Francis Medal awarded to founder of anti-poverty agency BRAC


The University of Michigan will award the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairperson of BRAC — a Bangladesh-based development organization that works to alleviate poverty by empowering the poor.

Fazle Hasan Abed

One of U-M’s most prestigious honors, the Francis Medal is awarded every few years, recognizing those who have had a tremendous impact on global public health. The medal, which includes a $50,000 honorarium to be used to further global public health, will be given to Abed when he visits U-M on April 6-7, 2016. 

Abed was in his 30s when he left his job as a senior corporate executive for Shell Oil and established BRAC in 1972. His first project was a small-scale relief and rehabilitation effort for refugees from Bangladesh’s war of independence.

Over the years, BRAC’s focus eventually evolved to include the empowerment of the poor and landless, particularly women and children. The organization’s work includes human rights, clean water, education, disaster relief, microfinance, legal aid, gender justice and many other fields.

With a staff of 120,000 and programs in 12 countries, BRAC has become the world’s largest non-governmental organization, in terms of the number of employees and the people it has helped. It originally was known as the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee but now uses only the acronym.

Recipients of the Francis Medal are chosen by the U-M president at the recommendation of a selection advisory committee of senior university leaders, distinguished scholars and leaders in public health and medicine.

“The Francis Medal is named after an individual who truly exemplifies the power and impact of the university’s excellence in education and research,” President Mark Schlissel said when announcing the medal recipient at his annual Leadership Breakfast on Friday.

The selection advisory committee was chaired by Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health.

“Under Sir Fazle’s leadership, BRAC reaches an estimated 135 million people with its services, including health care,” Philbert said. “This record of achievement is a remarkable example of leadership and vision. It’s public health at its best.” 

The medal’s namesake was a U-M professor who built a virus laboratory and a Department of Epidemiology that focused on a broad range of infectious diseases. He also taught Jonas Salk the methodology of vaccine development.

After Salk developed the Salk polio vaccine, Francis was asked to design, supervise and evaluate its field trials, which involved 1.8 million children in three countries. With the world watching, Francis walked into Rackham Auditorium on April 12, 1955, and announced that the Salk vaccine was “safe, effective and potent.”

Details about Abed’s medal presentation event, which will be open to the public, will be announced at a later date.


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