How do we know we're making a difference for women?
The core or focal point of Manelleh is to make a difference and raise the standard of living of women around the world. Every time you buy a product from Manelleh, you contribute to more women having proper, meaningful and dignified jobs. Every purchase helps to make a lasting and positive difference for the women and their families.
But how can you and I know that women then actually have proper pay and working conditions? I have been asked that question many times, and therefore I have no doubt that it should of course be the topic of my first blog post on Manelleh.com.
In the blog post I will tell about how I have found the organizations I work with and of course also why I am sure that the women work under proper working conditions. But before I get there, I want to start by telling you why I started with just women in Bangladesh.
Why did Bangladesh become the first country?
There are many who ask me why I started with Bangladesh and did not instead choose Sri Lanka where I was born and adopted from. In fact, I started by having a list of five to ten countries that I thought were obvious and that I also had some affiliation with. For example, India and South Africa, both of which are countries where I have good contacts, memories and beautiful products from.
My desire is to work with organizations and women from many different countries. Sri Lanka was and is of course still on the list, but I ended up choosing Bangladesh, which I visited and got to know in 2013. It was in connection with my work for Save the Children, where I worked with child labor in the textile industry.
I have chosen Bangladesh because in every possible way it makes sense to contribute to better jobs for women in a country where millions of women work in a textile factory for a very low wage. At the same time, the country offers really beautiful products and fantastic handicraft traditions, and finally, for almost 10 years, I have built a friendship with a local and former colleague in Save the Children, Obaidur Rahman. And having a person "on the ground" has also been a decisive factor in the choice of Bangladesh, especially in a time with COVID, ie where I have not been able to travel myself.
How did I find some organizations that just support women?
Back in 2013, when I was in Bangladesh, I visited some different organizations working to create better working conditions for women. It made a huge impression on me and I was really impressed to see these organizations working to create better conditions for women.
I had no idea how many such organizations existed? How should I find them? And if I came this far, how would I start a collaboration with them? I just knew these were some very special organizations I was looking for. And I would never have found them without the help and sparring of two very special people - with local knowledge.
One was my former colleague at Save the Children, Obaifromr Rahman, which continues to be a huge help and support today. The other one I got invaluable help from is an amazing woman, Samina Ahsan Shahrukh, who has worked for the Danish embassy in Bangladesh for many years. She is used to doing assignments for Arla and Maersk and other large Danish companies, which are present in Bangladesh. I think she (to my very great gain) lost her heart to the idea of starting Manelleh and making a difference for women in Bangladesh.
How do you and I know that women have proper pay and working conditions?
To be sure of finding the right organizations, I set out some criteria that Obaidur and Samina could use as a guideline for their research. First, it had to be organizations that supported women and lived up to mine non-negotiables. Next, they had to make beautiful, high-quality handmade products. Finally, they should want to work with a start-up, ie me😊.
Against this background, I became acquainted with many good organizations. I selected two, Saidpur Enterprises and Bunon Kutir, which I went on with and made my own assessment, ie. thorough assessment of. I did this on the basis of a questionnaire (inspired by UN Global Compact self assessemt tool) and in-depth interviews I did with Obaidur.
We asked them about big and small. Everything from whether they had a work environment policy and what the women were paid - to whether there were proper toilet conditions and lights on the street in the evening when the women go home from work. I was also on an online visit where I saw how the women made the products. That way, I quickly got to know the organizations pretty well.
Members of the World Fair Trade Organization
Today, I work with three organizations. Besides Saidpur Enterprises and Bunon Kutir, I recently started working with an organization called Tarango, which was actually one of the organizations I visited back in 2013. All three organizations are members or on their way to becoming members of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which is a global umbrella organization that brings together and audits social Fair Trade companies .
The WFTO makes very comprehensive audit reports (of more than 30 pages) and makes recommendations to organizations on where and how they can improve so that they become even stronger, more sustainable and can create even greater impact. That is, to make an even bigger difference for the women and their families. Saidpur Enterprises and Tarango have been members for many years and Bunon Kutir is well on its way to being approved (from initial to guaranteed member).
Overall, I have a good knowledge of the organizations, and I work very closely with them. Common to all three of them is that they work every day to increase the standard of living and create proper, meaningful and dignified jobs for women. They work to enable women to be independent and live a life free from poverty. Give them the opportunity to earn their own money, send their children to school, live a life free from prostitution, discrimination, insecure and low-paid jobs, and free from physical or sexual violence.
The trip goes to Bangladesh
I am Pope proud to work with all three organizations and I am indescribably looking forward to visiting them in exactly one month😊.
Founder of Manelleh