The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Bangladesh
Life in Bangladesh improved dramatically--for me, at least--this past Monday when Mary-Jo arrived. It's great to have a familiar face to look at over the breakfast and dinner table, as well as someone with whom to share the daily adventures in this amazing country. It's also nice to be able to talk idiomatic English--fast!--and have it easily understood.
We spent two days in some of the villages north of Dhaka, observing the work of Grameen Bank. We attended a couple of center meetings--weekly gatherings of the women borrowers from a particular village, at which loan repayments are made, proposals for fresh loans are accepted, and general morale-boosting and problem-solving exercises take place. As you can see, Mary-Jo proved to be very popular among the village women.
Then we went to the homes of some Grameen members. One was a woman who has launched a poultry business with 1,500 baby chicks that she bought with a Grameen loan. In forty days, the chicks will be grown up and ready for sale, and she will use the proceeds to finance the next round of business. Another was a man (rare among Grameen borrowers) who has grown his enterprises through the years from a small banana farm to a large dairy operation, whose 28 cows produce all the milk consumed at a nearby military facility. And we met a "struggling member" (i.e., a beggar)--a widow of seventeen years who uses her Grameen loan to buy small foodstuffs (eggs, candies) to sell door to door and so supplement her income from beggaing.
Finally, we visited a Grameen health clinic and two classes for pre-school children organized by Grameen. Altogether a very fascinating and inspiring visit.
The spirit of entrepreneurship seems to be in the air in Bangladesh. The Grameen members are involved in an amazing array of businesses (often together with their husbands), adding new ventures whenever they see an opportunity. One woman who has been with Grameen for over two decades says she now has three businesses, one of them a store that sells (of all things) fire extinguishers--an idea she had when she observed that a lot of commercial building was going on the area, and that all these new offices and factories would need safety gear.
Another example, this one not Grameen-related: I stopped at a little flower shop near the guest house to buy Mary-Jo a bouquet to welcome her at the airport. As the proprietor selected blossoms for me, I asked her, "Are you Chinese?" (She looked it.)
"Yes. Actually I am a Chinese doctor. I import flowers and vegetables from China." And she opened up some styrofoam containers to show me the plastic packages of snow peas and other items she'd had shipped from her homeland.
After the bouquet was wrapped, she asked me to follow her inside to her office, where she would write up my bill. But on the way she made a quick detour into a consulting room where several padded tables stood. A man was on lying on his back on one of them, and the florist / physician excused herself, went over to her patient, inserted a needle into his ankle, and gave him a quick once-over. Then she came back to me and I paid for my flowers.
Somehow the combination of florist and acupuncturist seems less unlikely here in Bangladesh than it would back home in America.
Tags: Bangladesh, Grameen Bank, entrepreneurship, China, acupunture