M. Habibur Rahman was born in Rajshahi in Bangladesh. He obtained his BA (honors) and MA degrees in economics at Rajshahi University in 1985 and 1986 respectively. He was conferred PhD degree for his research in the area of international economics at the Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh in 2003. During the last 18 years he has undertaken a number of qualitative and quantitative studies in a wide range of areas that include, among others, private sector development, trade, poverty, education. He has worked as a consultant for the major development partners of Bangladesh such as UNDP, ADB, and JICA. Recently he has undertaken a UNDP sponsored study entitled “MDG (Education) Needs Assessment and Costing”. He is now involved in one IFC sponsored project in the area of private sector development as a monitoring and evaluation consultant. He also worked for the country’s leading civil society think tank ‘Centre for Policy Dialogue’ as a Research Fellow in 2007. Rahman has participated in a number of policy dialogues, seminars, consultative meetings and workshops across the country. Rahman is now working as an Associate Professor of economics at the Jagannath University, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Hathay Bunano Proshikhan Samity (HBPS) employs poor rural Bangladeshi women to produce hand-crocheted and hand-knitted children’s toys and clothes, which are then sold internationally.
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What is the basic value proposition of Hathay Bunano and what makes it financially sustainable?
Hathay Bunano has been an initiative to contribute to reduction in poverty in Bangladesh. It has been generating number of economic and social benefits for the rural poor in the country. HBPS has created employment opportunities for about 3600 rural poor women artisans, through its 34 rural production centres across the country. HBPS generated social benefits include reduction in economic migration, women empowerment and improvement in the quality of rural life. It also pays special attention to the physically challenged people by providing them with employment opportunities. HBPS’ environment friendly production activities contribute nothing to the environmental degradation.
HBPS is generating a profit margin of 14% which is re-invested into the business for training, marketing, research, and other development purposes. Its sales revenue has increased at 40% year on year and the market for their product is as large as US$ 4 billion a year.
What is the typical profile of the women employed by Hathay Bunano?
Hathey Bunano workers are typically rural working age women from the poor families and have limited opportunity to work outside their home. HBPS gives preference to employing disadvantaged women with young children, physically challenged, and socially disadvantaged ethnic people.
What are some of the challenges hindering the company’s development and growth and how are they being overcome?
Availability of adequate financing has been the key issue on its way of expansion. As a for-profit social business it requires credit at low interest rate which is not available for such ventures. Lack of availability of raw materials in required quality and quantity, availability of women labour with required artisan skills and knowledge, attitude of the rural families to engage their women members in activities outside their home, availability of low cost rooms with required facilities are other issues on its growth and development.
Despite these challenges HBPS has been moving ahead with its strong commitment to development. Financial issues have been dealt with by the profit earned from the developed country markets, part of which is re-invested into the business, and the contributions from multinational corporations under their CSR fund. The other issues have been overcome through their awareness building initiatives for the local leaders, dialogues with local administration, use of personal connection, and skill development training at their rural production locations.
Who are some of the key actors that contributed to Hathay Bunano’s development and success?
The two highly motivated founders of HBPS – Ms Samantha Morshed and her husband Mr Golam Morshed – have been the key actors to this unique initiative. A couple of multinational corporations working in Bangladesh, namely Chevron Bangladesh Ltd and Tullow Oil Company Bangladesh Ltd and a local national NGO called National Development Program (with support from CARE Bangladesh), have provided financial assistance for HBPS’ artisan training programs. The International Finance Corporation, the South East Asian Development Facility, the UK Department for International Development, and Swiss Contract extended logistic support. Local leaders have also participated very actively in HBPS’ awareness building programs.
Based on HBPS’s experience, what are the promises of the handicrafts industry as a source of employment opportunities for the poor in Bangladesh and the region?
HBPS is a tiny initiative in the poverty reduction stride but its commendable success over a span of only 4 years is a clear demonstration of the potential for generating employment opportunities for a large number of poor people in the country. This part of the world has abundant supply of unskilled labour with limited employment opportunities. The handicraft industry, characterized by the use of low technology equipments and low level of skill requirement, can play a significant role in creating employment opportunities for a large size of poor labour force in the region.