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Innovation in Africa

Rachel Payne's picture

"BRAC is built upon a foundation of innovation that is driven by an integrated approach to development and broad participation of its members... the BRAC model of innovation for the social good should be considered a new industry standard."

Last week I attended an event hosted by BRAC USA.  It was a conversation between Amartya Sen and Fazle Abed on the topic “Breakthrough Development: Linking Theory and Practice”.  Listening to the viewpoints of these two thought leaders – quite possibly the greatest minds in development – reinforced my own belief in BRAC as one of the world’s most innovative and effective development organizations.   I was glad to see, therefore, the Development Outreach magazine showcasing BRAC as a learning organization

I was honored when BRAC USA invited me to join their Global Advisory Council and I have seen first-hand the tremendous growth in BRAC’s operations and international expansion in the short time that I have been involved.   I recall a meeting in 2006 in Zanzibar with the heads of BRAC’s newly established operations in Uganda and Tanzania.  They were discussing the opportunity to roll out the BRAC microfinance model in East Africa and the tremendous need for greater access to financial and other services, including health, education and livelihood support. Their vision and the scale of their ambition impressed me.  Their ability to execute amazed me.  Only 4 years after launching, BRAC Uganda reached over 105,000 borrowers – amazing progress in such a short period of time and certainly a record for Uganda.

Since then, I have continued to observe and admire the work of BRAC in East Africa and specifically in Uganda, where I serve as Country Manager for Google.  In addition to its microfinance operations, BRAC Uganda has also built an extensive network of 3,500 self-employed franchised entrepreneurs, who provide critical livelihood enhancement services to poor Ugandans in agriculture, poultry, livestock, and health sectors.  Overall, though its microfinance, livelihoods and youth empowerment programs, it is estimated that BRAC Uganda reaches more than 1.8 million people in country.

We have also had opportunities to work with the BRAC team, providing training on Google products, such as Google Earth, and exploring potential collaborations with BRAC on areas relating to health and education.  While these are still only in discussion phase, I look forward to learning more from BRAC and helping Google and other technology companies understand their model for innovation as a learning-based organization.  To accomplish long-term development outcomes across a range of critically important human development indicators is an impressive feat and speaks to the commitment, passion and vision of not just the founder, management team and staff members but the borrowers and members as well.

BRAC is built upon a foundation of innovation that is driven by an integrated approach to development and broad participation of its members.  Combining data-driven experimentation, iteration, standardization, optimization and expansion, the BRAC model of innovation for the social good should be considered a new industry standard.  Their ability to make vital investments in a core social infrastructure creates industry value chains that generate income for its members and help communities flourish through greater access to basic services.  Whether it involves building a dairy plant (and buying milk from small-scale farmers), a large-scale forestry program (with micro-nursery franchise owners), animal husbandry or agricultural productivity, their willingness to make the “big bets” and commit significant resources for long-term development is inspiring.   Imagine what good we could accomplish if only this model became the benchmark by which the most innovative companies in the world focused their efforts – whether they are in the technology industry or agriculture, we all have something to learn from BRAC – and the potential to achieve tremendous, positive, social change.