Sir Fazle Hasan Abed.
Sir Fazle Hasan Abed.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, a distinguished non-profit founder and chairperson who has dedicated his life’s work to fighting poverty, was awarded the World Food Prize on Oct. 15, among an international audience at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Sir Fazle’s leadership has led BRAC to be hailed as the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world. Empowering and educating women and girls has been central to BRAC’s success in confronting hunger and malnutrition and lifting millions out of poverty in Bangladesh and 10 other countries. The global reach of BRAC is unprecedented, with more than 110,000 employees around the world, and a further 150,000 BRAC-trained entrepreneurs providing low-cost goods and services (such as seeds, medicine and training) to their rural neighbors.

“It is difficult to express in words how honored and deeply touched I am by this recognition.” Sir Fazle said upon receiving the award. “The real heroes in our story are the poor themselves and, in particular, women struggling with poverty who overcome enormous challenges each day of their lives. Through our work across the world we have learnt that countries and cultures vary, but the realities, struggles, aspirations and dreams of poor and marginalized people are remarkably similar.”

BRAC’s multi-dimensional and dynamic methods of reducing 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. In this way, BRAC has been a leader in empowering women and girls through microfinance, education, healthcare, and encouraging their active participation in directing village life and community cohesion.

“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,” commented World Food Prize President, Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn.

Sir Fazle’s unparalleled achievement in building the unique, integrated development organization, BRAC began after the combination of a deadly tropical cyclone and war of independence in his home country. Sir Fazle set out to address the terrible devastation suffered by the people and formed the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC’s original name). Following initial relief efforts, the organization soon became involved in more long-term community development, and thus, was renamed the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.

Today BRAC operates 18 financially and socially profitable enterprises, across health, agriculture, livestock, fisheries, education, green energy, printing and retail sectors, and has been responsible for extraordinary advancements in the poultry, seed, and dairy industries in Bangladesh and other countries in which it operates in Africa. BRAC has recently increased its commitment to girls’ education in low-income countries with a five-year pledge to reach 2.7 million additional girls through primary and pre-primary schools, teacher training, adolescent empowerment programs, scholarships and other programs.

The World Food Prize award ceremony and Laureate address forms part of the annual Borlaug Dialogue, a premier food security conference held in downtown Des Moines took place last week.

Three high level panels took place, following the theme of Borlaug 101: a "course" on The Fundamentals of Global Food Security. These will include: The Case for Conservation Agriculture, involving Howard G. Buffett, Chairman & CEO, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College London, on restoring soils with a focus on their foundational role in achieving global food security; The Orange Revolution: A Novel Approach to Traditional Challenges, with Pamela Anderson, Director of Agricultural Development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on confronting malnutrition through biofortified nutritious crops such as Orange Fleshed Sweetpotato; and Borlaug 2.0, involving Louise O. Fresco, President & Chairman Executive Board, Wageningen UR, Monty Jones, 2004 World Food Prize Laureate, M.S. Swaminathan, 1987 World Food Prize Laureate, and W. Ronnie Coffman, International Professor of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture & Life Science, Cornell. The Iowa Soybean Association will also be hosting farm tours for international visitors and all others interested in seeing a working Iowa farm.

It was Dr. Borlaug’s dream to ensure a promising future for the world by inspiring the next generation of agricultural researchers and leaders. He and John Ruan Sr. established the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute 21 years ago, and today it is renowned and being held up by national STEM leaders as a model program to be replicated in all states. High school students select a country and food security topic, research it, and write an original paper presenting their own solutions, which they then present to global experts for feedback. Around 200 students from 30 U.S. states and territories and several foreign countries, and their teachers, are experiencing the opportunity to interact with visiting leaders and experts, participate in the symposium, package meals, tour agricultural facilities, and partake in an Oxfam Hunger Banquet over these three days. They will conclude with presentations of their papers tomorrow at Pioneer.