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

Ian Smillie
Freedom From Want: The Remarkable Success Story of BRAC, the Global Grassroots Organization That’s Winning the Fight Against Poverty
ISBN: 978-1-56549-285-1
ISBN: 978-1-56549-294-3
ISBN: 978-1-56549-630-9
2009/285 pages
A Kumarian Press Book
"A well-told account of an unlikely NGO leader who learns early on that development is a humbling business.... Freedom from Want pays well-deserved tribute to an exemplar of indigenous development and its magnificent leader."—Stanford Social Innovation Review

"BRAC is the most astounding social enterprise in the world. This story combines the raw excitement of how a huge business can spring from one man's acumen with the emotive charge that comes when poverty and oppression are routed. Business can be exhilarating, and reading why can be a pleasure."—Paul Collier, University of Oxford

"Ian Smillie insightfully chronicles the work of BRAC and its founder, Fazle Hasan Abed, whom I was proud to present with a Clinton Global Citizen Award. BRAC’s enormous contributions to health, education, and economic development have improved the lives of more than 100 million people across the globe."—Bill Clinton

"A gripping account of how the practical intellect of one person and the trail-blazing activities of an organization have been able to achieve something close to a miracle."—Amaryta Sen, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Ian Smillie shows how BRAC has turned development orthodoxy on its head, challenging 40 years of conventional thinking about how to end poverty and, in the process, how it reached tens of millions of people with good education, better health, and sustainable livelihoods."—Mary Robinson, Realizing Rights

"This book has been crying out to be written. It is a powerful counterblast to cynics and pessimists. It challenges all of us working in development to raise our sights, aim high, and aspire to do the undoable."—Robert Chambers, University of Sussex


Freedom From Want traces the evolution of BRAC from it beginnings as a small relief operation in Bangladesh into what is arguably the largest and most successful social experiment in the developing world.

Ranging from distant villages in Bangladesh to New York's financial district, from war-torn Afghanistan to the plains of eastern Africa, Ian Smillie's book—part adventure story, part lesson in development economics, and part examination of excellence in management—describes one of the world's most remarkable success stories, one that has transformed disaster into development. Smillie shows us how social enterprise can trump corruption, and how purpose, innovation, and clear thinking can overcome the most entrenched injustices.


Ian Smillie is, among numerous other projects, associated with the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University and research coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada's Diamonds and Human Security Project. He has served during his distinguished career as executive director of CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas) and he was a founder of Inter Pares.


  • Introduction: The Age of Ambition.
  • Sonar Bangla.
  • Arms and the Man.
  • The Plan.
  • The Problem.
  • Learning and Unlearning.
  • Dulling the Edge of Husbandry?
  • The Learning Organization.
  • A Chicken and Egg Problem.
  • A Simple Solution.
  • Of Pink Elephants and 9/11.
  • The Mulberry Bush.
  • Water and Milk.
  • Millennium Development Goal 6 (Target 8).
  • Educating Bangladesh.
  • Challenging the Frontiers.
  • A University.
  • On Being Ready.
  • The Democratic Deficit.
  • Afghanistan.
  • The Source of the Nile.
  • In Larger Freedom.