Resilience S Asians' survival instinct
Like many survivors of Rana Plaza, Nazma Begum had rented a shop space and opened up a grocery in Savar with donations she received after the 2013 garment factory building collapse.
She did not stop there and went a step forward, setting up a tailoring shop in a corner with her treadle sewing machine.
“I thought the sales from the grocery would not be constant. If I can also take orders and make clothes side by side, I can have a steady income,” said Nazma, who had her left arm operated upon three times and her waist once for injuries suffered in the collapse.
This inexpensive idea which did not require additional funds led her to serve more customers on a daily basis while adding to her earnings.
Nazma did not need a business education to come up with an idea that provided her with an income buffer. What she did was flexible and adapted to the financial difficulty that came about after losing her fixed income from the garment factory job.
According to Jaideep Prabhu, director of the Centre for India & Global Business at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, such an ability to absorb financial shocks and come up with solutions to face those is characteristic among people of the South Asian region.
“They have the ingenuity to do more with less,” he said, observing how poor people with no financial resources somehow learn to absorb shocks such as deaths or illnesses of earning members.
Prabhu was talking to The Daily Star at the fifth Frugal Innovation Forum, organised by Brac in Savar from March 23-24 with the theme, “Scaling Resilience”. The Daily Star is the engagement partner of the forum.
Citing the example of microfinance institutions in Bangladesh, Prabhu talked about his book, “Jugaad Innovations”, stating how businesses in developing counties are making do with their small resources and coming up with ideas to make development of their communities more inclusive.
“In the west, companies invest heavily in research and development and when they develop their product, they charge a high price which their consumer can afford,” he said.
But in emerging economies as in the South Asian region, consumers cannot afford expensive products. So companies need to keep a smaller profit margin and scale up their businesses to remain sustainable, he said.
Charishma Chotalia, regional director of Programs, South Asia, VOTO Mobile, however, emphasised on flexibility and the need for getting feedback from customers regularly and updating services or products accordingly.
Chotalia was speaking at a session on opportunities coming out of scaling up resilience.
VOTO Mobile is a Ghana-based tech startup and social enterprise that offers services to businesses, governments and NGOs to share information with their customers and gather feedback through interactive SMS or voice calls in local languages.
Tom Nettleton, first secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, also noted the importance of in-depth knowledge of the culture where a business or even a development partner works.
“Without that, innovations might fail,” he said recalling discussions from a previous session of the day where journalists spoke of how relief products sent by donors often were not useful for disaster-hit people.
Journalists and social media activists at the session spoke about the role of media in building up resilience.
Sessions on lessons learned from recent disasters, including Rana Plaza, resilience among youth, emerging social entrepreneurs, role of technology and business in building up resilient societies were held on the last day.
The forum ended with a session with Brac founder and Chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed speaking on building resilience across communities, moderated by Prabhu.
Highlighting Bangladesh's growth over the last few decades, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed said the life expectancy at birth in Bangladesh was higher than that in Pakistan and India although both the neighbours have a higher per capita income.
He said yet Bangladesh had a long way to go in terms of ensuring gender equality and meeting the growing demand of urbanisation.