Merging Creative Background with Business
by Jessica Fracassini, MBA '12 (10/25/11)
Fortunately for me, Johnson and the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise support MBA students who want to explore alternative career paths.
This summer I was an intern for BRAC-Aarong in Dhaka, Bangladesh. By number of employees, BRAC is the world’s largest NGO. Started as a micro-finance organization in Bangladesh in 1971, BRAC is now present in 14 other countries in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and operates 25 different social enterprises, including Aarong, a department store with 10 locations in Bangladesh, a franchise in London and a considerable export business. Aarong employs 68,000 rural artisans to source all of its products and earned roughly $48M in revenue in 2010. The objective of my internship was to help Aarong launch an e-commerce site by doing research on regulations and crafting an overall strategy for the site launch and approach; online payments were illegal in Bangladesh until last year.
How did I get such an incredible opportunity? When I came to Johnson, I envisioned a career where I could merge my creative background with my newly honed business skills and work for a company that considers social and environmental needs in addition to the bottom line. But honestly, when I first started looking for an internship, I thought that this was a pipe dream. Many MBA students pursue very traditional business paths with banking, consulting or marketing. Fortunately for me, Johnson and the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise support MBA students who want to explore alternative career paths.
The Sustainable Global Enterprise immersion trek to New York City eventually facilitated my connection with BRAC. Through the course of a talk delivered by Santhosh Ramdoss, BRAC USA Program Manager, our class learned about BRAC’s unique and successful approach to aid and development, and about Aarongan, an ethically sourced textile company. At this description, my ears perked up! Coming from the art industry, I had a particular interest in working with crafts people and was intrigued by BRAC’s work with local artisans.
As I learned more about Aarong, I was amazed by the company’s tremendous success. For me, the most compelling aspect was Aarong’s reputation within Bangladesh; the company is highly regarded for its gorgeous, fashion-forward designs and house wares celebrating Bangladeshi techniques and motifs. The opportunity was also appealing because, until I went back to school, I had spent my entire professional life living and working in New York City. After a semester of reading and hearing about business in the developing world, I wanted to immerse myself in another country.
While at Aarong, I not only had the chance to work in a different culture and to learn about the company in an office setting, but I was also able to visit their production facilities in Manikganj, just outside of Dhaka. The programs are truly inspiring. In addition to a tour of Aarong’s main facility, I visited a production sub-center a few miles away; the sub-centers are the heart and soul of Aarong. Though they receive some training from Aarong, many employees learned the stitches and techniques from their mothers and grandmothers. There were women of all ages, including a young girl who was working for the sub-center as a summer job to save money for books and clothes for the school year. Seeing the women at work – many were doing hand embroidery on a gorgeous pink sari – made me so proud to work for and to wear Aarong!
Living in Dhaka, navigating a new business landscape, and immersing myself in a new culture were incredible opportunities that added another layer to my experience that I would not have experienced if I stayed in the States. To me, this summer was about more than just my project with Aarong. It will surely inform my career and business choices moving forward and gives me hope that there are opportunities to pursue all of my interests in creating my ideal career