Opinion: A southerly wind heralds a time of change

Nick Cater, a consultant, speaker and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

When I finally write the definitive history of humanitarianism - warts, boils, carbuncles and all - I may have to reserve a significant footnote for an event taking place today.

Amid little fanfare, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee is launching itself in the UK at a meeting at the House of Lords chaired by Baroness Uddin, with remarks by founder and chair Fazle Hasan Abed, and its new director in London, Sandra Kabir.

One of the world's largest NGOs, Brac began work in 1972 in refugee resettlement and has spread into everything, from education to microcredit, health to a vast range of commercial enterprises. Now it is looking to become a bigger player on a far bigger stage.

Brac now employs more than 100,000 people - 72 per cent of them women - and proves the case for indigenous southern agencies, often home-grown and self-sustaining, taking the lead in development and disasters.

The agency is on the move in Asia, with operations in both Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and it has worldwide ambitions, starting with Africa - where it recently committed $250m - and the UK.

Cue nervousness for both domestic and international UK charities if they note Brac's local and global agenda: "Alleviation of poverty and empowerment of the poor in the UK, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

"Among other interventions, it will adapt and use Brac's experiences, expertise, models and materials for independent and mutual fundraising efforts, programme implementation and advocacy for development led by the south."

Yadda yadda, you may say, but its commitment to empowering the poor through southern-led development using UK remittances and fundraising underlines how Brac is part of a revolution in the making, alongside other indigenous agencies, notably Africa Humanitarian Action, under my old friend Dr Dawit Zawde.

Given half a chance, lean and eager southern groups are seizing the initiative in development and disaster response, while using the net for global fundraising and advocacy, often initially via their digital diasporas.

As the tsunami proved, it is time the northern aid agencies - slow, costly, unnecessary, unsustainable and sometimes more than a little arrogant - made way for their confident and capable southern cousins and consigned themselves to the history books.

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