BRAC has won the Urban Resilience Challenge launched by Amplify/OpenIDEO. The idea submitted by the BRAC Urban Development Programme (UDP) for this challenge is among the 8 winning ideas which were selected from a total of 350 submissions globally. BRAC UDP’s idea involves developing community-led fire prevention and response mechanisms in the urban slums of Bangladesh.
OpenIDEO is an online collaborative that enables people from all over the world to collaborate in developing innovative solutions to pressing social and environmental challenges. OpenIDEO runs the Amplify programme which focuses on improving the lives of the billion people living in extreme poverty around the world.
Amplify will fund BRAC UDP up to 800,000 USD for a 12 months project. Amplify will also support BRAC UDP to build capacity on human-centred design approach to problem solving and develop prototypes.
The idea submitted by BRAC UDP for the Amplify/OpenIDEO Urban Resilience Challenge can be viewed in detail here -
A pioneer of silk-farming in Bangladesh
After Bangladesh gained its independence, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder and chairperson of BRAC, searched for an income generating activity targeted towards the poor. With a high demand for silk in Bangladesh, he deemed this as a great opportunity to help those rural poor, primarily women, to empower themselves. Thus, in 1978, BRAC started its sericulture project and initiated the sericulture industry in Bangladesh.
Eventually, this project evolved into an enterprise when it established its own mulberry plantations and silkworm rearing farms in northern Bangladesh. The locations provide a temperate climate for silkworms which are sensitive to erratic weather. Currently BRAC Sericulture has 13 cocoon production centres and two silkworm rearing centres. BRAC purchases cocoons from the farmers at the cocoon production centres and with them produces silk yarn.
The early days
Initially, the sericulture project gave loans to farmers to lease land on mulberry plantations, where they could rear silkworms. It provided secured employment and timely payments for women in rural Bangladesh. As the farmers did not have access to any stable credit facility to be borrowed from outside resources, BRAC created a more reliable microfinance system. To support its sericulture project further, BRAC established another social enterprise called Aarong which primarily focused on textile production. Although the sericulture project initially used to directly supply Aarong with silk, this linkage has now ceased to exist. Furthermore, in spite of its good intentions, BRAC faced a number of challenges with this development programme, including the low productivity of mulberry trees, inability of farmers to pay back loans, marginal farmers taking additional loans from other landlords, and farmers using the land for purposes aside from the intended mulberry cultivation. Repayment problems persisted, and as a result, BRAC stopped administering loans to lease land on mulberry plantations.
Livelihood opportunities in the supply chain
Production of silk occurs in four distinct steps: cultivating mulberry trees, rearing silkworms in these trees, producing yarn from those silkworms and weaving the yarn to produce fabric. This process is carried out by marginal farmers cultivating mulberry, cocoon rearers, yarn reelers, and weavers. At BRAC Sericulture, it is mainly women who fill these positions, although the enterprise struggles to maintain a consistent workforce because it tends to lose a proportion of its workers to the seasonal fruit cultivation.
Synergies with the Ayesha Abed Foundation and Aarong
Today, BRAC Sericulture only produces silk yarn to sell to contracted weavers. These weavers work for the Ayesha Abed Foundation (AAF), which is under the supervision of Aarong. Employees of AAF sell completed silk fabrics to Aarong, creating an indirect linkage between BRAC Sericulture and Aarong.
Continuing the legacy of ensuring fair wages and fair prices in silk-farming
Because of its dedication in having a positive social impact, BRAC Sericulture does not operate in a normal profit-maximising manner. However, it does have a profit-making principle to some extent, in order to self-sustain and support BRAC’s development programmes. BRAC Sericulture strikes a balance between marketing silk at competitive prices while also ensuring a fair price for BRAC Sericulture workers to provide them with sufficient income. If these workers worked elsewhere in the sericulture industry, they have high chances of neither receiving fair wages nor fair prices for their silk.
