If you want to learn more about social business, microfinance and solutions to poverty, I highly recommend to visit the Yunus Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dhaka is truly the Mecca of social business!
In just 3 days, I attended a weekly meeting between the Grameen bank and its borrowers, in a village, where I had authentic interactions with a few women from the village, I met the Peace Nobel Prize, Professor Yunus, who pioneered the concept of microfinance, and had insightful meetings with the directors of a few social businesses founded by Professor Yunus in fields such as education, IT and telecommunications.
Why visiting the Yunus Centre in Dhaka?
- To get the privilege to meet and discuss with Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, who received the Peace Nobel Prize in 2006 for his work. The Grameen Bank is the first and only microfinance bank in the world (other microfinance organizations are NGOs). If you’re interested in solutions to end poverty, reading his books about social business is an absolute MUST !
“We will create a poverty museum by 2030. We will start with Bangladesh.”
- To go to a field trip in a village around Dhaka where you will get the chance to meet the manager of a branch of the bank, and attend one of their weekly meetings with the women from the village. You will better understand how the Grameen Bank works, and how it impacts the lives of millions of women in Bangladesh. During the meeting, the women shared about how they use the microcredits. Some of the women invited me to their house and showed me their businesses. Their hospitality and generosity has blown my mind. A woman was growing jasmine flowers to make hair ornaments that she sells on the market in Dhaka. She gave me three of her products and categorically refused me to pay for it.
Another woman invited me for tea at her house. She had lived in Dubai as a maid, but came back to her village to live with her family. The family was earning through diverse small businesses, from sewing to growing plants on the rooftop of the house and raising chickens.
- To understand the reality of social business: their model, their impact but also their challenges. Professor Yunus founded a dozen of social businesses over the past few years, in various fields: education, IT, telecom, healthcare, a joint venture with Danone to sell yogurts, etc. You can select the organizations you are more interested to visit, and the Yunus Centre organizes meetings with their directors, who have shared about their business in full transparency.
How to reach out to the Yunus Centre in Dhaka to organize this trip ?
There are different types of learning programs. I had an “exposure visit” of 3 days, but if you have more time, you can also decide to get a deeper understanding of social business and microfinance with a one month immersion program or an internship.
To apply for an exposure visit, you must send your CV and purpose of interest (in an email) to firstname.lastname@example.org. HERE is the application form. They might take some time to reply, but they will Monika will assist you with all your questions.
You only pay a facilitation fee of USD 50$ per person, and the field visit cost is USD 30$ (+ a minimal transportation cost).
This is what my schedule looked like:
11 am: Presentation of Yunus centre
12:10am: Meeting with Grameen Healthcare
2pm: Meeting with Executive Director of Yunus Centre
2:30pm: Tentative meeting with Professor Yunus
3pm: Meeting with Grameen Bank for preparing the field trip
7:30am: Start for Grameen Bank Branch office from my hotel
9:30-11am: Visit Center Meetings, discussion with borrowers and visit to the houses of the borrowers
11:20-12am: Visit Branch Office and discuss with the branch manager
12am-2:30pm: Start for Dhaka (lunch on the way)
4pm: Review discussion with senior management
11am-12pm: Meeting with Grameen Sikkha
12pm-1pm: Meeting with Grameen Telecom
2:30pm-3:30pm: Meeting with Grameen Danone
3:30pm-4:30pm: Meeting with Grameen Communications
Should you be scared to go on a solo trip as a girl in Dhaka?
NOT AT ALL ! This is crazy how much people have a wrong perception about Bangladesh. I heard so many negative things before going there, that at one point I got really scared to go by myself.
Yes it’s one of the poorest countries in the world but it’s developing very fast thanks for the garment industry and many social businesses.
Yes it’s very polluted but there are also lots of greenery in the city. My guesthouse was just next to a beautiful park.
Yes it’s a Muslim country but that doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous country or that women are hiding in their houses. I felt very safe the entire time (except in the traffic) and people are the friendliest, most welcoming and generous people I ever met. Women are running all kind of businesses even in the poorest villages. In fact, the Prime Minister has been a woman for the past 10 years. I found the country way more progressist than I had imagined.
What else to Do and see in Dhaka, Bangladesh ?
Sightseeing in Dhaka
As I stayed only for 3 days, I didn’t get the time to visit much of Dhaka. You must be aware that the traffic is insane in the city – therefore you can’t plan any sightseeing after the visits at the Yunus Centre, because it would take you too long to get anywhere. I’ll surely go back to visit Old Dhaka.
DHAKA is a paradise for fair trade shopping
I LOVED shopping in Dhaka! It’s a paradise for buying fair trade garments and handicrafts. I’ve spent hours in Aarong, a store which is run by BRAC, the largest NGO in the world.
You can buy anything from beautiful pillow cases, bed sheets and curtains, to jewels, bags, traditional clothes, kitchen ustensils, etc. No seller will bother you, and all items have price tags so you know you really pay the fair price
What do you need TO KNOW to prepare a trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh?
I didn’t need a visa to go to Bangladesh, but the Yunus Centre advised me to get one to make it easier at the immigration. Filling the form for the visa was not very straightforward, but I got away using these instructions.
For convenience, the Yunus Centre recommends the hotel Grand Prince Hotel at Mirpur 1, which is the closest, but has very bad reviews online. That’s why I decided to go for another one, which was 30-45 minute away. Some of my friends from Dhaka recommended me to stay in the area of Gulshan 1 and Gulshan 2. This is the expat area, where you can find all the Embassies. It’s therefore more “posh”, green and super safe (there was one security guard at every street corner around my guesthouse!).
I booked (on Booking.com) and had a comfortable stay at Green House Guesthouse (Road 68, House 6B, Gulshan 2, Dhaka).
Everything at the airport went smoothly. Before you exit the customs, you can exchange money. Once you exit, you can immediately buy a SIM Card (I got mine from Grameenphone, which is a leading telecom company in Bangladesh). It’s cheaper to get it outside of the customs. Having internet will be very useful during the trip to book Uber to drive you around the city (download the app before).
Of course, you should pack clothes that are covering enough (long sleeves t-shirts and pants) to respect the culture in Bangladesh.