In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Reducing Poverty by Employing Young WomenHathay Bunano’s Scalable Model for Rural Production in Bangladesh
  • Kevin McKague (bio), Samantha Morshed (bio), and Habibur Rahman (bio)

Innovations Case Narrative:
Hathay Bunano

Hathay Bunano (“hand-made” in Bangla), founded in 2004, produces hand-knitted children’s toys, both under our own brand, Pebble ( and for international private-label clients around the world.

Using an innovative and much-needed model of rural production, we have taken the less skilled and time-consuming production tasks to the villages, creating jobs for thousands of young women whose economic opportunities are quite limited. For these young women, Hathay Bunano offers an alternative to moving to the city to work long hours in unsafe garment factories and spending most of their income on rent and food in unsanitary slums. Instead, given our 64 low-overhead rural production centers, these women can work within walking distance of their homes with highly flexible working hours that accommodate the cycles of the agricultural seasons and other family responsibilities. Our distributed production model has addressed many of the health and safety concerns that come with large [End Page 69] factory production, such as the building collapse in April 2013 in Savar, a Dhaka suburb. In the largest industrial accident since the 1984 Union Carbide gas release in Bhopal, India, it claimed the lives of 1,127 people—most of them young women.

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Hathay Bunano employs over 6,500 women aged 18 to 30 in flexible, well-paid, and relatively high-quality jobs in rural areas, helping reduce poverty in a country where 40 percent of our 160 million people live on less than $1 a day.1

Hathay Bunano is innovative in two ways. First, it has scaled up a distributed rural artisanal production model that takes jobs to rural areas and to poor and disabled young workers in a way that is commercially competitive in the global marketplace. Second, it generates decent flexible jobs that create many spin-off benefits for individuals, families, and communities. We believe the Hathay Bunano model is important because it has the potential to improve both handicraft business models and production practices in the ready-made garment industry.

Barriers to Opportunity For Young Women

In a poor country with few good job opportunities, Bangladeshi women in their late teens and early twenties are often seen as financial burdens to their families.

Families respond by arranging for them to marry when quite young, or sending them to cities to work in garment factories. Although the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh has generated a tremendous number of jobs, these jobs require working long hours at minimum wage in less than ideal conditions. In addition to the tragic loss of lives in Savar, over 600 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in preventable factory fires over the last five years. Moreover, young [End Page 70] women living in the cities are often sexually harassed or pursued by boys and men. Turning down a man’s advances can lead to an acid attack: an average of 200 occur every year.2 Even when a girl finds a boyfriend herself, doing so can create difficulties for both her family and the young man’s.

Taslima’s Story

When Taslima first joined Hathay Bunano she was living in a room eight feet square with her husband and their baby Habiba, along with her parents-in-law and younger sister.

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The room had no facilities and they shared one toilet, four gas burners, and an intermittently operating water pipe with 80 other people. Her husband made less than $1 a day when he could find work pulling a rickshaw, and the family was living a precarious life in poverty. Taslima had worked in one of Dhaka’s many garment factories but was forced to leave when Habiba was born. While garment factories are required by law to provide day-care facilities and maternity leave, the law is not enforced and day-care rooms at factories sit empty. Young women who become pregnant are let go, with some other reason given for their dismissal. Now...


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pp. 69-88
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