Paroma Husain

Country: Uganda
Organization: BRAC Uganda

PAROMA: "During the last summer I spent almost three months working with the Microfinance programme of BRAC in Uganda. BRAC is an NGO that started as a small post-war rehabilitation operation in the newly born Bangladesh in 1972, and grew to be one of the largest NGOs in the world. BRAC now operates in 12 different countries across Asia and Africa; taking its years of experience from Bangladesh in implementing successful models in various development programs such as health, education, microfinance, and community empowerment into other developing countries.

Uganda is BRAC’s largest and fastest growing operation in Africa. In the last decade, Uganda has grown consistently, at an average rate of 6.4 per cent. It has made significant progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals and is now focusing on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. But approximately 20 per cent of Ugandans still live below the poverty line and they are mostly concentrated in rural areas. While there are a number of financial institutions providing financial services to marginalised groups, they have limited operations in rural areas. With 147 branches all over Uganda and more than 180,000 borrowers served, BRAC Uganda’s microfinance program is one of the biggest in the country and it reaches out to the poorest in both urban and rural areas.1 Besides microfinance, BRAC currently operates programs in small enterprise, agriculture, poultry and livestock, health, education, youth empowerment, adolescent livelihood, and the Karamoja Initiative in Uganda. To date the programs have served 4.4 million people, which is almost 12% of Uganda’s population.2 Before Fletcher, I have been working in BRAC’s microfinance program in Bangladesh. This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work with and learn from my colleagues in Uganda."

"My three years of experience with BRAC Bangladesh had made me curious to find out how well BRAC can apply its learnings and program models from Bangladesh in a starkly different country context. Working with BRAC Uganda gave me an opportunity to assess the success and failure of BRAC’s international scaling efforts. My overall conclusion is that while there are some things BRAC is doing quite well in its country offices, it can do a much better job in many other aspects. For instance, there is a clear cultural divide between Bangladeshi expats, who generally occupy higher management posts, and the local staff. While the highly standardised operational models were so crucial in BRAC’s amazing success story of scaling in Bangladesh, strict compliance of these standards can overlook the contextual operational needs in a different country. There is also a resource constrain in the mostly donor-depended programs of BRAC International that BRAC Bangladesh does not have to face. As a result,

many effective client oriented programs and monitoring tools that have proven to be effective in Bangladesh cannot be implemented in other BRAC countries. Based on several of these observations, I can make the following recommendations: (The suggestions made in this section are mostly based on interviews with clients and staff members and observations from field visits – which are often anecdotal and not grounded in rigorous studies.)"