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A Trusted Source of Life-Saving Information: BRAC in Bangladesh

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When a pandemic is spreading, how do you communicate with millions of people in living in poverty to help them know what they can do to stay safe.  That is the challenge BRAC faced as the first cases of COVID-19 came to Bangladesh.  The steps BRAC has taken show the life-saving role a microfinance organization can play by mobilizing its staff to help its clients learn about the virus and know what to do about it.

I spoke with Shams Azad, COO of BRAC, to learn how an organization with more than 7 million clients and 50,000 staff responds to a global crisis.

Step 1 – Keep Staff Healthy

For BRAC to be able to reach its clients, it first needed to make sure that its staff stayed healthy.  BRAC’s immediate actions with its staff included:

  • Developing a series of training videos about the virus that it sent out to all staff on their tablets and smart phones. (
  • Providing hand washing stations, sanitizer, gloves and face masks at all branch offices.
  • Creating a cash handling process
    • Those handling cash must wear gloves and masks
    • Cash payments must be placed in an envelope.  Once the payment is transferred to the office, the envelope is destroyed
  • Disbanding group meetings
  • Sending head office staff to work from home
  • Setting up a hotline for staff to contact BRAC doctors if they have symptoms of the virus
  • Creating procedures for how to respond to any positive case of COVID-19 among the staff that includes sending the remaining staff from that office home and sending in a special unit to sanitize the office
BRACs Coronavirus Resources

Step 2 – Stay Close to the Clients

After girding them with knowledge and protective equipment, BRAC sent its team a directive: “Stay close to your clients.”  The field staff do this by:

  • Distributing illustrated leaflets printed by BRAC to all clients explaining the virus and what to do to reduce its transmission
  • Delivering over 2 million voice messages to clients with phones
  • Contacting clients once a day, either on the phone or in person (with proper physical distancing)
  • Sending 40,000 community health workers to go door to door in villages throughout the country, putting stickers in each house that show steps to avoid the virus, symptoms and a hotline to call
  • Setting a moratorium on repayments from March 26th to April 4th, which may be extended if needed
  • Keeping branch offices open so that clients can withdraw savings as needed

Shams told me that in many cases, the first time people in a village heard about the virus came from BRAC staff.  In other cases, BRAC staff needed to counter misinformation that had already spread.

Step 3 – Support the Government to Develop Long Term Responses

BRAC leaders have established a dialog with the government on how to keep people in the villages safe and fed as the duration of the crisis moves from weeks to months.  This includes making plans to set up rural testing facilities and isolation units, as well as distribution systems for food and medicine.

You can view my full interview with Shams Azad below.   The bandwidth wasn’t great, so there are some frozen moments and extraneous noises.

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1 Comment

  1. Burt Reed says:

    The procedures they are using are amazing and way ahead of guidelines being used in many locations.
    They have set the standard.

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