Shaikh Saif Al Rashid

Ashoka Fellow
,
Fellow Since 2015
JITA Bangladesh

Citation

This profile was prepared when Shaikh Saif Al Rashid was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Bangladesh, a conservative Muslim patriarchic society excludes women from economic, and livelihood activities. Saif’s hybrid model has been effective in providing livelihood opportunities for the base of the pyramid – BOP female population in rural Bangladesh, by defying cultural, and gender barriers.

Saif has crafted a new scheme to amplify women empowerment through developing an enterprise model that leverages the complementary strengths of both NGOs and private commercial organizations. Saif has identified that while the large number of NGOs in Bangladesh focuses on social impact, yet struggle to sustain, and scale due to their “donor-driven” mentality. On the other hand the, private organizations offer efficiency, and profitability. An approach to combine both would result in a profit-driven sustainable model, bringing about a regulatory balance between impact and efficiency.

In 2004, Saif joined the Enterprise division in CARE Bangladesh, and immediately assigned to design the model of the “Rural Distribution Network”. Using Natore (a resource deprived rural area in northern Bangladesh) as the first location, he has developed the overall operation, structure and interface of the model. The primary objective of the model was to create a rural distribution system to provide economic opportunities and accessibility to commercial products to underprivileged communities. At the core of the model, are the women entrepreneurs “Aporajita” which is the Bengali for “one who are not defeated”, consisting of a group of destitute women, selected by the program as independent entrepreneurs. Most of these women are divorced, widowed or, circumstantially sole bread earners in their families. These women sell consumer products in a “door-to-door” manner to rural communities who are typically at the base of the pyramid (BoP). In 2009, the model was fully operational and implemented across different locations in Bangladesh. Identifying the opportunity to scale this further and, faced with the reality of resource limitations, by 2011, Saif formulated a plan with CARE, engaging Danone Communities as a partner, and formed the for-profit model of JITA Bangladesh.

JITA has evolved from a non-profit NGO program to a for-profit sustainable organization, one that has scaled significantly by applying process efficiency, technology, and responsible governance. At the core of JITA’s work, Saif continues to innovate to ensure continuous improvements in the livelihoods of the Aparajitas. He has designed a system which provides a shared distribution cost to ensure that all partners remain profitable, a strength that he has achieved by scaling. Over the years, he has also shifted JITA from a push to a pull strategy. This has allowed him to categorize products that they love, accept, or reject, aligned with their priorities to balance between the entrepreneurs’ profit, and provide access to effective products that impacts healthy living, agriculture, livelihood, and improved lifestyle of the communities.

Saif has been working to test the model in other countries. With partnership with USAID, Saif has recently worked with partners in Ethiopia to replicate a similar model. He feels, with the growing popularity of similar distribution networks around the world, his model is able to combine commercial interests, with strong social impact. Recognizing the impact of JITA, Unilever wrapped up its own distribution model “Joyeeta” in Bangladesh, a model that has been successful for them in India. In addition to his core work with JITA, he has leveraged on JITA’s distribution network, to pilot a model under the umbrella of Good Little Enterprise. The model allows BoP communities to provide access of their products to the mainstream markets. Currently, products such handicrafts, agro-based foods have been making their way into the distribution channel. In addition to that, using the same hybrid concept, he has designed a model for the large worker population in the ready-made garments sector in Bangladesh. One of the biggest challenges that the textile industry is facing now is to balance low production cost with improved employee benefits. He has identified that a large part of their wage is being spent on basic household consumptions, healthcare and food. Saif’s model with Good Associates, engages commercial organizations, public sector and manufacturers to work together in providing subsidized products and services that would allow the workers to maintain substantial net earnings.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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