BRAC Sericulture has recently identified the need to produce more value-added products. Traditionally, BRAC Sericulture has focused on the production of silk yarn. In August 2011, it began producing fabric and selling it at BRAC Kanon (one of BRAC’s green enterprises) for BDT 55 (USD 0.66) per kilogramme. BRAC Sericulture also has plans to increase its production and export silk fabrics. Right now, the enterprise is limited to hand looms, but there are plans to purchase mechanised looms to produce good quality silk at a faster rate. The enterprise is also considering silk garment production to be commercially retailed. Although BRAC Sericulture currently makes a modest surplus, these value-adding endeavours will hopefully bring greater returns which BRAC can reinvest into its development programmes.
Moreover, the health workers and health volunteers working at Shushastho (BRAC’s health centres all over Bangladesh) also recognised the great necessity for an assortment of medical kits which would facilitate safe births. As a response, BRAC initiated the production of the ‘Kollani Delivery Kits’ for rural women in 1999. They were similarly affordable, hygienic and bio-degradable.
Evolution of an enterprise
The production of the sanitary napkins and delivery kits was achieved by employing female members from BRAC’s targeting the ultra poor (TUP) programme, providing them with fair-wage employment in the manufacturing of sanitary products. Initially manufacturing started in one production house with 30 women from the TUP programme in the Kurigram district of Bangladesh. These products were not directly retailed to the target group, but rather were provided by the health workers and health volunteers, selling them for a small profit during their visits to households. Each health worker/volunteer is assigned 100 households in the villages that they serve. In order to distribute these sanitary products to a larger population across the country, production was increased and the enterprise was created in 2004.
Quality products at affordable prices
In order to ensure quality control, the production and expiry dates are always included on the packets. A packet of Nirapod Sanitary Napkins commercially retailed both in the rural and urban market since 2004, costs only BDT 50 (USD 0.64) or BDT 28 (USD 0.36) depending on size (large or small) and the Kollani Delivery Kit costs only BDT 40 (USD 0.52). The cost of these products is kept low by using carefully selected raw materials.
Livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged women in rural communities
Currently, 284 women and 2 men are working in the five production centres located in the Manikganj, Baniachang, Nilphamari, Gopalgonj and Kurigram districts of Bangladesh. Although still somewhat little-known in the urban market, the Nirapod Sanitary Napkins and Kollani Delivery Kits have been widely popular in the rural areas, and have also been commercially retailed in many hard-to-reach regions like Teknaf, Tetulia, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Download the latest factsheet here.
Salinity for the rural poor and sustainable livelihood for farmers
Due to a lack of health awareness and malnutrition, many people from rural communities in Bangladesh suffer from various mineral deficiencies like iodine deficiency, which can cause diseases such as goitre and prenatal ill-health. When BRAC Salt enterprise was initiated in 2001 in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh, iodine deficiency was acute amongst the rural population across the country and BRAC ventured into producing iodised salt to help curb this problem. BRAC enterprises are mostly known as pioneers in many sectors throughout Bangladesh and BRAC Salt is no exception. Its entry into the iodised salt market inspired many entrepreneurs to produce iodised salt as well.
However, addressing iodine deficiency was not the only motivating factor for BRAC to start operating as a salt enterprise. There was a much deeper mission, one that would ensure sustainable development by encouraging local salt farmers to continue on their income generating paths, especially in view of the supply deficiency for raw salt in Bangladesh which had compelled the government to import salt from other countries. However, BRAC's position on this was that if import of salt was allowed, then two things may happen: Bangladesh's salt market would be externally controlled and local salt farmers may even lose their livelihood due to competition. With this in mind, BRAC started producing salt and eventually convinced the government that there is now less need for imported salt.
BRAC Salt not only supports the salt farmers but also its consumers, who almost exclusively belong to the underprivileged social groups from the rural northern regions of the country.
People precede profit
Although BRAC Salt has had a significant social impact, as an enterprise it has faced some considerable setbacks. Firstly, it became difficult for BRAC to compete within the salt market as it did not want to follow the competitive practices because it would jeopardise its social impact. Moreover, the natural grey salt that it produced also lacked the refinement demanded by the urban population. Therefore, BRAC Salt lacked demand and a steady profit from the urban market, which adversely affected its sustainability. The management even considered closing down the whole enterprise, as it was only a small-scale business and the surplus it made was too small for any further expansion plans. However, taking into consideration over the 120 workers who are dependent on this enterprise for their livelihood, the management decided to downsize, rather than shutting down the entire operation. The enterprise is currently focusing on increasing efficiency and introducing new products to the market.
