My Bangladeshi Entrepreneurship Experience
All of us have already heard at least once about Bangladesh, this country’s name is written on many labels of our clothes. As it might be your case, I couldn’t locate it on a map before being in a plane on the way to Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh. I am going to tell you about my entrepreneurship experience over there. It was an incredible experience that’s why I’m willing to share it with you !
- The entrepreneur’s project
It was in 2013, I had the opportunity to work with a French entrepreneur willing to create an underwear brand made in Bangladesh. He wanted the making process to be totally transparent and part of the profits to be given to French NGOs located in Bangladesh to support girls’ education. This project was inspired by Muhammad Yunus (nobel peace prize winner in 2006) Social Business model. A Social Business is a company which aims at being self-sufficient financially with the aim of reaching a goal for a social greater well-being and maximizing its positive impact on its ecosystem. We tried to arrange a meeting with Muhammad Yunus but we didn’t stay long enough to get the chance to meet him.
- What did we do ?
We designed the clothes with the supplier’s creative team. We discussed quantities, price, interviewed employees and visited the factories. We wanted to make sure the working conditions were good and that there were no children working in the factories. I was sometimes the cameraman but most of the time I was the interviewer. We made a lot of hours of reporting.
- Visiting a supplier factory and interviewing some of the employees
At the same time, we went to meet French NGOs working for children’s education in Dhaka. The entrepreneur wanted to choose some of them to give them part of the future profits and this way complete the social goal of the company. We used to live in a NGO which was a shelter and a school for children who used to live in the street. We also visited a NGO which had schools in Dhaka’s slums.
Left : Meeting with the people living in one of Dhaka’s slums
Right : Living with the volunteers and the children in the shelter of a French NGO
Meeting with the children who could go to school
thanks to the NGO working in the slum.
One of the most meaningful moment of this experience was the visit of the Rana Plaza. In fact, in April 2013, a huge textile factory collapsed in the suburb of Dhaka. It killed more than 1000 textile workers. The building didn’t fit the standards to receive so many workers and machines vibrating. These people were working for subcontractors of big international brands.
We went to the Rana Plaza’s rubble in Savar to film a report. We wanted to raise awareness of consumers about how powerful international brands are. People working in textile industry in Bangladesh had to leave the countryside because of poverty and meteorological disasters. They often occur in the country because of the low position of the country compared to the sea level and because of global warming. All this rural exodus creates very cheap workforce.
Place of the Rana Plaza accident in Savar, suburb of Dhaka
- Why we decided not to start the business ?
- Our future supplier wouldn’t let us visit all his factories. He also told us he was working with subcontractors sometimes (as it was the case in the Rana Plaza accident). It didn’t fit with our will of total transparency.
- We interviewed some employees from one of their factory to know how the company treated them, their age, etc. In fact we didn’t have our own translator and the employees couldn’t speak english. We had to use the company’s translator which wasn’t an objective third party.
- We realized that the supplier could easily manipulate us. In addition, we had no previous experience in the textile’s sector and we didn’t speak bangladeshi.
The company offered a lot to their employees (a room to pray, a doctor, a day care center for their children, a factory to make sanitary napkins for female workers, etc) but the entrepreneur decided not to invest in the project. There were asymmetric information which didn’t allow us to be sure of the total transparency.
This experience was very enriching thanks to all the great people I met there. Sometimes it was tough because it was my first professional experience in a poor country and I have been very sick.
The difficulties I’ve met was related to the language. It wasn’t easy to positionate myself as a woman in such a traditional country.
Finally, I wish that people would go further than Bangladesh’s image of « the world’s factory ». Everyone should discover its rich culture influenced by the Indian and the Pakistani ones. You should DEFINITELY check http://www.aarong.com/. Aaron is a great Bangladeshi NGO which promotes local art made by local people with local materials. Trust me, it looks way different than all the clothes they make for international brands !