Friendship works in some of the hardest to reach areas of Bangladesh that are almost completely deprived of other non-government or government amenities and facilities. These are mostly disaster prone areas comprised of inhabitants who are almost completely dependent on agricultural based livelihoods thus making their lives uncertain. In order to ensure constant sources of income, Friendship ‘Colours from the Chars’ provides Vocational Training Courses and alternative income generation options. Friendship additionally provides support and training for livestock rearing, poultry farming, fishing and maximising agricultural outputs. Friendship received the WCC Award of Excellence for Handicrafts for the 2014 South Asia Programme.
After attending an informative seminar on the mission of Fashion Revolution, the fashion design students of BGMEA University of Fashion and Techonology divided into groups and were assigned case study companies to research.
The students read everything they could on the companies and compiled a questionnaire to gain firsthand insight into the company’s general policies as well as its sustainability initiatives and/or advanced labor practices.
Below are the questionnaires and responses from the case studies.
1. How does ‘Friendship’ help agrarian societies find alternative sources of income?
Friendship works in some of the hard to reach areas of Bangladesh- areas that are almost completely deprived of all other non-Government and Government amenities and facilities. These are disaster-prone areas and the inhabitants are almost completely dependent on agricultural based livelihoods- which make their lives uncertain. In order to ensure constant sources of income, Friendship “Colours from the Chars” provides Vocational Training Courses and alternative income generation options in the form of:
- Training and employment in 7 Weaving, Dyeing and Printing Centres
- Training and employment in 2 Sewing Centres
- Training and employment in 1 Embroidery Centre
Friendship additionally provides support and training for livestock rearing, poultry farming, fishing and maximizing agricultural outputs.
2. What are the main processers of training at Friendship?
Friendship “Colours from the Chars” works towards the empowerment of women living in some of the most hard to reach and vulnerable communities of Bangladesh. It works in the char areas (unstable riverine islets) of the Brahmaputra River in Northern Bangladesh and trains women in weaving and producing materials using hand looms – a tradition stitched into the heritage of Bengal. The women are selected on a needs basis- those requiring employment or training the most (often widowed or divorced women left to take charge of their families) are selected first. Friendship’s Char Development Committees (composed of members of the char communities) aid in deciding on who the beneficiaries would be. Requests from women who need training and employment are also considered in the selection process.
In the weaving centres, women are trained on (processes listed chronologically):
- Washing yarn
- Bobbin winding
- Finally the looms are set up and the women are taught to weave yardage materials, scarves and sarees.
The women are offered employment at the centres upon completion of their training
In the sewing centres, women are trained to sew in all the various sewing techniques possible to stitch and over lock techniques using a home-based sewing machine. They are also trained to use an industrial machine, in case they wish to seek employment on one of the factories on mainland.
In the embroidery centre, the women are trained on the different techniques including tracing, design printing, applique work and all kinds of embroidery they can perform using a home-based sewing machine.
Upon completion of their training in the sewing and embroidery centres, Friendship offers the women sewing machines to those who have shown promise and they can pay back the loans by working as seamstresses from their homes. Others are allowed to continue practice at the centre with their own fabrics and in their own time so that they can improve their skills till they are confident to work on their own.
Friendship “Colours from the Chars” sometimes asks these women to return to the centres for producing stitched/ embroidered items or outsources stitched/ embroidered item requirements to women with sewing machines in their homes. They are paid for their service as independent entrepreneurs/ service providers.
3.What is the main goal of this training process?
The ultimate aim of Friendship “Colours from the Chars” is to empower women by training them on marketable skills followed by creating employment opportunities for them.
4. How does “friendship” divide the people in the training program?
All training is localized- each centre selects women living on the chars the centres are located in to train them. The women are selected on a needs basis- those requiring employment or training the most (often widow or divorced women left to take charge of their families) are selected first. Friendship’s Char Development Committees (composed of members of the char communities) aid in deciding on who the beneficiaries would be. Requests from women who need training and employment are also considered in the selection process.