BRAC Salt today
One of the latest products BRAC Salt introduced into the market is Minamix, a supplementary cattle feed. Researchers at BRAC’s cattle-related enterprises and Bangladesh Livestock Research Centre (BLRC) realised that there was a mineral deficiency in the cows reared by rural farmers, which led BRAC and BLRC to co-create Minamix. It is essentially a high mineral-based salt, containing essential components lacking in the cows. It can be mixed directly into cattle feed, helping farmers raise healthier cows that will produce a higher yield of milk and meat. The challenge now lies in reaching out to rural farmers to educate them about iodine deficiencies in their cows and introducing Minamix. The enterprise is hopeful that once the targeted market recognises the benefits of this innovative product, BRAC Salt will get the chance to revive itself and be established once more as an innovative leader in the salt market.
The beginning and evolution
BRAC Recycled Handmade Paper (RHMP) was initiated as a Rural Enterprise Project (REP) in 2000 with an aim to help prevent environmental degradation by targeting the corporate urban market in Bangladesh to recycle their paper waste. On a different note, it was also introduced to support a small group of drop out female students from BRAC’s education programme by providing them jobs at the production facility of this enterprise.
Being a pioneer in the promotion and development of recycled handmade paper and paper products in Bangladesh, this project later evolved into an enterprise in 2009. Although there have been a few scattered producers of this product feeding the niche market and export industry of Bangladesh prior to the evolution of this enterprise, BRAC Handmade Recycled Paper happens to be the first entity to make a proactive approach by manufacturing and retailing the products in urban market under the brand name Kanon.
The present scenario
Today people are more environmentally conscious, and hence their response towards this enterprise is accelerating faster than ever. The idea of reducing paper wastages and modifying them into creative stationeries intrigue most people, and the satisfaction of contributing even a tiny portion to the environment happens to be a cherry on top. Today BRAC RHMP operates as one of BRAC’s three Green Enterprises, and produces synthesised paper products from recycled materials, such as, used papers, stalks of wheat, hay, water hyacinth, caustic soda, dye, barley, glue and cotton. These materials are gathered from various BRAC projects and branch offices, thus helping reduce the amount of waste produced by BRAC, and contributing toward employment generation for women and ‘going green’ initiatives nationwide in the process.
In addition to its committed contribution to the environment, BRAC RHMP has also been supporting the all-female employee group working at the production facility with unequivocal employment opportunities and fare wages. About 100 women are currently working at the production facility of this enterprise, located at Shombhuganj, Mymensingh, and their payments are made based on the quantity of products they put together. Hence the more products get sold in the urban market, the more income these women are able to generate. As these products are strictly handmade, more women are going to get employed at the production facility if the market demand increases. Apart from the workers, the customers belonging to the urban population group, especially the corporate offices also fall into the category of BRAC RHMP beneficiaries as they are actually able to reduce the wastage of paper by exchanging these with this enterprise, only to purchase brand new items manufactured by their own waste.
Change in goal/mission
The mission of the Recycled Handmade Paper enterprise has not changed, but rather modified and expanded. At first it was only to recycle and reuse the paper wasted by most of the corporate lines. But now it has started retailing its products at BRAC’s brand new green outlet named Kanon. An exchange offer is going on at present in which any corporate enterprise can deliver its wasted paper to RHMP to get them recycled so that these are bought back again by the same enterprise. This is playing a huge role in decreasing the wastage of paper in corporate offices and thus helping our environment in the process. In this offer, the RHMP collects the paper waste of corporate offices to modify and customise them into handmade paper or paper products as per their demand and sell it back to them. They can also place their orders from a range of products already offered by RHMP.
