Social Business Immersion Visit to Bangladesh

Authors: Nafisa Islam Fariba, Md Israr Ehsan

As the world becomes increasingly connected, businesses have a greater responsibility to operate in a socially responsible manner.

At The Grameen Creative Lab, as a catalyst for social business in Europe, we believe that social business is the way forward, and that is why we embarked on an unforgettable immersion visit to Bangladesh to rediscover the roots of social business and micro-credit and witness the pioneering work of social business leaders in action. Through this experience, we gained invaluable insights into the power of social businesses to transform local communities, the need for culturally sensitive approaches, and the incredible potential of collaboration.

Social businesses are a genuine force for positive change. By investing in local people and resources, we saw how social businesses can create meaningful impact that lasts for generations.

Join us and explore the potential for social businesses to create positive change on a global scale.


Learning from the social business pioneers

Our team arrived in Bangladesh with many questions and open to learn from one of the biggest emerging economies in the world. We came across several innovative solutions that leveraged technology to drive social impact and observed a human-centered approach developed by the Grameen Organizations, the pioneers of social business.

In this article, we will share with you the impactful stories of social businesses from the rural areas of Bangladesh and how the people have turned around their future and of the next generation in terms of health, microfinance, energy, digitalization, and education.


Healthcare for everybody: Grameen Kalyan

Bangladesh is a country which gained over 23 years of average life expectancy in a 32-year span, from 59.98 in 1990 to 73.29 in 2023. This data not only proves the mortality rate decreasing, but also signifies the improvement in overall healthcare system. A country which does not have a public health insuarence service and even private ones are a rarity. However, there are a lot of organizations and initiatives whose joint efforts made it possible. One such organization is Grameen Kalyan, established in 1996 by Prof. Muhammad Yunus. Grameen Kalyan provides door-to-door primary healthcare services to people in villages, as well as medical camps and health centres for more complex ailments and surgeries.

Access to healthcare in remote areas still is a major challenge. However, innovative solutions are emerging with the hands of Grameen Kalyan that are changing the game. We visited one of their health centres in Manikganj, Bangladesh where we saw the solutions working wonders.

One unique aspect of Grameen Kalyan is the introduction of a yearly micro health insurance card for a nominal fee, providing coverage for up to six family members of the insurer. It offers discounts on medicines and diagnostic services, making healthcare more affordable for low-income families.

As access to healthcare continues to be a challenge in many parts of the world, initiatives like Grameen Kalyan and mobile clinics provide hope for the future, showing that with innovative thinking, we can find ways to improve healthcare access and make a positive impact on people's lives.


Financial inclusion and microcredit with the Grameen Bank

A suitable approach to financial inclusion and empowerment can change the face of the society. In Bangladesh, we witnessed one such approach making history by providing financial services to the unbanked population. The Grameen Bank, a Nobel prize-winning organisation and pioneers of microfinance and microcredit model, which has been providing access to finance to rural women since 1989.

We got to witness the model in action in the Kalatia, Keraniganj branch of The Grameen Bank, which has been maintaining a stellar 100% repayment rate, making it one of the top 20 branches. It covers 44 villages and provides access to finance to over 4000 women, including 61 ‘struggling members’, a unique program that contributed to the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

The struggling members are usually those living behind poverty lines, who are earning as less than 1.9 USD a day. In many cases, they are beggars, dependent on people giving them money to meet the bare necessities. This program established in 2000 with the aim to address the people who could not even repay loans with microfinance. It offers a loan of 10- 50 Euros to these members and tells them that next time they go begging instead of taking the money for nothing just to give something else in exchange, be it toys, Tupperware, or snacks. This loan has 0% interest, and no fixed monthly instalments to repay the loan. The program has seen massive success and so far with 71,000 of these struggling members have saved 33 million BDT with the Grameen Bank lifting them out of poverty.

Grameen bank
 is changing the lives of millions of individuals with their microcredit programs and models.


Education to profession with Grameen Shikkha

The Grameen Shikkha initiative in Bangladesh has been making significant strides in providing educational opportunities to young adults and learners of all ages across the country. Established in 1997, Grameen Shikkha has been offering a wide range of educational programs to students and learners, including non-formal slum schools, pre-school programs for early childhood development, scholarship management programs, scholarship and training programs, and vocational trainings.

One of the most impactful programs under their umbrella is the Grameen Vocational Education Center, which was established in 2008. The centre provides technical skills training to young adults between the ages of 16-35. Through a range of certification courses, the centre offers classes in industrial and electrical engineering, sewing, spoken English, motorcycle repairing, MS Office and Data Entry, and garment machine repairing skills.

The centre has a high success rate of job placement for graduates of these certification courses, with over 80% of graduates finding employment upon completing their training. In many cases, Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) exist between Grameen and local employers to ensure that students find a job and can earn to support themselves and their families right after completing their training.

But Grameen Shikkha's efforts don't stop there. The organization also worked in adult literacy together with UNESCO from 1997 to 2003. By providing literacy training and educational resources to adults, Grameen Shikkha is helping to break down barriers to education and promote lifelong learning.

Through its various educational initiatives, Grameen Shikkha is transforming the lives of millions of people in Bangladesh by providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to build better futures for themselves and their families. By promoting education and training opportunities, Grameen Shikkha is helping to create a more equitable and prosperous society for all.