An Islamic Relief project in Bangladesh is showcasing the potential of cooperative social business models to lift poor people out of poverty, permanently.

“We had nothing before,” says Maksura Begum, a member of ‘Naowar’ women’s cooperative in Rangpur, Bangladesh. “Three meals a day were not possible. We had no work.”

Then Maksura heard about a specialised project being delivered by Islamic Relief in Mithapkur sub-district, an area with high levels of extreme poverty and few employment opportunities. The scheme, ‘Rights to Income and Protection’ has empowered 900 poor rural women to work together to enhance their incomes.

“We contacted Islamic Relief when we learned about their project. They trained us in sewing skills and provided us with materials. We are now earning a decent living to maintain our families. We are happy now.”

Enhancing skills and empowering women

Maksura and her family have benefitted from our project to help poor people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Maksura and her family have benefitted from our project to help poor people to lift themselves out of poverty.

The project provided participants with opportunities to enhance their skills in hand stitching, tailoring, block and traditional batik and helped the group to buy materials and equipment to get started.

It also trained the women on small-business skills – including sourcing quality, value-for-money materials, displaying their hand-made products, and reaching local and national markets.

The cooperative’s products – which include clothing for men, women and children as well as bedlinen – are showcased at Naowar (flower) Sales and Display Centre in Rangpur District Market. The centre has already become a hub for wholesalers and retailers.

Working together for a brighter future

“The project is a commendable initiative,” said Abdul Wahed, District Cooperative Officer, Rangpur. “The women of this area have become self-reliant today, which will help them to look forward to a brighter future for them and their families.

“I believe this could be a [successful] model for development, as registration with the Cooperative Society ensures transparency, accountability and democratic process.”

In addition, the project has enabled participants to increase their knowledge of women’s rights and issues such as domestic violence through a range of awareness and outreach events.

Islamic Relief has been working in Bangladesh since 1991, and delivers a comprehensive range of development projects designed to tackle poverty and suffering.