Bangladesh: An Analysis of BRAC’s Shift from Freire’s Critical «Conscientization» to a Neoliberal Self-Optimization Approach of Development

Mohammad Abul Fateh


This article provides a critical analysis of a Bangladeshi development-NGO BRAC’s shift from Paulo Freire’s «conscientizing» education to a neoliberal self-optimization approach of development. Focusing on BRAC’s founder Fazle Hasan Abed’s intentionality and BRAC’s adult literacy programs, I examine why BRAC abandoned Freire’s conscientizing education rooted in Catholic-Marxist social movements in Brazil, and embraced a market-driven development strategy based on market capitalism. In the analysis I place BRAC at the intersection of the international context of the early 1980s, examine BRAC’s relationship with the Bangladeshi regimes, and investigate the ramifications for BRAC and the people to whom this institution offered programs. My findings suggest that, although Freirean philosophy was foundational to BRAC’s organizing principles and the design of its adult education curriculum (Smillie, 2009; BRAC, 1977), BRAC deserted Freirean philosophy to submit to the local power structure and hegemony of the international aid industry. At the dawn of neoliberalism (1980–1995), BRAC adopted microfinance, microfinance literacy and profit-driven development initiatives to capitalize on the struggle of the poor in favour of its organizational growth and sustainability. In the process of evolving into the largest and most business-like NGO in the world (Economist, 2010), BRAC modified and depoliticized Freire’s radical conscientization in its curriculum and development strategy to align itself with the local power structure, the Bangladesh state, and international donors. 


conscientization; microfinance; neoliberalism; hegemony; apolitical; aid industry

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