Sheenagh Day is a bloody sensible lady. The skilled geneticist – with a BSc in Genetics from Leeds College and a Masters in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence Faculty in New York – moved to Bangladesh (from the UK) in 2000. In Dhaka, she was working for Partners in Population and Development, an intergovernmental initiative created to enhance collaboration within the fields of household planning and reproductive well being; when an invite to go to a area people of ladies making baskets (95% of the world’s jute comes from Bangladesh), changed into an eye-opening, nine-hour journey that utterly modified her life.
Historically in Bangladesh, women solely stay in schooling for a few years, as a substitute they’re married younger and anticipated to have youngsters. ‘These fantastic girls requested me to assist them to promote their product,’ says Sheenagh, ‘ They instructed me, ” We’re very poor, with little schooling and we wish our daughters to have a greater life than we now have.”‘
Describing her profession as ‘curly wurly like a double helix,’ in 2004 Sheenagh determined to return to London to arrange a Honest Commerce firm, Maison Bengal, to assist the ladies promote their merchandise to the western market. Self-funding the enterprise, she began out with market stalls at Spitalfields, and Greenwich. Promoting stylish and easy luggage and baskets, designed by an artist pal Jane Morter, who works on a contract foundation for the corporate. Individuals favored the product. Inside 5 years Maison Bengal obtained a few huge orders from The White Company – and now sells in 37 international locations world wide.
Listening to Sheenagh inform her unbelievable story, at an Ally Capellino occasion, just lately (recorded on Ally’s Instagram feed HERE) the start of Maison Bengal gave the impression of a really clean course of. So, I requested her if this was actually the case, ‘ It was fairly simple, but it surely took a very long time – as neither I or my suppliers had labored with the business sector earlier than,’ explains Sheenagh. ‘It’s been an natural development, one step at a time as and when reasonably priced. I by no means requested for out of doors monetary assist to hurry issues up. I had little or no thought of the way you grew a enterprise, aside from to easily carry on attempting to promote the products, and see what occurs,’
This success has meant an enormous change for the villagers. ‘Our suppliers might most likely not have coped with a speedy development, so it’s a good factor the enterprise advanced because it did,’ continues Sheenagh, ‘The largest challenges, as soon as the enterprise bought to a sure dimension, had been actually to do with storage of the merchandise and discovering the precise individuals to assist pack and despatch the merchandise.’ Working with an NGO, Maison Bengal ‘skilled the neediest individuals’ – and offered them with these new abilities.
‘For girls who by no means depart their village, this can be a huge deal. They’ve way more financial empowerment than they’ve ever had. They’ll purchase cows, construct a home, purchase an electrical rickshaw for his or her husbands – however crucial factor is to coach their youngsters, notably their daughters.’
Realising the advantages of normal pay – in comparison with fishing and farming – the husbands at the moment are concerned in basket-making, too. Given the patriarchal nature of the society, this took surprisingly little encouragement, in keeping with Sheenagh, ‘As soon as they realised their wives had been getting a daily revenue, and the way a lot their household benefited from this important addition to the household funds; it wasn’t a difficulty.’
Now 60, Sheenagh is altering girls’s lives in a totally totally different method. Growing this enterprise mannequin has allowed her to have extra of an influence on girls’s well being. With the backing of Maison Bengal, the village has gone from no well being care in any respect to having a small mom and little one clinic with a health care provider who comes each Friday (historically a Muslim time without work). ‘ The explanation I left genetic counselling was often because I felt I couldn’t change issues. I might presumably assist individuals make the most effective, educated choices for themselves, however I couldn’t take the issue away,’ Sheenagh explains, ‘ With Maison Bengal we intention to realize sustained transformative change in individuals’s lives. To assist their youngsters fly and make their lives higher. And I’ve definitely achieved extra by way of what makes me tick as an individual.’
At present serving to 5000 girls in marginalised communities all through Bangladesh, Sheenagh is happy with the progress Maison Bengal and its suppliers have made, however by no means complacent. ‘Many individuals now depend on us, so it’s important to maintain drumming up demand for the merchandise, designing new issues, and coping with the various challenges we now have to face (Covid, Brexit, fluctuations in forex alternate charges, the results of local weather change to call only a few).’
Having labored with the unique Bangladeshi neighborhood for over 20 years, she has watched the youngsters grow-up. In the present day, two of the daughters are finding out drugs and legislation, in Dhaka. The primary women from the village to go to college.
Sheenagh Day’s recommendation on making a distinction:
What would you say are the abilities required to realize all this?
I’d say persistence and dedication to see Maison Bengal achieve offering incomes to households. You possibly can not anticipate fast success, it was all the time going to take time to construct belief, understanding and a marketplace for the merchandise. I used to be introduced up in France, we moved there after I was six years outdated, so attempting to speak while you don’t have a lot shared language is in my DNA. I’ve additionally all the time wished to assist different individuals indirectly I suppose, and to really feel I used to be making a constructive change.
And what have you ever realized alongside the way in which?
That authenticity and enthusiasm are important, all through the entire provide chain, with artisan producers, suppliers, patrons and colleagues. That for those who imagine in one thing sufficient, and work at it lengthy sufficient, bringing individuals with you all alongside the journey, one thing good will come out of it.
Any recommendation on making a distinction, serving to to vary the lives of others – and even your individual?
I’d say for those who’re considering of adjusting paths in midlife, don’t be postpone by different individuals attempting to dissuade you; by telling you the concept is a step backwards in your profession trajectory, or that you’ll lose face, standing or credibility. For those who imagine in your thought, and suppose you can also make it work, then go for it!
Hold issues easy, and all the time be genuine.
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