CSS Bangladesh helps impoverished families start life-changing businesses in a country where more than 31.5% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Bangladesh is a nation of 164 million people where, according to the World Bank, 41 percent live on less than $1 per day, and more than half of children under age five are malnourished. In the rural areas targeted by the program, most adults are farmers or work as hired laborers for other farmers. Because they farm only about six months of the year, they do not earn a steady enough income to support their families.
Although the majority of women are illiterate, many have skills and capabilities they could use to earn money. Their lack of literacy, exacerbated by religious and cultural traditions that block women from many forms of wage employment, makes self-employment one of their few options for earning money. Significant opportunity exists for these women to market products they make or buy to supplement their incomes. What they lack is access to credit to start a small business.
The program provides seed capital to poor entrepreneurs, 86 percent of whom are women, for income-generating activities. These businesses include: puffed and pressed rice production, in which the entrepreneurs buy rice, the chief agricultural crop in Bangladesh, and make puffed and pressed rice in their homes to sell in the local markets; bamboo, cane-craft and mat-making, to meet the high demand for baskets, furniture, and mats; grocery shops, to sell staples, such as rice, flour, sugar, and spices; beef fattening, to purchase cattle, raise them to full growth, and sell; and vegetable and agriculture products retailing. Under the program, groups of five meet weekly to receive business training and orientation. After the training is completed, members receive small loans while they continue to meet for encouragement, accountability and to make loan payments. As the loans are repaid, the capital is lent again to other poor entrepreneurs, thereby multiplying the benefits of contributions to the loan fund. By extending credit to the poor to enable them to supplement their incomes, their families benefit from improved nutrition, health care, housing, and education. With an average family size of six members, more than 350,000 people are enjoying a better standard of living due to lending activity alone.