Hugely successful since its launch in 1983, the Bank was founded by Prof. Muhammad Yunus who believed that the poor had skills that were under-utilized and that all they needed was a small credit, financial management skills, and peer-pressure to ensure repayment. In his words, this is how Grameen Check came to become an industry.
"Grameen had neither any intention nor any qualification to get involved in the garment industry of Bangladesh. But somehow we got drawn into it. There are over a million weavers in Bangladesh with approximately half a million handlooms in their possession. Over eighty per cent of textile requirement in Bangladesh are met by these weavers through handloom production. One will tend to imagine that the weavers are having good business from this captive market. They are not. Since most Bangladeshis are very poor they cannot afford to buy clothes as often as you'll imagine. Unless a piece of clothing becomes absolutely unusable one does not buy another piece of dress.
Many of the weavers are Grameen borrowers. We see how difficult their lives are because of very low demand and stiff competition from machine-made clothes. Many of the weavers remain without work during slack season.
About two years back we came to know that Bangladesh imports a handloom product called "Madras Check" valued at US $ 80 million for Bangladeshi garment industry to make garments for North American and EEC countries. We could not figure out why Bangladesh imports such huge quantities of handloom fabric while our weavers remain half-starved part of the year. One explanation we got was that our weavers cannot produce the quality that is demanded by the international market. We wanted to find it out. We produced samples and circulated than around. Everybody agreed that the samples were as good or even better than the imported fabric.
Then we got another explanation why this cannot be procured from the local weavers because "they are not organised; we cannot go door to door to each weaver to buy hundreds of thousands of yards we need; now we place orders to Indian suppliers and they supply whatever quantity we need, right on time". We said Grameen Bank can play the role of the supplier. We can accept orders and remain responsible for quality and delivery date.
We started receiving orders. We named our product "Grameen Check". We organised some weavers to do the job. These weavers never had worked for the international market. Everybody in the villages was thrilled to know that the fabric their village was making will be worn by the Americans and the Europeans. The weavers took it as a great appreciation of their work. They worked hard to make sure users like it.
Now business is picking up. The more we deliver, the more the garment industry takes us seriously. This can grow into a billion dollar business --- developed around home-based weavers. We can supply "Grameen Check" to garment industry anywhere in the world --- India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Viet-Nam, or anywhere else. We are inviting consumers and producers everywhere to try us. Please make room for social-consciousness-driven entrepreneurs in the world economy."
Grameen check and its fashion have become widely known within and outside the country, and the Grameen Check become one of the success stories of micro-financing and how it creates a people-based local industry.
Posted February 21, 2011