Muhammad Musa
Bangladesh
Muhammad Musa
  • Executive Director, BRAC International (Development; Microfinance)
Born Chittagong, Bangladesh, 1957. MBBS, Chittagong Medical College (1981); Post-Graduate Diploma, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Wageningen University (1986); MPH, Johns Hopkins University (1992).
“You always find positive support in the community in favor of positive changes that we were looking for, even if on the surface you might see there’s a lot of opposition. One of our own lessons has been that you never have one homogeneous negative or positive situation in one community.”

Summary

Muhammad Musa is Executive Director of Bangladesh-based BRAC International, the world’s largest NGO. This interview follows up an earlier Creating Emerging Markets interview with the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC. Musa develops our understanding of BRAC with a detailed discussion of BRAC’s global expansion, which operated in 12 countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East by 2020.

Musa begins the interview by describing BRAC’s decision to bring humanitarian and developmental aid to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of the country in October 2001. Despite resistance from the Taliban, the Sunni Islamist movement which had controlled the government and subsequently formed a militant resistance group, BRAC was able to create positive community support, and set up 3,000 one-classroom schools, focused on bringing education to girls.

Musa describes four common sources of BRAC’s success: deep community involvement; a social enterprise model that addresses both poverty and inequality; a market-based approach that focuses on microfinance, livelihood, and economic empowerment of the middle-income group; and taking a southern approach to the humanitarian and development sector, disrupting the typical North-South development paradigm.

Musa also emphasizes the value of partnering with global entities as well as local grassroots organizations, local communities, and local knowledge to find solutions that work due to the very different contexts and vulnerabilities that exist within and between countries. Musa provides the example of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program that began in the mid-1990s in partnership with the World Food Program in an intervention known as Vulnerable Group Feeding, where there was a transfer of assets and food to those living in destitution. After participating in the program for four years, BRAC recognized that it was not solving the problem for those classified as vulnerable. After then working with the vulnerable communities directly, BRAC was able to transition them from destitution to being able to meaningfully participate in the market. After doing this on the ground, BRAC created a model, partnered with research institutions, banks and others, and replicated it in other countries.

In this interview, Musa also narrates the success of one of BRAC’s program’s called Empowerment for Livelihood of Adolescents where job skills, life skills, and decision-making skills are taught. In 2014, the Ebola virus outbreak unexpectedly occurred in West Africa, which decimated the region’s social fabric as children became more vulnerable to abuse, schools closed, and many people lost their source of income. Even as the outbreak was controlled, many children, especially girls, were unable to go back to school. However, a study found that children and adolescents who had participated in BRAC’s Empowerment for Livelihood program saw a significantly lower dropout rate. Musa concludes the interview by reflecting on his thoughts for the future of BRAC. He expresses the view that his earlier optimism that technical solutions would solve major problems in the developing world has diminished. Instead he perceives “social, economic and very complex problems” as the major challenges, which will call for continued experimentation to find solutions.

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Muhammad Musa is Executive Director of Bangladesh-based BRAC International, the world’s largest NGO. This interview follows up an earlier Creating Emerging Markets interview with the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC. Musa develops our understanding of BRAC with a detailed discussion of BRAC’s global expansion, which operated in 12 countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East by 2020.

Musa begins the interview by describing BRAC’s decision to bring humanitarian and developmental aid to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of the country in October 2001. Despite resistance from the Taliban, the Sunni Islamist movement which had controlled the government and subsequently formed a militant resistance group, BRAC was able to create positive community support, and set up 3,000 one-classroom schools, focused on bringing education to girls.

Musa describes four common sources of BRAC’s success: deep community involvement; a social enterprise model that addresses both poverty and inequality; a market-based approach that focuses on microfinance, livelihood, and economic empowerment of the middle-income group; and taking a southern approach to the humanitarian and development sector, disrupting the typical North-South development paradigm.

Musa also emphasizes the value of partnering with global entities as well as local grassroots organizations, local communities, and local knowledge to find solutions that work due to the very different contexts and vulnerabilities that exist within and between countries. Musa provides the example of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program that began in the mid-1990s in partnership with the World Food Program in an intervention known as Vulnerable Group Feeding, where there was a transfer of assets and food to those living in destitution. After participating in the program for four years, BRAC recognized that it was not solving the problem for those classified as vulnerable. After then working with the vulnerable communities directly, BRAC was able to transition them from destitution to being able to meaningfully participate in the market. After doing this on the ground, BRAC created a model, partnered with research institutions, banks and others, and replicated it in other countries.

In this interview, Musa also narrates the success of one of BRAC’s program’s called Empowerment for Livelihood of Adolescents where job skills, life skills, and decision-making skills are taught. In 2014, the Ebola virus outbreak unexpectedly occurred in West Africa, which decimated the region’s social fabric as children became more vulnerable to abuse, schools closed, and many people lost their source of income. Even as the outbreak was controlled, many children, especially girls, were unable to go back to school. However, a study found that children and adolescents who had participated in BRAC’s Empowerment for Livelihood program saw a significantly lower dropout rate. Musa concludes the interview by reflecting on his thoughts for the future of BRAC. He expresses the view that his earlier optimism that technical solutions would solve major problems in the developing world has diminished. Instead he perceives “social, economic and very complex problems” as the major challenges, which will call for continued experimentation to find solutions.
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Video Clips by Topic

Education

Muhammad Musa, the Executive Director of BRAC International since 2015, recalls how the founder Sir Abed Hazan Fazle led the NGO’s first international foray in Afghanistan in 2002, negotiating with conflicting parties to establish schools for girls.


Foreign Partnerships

Muhammad Musa, the Executive Director of the BRAC International since 2015, explains that the NGO does not make all its operations in one country financially self-sustaining as it considers outside funding can be a source of new knowledge. For the same reason BRAC partners with other NGOs and with universities.


Responding to Crises

Muhammad Musa, the Executive Director of the BRAC International since 2015, explains how BRAC functions as a learning organization. He provides an example from west Africa, where the NGO discovered that the children attending the clubs it had established suffered far less disruption when the outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014 caused social breakdowns.


Social Impact

Muhammad Musa, the Executive Director of the BRAC International since 2015, explains the NGO’s operating model which includes establishing for-profit and social enterprise businesses and the provision of micro-finance.


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Muhammad Musa, interviewed by Tarun Khanna, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, March 6, 2020, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.