5.Who joins the training process generally?
The trainer and assistant trainer are joined by the trainer coordinator and the technical expert in the training process.
6.How is the response on the training process of friendship?
The trainees are generally women who are truly in dire straits – be it financially, from a familial perspective or at times even socially. Their ability to earn enough to support their households provides security and the respect of their communities for which they have expressed sincere gratitude. New trainees are excited at the prospect of training and working in the centres and the response has been truly heartening so far.
7.In which section are people more interested to learn in training process?
Each centre is equipped to provide a maximum range of skills with the looms/ sewing machines in them. Each trainee is trained in every single skill set that the centre is equipped to provide. No specific interest is shown in any particular segment of training as the trainees understand that the entirety of the training will be beneficial for their future careers.
8.How long does the training process take?
Training periods in the Embroidery and Weaving Centres are 6 months long while training periods in the sewing centres last for 3 months.
9.Do you think in this time period the group of people can learn the things properly to start their own business?
This is not applicable for the weaving centres where the trainees are trained for future employment in the centres themselves or other weaving centres elsewhere. The sewing and embroidery centres train women well enough for them to start working as seamstresses on their own (whether they become service providers or start their businesses depends on the availability of sewing machines and competence- Friendship provides the more skilled trainees with loans for sewing machines). For those trainees who need longer training periods to excel, they are invited to stay back for extended training periods so they are able to become independent service providers/ entrepreneurs or seek employment on the mainland.
10.What is needed to grow this program sustainably?
The sustainability of this programme depends on effective marketing of the products and the principles guiding our work. In an environment where consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the need for ethics in fashion, Friendship “Colours from the Chars” needs to convey its fundamental principles of ethical fashion based on empowerment of women in the poorest communities, usage of environmentally conscientious raw materials (no synthetic fabrics and only AZO free chemical dyes and natural dyes) and the promotion of a true heritage of Bangladesh. Consumers should be shown that quality fabrics can be produced in an ethical and sustainable manner. The business would also need the support of the customer to be able to sustain.
11.How does ‘Friendship’ give assistance to the trainees?
Following training, Friendship “Colours from the Chars” either offers employment to the trainees or creates opportunities for them to be self-employed or employed elsewhere. The Weaving Centres offer employment to the graduates of the training programme- half of the looms being reserved for the employment of these graduates. The sewing and embroidery centres offer loans for sewing machines to those graduates who have shown the most promise, along with offering them employment periodically as hired seamstresses. Friendship itself also often offers further help in its holistic development process.
12.Does “Friendship” provide any kind of loan system to make this worker more economically sustainable?
Apart from providing loans for sewing machines to the more expert graduates of the sewing and embroidery centres, Friendship itself often provides livestock, poultry and agricultural loans to the trainees for them to be able to maximize their income generation.
13.What does ‘Friendship’ do to generate more employment?
Friendship’s works in the North of Bangladesh are in the char areas where the only income generation opportunities for people come about from uncertain seasonal agricultural activities. All the training provided are aimed towards creating marketable skills, whether in our Weaving, Sewing or Embroidery Centres or as Friendship’s teachers and Community Medic-Aides or through the different loans in agriculture, homestead gardening, fishing, poultry and livestock farming.
14. Friendship” owns a weaving center on the Island of Brahmaputra River in the north of Bangladesh. How has this impacted the community?
Friendship “Colours from the Chars” operates 7 weaving centres, 2 sewing centres and 1 embroidery centre in the islands in the Brahmaputra River in the North of Bangladesh. As a result of this project, there is now a skilled set of workers, notably women, residing in these areas. These workers are employed, either in the centres or through their own ventures. The women are able to maintain stability in their households as a result of their added incomes. Those who have children inform us that they are able to send their children to school instead of having to send them to work to sustain their family. These women are also respected more at home and in their communities and are able to have greater say in the decision making process in their families.
15.How many workers are in the weaving center there?
There are currently 130 women employed in Friendship’s weaving centres, 6 in the sewing centres and 6 in the embroidery centres.
