Over the last few days, I have conducted a half dozen interviews with the General Managers of BRAC's Social Enterprises. With the help of two Bangladesh natives, we are trying to uncover all the nitty-gritty detail of each enterprises' evolution. While tracing the enterprises' progression, we are focusing on how the enterprises work together and form a value-added supply chain. This, in my opinion, is the essence of BRAC's operations.
BRAC's three main branches include Social Enterprises, Development Programs, and Investments. Not only do the Social Enterprises work together, but often the Development Programs and Social Enterprises support each other. The main value-added chain we have focused on over the past two days has been the BRAC Chicken supply chain. Five enterprises make up this chain: BRAC Feed Mills, BRAC Poultry, BRAC Poultry Rearing, BRAC Chicken, and BRAC Printing Pack. BRAC began with a goal of generating income among the rural poor. They also wanted to supply healthy, safe, and nutritious chicken meat to the market. To create the healthiest chickens possible, BRAC needed access to high-nutrient chicken feed, which was not available in Bangladesh until BRAC established its feed mills. To top it all off, BRAC created a printing pack to package its chicken for market sales. It created a system for itself to make profit and the rural poor to generate income.
These enterprises overlap with BRAC's microfinance program. To properly rear chickens, BRAC distributes small loans so that the rural poor may purchase day-old chicks from BRAC Poultry. Then BRAC teaches these people how to vaccinate, properly feed, and sanitize their chickens. When these chickens are ready for slaughter, BRAC purchases the chickens for a fair price and sells the meat. BRAC Chicken has become a huge supplier of chicken across the nation, serving clients such as KFC. As other chain restaurants (which shall remain nameless) plan to open doors in Bangladesh, BRAC Chicken plans to supply to these vendors. This value-added supply chain represents one of BRAC's most well-thought out, resourceful, and successful schemes.
Through conducting these interviews, I found myself a bit out of the loop. Although I have done so much reading and research on BRAC as a whole and its enterprises, nothing can replace general cultural understanding. Not to brag, but when the Director of Communications quizzed the intern group on BRAC's components, I (almost obnoxiously) led the charge. In the interviews, however, half the questions I asked provoked a quizzical expression of raised or furrowed eyebrows. Having pretty thick knowledge of factory farming in the United States, I could not imagine the rural people that I met last week with syringes, injecting complex medicines into our feathered friends. The more time that passes in Bangladesh, the more I realize how much I do differently than the Bangladeshis.
This realization literally hit me when I tried to press the "1" button in the elevator, and the lift attendant slapped my wrist. Bright red in embarrassment, one of my co-workers explained that at the end of the day, the attendants manually run the elevators to make sure everyone makes it down the 20-floor BRAC tower without enduring a long wait. After a day of driving in flooded roads, stop-stop-still stopped-and-go traffic, and still not meeting with the people I needed to, a slap on the wrist had more of an emotional effect on me than the lift attendant expected. Hurt and offended, I returned to my room pensive. Showing up late to meetings, not showing up for meetings, and not even showing up to the office are not a reality at home. When one schedules a business meeting, those who commit to attending show up promptly and ready to engage.
Instead of growing frustrated with how different life is here, I realized that I must accept it. The United States only makes up 300 million people on this planet, and if I'm not mistaken, about 5% of our world population. The reality is that the majority of the world does not live like I do at home. I cannot expect Bangladeshis to speak English, change their office culture, or understand me and where I come from. I will claim my discomfort as an opportunity to learn about a new culture in which 2.5% of the world population lives.