This is a case study on Basha, a social enterprise based in Bangladesh. The case study focuses on details surrounding the launch of Basha by the founder Robin Seyfert.
Robin Seyfert has had a career primarily in social services, including inner city ministry and Child Protection. Once she received her Masters in Public Health, her work has focused around HIV / AIDS. Robin came to Bangladesh in August 2006 with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to help them integrate HIV awareness into their other activities
Vision and Goal
Through the work in HIV awareness, the MCC workers discovered that a majority of women in prostitution in Bangladesh were forced in some way into this life and are eager to have opportunities for alternative employment. In 2008 MCC started a training program for women wanting options. After seeing more than sixty women take advantage of this opportunity, Robin felt God leading her to start a business in Bangladesh to create opportunities for more women to have sustainable livelihoods outside of prostitution.
Robin’s term with MCC was ending in August 2010 and around April of that year she began feeling God leading her in the direction of starting a business. Robin was hoping she would be able to take over a business that had been incubated by MCC but that fell through.
Faith in Action
In the US Robin read everything she could about business and social enterprise. She worked with SCORE which supports small business with mentors, met fair trade distributors, asked experienced Christian businesspeople to be Directors on her Advisory Board and raised funds. In Vancouver at Regent College she attended marketplace theology and enterprise courses. Returning to Bangladesh Robin became an associate member of SIM to ensure spiritual support.
In March 2011 Robin rented a building, bought furnishings, recruited the first staff and started Basha to produce kantha, a traditional Bengali craft of stitching together sari cloth. Production started on 1 May.
Basha partnered an MCC rehabilitation program for women wanting to leave prostitution and with a SIM program. The latter cared for women living on the street in a section of Dhaka rife with crime, trafficking, and prostitution. To break the cycle of poverty Basha provided graduates of these programs with employment and training and their children with social support, day care and school sponsorship.
Robin describes this time when she started up Basha as “having God unfold a business in front of me. He provided customers and sales right away. We have never been without an order. He has sent a steady stream of advisers and volunteers who have been invaluable.”
Basha has grown; and in 2012 it added a line of jewellery as well by absorbing a line of jewellery from an NGO that was re structuring. This provided opportunities to hire more women and to provide choices for women in the type of work they want to do.
Basha has increased its exports to eight countries. It has more than tripled sales. After its second year it earned a profit. The number of women Basha hired from the MCC and SIM training programs has also tripled. In Robin’s words, “the partnership with SIM has been wonderful for the business with many volunteers and much support coming from them as well.”
Today Basha has opened a second office to be near each of the training programs. One of the first women hired now has a leadership position and Robin’s hope is that all the women will play an increasing role in developing the business.
Still, there are constant difficulties that arise. There is the typical stress of running a business and competition. And there is the challenge of employing women “who are still dealing with unspeakable trauma and ongoing problems, working in a country which is very corrupt and frequent political disruptions.” Finding staff is a problem. Finding the money for Robin’s salary, which has come primarily through fund raising, requires time and attention.
Robin writes, “In spite of all the stress and activity, it always comes down to the fact that it is God's business. He doesn't give us more than we can handle. No matter how busy and stressful things are, I thank him for each life he has entrusted to us, and hope I will always pause to pray for them and share his grace and love which he bestows upon us.”
Source: Marketplace Institute