British philanthropist Sir Fazle Abed has won the largest ever prize for education, dubbed the "Nobel prize for education." British-Bangladeshi Abed was awarded $500,000 and a gold medal by the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar on Tuesday as recognition for 40 years dedication to his poverty relief, but refused to admit it was a bigger honour than being knighted by the Queen.
Abed moved from his London home to Bangladesh in 1971 to help millions of impoverished people in the newly independent state. He established BRAC and it now operates in more than 69 thousand villages in Bangladesh and nine other countries and is currently helping around 110 million people through its development schemes.
It is the first time that an award of this size has been given to innovators in education, though the prize money is still dwarfed by the $1.4 million given to Nobel Prize winners every year. Speaking at the awards in Doha, Abed said he was humbled but refused to admit it meant more to him than receiving his knighthood from the Queen last year.
"I am obviously very delighted to be the first laureate. It comes as a big surprise to me. I really didn't know anything about it. It is very difficult for me to find the words to express the honour and the privilege of receiving this recognition."
Asked how the award compared to being knighted, Abed said he did not want to choose between them. "Of course I was delighted to be knighted. I have been a British national for 50 years so it is only appropriate that I would be knighted," he joked.
He vowed to give the prize money away to specific services that BRAC operates. "It will make a lot of difference if I set up a school in a community where there is no school [or]... if I set up a library where no books are available so girls who have dropped out of school can come and borrow books, that will make a difference to their lives."