Today, Catherine Dolan, Mary Johnstone-Louis, and I are releasing–with much help from CARE, the Said School, and the Pears Foundation–two reports on CARE Bangladesh’s Rural Sales Programme. The two reports focus on very different aspects.
First, there is the business school case sponsored by the Pears Foundation. This case is part of a series they have funded in order to provide pro-social teaching materials to the business schools. The CARE RSP case tells the story of the birth and growth of the system from a very human point of view. There is a good bit of detail showing how the number of women grew, as well as how their average income has nearly quadrupled over the life of the network. It talks about the different companies that came in and why they joined the channel. But there is also a lot about the thoughtful, compassionate way in which Saif al-Rashid, Asif Udin Ahmed, and Nick Southern built the system–and also about the inner conflicts and external criticisms they have faced as it grew. There are business details, as well as descriptions of the way this system nearly failed in the pilot stage and later grew by absorbing other failed systems.
The second report speaks more closely to the real reason we went in there in the first place. The Gender and Development article focuses on the impact this programme has had on the women, not only economically, but in terms of personal empowerment. That article is here: Dolan, Johnstone-Louis, and Scott 2012.
By and large, Catherine, Mary, and I have concluded that the system is good for the women who are selling, but also allows new options for those who are in their communities. The “aparajitas” not only bring goods to women who otherwise cannot even leave the house to shop on their own, but they also provide a new channel through which other women can sell embroidery or baked goods or whatever they may create. One of the aparajitas my husband Jim interviewed explained that, in addition to the objects “officially” made available by CARE, she provided things like sanitary pads and underwear to the women in the village. These are things they are embarrassed to ask their husbands to buy for them–and they cannot go to the market on their own. This lady, Jasmeen, is younger than most of the aparajitas, at 26, but unlike most of the others, she does have an able-bodied husband. Like all the other aparajitas, she has children to support.
Jasmeen bought a bike so she could build her sales by carrying more goods.
Jasmeen is ambitious, so she tries to provide the things that the women want to buy. In order to increase the amount she could carry on her route, she bought a bicycle in instalments. Buying or even riding a bicycle is rare for a woman in Bangladesh, but now the other aparajitas, seeing the business angle, are also saving up for bikes. Jasmeen remarks that this work has changed her life: “I have become independent. I’m established now. I can do whatever I like. If not the big wishes, I can fulfill the small ones.”