HPC Fellow: Hrithik Bansal, BRAC USA

Hrithik Bansal is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with BRAC USA. He worked with the senior leadership of the nonprofit to develop and implement strategies towards new revenue-generating activities. In his blog, Hrithik reflects upon BRAC’s business model.

BRAC’s move to financial sustainability
By: Hrithik Bansal

My interest in development began early. Born and raised in India, I was fascinated by current affairs from a young age. I was aware that India, with its closed economy, was not as well off as countries in the West. So, when I came to the United States as an undergraduate, I was curious why these differences existed between countries, and I focused my pursuits on trying to understand their causes. This has taken me to many different parts of the world, working for various organizations, all with the goal of bettering humanity.

For the past year, I was privileged to have the opportunity to work at BRAC USA, the North American affiliate of BRAC. One of the world’s largest development organizations, BRAC is dedicated to empowering people living in poverty. Working across 11 countries in South Asia and Africa, the organization touches the lives of more than 120 million people worldwide. It takes a holistic approach to alleviating poverty with programs that include microfinance, education, healthcare, food security programs, and more.

Much of BRAC’s success is attributable to its visionary founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, whose leadership and zeal for the principles of business management created an organization that operates effectively and efficiently. For example, BRAC has long sought to lessen its reliance on donor funding over the years, creating a number of successful, independent social enterprises in the textiles, retail, finance, and agriculture industries. It has received recognition for this business-driven approach from many in the business community and the international press.

Given the changing aspirations of the people it serves, BRAC expects that many of its programs will adopt the social enterprise model, at least in part, if they have not already. This means that some of the projects in these programs would generate revenue by selling services to clients, producing a financial return while creating social impact. This financial surplus would help fund the rest of the program.

In certain markets, there is a clear need for a reliable provider that can offer quality services at an affordable price. I had the opportunity to work with some of the programs to help with this transition. Using my expertise in business strategy and my work experience in other developing countries, I worked closely with several programs to help craft the strategy for these new revenue-generating enterprises.

In Bangladesh, about 70 percent of court cases are related to land. In one of the most densely populated countries in the world, where agriculture is the mainstay of most rural poor, land is a vital resource. In fact, it is not only of economic importance, but also of emotional significance, as it is typically bequeathed by fathers. As a result, land is often a contentious issue, and disputes commonly end up in court. Poor households might spend up to about half of their income to resolve these cases, which can take more than a decade to resolve. To make matters worse, corruption and bureaucracy often complicate government land services.

To help Bangladeshi citizens solve land-related issues, the BRAC Human Rights and Legal Services program has initiated a land service enterprise, complementing its existing work in this arena advocating for the poor and underserved. Its Integrated Land Services Offices will soon offer reliable land-related services while also generating revenue for the larger program. At the same time, the service dignifies the process by which people’s land issues are resolved. The offices also employ trained land surveyors who are skilled at measuring land, helping to sort out disputes relating to land measurement before they escalate.

Finding a business case that balanced the social aspects of the enterprise against the financial viability of the firm was deeply enriching, and one that leveraged my unique skill set and experience. BRAC is seeking funding for the enterprise now, hopeful that it will be able to improve the lives of many more Bangladeshis. I am thankful to the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program for their support during my time at BRAC USA. To play even a small role in making a difference in the lives of so many fellow South Asians was an inspirational experience, and one I will not soon forget.

About The Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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