GHIC 2019: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 13-14, 2019
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Unite For Sight's 2011 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report by Chung-Sang Tse, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

"Rural Sales Program," Asif Ahmed, Program Director Economic Empowerment, CARE Bangladesh

Social Enterprise Pitches are ideas in the brainstorming or early implementation stage. Selected participants presented their new idea in the format of a 5-minute social enterprise pitch. Following the pitch, there was a 5-minute period for questions and answers, as well as feedback from the audience. The presenters were directed to focus their presentations on the problem that they are working to solve, the evidence basis for their idea, the expected impact, as well as plans for measuring outcomes, and not just outputs.

Asif Ahmed took a 24 hour flight to attend the conference and give his social enterprise pitch. From Bangladesh, he brings with him the drive, determination, and desire to lift rural women out of poverty through micro-businesses. The need is apparent: out of the 150 million people in Bangladesh, 40% live in extreme poverty. Furthermore, 80% of those in extreme poverty reside in remote and rural areas. To compound the problem, women are treated as less-than-equals in the male-dominated society. This deprives women of opportunities to offer their children a better future.

CARE Bangladesh aims to improve this problem with a women-empowering rural sales program. There are three key players in this scheme: the private sector, which delivers consumer goods to collection “hubs” in the city; the designated service personnel, who transport the goods from the hubs to rural communities; and the poor women, who receive a new batch of goods weekly to sell locally. Currently, each woman involved in this program serves about 600 families. Through CARE Bangladesh, a rural distribution-marketing system is established to connect remote consumers with private sector products.  In this network, the poor have a sustainable and incremental income while the good suppliers further extend their market coverage.

How are the products chosen? The rural women work within their community to determine which household items are needed.  For example, in one village, the farmers requested higher quality seeds.  In turn, CARE Bangladesh contacted the largest seed company in the city and set up a supply chain to the village women. These rural women receive the seeds and sell them to families in the nearby region. In this system, the demands from the villagers are relayed upstream, and the goods from the suppliers are returned downstream; the intermediaries benefit through their labor. The net result: wealth spreads. 

Promoted as a win-win scenario that benefits all the participants, the system has shown tremendous progress and success thus far. Entrepreneurs who have invested to start a hub are now earning close to $4000 per month; transporters are now earning $30-65 per month; and rural women are currently earning $17.50 per month – two-and-a-half times their revenue five years prior. Employment has increased, enterprises have developed, rural consumers have gained access to the products they need, and women are becoming empowered.

In the end, CARE Bangladesh demonstrates that not only can commercial distribution chains generate monetary good, but they can act as social impact chains as well.