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Global Resilience Challenge: Snapshots from Bangladesh

[slideshow name=”Bangladesh Trip Blog”]

Our team just finished up some fieldwork in Bangladesh as part of our research for the Global Resilience Challenge. If you don’t know about the Challenge, it’s a grant competition led by the Global Resilience Partnership, a $150 million effort of The Rockefeller Foundation, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to help the global community pivot from being reactive in the wake of disasters to driving evidence-based investments to better manage and adapt to inevitable shocks.


Our project, Manufacturing Resilient Communities, is a set of questions about the ways business and communities can partner together to build resilience, specifically in supply chain communities in Bangladesh, India, and Thailand. We’re exploring ways to build on the success of our EHS+ Network, which is all about improving environment health and safety inside the factory – and seeing if we can share some of those lessons and that perspective with the broader community beyond the factory gates.


After all, environmental risk threatens global businesses – and the communities around supply chain factories. What if they collaborated to find ways to reduce risk and build resilience to shocks and stresses?


We went to Bangladesh with a couple of key research questions: How do conditions in manufacturing communities compare with our hypothesis? Are the conditions we have seen in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia – workers in immediate proximity to factories, environmental and hazardous weather threats – present on the ground? And, how much is already happening in this realm? How much are businesses and communities already collaborating?


Here’s a taste of what we learned:

  • Water is a central theme. Apparel manufacturing (our primary factory targets in Bangladesh) uses a huge amount of water in the washing and dyeing process; factories and communities are drawing on the same sources of fresh water – and the water table is dropping every year;  discharge pollutes local drinking water; increasingly severe rainstorms are driving increased flooding – and then there’s sea level rise, which is increasing salination.
  • Bringing business to the table for a discussion can be the key to bringing everyone. Governments, of course, want to engage with business and take advantage of the resources they bring; community organizations and citizens are eager to participate in problem-solving and make their concerns known. It may be challenging to bring engage business owners and corporate leaders – often it can be hard for the private sector to perceive the value of a multi-stakeholder process rather than just developing an independent approach – but it’s the key to solutions in supply-chain regions.
  • Connecting diverse sectors around common risks is not happening yet. The community leaders and private sector businesses we spoke to in Bangladesh are not working together to tackle their shared risks and build resilience. But, the team reports, as we listened to their challenges and explained our ideas and the possibilities we see for action-oriented collaboration, you could see the wheels start turning. They are ready to start working together!


Right now, members of our team – Stephanie Rust, Matthew DeGroot and our partners from the Stockholm Environmental Institute – are in India to visit factories and communities in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Ankleshwar.  We’re eager to explore the parallels, and dig into the differences, as we look for more ways to help connect business to communities for resilience.