IDS working papers;339

Thinking big, going global : the challenge of BRAC’s global expansion

Published on 1 January 2009

Since 2002, BRAC, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) of Bangladeshi
origin, has gone global. It has expanded its programme of ‘microfinance plus’
(education, health, enterprise support, etc) to Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone,
Southern Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Pakistan. It has established
organisations in the UK and the USA to raise funds and its international profile. It
is believed to be the largest NGO in Afghanistan, is growing fast elsewhere, and
has long been the largest non-governmental entity in Bangladesh. BRAC’s global
expansion appears to be part of a trend of the ‘South in the South’, marked by the
expansion of Chinese business in Africa, but also, it seems, by new forms of
Southern non-governmental organisation transplanted across Southern contexts.
This paper explores two challenges of BRAC’s global expansion. The first is the
challenges BRAC faces as it seeks to break new ground as the first International
NGO of Southern origin to take its programme and managerial expertise to other
countries. It is an ambitious agenda. A critical challenge is the need to attract
financing and carve out regulatory room for service delivery programmes within
new political spaces that are sometimes unfamiliar with and unwelcoming of
NGOs on the BRAC scale. The second challenge of the title is the challenge to
thinking about NGOs in development: discussions about NGOs in development
currently emphasise disappointment with their performance, and a withdrawal,
including among aid donors and discourses, from their ‘magic bullet’ heyday of the
late 1990s. While BRAC’s global expansion is facing challenges, its ambitious
expansionary programme counters disappointment around NGOs, raising new
questions about the roles of NGOs in development.
Keywords: NGOs; international NGOs; Microfinance; Bangladesh; relationships
for aid.

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