BRAC, the largest non-profit organization in the developing world, has been selected to receive the 2008 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize of $1.5 million.

LOS ANGELES – August 27, 2008. BRAC, the largest non-profit organization in the developing world, has been selected to receive the 2008 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize of $1.5 million. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation presents the annual award, the world’s largest humanitarian prize, to an organization that is significantly alleviating human suffering. The prize will be presented on October 20 in Geneva, Switzerland, with Quincy Jones as keynote speaker.

Launched in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC reaches more than 110 million people with its holistic approach to addressing poverty by providing micro-loans, education, health services, job creation and human rights education.

“BRAC’s approach to creating self-sufficient and sustainable programs on a massive scale has blazed a trail for development organizations around the world,” said Steven M. Hilton, President and CEO of the Hilton Foundation. “Where most NGOs might tackle one dimension of poverty, BRAC delivers multi-faceted solutions to attack all aspects simultaneously,” Hilton added.

Now in its 37th year, BRAC has taken its model beyond Bangladesh into eight other Asian and African countries. It has issued $5 billion in micro-loans to nearly seven million borrowers; graduated 3.8 million students from its primary schools and 2.3 million from its pre-primary schools, with 1.5 million children currently enrolled in its 52,000 schools; provided basic health services to more than 90 million; created 8.5 million jobs; and employed 110,000 staff and teachers.

According to Fazle Hasan Abed, BRAC’s founder and chairperson, “To receive the Hilton Prize is a great honor and tremendous validation of our work. Billions of people in the world today live in extreme poverty, and it is our goal to transition the poor from receiving aid to controlling their own destinies. The Hilton Prize will add to our momentum as we take on greater challenges to unleash the full potential of the poor, especially women, and realize justice and their full human rights.”

BRAC plans to use the $1.5 million prize winnings as a challenge grant to generate $3 million, through its US affiliate BRAC USA, to accelerate its recently established programs in southern Sudan, reports Abed. BRAC is one of the first NGOs to move into southern Sudan and in less than a year it has 6,000 enrolled in its micro-finance program, 20 acres under cultivation, 100 trained community health workers, and 50 schools in progress to provide the poorest children with an accelerated quality primary education.

Judy Miller, Vice President of the Hilton Foundation and director of the Hilton Prize, said BRAC was one of more than 225 nominees for the 2008 Hilton Prize. She added that the Hilton Prize international jurors were impressed by BRAC’s innovation and the diversity of its programs, along with its ability to dramatically scale up its work and to expand beyond Bangladesh into other developing countries. This has been accomplished with nearly 80 percent of its $485 million budget funded through its own enterprises and loan charges.

Miller added, “BRAC began by targeting poor rural women and recently announced a major initiative to educate girls in Africa and Asia. This is the third year in a row that our Hilton Prize recipient is an NGO that recognizes women as the critical agents of change to lift their families and communities from poverty.”

Formerly known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, BRAC was founded in 1972 by former Shell Oil executive Fazle Hasan Abed, with proceeds from the sale of his London apartment, to help Bangladesh overcome the devastation and trauma of the liberation war that secured its independence from Pakistan. Using micro-finance as its core component, BRAC sets up small village organizations run by 30 to 40 women that provide their communities access to credit for economic development and also deliver health services, education, social awareness of legal and human rights and business management and skills training. Today, BRAC’s programs reach three quarters of Bangladesh’s population through the efforts of more than 110,000 micro-finance officers, teachers, health staff and enterprise managers. BRAC has helped bring Bangladesh’s immunization rate from 2 percent to 83 percent and reached 86 million people with its tuberculosis control program. The organization has been instrumental in lowering Bangladesh’s maternal and infant mortality rates. At a time when half of children’s deaths were caused by diarrhea, BRAC sent women into the countryside to teach 13 million mothers how to prepare an oral rehydration solution.

In recent years, BRAC has expanded its programs globally. In 2002, the organization moved into post-Taliban Afghanistan after seeing the haunting images of three million refugees returning to the war-torn country. Starting out with $250,000 of its own funding, BRAC is now the largest micro-finance, health and education provider in the country, operating in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and disbursing over $96 million in small loans. The organization began working in Sri Lanka in 2004 after the devastating tsunami and has set up 40 offices throughout Pakistan. Over the last two years, BRAC launched programs in Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia and Southern Sudan in response to reports that Africa is the only continent where the proportion of poor is growing. BRAC plans to operate in 10 African countries by 2010.

The Hilton Prize is presented each year in conjunction with the annual Hilton Humanitarian Symposium which gathers policymakers and world leaders in the humanitarian field to address critical challenges. This year’s theme is: “The Bottom Billion—Is There a Tipping Point?”

This year’s Hilton Prize jury includes: Princess Salimah Aga Khan, International Ambassador for SOS-Kinderdorf International; Catherine Bertini, former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme and Senior Fellow in Agricultural Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Gro Harlem Brundtland, M.P.H., former Director General, World Health Organization and former Prime Minister of Norway; Gregory R. Dillon, Director, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation; Eric M. Hilton, Director, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and son of Conrad Hilton; Olara A. Otunnu, former UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and former Ugandan Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Professor Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics and Lamont University Professor at Harvard University.

Former Hilton Prize recipients are recognized leaders in the humanitarian world and include: Tostan (Senegal) 2007; Women for Women International (Washington, DC) 2006; Partners in Health (Massachusetts) 2005; Heifer International (Arkansas) 2004; International Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (Denmark) 2003; SOS Children’s Villages (Austria) 2002; St. Christopher’s Hospice (England) 2001; Casa Alianza (Costa Rica) 2000; African Medical and Research Foundation (Kenya) 1999; Doctors Without Borders (France) 1998; International Rescue Committee (New York) 1997; and Operation Smile (Virginia) 1996.

Based in Los Angeles, the Hilton Foundation was created in 1944 by the late hotel entrepreneur and business leader, Conrad N. Hilton, who left his fortune to the foundation when he died in 1979 with instructions to help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable throughout the world without regard to religion, ethnicity or geography. Barron Hilton, who also led Hilton Hotels Corporation and is current chairman of the foundation, has joined his father in committing to leave the bulk of his wealth to the foundation. The foundation along with its related entities has assets exceeding $4.2 billion and, since its inception, has committed more than $780 million for charitable projects throughout the world.