Public Health at Its Best

Public Health at Its Best

Many simple solutions for human poverty already exist, but the challenge is figuring  out how to deliver them, said the newest recipient of the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed accepted the Francis award—one of the most prestigious given by U-M—at an April 8 ceremony in Ann Arbor. The Bangladeshi man left a successful career in business more than four decades ago to become the founder and chairperson of the world’s largest nongovernmental development organization.

“In global development, it is not the lack of new, bright ideas that is impeding progress—rather it is our ability to implement these ideas well, effectively, and at scale,” said Abed, whose organization was once known as the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee but is now simply called BRAC.

For more than 40 years, BRAC has used a business approach to give people—especially women and children—the tools and resources they need to overcome poverty. The organization owns 16 social enterprises—among them hotels and conference centers, a dairy business, and a bank—which together provide economic resources to support its social programs in education, health care, skills and job training, and empowerment. BRAC has reached an estimated 138 million people in 12 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

In his introductory remarks, U-M SPH Dean Martin Philbert described Abed’s record of achievement as “simply extraordinary. It is public health at its best.”

Abed himself was more modest. Asked later if he had any regrets in his career, Abed said he had none. Then he amended his answer. “The only regret I have is that maybe I should have gone a little faster.”