How did BRAC succeed without evaluations?

Bangladesh Rehabiliation Assistance Committee famously known as BRAC is an NGO in Bangladesh, known for its initiatives in diverse areas of finance, education, health etc. Economist has to say this on BRAC. 

On its scale
BRAC began life distributing emergency aid in a corner of eastern Bangladesh after the war of independence. It is now the largest NGO in the world by the number of employees and the number of people it has helped (three-quarters of all Bangladeshis have benefited in one way or another). 
On its success
In the 1980s it sent out volunteers to every household in the country showing mothers how to mix salt, sugar and water in the right proportions to rehydrate a child suffering from diarrhoea. This probably did more to lower child mortality in the country than anything else. BRAC and the government jointly ran a huge programme to inoculate every Bangladeshi against tuberculosis. BRAC’s primary schools are a safety net for children who drop out of state schools. BRAC even has the world’s largest legal-aid programme: there are more BRAC legal centres than police stations in Bangladesh.



On one hand, we have billion dollar aid programmes in Africa which couldn't address even small problems of disseminating information on preparing a rehydration liquid. This made the strong case for evaluation of aid programmes to make the spending more effective. So, what's the difference? 

On one hand we have BRAC which succeeded without any evaluation of its programmes. So, how did BRAC achieve this success without having any evaluations done in between to guide them? We have some hints here.

On BARC' approach
BRAC is a sort of chaebol (South Korean conglomerate)for social development. It began with microcredit, but found its poor clients could not sell the milk and eggs produced by the animals they had bought. So BRAC got into food processing. When it found the most destitute were too poor for micro-loans, it set up a programme which gave them animals. Now it runs dairies, a packaging business, a hybrid-seed producer, textile plants and its own shops—as well as schools for dropouts, clinics and sanitation plants.
On BARC's  capability
The innovative NGO now has 100,000 health volunteers with mobile phones (mobile-phone coverage is widespread in Bangladesh). When a volunteer finds a woman is pregnant, she texts the mother-to-be with advice on prenatal and, later, postnatal care. This is helping BRAC build up a database of maternal and child-health patterns in remote villages.
These tell us some important lessons.

  1. Reiteration: BRAC diligently reiterated its programmes, starting new ones, as and when need arose.
  2. Holistic approach: BRAC took a holistic view of the problem, by expanding its programmes to achieve the end goal of reducing poverty
  3. Capability: The scale of BRAC's volunteer database demonstrates its capability to coordinate and execute.

When  you have a committed and capable organization taking a holistic approach, and quickly reiterating, then eventually they will figure out a way to reach the end goal. This also means these organizations have a strong feedback mechanisms. This is similar to the approach taken by companies to build products. May be in these cases, organizations can navigate without bothering to get rigorous RCTs done!

The description of BRAC also fits into William Easterly's CIAO - four prerequisites to build a successful aid programme: Customer Feedback, Incentives, Accountability, Outcomes. He describes this in his book 'The White Man's Burden'.

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