Fragile futures

BRAC executive director Asif Saleh believes fighting climate change requires fewer moonshots and more scaling of proven community solutions.

Asif Saleh, the executive director of BRAC, does not mince his words. "The urgency is very real, and the pace of action and adaptation needs to be in sync with the destruction of the climate," he tells Philanthropy Age on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai. “We have so many crises around the world… the resources are getting very stretched, so we have to do more with less.”

And his message to philanthropists and other funders is clear: ditch the obsession with moonshots and focus on locally-conceived and led solutions instead.

“Too often we think about innovation from a very fancy, product driven innovation that's going to change the world,” he said. “But the reality is, there are already a lot of solutions out there, they just need financing to scale.”

On the first day of COP28, the conference leadership announced that the long-talked about Loss and Damage Fund had secured commitments exceeding US$700m and would soon be operationalised.

Managed by the World Bank, the L&D Fund will provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Saleh described the announcement as a “very big deal” but said there was still a long way to go and that the fund would “need billions not millions” to have an impact. He also added that governments need to look not just at repairing damage but also the perspective of adaptation and building resilience to help people withstand future shocks.

A powerful new video made by BRAC and released just before COP28, follows Saleh as he visits some of Bangladesh’s coastal communities where climate change is wreaking havoc on local ecosystems and economies. From the villagers who are forced to move their houses to escape land erosion to the those experiencing a high incidence of cervical cancer and strokes - believed to be linked to the elevated salinity of the country’s groundwater due to rising sea-levels - the people of Bangladesh are on the frontlines of changing weather patterns and extreme temperatures.

“People's hardest attempts to survive here are becoming futile,” Saleh says in the video. And he warns “We need to join their fight and we need to do it very quickly because the climate crisis won't stop at this coast: when it's done here, we are all next.” 

Founded in 1972 by the late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC started out as a relief organisation to support displaced people in the newly-independent Bangladesh, but in the five decades since has grown to become the largest – and arguably – most enterprising NGO in the world.

Its programmes span poverty reduction, gender equality, community empowerment, universal access to health care, and pro-poor urban development. A pioneer in microfinance, BRAC also runs 10 social enterprises and has its own insurance company.

The first so-called Global South organisation to launch international operations, BRAC is a major provider of humanitarian support for the millions of Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar and champions locally-led community responses to development challenges such as climate change. - PA


People living on the frontlines of the climate crisis in Bangladesh are trying their best to adapt - but there’s only so much they can do with limited resources. Join BRAC’s Executive Director Asif Saleh as he visits the country's coastal areas to learn more about locally-led responses.