The market for recycled handmade paper products is growing rapidly; hence it is more likely to be expanding in the near future. Introduction of a new, mechanised process in making the products is being planned. The mainstream paper products are going to be handmade as usual, but the now semi-mechanised production of paper is going to be mechanised to support a larger scale of production and meet the growing demand for recycled paper in Bangladesh. One of the most important goals are to make the handmade recycled paper and paper products more accessible in the urban market, thus providing more income generating opportunities for rural women.
BRAC printing pack started its operations in 2005 to ensure quality of the final packaging of products for BRAC dairy, BRAC salt, and BRAC seed. The operation of this enterprise is different than the others; whilst its social objectives include healthy packaging and income generation for their more than 150 permanent workers; their main goal is to support the other BRAC enterprises, which now include Aarong.
The Enterprise approach
One of the unique approaches of BRAC social enterprises has been to internalise the supply and packaging chain within the BRAC enterprises to generate the highest possible value for the final marketed products. This approach, besides cutting the supply cost, internalises a significant portion of the surplus benefitting the development programmes while ensuring an optimum quality. Although this enterprise was initiated to ensure quality packaging for the products of BRAC dairy, BRAC salt and BRAC seed, it has become one of the significant competitors in the packaging industry.
BRAC printing pack has developed a well organised system of production; its sales staff collects orders from the customers who specify the design and the quantity of packaging required before production. Then it orders the design cylinder from external sources and commences the production. This approach helps to prevent any excessive production and the need for a design team, thus cutting waste and design cost. Its focus is to be as efficient as possible so that it may achieve optimum results.
The market scenario
Despite being one of the newer BRAC enterprises, this well planned enterprise has been a successful and competitive market player. BRAC printing pack’s efficiency model has generated surplus every year and increased its capacity from its starting 120 metric tons to a 1,500 metric tons in only a few years. However, as the market competition is getting fiercer by the day, there are no current plans for future expansion within this enterprise. For most of the products which the BRAC enterprises have been commercially retailing, e.g. dairy, salt, seeds, chicken, etc. a high demand of quality waterproof sealable packaging strongly prevails, which the BRAC printing pack alone meets, by providing over 80 per cent of BRAC’s packaging services, while catering to other big corporate customers such as ACI and Square Pharmaceuticals. It also packages well known food products in Bangladesh, such as Ruchi Jhal Chanachur, Energy Biscuit, etc.
Download the latest factsheet here.
A Pioneer in the development of the poultry industry in Bangladesh
BRAC Poultry has become a successful enterprise in Bangladesh, both in terms of its social impact and surplus generation. It started with two hatcheries in Savar and Rajbari, and has since increased its capacity to six hatcheries. During the Avian influenza in 2007-2008, BRAC Poultry, along with the rest of the country’s poultry farms, experienced a substantial loss of (nearly BDT 10 million; USD 120,660). However, in the following years BRAC Poultry started to generate a surplus of nearly BDT 25 million (USD 301,667) per year, due to the supply shortage of day-old chicks and the closing of many other poultry farms affected by the bird flu.
BRAC Poultry managed the avian influenza outbreak by constantly monitoring the poultry and exercising strict quality control. As a result, not only has BRAC Poultry generated a surplus since then, but the number of day-old chicks it supplies has increased from 165,000 per month to 180,000. The enterprise's plans for the future include building new sheds on the existing farms, which will increase their capacity to over 200,000, making them part of the largest hatcheries in the country.
The early days
Collaboration to serve utra poor families
BRAC's Poultry enterprise started out in 1987 as a development initiative in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), with the name – the Income Generation for Vulnerable Groups Development (IGVGD) programme. The main benefactors of the programme were the people who were recognised by the UN to be ultra poor and thus became recipients of the UN VGD (Vulnerable Group Development) cards. In the late 1980s only the governmental poultry farms had access to poultry vaccinations, and most rural farmers were unaware of the higher-yielding breeds of poultry that the government farms were developing. In order to introduce both poultry vaccinations and high-yielding varieties of poultry into the Bangladeshi market, BRAC initiated its poultry project.
