So what’s next?

Two words – Social Business.

In the world today, corporations can have more influence than governments. In this capacity, companies can promote change relating to societal problems by creating businesses that can make an impact on such issues.

Businesses need to take on causes that utilize their talents/products/services that aren’t profit motivated. They need to invest in social objectives instead. For example, Grameen partnered with Danone (the yogurt company) to develop a yogurt that could taste go0d, costs almost nothing for consumers but provides for the children of Bangladesh nutrients that they wouldn’t necessarily get otherwise. And what does Dannone get out of this?

Their initial investment that funded the company.

In social business, the initial investment is recouped with any dividends accrued (the business must make a profit) go back into the business so that it can become sustainable initiative.

Using this model, Grameen has partnered with Veolia Water to create water filtration plants to provide clean water for people, created a health care service where people can have access to eye care (blindness from cataracts happens far too often) and more. Millions are being helped across the country.

This initiative can hopefully one day lead to eliminating poverty throughout the world.

***

A final note: Tomorrow we head for home – forty hours of travel time (23 hours flying). Thanks for ‘riding along’ with me as I embarked on this journey. I hope you enjoyed reading about it, learned a little, and maybe even feel that you’d like to be a catalyst for change in your own communities.

I’ll see you in the states 🙂

Our final weekend in the ‘Desh

We spent the weekend in Sylet, a region known for its tea plantations, pineapple harvesting, national forest and more importantly, monkeys and spotted deer! It was beautiful albeit it rainy, which was not unexpected because this region is known for its rain (think Seattle). 

Orchid

It was a long trip for two days, but we had a really nice time hiking through the national forest at dusk seeking monkeys. The sounds of the forest were like listening to a symphony of wildlife. You could hear frogs, monkeys, insects, birds as well as the rustling of bamboo trees. It was pretty nice. The guide tried to find us some monkeys, but it was getting dark, and we were unable to get a great picture of them. 

Tea Estate

 

Big Spiders in the forest

However, he did take us to a village that only fifteen years ago was completely isolated. It was small and considered to be a first generation village. Interestingly enough, it was found by Christian missionaries who converted the people, which put them in the minority in terms of religion here. The village had a church. 

Village Church

After spending a glorious evening in air conditioning, we made our way on Sunday to learn about how tea is made and then to the national waterfall, about three hours away. This place was great fun.  Unfortunately, there would be no elephant sighting. But it was cool to see everyone swimming and splashing around near the falls. 

The falls

We then embarked on the long seven-hour ride home to the hotel and didn’t arrive until almost 4 am. In arriving at this time, it gave us a chance to see Dhaka at late night, something I hadn’t seen before because we have a rule to be in the hotel by 10 pm nightly. The roads weren’t nearly as busy but there was a fair amount of people out – just living there. There wasn’t a block that we didn’t see someone walking, sleeping or sitting on the curb. Some sat around in groups perhaps for safety reasons, others slept next to each other. On one corner we drove by, there must have been eight people sleeping on the sidewalk side by side together. 

Everyone sat quietly in the van, just staring at the scenery. Many rickshaws sat next to those sleeping, indicating that these people, who have jobs, just don’t make enough to put a roof over their heads. I saw two children on separate blocks sitting on the curb and holding their soccer balls. I found myself thinking about the rainy season here only months earlier and wondering where all these people sleep during May and June. I also couldn’t help but to be angry on behalf of these people as their government chooses to ignore these people or consider their basic needs. I also wondered if the Grameen model could work in such a populated setting (Grameen is only allowed to set up shop in the villages).   

It was a sobering way to end our trip. While this trip has been really fun and extremely educational for me for the past five weeks, people every day and everywhere continue to suffer and struggle for many of the things we take for granted daily – clean water, a place to lay your head, etc. 

Bangladesh has come a long way in its 39 years, but there is much more work to be done – a statement that could easily be echoed in countries throughout the world, including my own. However, if this trip has taught me anything, it’s about having an idea that could be a possible solution to a societal problem and having the guts to really consider such options. Sometimes it’s the easier thing to avoid examining life’s tougher questions and claim there is  nothing that one person can do to change the way things are. I, of course, disagree. I have seen firsthand what one man – Professor Yunus – has done, just by taking the risks needed to better his country. He didn’t turn a blind eye but instead investigated the issue and developed a strategy to combat it. And he succeeded. 

“My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see” – Professor Mohammed Yunus.

It’s really a dog’s world…

So there’s one constant here in Bangladesh, whether in the villages or the city…wandering and essentially wild dogs. And they all see to be one type of  breed.  In the city, you’ll see them on the piles of garbage eating whatever and dodging traffic. In the village, they wander around similar to the livestock.

Another dog wandering around...

A walk around the block…

Ahh…what can I say about the neighborhood I’m in? Today Mike and I took a walk around the hotel in search of an ATM. It had rained and was muddy. We saw the various food vendors and homeless children, one sleeping on an overpass.

