I met with a fantastic bunch of staff at a Fair Trade handicraft organisation yesterday.
The Executive Director was fresh off the plane from the Netherlands that morning but bounced into the room to warmly host me for a (delicious) Bengali lunch with other key staff. He spoke with great enthusiasm and openness about what he had learned at the international export forum he had been attending and its implications for their organisation. (I was somewhat mortified to later discover that he had foregone staying an extra day in order to come back and meet me!)
This organisation works with around 10 producer groups from all over regional Bangladesh, making an incredible variety of handicrafts, homewares and stationary. Their producers (about 80-100 in each group) illustrate the resourcefulness of Bangladeshi people in the face of grinding poverty as they utilise all sorts of locally available materials to create their products including jute, silk, hemp, wheat straw, water hyacinth and recycled cotton.
I was struck by their warmth and passion for the work they do in empowering their fellow Bangladeshis over many years in small, slow ways to build up an organisation that could provide steady work opportunities and therefore greater stability to 800+ poor Bangladeshi families and their wider communities. The reasons for poverty are complex and seem insurmountable. But, in talking to these people, these complexities faded and the small, steady steps of listening, empowering, creating opportunity and supporting over the longer term became the focus. How inspiring!
I’ll be heading off to visit one of their producer groups in a day or two.