Livelihood opportunity for women in rural communities
The programme first sought to educate and train the VGD card holders on poultry rearing and poultry vaccinations. Then, BRAC would purchase high-yielding varieties of day-old chicks from governmental poultry farms to provide VGD card holders with access to these breeds. BRAC divided the programme participants into several categories such as vaccinators, farmers who would rear the day-old chicks until they were mature, farmers who would then breed around 10 chickens, and finally the egg traders who would collect and then sell the eggs on the market. The primary objective of the programme was to involve women in income-generating activities in a way that they could perform their household duties and rear poultry on the side, earning an income equivalent to the price of the monthly VGD ration they received, creating a source of revenue for them.
Meeting new market demands
This programme was continued until 1993 with the aid of WFP donations. As the WFP funding for the programme ceased, IGVGD became solely a BRAC programme that continued until 1997; after which all donor-funded poultry programmes were scaled down and only certain projects involving clients from BRAC's ultra poor programme were kept in operation. By then, the programme had already achieved its aim, as both high-yielding varieties of poultry and the vaccinations required to keep these healthy had become widely available in the market. Some of the groups previously involved in the programmes, such as the vaccinators, became independent entrepreneurs who proceeded to collect the vaccines from BRAC Head Office and continued with their work. As the donor-funded programmes were wrapped up in 1997, BRAC recognised a shortage of government-provided day-old chicks and thus started its own commercial hatcheries to meet the demand for healthy chicks amongst the VGD card holders. They gave around ten chicks on credit per customer, which they would reimburse in installments.
The evolution of BRAC Poultry
In 2003, as BRAC Poultry became one of BRAC’s social enterprises, the target group of beneficiaries and the operations of the hatcheries changed. In lieu of directly selling the day-old chicks to rural farmers, BRAC Poultry began to distribute the chicks to both BRAC's rearing farms and 250 dealers around the country, who then proceeded to sell the chicks to the farmers. These dealers, along with the workers of the BRAC Poultry-related chain became the new beneficiaries of BRAC Poultry. The objective of BRAC Poultry has been, and still is, to sell these high-yielding, good quality varieties of day-old chicks to rural farmers at a lesser price than the market price, giving them better value for money and therefore supporting them in their activities.
Historical background and social missions
BRAC Fisheries was initiated in 1976 as a post war rehabilitation effort for destitute women in remote areas. These areas, which were surrounded by water bodies that had no previous use, provided the locals with the opportunity to earn an income. BRAC’s intervention carved a pathway for them to use their local assets and resources to generate income. Initially, BRAC provided training and technical support to the people interested in cultivating fish, and the social mission back then was to provide these previously unemployed people with work that would lead to financial solvency for them. However, soon BRAC realised that there was a lack of quality fish spawn in the market as it was difficult to collect the product from the government or external sources and supply it to the local fish farmers. To meet the demand, BRAC initiated its own fish hatchery, which then evolved into an enterprise in 2008, with a new social goal to their existing agenda – making quality fish spawn easily available to the fish cultivators of rural Bangladesh.
The enterprise today
Since their journey began as an enterprise, BRAC Fisheries have earned a reliable position in the fishery industry of Bangladesh. Under a strict supervision for quality control, it produces and sells the three most popular varieties of fish spawn in the urban market – prawn, carp and tilapia, which can be yielded in a higher scale of production. Being one of the first fisheries to realise the potential large market for tilapia across the country, BRAC Fisheries now produces and supplies over 100 million tilapia spawn all over Bangladesh.
The enterprise approach
Since evolving into a social enterprise, BRAC Fisheries has been undertaking goal oriented approaches in increasing its productivity. Initially, due to the workers not being accountable to anyone for their performances, their productivity was not up to the mark. Later, when this initiative evolved into a social enterprise, BRAC started training these workers to be more commercial in terms of efficiency. They were now working more hours and more efficiently to reach a specific target set by BRAC Fisheries. As a result, their production increased from 50 kilogrammes per decimal to almost 150 kilogrammes per decimal. The vast increase in the workers’ efficiency has proved to be quite fruitful, and BRAC Fisheries now has 15hatcheries in 10 locations all over Bangladesh, generating a surplus of nearly BDT 32 million that goes into funding BRAC’s development programmes. They have also worked far in fulfilling their social mission – the rural population involved in BRAC Fisheries are now solvent and highly educated in this field, they have also played a major role in distributing high quality fish spawn throughout Bangladesh in a commendable quantity.
