Abed bhai, as I called Fazle Hasan Abed, told me once that as a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain he campaigned for them in an election. The candidate lost but he remembered that they talked a lot but did little work. He had become an admirer of Paolo Friere and his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” theme but in the end, all ideas dissolved into an understanding of power derived from his own experience of work that marked his transition from an ideologue to a visionary.
To Abed bhai, people were poor because they had no power and they had no power because they were excluded from financial access and transactions. They could not participate in economic activities so micro credit to him was not really an extreme poverty exit programme but a banking access mechanism.
He didn’t think that it was going to change society and its economics. It was simply a tool for the middle poor people to take advantage of and press forward. In the 80s and even 90s, he had little idea of how to help the extreme poor.
So microcredit was not for the very poor, as he told me in an interview on the topic. “You can’t give credit to a person who is not already in an income mode. How else can they repay from the next month? It was to prevent them from sliding back to poverty and to become better off.“
It was therefore a tool for inclusion and the platform to become powerful. And this is where the key to his understanding of power began. Economic inclusion was power.
He was really not into the kind of ideological liberalism that is popular among social workers and NGOs, as well as shushils and academics.
“Conscientization” was another buzzword, very chalu with the same world but he was almost dismissive of them. “How will they deal with economic demand with words? There are wants and needs and unless one has access to economics, nothing works. Have any of these outfits been successful?”
Since they were not and now many are dead and gone, he knew what he was talking about.
One day, he saw me on his office floor and walked towards me smiling. “What do you think about digital payment and financial transactions without going to a bank?“
I had no idea then but he was talking about bKash. He was more excited about it than I had seen him in a long time. “Why should people have to go to the banks and seek services? The poor are afraid of the banks as these banks are so rude. This will mean they won’t need banks.“
Today bKash has changed Bangladesh.
Essentially it was an inclusion tool and he was a person who saw in financial inclusion the route to freedom. And that meant power to seek and to preserve the achievement. He had very little confidence in slogan mongering empowerment type of work. He wanted the concrete power that economic resources gave to the denied and that’s how he saw BRAC.