Book – Freedom from Want by Ian Smillie


Title: Freedom from Want: The Remarkable Success Story of BRAC, the Global Grassroots Organization That’s Winning the Fight Against Poverty

Author: Ian Smillie

Published: 2013

Pages: 259 pages (paperback)

Brief Summary – This book is a history/case study of the organization called BRAC which started in the 1970’s in Bangladesh.  It has since grown from one guy in one country to hundreds of thousands of people across the world.  As an NGO, BRAC has many different branches, but all have the aim of improving people’s lives within their community.  It is very interesting to see the progression, along with the triumphs and failures along the way.

A Few of their Project Areas 

  • Income generation for women through livestock (Poultry, dairy cows, etc.)
    • BRAC found that women could raise animals easily while completing many other daily tasks and staying near the homestead (important culturally in some areas). However, the animals they had were not of great quality, and therefore their yields were low.  The idea of farming chickens taught them many lessons. It would not just take a new breed of chicken to change the market around. In fact they had to develop the whole system, including; hatcheries, vaccinations, vets, feed producers and even packaging!
  • Education (specifically of girls in rural areas)
    • Many families did not want to send their children long distances for their education, due to safety and monetary concerns.  However, there were not enough qualified teachers in the villages, so BRAC set up training centres and taught local women to be teachers in their communities.  They even developed all of their own training materials and disseminated it throughout the country at schools and it’s own group of libraries.
  • Loans (and other banking needs)
    • BRAC found that there was a gap in the banking system.  Although there were program for micro-loans, or medium-sized business loans, there was almost no way of getting a loan for small business development (approx. $1,000-$20,000).  They had a lot of difficulty with trying to be  recognized as a bank by the government, but in the end they prevailed and are a majority company in that sector.  They also have savings/loans programs for groups of women all over the country.
  • Healthcare
    • BRAC found that there were not enough hospitals in rural areas, and that even if they could build them there wouldn’t be enough trained staff.  Instead they found a local woman in each village area and trained her on all of the common diseases that could be found in the area, and how to treat them.  She was not paid by BRAC, but did receive free training and wholesale medicines/contraceptives that she could sell to her patients/other members of her community.  This method increased the trust of the villagers in the solution, as well as allowing early intervention and increased likelihood of completing the entire drug course for diseases such as TB.


Final Thoughts – This was a very thorough look at one specific NGO. However, since it has so many branches, the author wasn’t even able to explain all of it’s work in this book, which is impressive. It’s interesting to get an in-depth look in order to see the challenges and triumphs of one organization and how it can change and evolve over time.  It was written in a way that I found quick and easy to read with a lot of case studies. The author used numbers quite a bit, which was impressive, however I find it less easy to picture the change when such large numbers are consistently used.  Overall I would recommend it to anyone working (or hoping to work) for/with a large NGO.


About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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