16. What kind of machines do you use there? Are they electric or hand looms?
We only use handlooms in our weaving centres and this includes the drums and charkas associated with traditional hand looms. Furthermore, there are wooden blocks, wax print tables, wax print blocks and kerosene burners in the printing centres.
17. Does everyone who completes the training process able to join the weaving center for employment?
50% of the functions of each centre are reserved for the employment of trainees who have performed well. Due to high migration rates between the chars, there is always scope for employment for the graduates in the centres.
18. How do you collect the raw materials for the weaving center?
The only “raw materials” collected for the centres are cotton and the dyes and they are bought after completion of a careful market survey and are sourced from trusted local vendors. The 80 count cottons are from Bangladeshi producers while the 100 count cottons are those coming in from India to the local vendors. This is because that particular quality of cotton is not produced in large qualities in Bangladesh. The only chemical dyes we use are AZO free chemical dyes that we buy from Dysin group while the natural dyes are all bought locally from a variety of different vendors. The only imported natural dye is Monjit (rust colour), which is not available locally.
19.What technologies are you using to improve the sustainability of this weaving center?
The weaving centres are not reliant on any further technologies than the ones they are currently employing for them to be sustainable. The ethical and environmentally conscientious nature of the products ensures the longevity of the business and they now require greater awareness building and improved marketing for the consumers to be aware of their facets.
20.How do you sell the products?
Friendship International is promoting and selling a large amount of the weaving centre products at the moment, in association with our designers, Anne-Marie Herckes and Virginie Depoorter. Locally, we are grateful for craft bazaars and word of mouth business, along with small scale orders from companies such as Aranya.
21.What are “friendship’s” goals for this weaving center?
Friendship’s ultimate goal for the weaving centres is to empower women and to help them stand on their own two feet.
22.How do you manage sustainability and economic growth?
As in all our programmes, we are working towards long-term sustainable development of the char communities through our weaving centres. This requires keeping a close look on the gender balance issues in terms of empowerment of women, ensuring the production process does not harm the environment and the overall Behavioural Change Communication required for the communities to understand the need for handling economic and financial growth delicately and sensibly.
23.To develop economic sustainability, what are the key efforts?
The Healthcare sector seeks to ensure the minimized suffering of the people so that they are able to continue in their development process. The education sector focuses on educating both adults and children. The Adult Literacy programme was commenced to develop literacy amongst the adult members of the intervention communities and to improve their awareness to ease the handling of daily activities such as carrying out business transactions, understanding written messages and writing letters. The Sustainable Economic Development programme focuses on providing alternative income generating opportunities through a risk-sharing model which includes innovative 5 different projects: agriculture, fishermen, vocational training, rural electrification and water treatment plants. Disaster Preparedness minimizes the loss, these intervention communities faced almost annually while the Good Governance Programme seeks to ensure that their rights are met. These efforts are all instrumental in economic sustainability- one cannot have economic sustainability without this holistic development.
24.Why is agriculture no longer likely to be a dependable source of income?
In areas as unstable as the chars, agricultural sources of income could be undependable because a major part of the chars go under water almost annually due to flooding and they are constantly eroding. In order to ensure that they are not living a hand-to-mouth life, the people of these communities must be trained in marketable skills and also made to save as much as they can while they are thriving.
25.How they can help people in agrarian societies?
As mentioned above, Friendship has adopted an integrated, holistic approach to development in these societies for them to be able to reach a tipping point from which they can take off.
26.What are Friendship’s on-going vocational training programmes in thechar areas?
Friendship provides vocational training in weaving, dyeing and printing, along with sewing and embroidery.
27.Which programs are the most eco-friendly?
All Friendship programmes need to be eco-friendly as we work in those areas that are the most affected by climate change in Bangladesh. We strive to maintain an environmentally conscious approach in all our programmes.
28.How they start serving in remote areas?