As one of the most successful ventures of BRAC’s social enterprises, BRAC Fisheries is looking forward to an even brighter future. It plans to develop more varieties of fish spawn. One of the goals that BRAC Fisheries is now looking forward to reach is the production of nutrient fishes for dietary benefits of the rural population of Bangladesh. It is also looking forward to introducing higher yielding foreign varieties into the country. Looking ahead to the future, similar to BRAC Chicken, it hopes to launch ready-to-eat frozen fish products for the urban market. Overall, BRAC Fisheries’ efficiency model and well developed future plans promise even greater success in the coming years.
Download the latest factsheet here.
A large number of our microfinance clients were investing in cattle, and in doing so were being exposed to risk owing to poor breeding, limited veterinary services, shortages in cow feed and lack of market access. Some of these challenges were addressed through social enterprises such as BRAC artificial insemination and BRAC Feed Mills. Still, the perishable nature of dairy products meant it remained difficult for rural dairy farmers to reach the large urban markets and the demand for milk in a single village was not enough to generate a sustainable profit. Dairy farmers also did not have access to proper refrigeration technologies to store the unsold milk. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC, noticed this problem and proposed establishing a milk processing plant to collect milk from local farmers for a fair price. As a result, BRAC initiated BRAC dairy & food project (BDFP) in 1998 to serve as a market conduit for dairy farmers throughout rural Bangladesh.
BDFP’s original mission was to secure market access for dairy farmers, ultimately helping them generate income. Over time, BDFP’s goal has expanded to include serving high quality milk product to their customers. With inconsistent electricity and therefore refrigeration, dairy products generally are not widely available in Bangladesh. 80 per cent of Bangladesh still relies on the ‘informal’ milk market which delivers bulk amounts of raw milk to consumers. BDFP caters to the 20 per cent of Bangladeshis who rely on the formal milk market which sells processed and packaged milk. In essence, BDFP channels milk from rural areas into urban areas while channelling the revenue into rural areas.
Today, BRAC dairy not only secures fair prices for its rural dairy farmers, but has also expanded to offer cattle development and technical training, vaccination, feed cultivation facilities and other services. BRAC dairy was the first dairy company in Bangladesh to have received ISO 22000 Certification, setting an example of vigilance at every stage of dairy production, processing, and distribution contributing to dairy products’ safety record. Through its 101 chilling centres, BRAC dairy collects milk from more than 50,000 registered farmers and sells them nationwide through is under the Aarong dairy brand.
When BDFP first started, it produced 140,000 litres of milk per day. As of now, it has the processing capacity of 250,000 litres of milk per day engaging approximately 1500 employee, making it one of the largest BRAC enterprises.
Empowering rural farmers with reliable storage facilities
BRAC Cold Storage began as a small project in 1980. It set up operations in Comilla in south-eastern Bangladesh because of its easy accessibility by land and water, and started out by giving the farmers loans to use BRAC’s cold storage facilities. The loans cover a maximum of 60 percent of the farmers’ storage costs.
As BRAC Cold Storage allowed these farmers to keep their products fresh for longer, enabling them to sell more of their potato crop over a longer time, many became financially independent and no longer needed loans in order to store their crop, so the project started operating like a profitable enterprise rather than a microfinance programme.
Originally, the enterprise had intended to provide reliable cold storage to fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as traders with leftover produce. However, since fruits and vegetables require very particular, costly preservation processes, BRAC Cold Storage soon limited its storage facility to potato farmers only.
Best practices and quality services
BRAC Cold Storage has for the capacity to store 60,000 bags of potatoes, each bag holding approximately 80 kilogrammes. BRAC Cold Storage is different from other cold storage facilities because of the quality of service it provides. Unlike many competitors, BRAC Cold Storage does not skirt the high diesel costs to properly run the generators for the sufficient cooling of potatoes.
BRAC Cold Storage has plans to further expand its storage facility in Comilla and continue to serve potato farmers