individuals that determines what resources go where, based on what conditions. Being beholden to a handful of elites is not much better than to an overpowering state; indeed, often times it is often indistinguishable.

What are your thoughts?

The Solidarity Fridge

Spain’s economy was among the hardest hit by the global recession, and it remains in bad shape to this day, with record-high levels of unemployment and poverty.

But with a long and deeply entrenched sense of community and social cohesion, many Spanish communities have weathered these trying times through good old-fashioned collective action.

A resounding testament to these values is the aptly-named “Solidarity Fridge” located in the Basque town of Galdakao. As NPR reports, this community of 30,000 is the catalyst for this almost-unheard of idea.

The goal is to avoid wasting perfectly good food and groceries. In April, the town established Spain’s first communal refrigerator. It sits on a city sidewalk, with a tidy little fence around it, so that no one mistakes it for an abandoned appliance. Anyone can deposit food inside or help themselves.

“The idea for a Solidarity Fridge started with the economic crisis — these images of people searching dumpsters for food — the indignity of it. That’s what got me thinking about how much food we waste,” Saiz told NPR over Skype from Mongolia, where he’s moved onto his next project, living in a yurt and building a hospital for handicapped children.

Saiz says he was intrigued by reading about a scheme in Germany in which people can go online and post notices about extra food and others can claim it.

But Saiz wanted something more low-tech in his hometown of Galdakao — something accessible to his elderly neighbors who don’t use the Internet. So he went to the mayor with his idea for a Solidarity Fridge.

Continue reading