Once a program has been successfully implemented, the work isn’t over: It’s only just begun.  That was the message brought this fall by Sir Fazle Abed to New Haven, Connecticut, where he addressed a group of students in the Yale School of Management.

One of the more crucial aspects of any NGO project is its sustainability factor, said Abed, who became the second recipient of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Nonprofit Leadership in 2007 (the first was Landesa’s Roy Prosterman in 2006).

BRAC’s Fazle Abed speaking at Yale University in September.

If sustainability isn’t tested and confirmed, longterm success on a much larger scale will be harder to achieve.

“We make the programs effective first, then we want to make them efficient by routinizing tasks that are  essential and discarding those which are not essential,” he told students during a lecture as part of Yale School of Management’s Leaders Forum Series. “Then, we can scale up.”

Abed founded the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee in 1972 to address poverty in remote parts of Bangladesh.  That mission has grown to touch lives in so many other areas as well — Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Uganda, Tanzania, Southern Sudan — largely because BRAC has been careful to do exactly what Abed described for his Yale audience.

Thanks to a research division, BRAC has been able to test and assess every micro-finance, educational reform, and women’s empowerment program for strengths and weaknesses before scaling up these efforts.

Such testing can be costly, however, which is why BRAC has also developed social enterprises (micro lending, printing presses, craft shops, schools) to generate funding that enables BRAC to support new projects.

In fact, charitable donations aren’t the primary source of BRAC’s funding, notes Kravis Prize Director Kim Jonker in “In the Black with BRAC,” an article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

“The organization generates 80 percent of its $485 million budget from its social enterprises….” she writes. “Major international organizations such as the World Bank credit BRAC and other nongovernmental organizations with turning Bangladesh around economically, in spite of the country’s weak governance…”

One potential criticism, however, is that such enterprises lead to misperceptions about an NGO’s mission. One audience member asked for Abed’s advice (a video of the lecture is available on the Yale School of Management site) in coping with the criticism that, once an NGO engages in creating enterprises, it turns into a for-profit organization.

Abed said that such perceptions must be overcome.  The key, he said, is to stay focused on your organization’s original mission.

“When I started BRAC, I didn’t have any idea that we’d also go into so many social enterprises … but the intention was good,” he said, smiling. “My advice to you is, even when people say you are becoming a business instead of a nonprofit, keep going. That’s what we did. We kept going because we wanted to help poor people.”