Sheenagh Day is a bloody sensible girl. 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 local people of ladies making baskets (95% of the world’s jute comes from Bangladesh), changed into an eye-opening, nine-hour journey that fully modified her life.
Historically in Bangladesh, ladies solely stay in schooling for a few years, as an alternative they’re married younger and anticipated to have kids. ‘These fantastic ladies requested me to assist them to promote their product,’ says Sheenagh, ‘ They informed 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 good friend Jane Morter, who works on a contract foundation for the corporate. Folks preferred the product. Inside 5 years Maison Bengal obtained a few massive orders from The White Company – and now sells in 37 nations around the globe.
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 appeared like a really easy course of. So, I requested her if this was actually the case, ‘ It was fairly easy, however it took a very long time – as neither I or my suppliers had labored with the industrial sector earlier than,’ explains Sheenagh. ‘It’s been an natural development, one step at a time as and when inexpensive. 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, apart 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 may most likely not have coped with a speedy development, so it’s a good factor the enterprise advanced because it did,’ continues Sheenagh, ‘The most important challenges, as soon as the enterprise received to a sure measurement, have been actually to do with storage of the merchandise and discovering the fitting folks to assist pack and despatch the merchandise.’ Working with an NGO, Maison Bengal ‘skilled the neediest folks’ – and offered them with these new abilities.
‘For girls who by no means depart their village, it is a massive deal. They’ve much 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 kids, 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 line with Sheenagh, ‘As soon as they realised their wives have been getting an everyday revenue, and the way a lot their household benefited from this vital addition to the household funds; it wasn’t a problem.’
Now 60, Sheenagh is altering ladies’s lives in a very completely different approach. Growing this enterprise mannequin has allowed her to have extra of an affect on ladies’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 baby clinic with a health care provider who comes each Friday (historically a Muslim break day). ‘ The rationale I left genetic counselling was often because I felt I couldn’t change issues. I may presumably assist folks make one of the best, 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 folks’s lives. To assist their kids fly and make their lives higher. And I’ve definitely achieved extra by way of what makes me tick as an individual.’
Presently serving to 5000 ladies 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 foreign money trade charges, the consequences of local weather change to call just some).’
Having labored with the unique Bangladeshi neighborhood for over 20 years, she has watched the kids grow-up. At present, two of the daughters are finding out drugs and legislation, in Dhaka. The primary ladies from the village to go to college.
Sheenagh Day’s recommendation on making a distinction:
What would you say are the talents required to realize all this?
I might say persistence and dedication to see Maison Bengal achieve offering incomes to households. You would not anticipate rapid success, it was at all times 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 once I was six years outdated, so attempting to speak whenever you don’t have a lot shared language is in my DNA. I’ve additionally at all times wished to assist different folks indirectly I suppose, and to really feel I used to be making a optimistic 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 should you imagine in one thing sufficient, and work at it lengthy sufficient, bringing folks 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 should you’re pondering of fixing paths in midlife, don’t be postpone by different folks attempting to dissuade you; by telling you the thought is a step backwards in your profession trajectory, or that you’ll lose face, standing or credibility. When you imagine in your thought, and assume you can also make it work, then go for it!
Hold issues easy, and at all times be genuine.
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