BRAC founder named 2015 World Food Prize Laureate

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, July 1, 2015 - Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder and chairman of BRAC - a 40-year old anti-poverty organization that focuses on empowering the poor, and in particular women and girls - was named the 41st World Food Prize Laureate Wednesday during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington.

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BRAC - originally the Bangladesh Rural Achievement Committee - is the world's largest non-governmental organization, with over 120,000 employees. In addition to operating in Bangladesh, BRAC also works in 10 other countries to implement sustainable development initiatives that address hunger, poverty and powerlessness. The organization has helped raised nearly 150 million people out of poverty, according to the State Department.

“The real heroes in our story are the poor themselves,” Abed, who was unable to attend today's ceremony, said in a statement.

“In situations of extreme poverty, it is usually the women in the family who have to make do with scarce resources,” Abed said. “Only by putting the poorest, the women in particular, in charge of their own lives and destinies will absolute poverty and deprivation be removed from the face of the earth.”

Abed was born to a distinguished Bangladeshi family and received his education from the University of Glasgow. He worked for Shell Oil Company before he left corporate life to head a humanitarian organization aimed at helping the victims of a 1970 cyclone that hit south and southeastern Bangladesh, killing 300,000 people.

In 1972, 10 million Bangladeshi refugees that had fled to India to escape the violence during the war in which Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan. Abed, who was knighted in the U.K. in 2010, was there to help them become self-sufficient, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during his address at the ceremony. “He heard the call of his country and he answered.”

Abed is “an individual who has made it his life's work to lift millions of people out of poverty” and “is extraordinarily deserving of this honor,” Vilsack said.

“To me, the World Food Prize indicates the power of the single individual to make a fundamental difference in the world,” Vilsack continued. “If each of us understood the power that we each have to make a difference, what a more secure, peaceful and better world it would be.”

Abed will formally receive the honor during a ceremony Oct. 15 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Norman Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize, founded the World Food Prize in 1986. The prize is an annual $250,000 award that he hoped would both highlight and inspire breakthrough achievements in improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world. Today, the World Food Prize is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”

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