Robin Seyfert originally came to Bangladesh from the US in 2006 to raise HIV awareness. In due course of time and in response to community needs, she started a training program for women wanting to leave prostitution for other career alternatives. Inspired by the pride and resilience of these women, Robin decided to continue creating alternatives through which they could transform their lives.
In 2011, Robin founded Basha Enterprises with fourteen Bangladeshi women. They create alternative income opportunities for women by making and selling their own unique products. In the Bengali language, basha means ‘house’ and asha means ‘hope’. At Basha Enterprises, women are trained to produce jewelry, kantha throws and blankets for export around the world. A look through the Basha website reveals stories of heartbreak, struggle, resilience, and triumph. These are stories of women who were once victims of trafficking and have transformed their own lives, thanks to Robin’s resilience and resolve.
“I am motivated to ensure that women who have been trafficked or are at high risk of trafficking have support and services to be safe and free to rebuild their lives. Registering Friends of Basha allows us to expand and grow our work to meet additional needs, to serve additional communities, and to do all we can to eradicate human trafficking and exploitation in Bangladesh.”
Managing Director of Basha Enterprises and Adviser of Friends of Basha.
Along with skill-based learning, receiving fair wages and a share in the profits, the women of Basha also receive additional benefits such as counseling, a savings program and medical benefits including coverage for medical procedures. Women of Basha also receive an education in English, Bangla and budgeting to empower their personal and professional growth. Last but not the least, Basha Enterprises also provides daycare, school support and other developmentally appropriate educational facilities for children of their employees.
Basha Enterprises is registered as a limited company and has been very successful in meeting the needs of employees and their families. However, over time, Basha identified more areas of vulnerability, addressing which required additional services. They also saw that in some communities, services were not reaching trafficked and exploited women. With this knowledge, came a realisation that Basha would also need a non-profit society to service these needs.
We engaged Barrister Saqeb Mahbub from our pro bono legal community who is a Senior Associate at Mahbub and Company. He advised and assisted the team at Basha register a non-profit called ‘Friends of Basha’ to work alongside their social enterprise and help them combat trafficking and address additional needs of the women working for them.
Friends of Basha runs a growing training and transition program in Tangail, a renowned brothel area. It also runs a home for homeless young girls to ensure they are safe, well cared for, and receive education that they deserve to build their futures. Other activities undertaken by Friends of Basha include finding ways to support girls who have been repatriated after being trafficked abroad, looking at additional ways to provide trauma counseling and services to those who need it and, funding food for children in Basha’s daycare to address malnutrition.
Registering as a non-profit society has also made them eligible for receiving local funds and grants, which enables them to add services to their existing portfolio and maximise their social impact.
On successfully helping Basha set up Friends of Basha, to overcome their organisational challenges, Mr. Saqeb Mahbub said, “I enjoy doing pro bono work as I feel it is my social responsibility to support institutions that are solving problems in society.”