Friendship’s key working areas comprise of some of the most remote and inaccessible chars and riverbank areas of Gaibandha and Kurigram district, which are situated in northern Bangladesh, as well as areas in the south including Bagerhat, Patuakhali and Barguna district. We commenced our work with serving remote communities to meet the overwhelming needs that others were unable to meet at that point. This began with healthcare and has since developed into 6 integrated programmes with Education, Disaster Management and Infrastructure Development, Sustainable Economic Development, Good Governance and Cultural Preservation.
29.What are the mission and vision of Friendship?
Friendship’s vision is of “a world where people, especially the hard to reach and unaddressed, will have equal opportunity to live with dignity and hope.” The organization’s mission is “to contribute to an environment of justice and equity to empower people to reach their full potential through a sustainable, integrated development approach.”
30.How many employees are there on the friendship team?
There are currently 703 full time employees on the Friendship team.
31.As they received many prestigious awards, what are their next steps for future development?
Friendship will grow and replicate its services in a controlled manner in the next few years in order to promote development of these communities, keeping in mind its values of dignity, integrity, justice, quality and hope.
32.Have any of your initiatives failed?
Friendship has worked towards gathering deep grass-roots experiences which allows us to understand the needs of the communities in which we work, thereby designing interventions accordingly. We are blessed to have the support and understanding of the communities and donors which allow our initiatives to progress smoothly.
33.What challenges they see for the industry at large in becoming more sustainable or more ethical?
Very often, the sustainable and ethical methods of work are time-consuming and costlier than their alternatives. This means that the industry will still need to fight an uphill battle against convincing producers that commercialism need not be hindered by sustainable and ethical practices. Results in the long-term would be beneficial for the consumer, the economy, the environment and eventually for the producer.
34.What are you doing to make your organization exemplary one?
In order for Friendship to serve as a model for development, we need to constantly stay true to our values of dignity, integrity, justice, quality and hope. In a country like Bangladesh people have very simple needs and we have to come to them with simple solutions. Very often the projects which make maximum impact are those providing the people access to their basic rights such as health, education and other basic services. We work towards ensuring these rights, integrating our values into the mix. We work with empathy and deep grassroots experiences and design solutions only according to the needs of individual communities. This is vital.
35.In which areas of Bangladesh is friendship working?
Friendship’s key working areas comprise of some of the most remote and inaccessible chars and riverbank areas of Gaibandha and Kurigram district, which are situated in northern Bangladesh, as well as areas in the south including Bagerhat, Patuakhali and Barguna district.
36.What types of work does chars do?
Chars are low lying flood and erosion prone islets adjacent to major rivers. These are formed by the constant deposition of sand and silt and fragmentation. These nomadic islands are temporary due to constant erosion, caused by the powerful flow of adjacent rivers. Chars are one of two types: The first are semi-permanent and have life spans between 5-30 years and are continuously changing their shapes due to bank erosion. The second are even shorter lived with life spans between a few months to a few years.
37.Tell us about the achievements of this organization.
AWARD FOR WEAVING CENTRES
Friendship wins World Crafts Council’s Award of Excellence for Handicrafts 2014
Friendship has won World Crafts Council – Award of Excellence for Handicrafts in the Asia Pacific region, 2014. Friendship participated with a cotton scarf made in our Holokhana weaving centre. The awarded entries will be on display at the Ministry of Trade of Indonesia and at the upcoming International Exhibition in Dongyang, China for World Craft Council’s Golden Jubilee celebration.
AWARDS FOR FRIENDSHIP IN GENERAL
Business Excellence Award from Arthokonto and Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce of Singapore (2014)
Friendship received the ‘Business Excellence Award’ at an event in the Shangri-La Hotel, in Singapore on the 19th of April 2014. The Award is organised every year by Arthokantho and Bangladesh Business Chamber of Singapore.
Social Innovation Leadership Award by the World CSR Congress (2014)
The World CSR Congress takes places every year to spread the message of Sustainable CSR which makes a difference to the community at large. In 2013-2014, Runa Khan received the ‘Social Innovation Leadership Award’ for her contribution to community development of the people in the chars and coastal areas of Bangladesh.
Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Award (2012)
Runa Khan is one of twenty-six global social entrepreneurs to receive the prestigious 2012 Social Entrepreneur Award from the Schwab Foundation.
Runa Khan Guest of Honor at the Rolex Awards for Enterprise (2011)
On 7 December 2011, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, an event was co-hosted by Rolex and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) at the 180 year old institution’s London headquarters. Runa Khan was among the six guest of honours.
Friendship awarded as the best performing NGO in Gaibandha (2011)
Friendship awarded the fame of the best performance NGO for the year of 2010-2011 in Gaibandha district for its activity on Family Planning, Child Health & Mother Care by The Department of Family Planning under the ministry of Health and Family Planning of the Government of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.
Runa Khan Awarded SCWEC Women Entrepreneur Excellence Award (2010)
Runa Khan Awarded the Prestigious SCWEC Women Entrepreneur Excellence Award 2010 in Chennai, India.
IDB Award for Contribution to Women in Development (2008)
Runa Khan received this award in 2008 in recognition of her efforts to improve healthcare of women in Bangladesh.
Rolex Award for enterprise (2006)
The Rolex award which supports exceptional people who are breaking new ground in areas which advance human knowledge and well-being, was awarded to Runa Khan for her work in keeping alive the Bangladeshi tradition of boat-making, especially through restoration, building exact models by skilled boat-builders, documenting the technology and taking initiative to use the knowledge in conjunction with new technology.
Women Entrepreneurship Award by Arthokonto (2003)
Runa Khan was awarded with Arthakantha Business Award 2003 for her contribution to identify and reach the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized communities and providing them with medical help with the unique floating hospital the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital.
Government award for best design for the book “The Flower Maiden and Other Stories” (2001)
Ashoka Fellowship for innovative teaching methodology (1994)
Runa Khan has developed a series of “user-friendly” goal-oriented textbooks to replace the ossified rote learning methods employed in the Bangladeshi school system. The text books, which emphasize critical thinking and self-directed learning, have been instrumental in significantly improving student performance.
Innovative teaching methodology became part of the accepted system of the National Curriculum Educational Board in Bangladesh (1990)
Runner-up in National Award for books on education “Playschool Activity Book 1 and 2” (1990)
38.What types of programs do you have in this organization?
Friendship has 6 integrated programmes for development including healthcare, education, disaster management and infrastructure development, sustainable economic development, good governance and cultural preservation.
39.What kinds of local knowledge are you learning?
It is very important for us to understand the behavioural and livelihood patterns of our intervention communities so we can design our developmental solutions accordingly. Furthermore, the locals understand the topographical traits that we must also take into account better than us, which we also need to factor in. Knowledge sharing has become a two-way street for Friendship, where members of our intervention communities and our trainers are constantly learning from each other.
40.What does ‘friendship’ do to spread awareness about its activities?
Friendship has been blessed with a solid body of supporters and the Friendship International bodies, who, along with Mrs. Runa Khan spread the word about Friendship’s activities and takes the stories of the char communities to people across the world.
41.Do you export the product from 7 weaving center?
While we are not exporting at the moment, the Weaving Centres are preparing for such a period as more and more consumers are showing their enthusiasm and support for the centres.
42.What kinds of product produce in weaving center?
We are currently producing yard materials, scarves and sarees in the weaving centres. The yard materials are used in the sewing centres as well to produce stitched materials like bags, dresses, curtains, and so on.
43. Do you appoint any particular designer to design these products?
Our supporters include designers Anne-Marie and Virginie Depoorter, who have designed some truly beautiful designs for the artisans in our weaving centres. The production team also designs many of sarees produced.
44.Right now in how many areas does friendship work?
In northern Bangladesh, Friendship focuses its activities in the chars and riverbank areas of Gaibandha, Chillmari and Kurigram district. In the South, Friendship works in Bagerhat, Patuakhali and Barguna and Sathkhira districts.