BRAC and University of Cambridge: Collaboration across borders

September 11, 2017 by , , , and

Five of us from the MBA programme of University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, volunteered to join BRAC for an academic consulting project this April. We were fortunate to work on the Integrated Land Services Office (ILSO), an initiative of the organisation’s Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS). The four-week immersive visit allowed us to participate and draw lessons from the amazing work they do and the social impact they create at scale.

ILSO is a new venture to make land services accessible for people in a financially sustainable way. The project combines expertise in providing legal aid at the grassroots with BRAC’s capacity to create the right social enterprise model to create lasting change (from Aarong to Shishu Niketan– the examples are numerous).

We arrived in Bangladesh with our bags full of frameworks and ideas to help the team refine ILSO’s existing social enterprise model. In turn, we were received with open arms. The hands-on experience, outreach capacity and entrepreneurial energy we saw were reminders of the humble but bold spirit of an organisation that stands for macro-level change.  

Our trip to rural Rajshahi in northern Bangladesh was an eye-opening one. It was incredible to see how BRAC is able to raise awareness and provide legal aid throughout towns and villages, big and small, while faced with scarcity of resources and various cultural barriers. Soon, we could compare and complete the findings of our preliminary research and the theoretical models with insights from other BRAC initiatives, partnering actors, local authorities and, more importantly, those who lack the economy to access conventional land services and protection.

It was impressive to see how BRAC has an ingrained culture of innovative practices, lean execution and long-term vision. In the end, we were able to analyse the environment, design and compare different social business models and gather a set of tailored recommendations: from funding possibilities to technological aspects.

Here are three key recommendations we put forward:

Expanding client base- Targeting the middle-income population, applying appropriate charges in order to make the enterprise model sustainable. Bangladesh is set to move on to a middle-income status by the year 2021; there is a growing middle-income population that can afford to avail quality services.

Digitising- Using technology wherever possible to alleviate cost and build data wealth. Digitising documents, processes and client interactions to achieve efficiency; achieving scalability, transparency and lower costs eg, with the help of a software development social enterprise or non-profit.

Franchising- Training and partnering with entrepreneurs, who will run their own micro-social enterprises, even as a complement to another main business model, which would result in two office categories: own and franchised.

BRAC is a fascinating organisation and working in rural Bangladesh for those few weeks gave us a whole new perspective. Learning about social enterprises and human rights in a developing and fast-growing economy such as Bangladesh has been a life-changing experience. We are grateful for this experience and extend our thanks to the HRLS team and everyone who made our visit a success. BRAC, আপনাকে অনেক ধন্যবাদ!


The authors are students of the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, class of 2016.