We crossed the crazy street traffic several times (such rebels I know) and when we happened upon the ATM, Mike went in to use it (it was enclosed) and I waited for him outside taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Dhaka. About three feet from me, I noticed two little boys watching a man as he was tying something with a string. Suddenly, the man threw something into the air toward the electric wires above. You’ll never guess what it was in a million years…

It was a small rat tied from his tail to a rock. The string wrapped around the wire like a pair of tennis shoes tied together. So to recap: dangling outside the hotel from an electric wire is a small rat…nice.

Almost like being at home…

So the big event for today?

We ordered American Burger! Which is essentially a Bangladesh version of Burger King…I got a cheeseburger and fries and all I can say is yummo 🙂

Okay, so I also received a personally autographed book by Dr. Yunus but frankly the dinner was the true highlight of my day because it included french fries!

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity's Most Pressing Needs

Grameen and education…

So I’ve been doing the graduate school thing for almost two years (one semester left!). In this capacity, I have worked a full-time job and gone to school nightly twice a week for three hours per class and sometimes on Saturdays. Outside of class, I probably spend an additional five to seven hours a week studying. Bottom line it’s exhausting at times but I know that when I finished, it would be worth it.

I mention this because while I’ve done this as an adult, there is children here living in the slums of Bangladesh doing the same thing and they are only 12 years old. Yesterday and today we visited a school programs called Grameen Shikkha, a non-formal school program for slum children and initiative of Grameen which aim is to offer a basic education (English, Bangla, math skills, social sciences and the environment) so that when they grow older, their employment opportunities are enhanced. Odds are that without this program, these children would have no education opportunities. Currently there are twenty of these programs serving more than 450 students. The programs we went to observe were located in both rural and urban settings. The urban school was about ten minutes from our hotel while the rural one was in a village about an hour away.

The urban classroom students were in the fifth grade and housed in a room no bigger than most of our living rooms – maybe 10 ft. by 12 ft. There are no desks, only a floor. Students sit on bamboo rugs in a circle with their books piled next to them. There were about twenty students in class today. School runs from 2pm to 5 pm. Outside of these hours, all of these children work. Most get up early to work (around 6 am) in whatever their family business is – mostly tailoring – in this neighborhood. After class, they return and work until at least 10 pm. The work because the family needs them to as those who live in the slums earn very little (anywhere from $4 – $11 per day depending on what the children there told us their goods sold for) and need their kids to help.

These kids work six days a week with this schedule. I will never complain about my workload again…can you imagine being a child and not having the time to play?

A child's books for classes

 When asked by our interpreter their career goals, we heard teacher, businessman, pilot and doctor. And while I’m not discounting the potential of any of these children, if you had seen the neighborhood (smaller homes, piles of trash, open/broken sewers and narrow alleyways, and very smelly) they reside in, it would seem they will need some breaks to go their way and Grameen Shikkha can be that bit of luck. It just introduced a new scholarship program to help the parents pay for their child’s high school.

The urban classroom…

The rural school was a primary school for five year olds and their class took place in the village Center house.  This classroom is essentially a Head Start Program for these children. They spend two and half hours a day in this program and the goal is to properly prepare for the government’s elementary school system. It was fun, the kids performed for us and they were really cute…

Students performing for us in village program

Listening to teacher…

How your Hanes T-shirts are made…

Today we went to vist Grameen Knitwear, Ltd., a sister company of Grameen Bank. Over the past ten years, Bangladesh has become a player in the garment industry, thanks in part to other countries (China, India) deciding to go into the technology sector. As such, Bangladesh has been able to create a niche for itself in producing clothing for major companies throughout Europe and the United States. Grameen Knitwear employs over 2700 employees and unlike many of its peer companies here, offers profit-sharing for its employees and works hard to improve their quality of life outside of the workplace in offering benefits such as retirement, medical and paid sick/vacation days. The company also gives large percentages of profits to its other initiatives, such as the Grameen Trust.

We toured the factory and saw how T-shirts are made. At the end, we were even given a shirt as a thank you for our visit.   On with the tour…

All clothing starts with yarn/thread. This machine takes the thread from spools around it and creates a large cotton canvass. The spindles above the machine are threading from the top.

The end result is this cross-stitched piece of cloth, approximately 48 inches wide by 100 feet long.
The next step is dyeing the white cotton. These large machines above dye numerous colors per order of the large sheets.
After dyeing, the sheets need to be dried. These machines are essentially rinsing the dye out…
Then comes the drying machine…a machine at least 100 ft. long.
The final, dry piece of cotton.
When ready, the sheets are taken upstairs, stacked together and stretched out for measuring and cutting.
Cutting the fabric into T-shirt shapes…
Post cuts…
Time for sewing pieces together. There are rows and rows of people doing this. The back of the row starts the piece and pass it forward, each worker performing their stitch and passing forward. The end of the row is a completed piece that is inspected for quality.
Post-inspection, the item is ironed.
Then folded…

And packaged per customer specifications. The final part is boxing and shipping of customer order.

Think of these pictures and this process when buying your next shirts…