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.
The fashion and garments industry of Bangladesh, employing the largest labour force, has become a national pride. A huge fraction of the labour force is women, which has brought about a revolutionary change in the concept of women’s empowerment and economic independence. But a few of the recent garments and fashion house fire incidents have changed this whole notion of national pride into death traps.
On Thursday, February 24, Richa Agarwal, BRAC USA’s project manager for Aarong, spoke on a panel at the Fashion Institute of Technology's guest lecture series, Creating Sustainable Futures: Women’s Empowerment through the International Fashion Industry.
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.
On 25th March, Aarong - A BRAC social enterprise, now in its 33rd year of operation, opened the doors to it's newest Flagship store. Aarong is Bangladesh's leading fashion and lifestyle brand. At 36,000 sq. ft. the new outlet, located in Uttara is currently the country’s largest retail store. True to the Aarong tradition of continuously raising the bar, this store utilises state of the art layout and décor to create an unparalleled shopping experience. While shopping at Aarong, one can appreciate the fact that Aarong is creating employment for rural women who have very few work opportunities. Aarong's value chain incorporates rural Bangladeshi artisans, mostly women, who have kept the age old tradition of Bangladesh's arts and crafts alive.
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.