Lessons from the life of Fadel Hassan Abed

What will Abed say? I often find myself asking this question these days, after writing a new autobiography of the late founder of BRAC, Hope over Destiny: The Fadl of Hassan Abed and the Science of Ending Global Poverty. The book is not only an autobiography of a wonderful man (I had the privilege of working closely with him), but also an autobiography of an idea: that hope in and of itself has the power to help people break out of the poverty trap. Although it was only published last month, I wrote most of the book before Abed’s death in late 2019. (He asked me to complete the book while he was still alive, so that, he said, “he could read it on his deathbed. .”)

Even those who prefer to hide under rocks cannot fail to notice how much the world has changed since 2019. When Abed died in December of that year, just months after being diagnosed with brain cancer, I had just co-authored a chapter on Getting Out of a Trap Poverty ‘in’ leaves no one behind: time for specifics on the SDGs. ” The chapter suggested that the global extreme poverty rate would become increasingly difficult to budge without programs tailored to the unique challenges faced by the world’s most vulnerable people. Early this decade optimism began that the eradication of extremism from the face of the earth was already waning. As Jim Yong Kim, then-President of the World Bank, wrote in 2018, “To achieve our goal of reducing extreme poverty to less than 3 percent by 2030, the world’s poorest countries will have to grow at rates far exceeding their historical experience.” The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a major blow to an agenda already in danger of faltering; Ukraine’s war and its threat to food security, along with the climate crisis, do not generate hope either.

In my book, I draw a line between Abed’s early work in Bangladesh, based on the critical pedagogy influenced by the Marxism of Paulo Freire, and current research on the power of hope, which is based on economic research that suggests that revitalizing people’s self-confidence—that is, giving them hope that a better world is possible, And that they themselves have the power to achieve it—it can lead to material improvements that cannot be explained by anything else, whether it be through cash transfers, training, or gifts of goats or chickens. When one meets a woman like Shahida Begum, who does hard work carrying mud for pennies a day before becoming a professional goat herder through the BRAC “graduation” program, one cannot help but notice her self-confidence, even flaunting. . Common sense might suggest that this confidence arose from the material improvement in her life. Research suggests that causation may actually flow in the opposite direction: It was her newfound confidence that propelled her out of poverty.

Many BRC programs – and increasingly, other evidence-based interventions – rely on enhancing people’s confidence and vision for the future to help them on a path out of poverty. The graduation approach used with Shahida Begum relies on participants receiving regular staff training to enhance confidence and help translate their vision of a poverty-free future into realistic steps. BRAC’s Empowerment for Girls in Africa programme, Empowerment and Adolescent Livelihoods, is based in part on teaching girls and young women the social and emotional ‘soft skills’ that are so vital to thriving in adulthood. Multiple randomized controlled trials (RCTs) demonstrate the effectiveness of the program, including a 48 percent increase at the village level in income generation, driven almost entirely by increased self-employment. The RCT exam in an entrepreneur training program in Togo – not BRAC, but certainly based on the science of hope – shows that a new entrepreneurial training program that relies on psychological mechanisms to promote personal initiative actually outperforms traditional business training in terms of increasing sales and profits.

Abed called this “the science of hope.” Hope alone certainly wouldn’t put food on the table, which is why Abdul ventured into services like microfinance and health care, rather than just committing to raising Freeren’s consciousness, as some of his early colleagues wanted him to.

Abdul died in December 2019, just months before the outbreak of the Corona virus, changing a lot of life as we know it. One cannot help but wonder what he would have made of the world today if he had lived to see it. Abed would have maintained his optimism. There was fear, early on in the pandemic, that COVID-19 would erase decades of gains in the fight to end poverty. Current forecasts are more optimistic, if choppy; Global poverty has resumed its pre-pandemic downward trajectory, although poverty in Africa is on the rise again. Abed is likely to point out that poor people, especially women, tend to have more resilience than we often imagine, and much more so than generally wealthier people. He was urging us to work hard to keep the “leave no one behind” agenda alive, because he had little patience for historical facts, least of all the end of extreme poverty. But he did so not out of a growing sense of despair, but out of his conviction that hope itself can help us build a better world.

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