Getting ready for Grameen

Liam Black, from Wavelength, is taking a group of 25 people to visit Grameen – perhaps the world's most inspiring social business.  Technology permitting, he'll blog here about the experience over the next few days.  He arrived in Dhaka a few hours ago – here are his thoughts so far.  


I was lucky enough to have the winner and runner up of the All Asia Crying and Whinging Baby Awards mewling and snotting beside me all the way from London to Dhaka so arrived totally sleep deprived (and behind me was the Bangladesh Olympic non-stop farting champion!) 


But despite not having slept for 26 hours (and trying to stay awake until at least 9pm local time), we had a series of great meetings today in Dhaka with various parts of Grameen to finalise the event. They have some requests for us.  Yunus has to speak to both houses of the Indian parliament on 9th and needs time to prep so would we mind moving his session with us to Sunday? Oh, okay I suppose.  


As always the Grameen people are unbelievably accommodating and helpful and their good ideas are matched only by the copious amounts of tea which is brought to the tables (I've rarely had so much hospitality pass through me!). They love the delegate handbook we have created and seem genuinely as keen as I am to see our delegates descend from the cloudless sky into the madness of Dhaka. All the way along I have wanted this visit to be a real and mutually beneficial collaboration and not an exercise in poverty tourism. And I'm made up that it is.


The traffic here is a little less suicidally chaotic than usual since many people are still on their Eid holidays. But I'm promised by Suraya,  our superb fixer from the High Commission, that come Sunday the journey across town to Grameen HQ which today took half an hour will probably take an hour and a half. 


The streets of Dhaka are a riot of colour, throngs of people moving helter skelter alongside, between, sometimes over, the traffic. Packed buses with people clinging for dear life to the roofs, cars doing u-turns into oncoming dual carriage way traffic. Rickshaw drivers seemingly obilvious to the death which lurks in the darkness above the huge lorry wheels which miss them by inches, millimetres. Children everywhere. Drop dead beautiful women in the most gorgeously and richly coloured clothes walk by men lying unconscious on the pavement. Traffic cops waving their little sticks and absolutely no-one taking any notice at roundabouts which might as well have a sign that reads : Right of Way to Everyone Simultaneously (And Go As Fast As You Can). Old women who look about 160 begging at the car window. Limbless kids. Young mothers holding up consumptive looking babies. A city of millions living on the edge, somehow getting by from day to day. It astonishes me.


Grameen's swish 21 story HQ is never what anyone expects. It looks, well, it looks like a real business!  Inside, once you pass the exhibition celebrating Yunus's Nobel Prize, the feeling is more like a civil service with floor after floor of people beavering away administering the some two dozen enterprises which make up the Grameen Group. 


Okay got to go now Rob. We are making up the Toilet Packs for our guests – bog roll, wet wipes, Immodium and a postcard decsribing the variety of shits it is possible to get if you drink the wrong thing here. It's not all glamour this social business stuff you know.


PS I love Emirates. Shiny new planes. Lots of leg room. Almost edible food. Helpful staff. But what sealed it for me was that they so nailed the Bowie, Led Zep and 10cc playlists on their amazing entertainment system (with 200 films by the way). You can take the boy out of the seventies …

03. December 2009 by Rob Greenland
Categories: Business, Social change, Social enterprise, Social entrepreneurs, Social Justice | Leave a comment

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