When you meet Fatema, ‘transvestite’ is not the word that immediately comes to mind. But that is how she is referred to by colleagues and strangers alike. She prefers to wear shirts instead of covering herself with a dupatta (scarf) and wears her hair short.In Bangladesh her behaviour goes beyond most peoples’ social expectations regarding gender.
BRAC’s social enterprises have always been based on a drive to find alternate livelihoods for Bangladesh’s rural poor. None were started simply as business endeavours; instead, these unique enterprises have stakeholders. While every business has a purpose of maximising profit, BRAC’s purpose is poverty alleviation. These enterprises provide 72 per cent of the funds for BRAC’s own programmes, ensuring self-sustainability by reinvesting 50 per cent of their profits back into development interventions.
Under the rain-soaked canopy of a mango tree stood a one-room structure with large windows. As we entered, a soft murmur of whispers swept through the room. Curious eyes greeted us with shy, furtive glances. Most workers of the Bangladeshi apparel industry work in grim, unsafe environments, but this place sang a different song. The room was wide and spacious, flooded by broad daylight and fresh air that smelled like rain.
I am a first year MBA student at the Johnson School at Cornell University. This past year I was studying Sustainable Global Enterprise and social entrepreneurship and am so thrilled to be doing my internship with BRAC-Aarong this summer. Most first-year MBA students take internship positions with large banks, consumer package goods companies or other corporations. And while many of my classmates came to b-school to purse these more traditional paths, I envisioned a career where I would be able to merge my creative background with my newly honed business skills and work for a company that considered social and environmental needs in addition to the bottom line. But honestly, when I first started looking for an internship, I thought that this was a pipe dream.
Last week at a BRAC rural manufacturing facility located in Manikganj, Bangladesh, which is two hours north of Dhaka, artisans were introduced to the Japanese 5S methodology. The artisans are part of the Ayesha Abed Foundation (AAF), Aarong’s manufacturing arm. Aarong is a BRAC social enterprise that has enabled livelihood opportunities for 65,000 artisans across rural Bangladesh.
A throng of village children, led by a boy in a blue shirt, follow me as I walk over the narrow ledge separating two rice paddy fields, and make my way over to a small production sub-center located in a remote rural area in Bangladesh.Being Indian by birth, I have similar coloration and features as a Bangladeshi but the children seem to know that I am not from their part of the world. I think that my slightly off-Bangladeshi garb, my water bottle and camera give me away.