Behind the Scenes of Bangladesh’s most successful community business
Samantha Morshed is a woman on a mission; a mission to create fair, honest and reliable work for woman in one of the world’s poorest countries.
And despite working against the odds, Samantha has succeeded, with great success. She has created a non-profit community business model that has provided thousands of women in Bangladesh with flexible, fairly paid and reliable work close to their homes and families.
In 2005 Hathay Bunano (literally meaning “hand-made”) was born, and the aim was simple.
“The poverty in Bangladesh is overwhelming and it’s impossible just to sit by and watch” says Samantha. “I wondered if I taught a small group of women to knit and we operated from day one as a business with a commercial basis whether we would be able to break the mould and demonstrate that real change was possible. So, with the help of a local NGO we gathered together a small group of women who I taught to knit in my spare room”
From small beginnings, the community business now employs over 5,000 women in 52 different areas across the country. Samantha believes firmly that creating honest employment is the key to reducing poverty. The women she employs knit and sew a whole range of children’s clothes and toys that are sold to retailers across the world. This business model is something that Samantha is passionate about.
“I wanted Hathay Bunano to demonstrate that it was possible to run a commercially successful handicraft project in rural Bangladesh. So many handicraft projects had been run over the previous couple of decades, which had shown little chance of sustainability and I wanted to prove that the problem was with the way that they had been run and not with the skills of the rural women.”
Samantha first visited Bangladesh in 1992 with her husband who is a British Bangladeshi, and the family moved there in 2004. Samantha was struck by the energy, vibrancy and colour of Bangladesh, but also the incredible poverty in which many families were forced to live because of a lack of well paid and regular work.
In 2009, Samantha was awarded an MBE for her work, of which she’s very proud, but insists that it’s the women who work for her who are the behind the real stories. She hopes that the continuing success of the business will help more and more women and their families escape the poverty trap and change their lives for the better.
And what about change in her own life as a result? “I’m so much more aware of my humanity” Samantha says. “I understand now that every mother in the world is the same, regardless of whether they live in a snazzy house in the UK, or a tiny hut in Bangladesh; every mother wants a future for her children and a life for them that is better than her own; every mother has aspirations for her children. I am just the same.”