One of the impressions that sticks in my mind from the Agribusiness Supply Chain Conference and Sustainable Supply Chain Workshop in Dhaka last month is the quality of networking. Considering that that this was a completely new event in the calendar, and therefore not yet a proven way for busy executives to spend their precious time, the attendance from leading Bangladeshi companies was impressive in both quantity and quality. It was particularly heartening from those of us from ISCEA, Katalyst and BIF, who had planned and organised this event, to hear Kazi Inam Shahid, Gencom Group Director say to the plenary at the end of the conference “We’ve all got excited about things that we can implement in our organisations... thank you very much to everyone for this programme”
My favourite networking conversation was with a Gencom Group company senior manager, Syed Shoaib Ahmed, the Chief Operating Officer of Kazi & Kazi Tea. I was lucky enough to visit their tea plantations in November 2010. Situated in the northernmost district of Bangladesh, Panchagarh, these estates are completely organic and highly socially inclusive. Having worked myself in the tea industry for nearly 10 years, I was so excited to see such an innovative and pioneering business model in what some (and up to then, me) may think of as an old industry where ‘its all been done before’.
I was very happy to be able to congratulate Syed Shoaib Ahmed on the win-win in environmental, social and commercial terms that has been achieved by Kazi & Kazi Tea. Now the producer of popular premium tea brands, technically the company is also marvel: organic manure production that is at a lower unit cost than inorganic equivalents; yields that are as good as elsewhere in Bangladesh; and high quality as expressed at price at auction. They have also broken into international markets and have developed speciality and medicinal teas that fetch a significant price premium. One particularly clever aspect of the speciality teas is that they have grown carefully selected medicinal trees as shade for the tea, and these trees also contribute as tea flavourings and are used to produce herbal food supplements.
The social mission that drives Kazi & Kazi is also at the heart of the business model. As well as providing employment and stimulating the local economy, in collaboration with the company Foundation they have a scheme with local women farmers in which the women are provided with high yielding cross breed varieties of cows and effectively pay back the costs of this by providing cow dung that is used as a raw material for the organic fertiliser and for planned biogas power generation.
This excellent example of inclusive business doesn’t seem to me to have attracted sufficient interest from academic case study writers, and I asked Syed Shoaib Ahmed why it wasn’t receiving more publicity. I learnt that I was wrong on that score: just a few months ago it was featured in Newsweek Magazine, a great write up that is now available on the web.
I had many other useful and interesting networking conversations at the supply chain meetings that I won’t report on here. I also enjoyed all of the presentations and panel discussions, which were received attentively by the audience. You can find all the resources on the Practitioner Hub, which was the knowledge partner for both events. I hope that at future conferences I will meet executives from some of the companies that BIF has supported, and learn that they are now as successful as Kazi & Kazi Teas as inclusive businesses – and may even have featured in Newsweek!
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