SAARC Business Association of Home Based Workers (SABAH) project was implemented in seven SAARC countries in 2010 to help poor or marginalised home-based women workers from informal sectors in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states.
With funding support from SAARC Development Fund (SDF), SABAH Bhutan was as a project with the broad vision to strengthen livelihood initiatives of home based workers in the SAARC region. After two years, SABAH Bhutan registered as a public benefit organization with the Civil Society Organisation Authority of Bhutan.
SABAH Bhutan functions as a social enterprise with the primary purpose of strengthening the livelihood initiatives of the home-based workers by providing capacity building and marketing training. It enhances facilities for self-sustained income and help employment generation.
It aims to improve market access for the women’s products by converting them into fashionable and market-friendly products under a common brand. Through the organisation, women home-based workers can collectively market their products, replacing the middlemen in the value chain.
SABAH Bhutan looks into registering home-based workers, giving them capacity building training, segregation of their skills (those weaving kishuthara, different kinds of motifs, mufflers, etc), and then obtaining orders and products from the markets so that work can be distributed among its home-based workers. There are 1,520 registered members till date.
Executive director of SABAH Bhutan, Karma T Dorji, said that SABAH Bhutan trains the workers, offers them work and finally ensures payment without the middle person. “When it comes to time period, we consider giving them twice the normal time period for completing the work since we understand they are occupied with domestic chores.”
When the product is finished, the home-based workers deliver the product themselves or through a cluster leader. The workers are paid upon inspection and delivery of the products.
Initially, SABAH Bhutan started with textile production as many of the home-based workers were already weaving or were interested in weaving. Later, the project team from SABAH Bhutan found that there were smaller groups of women who were also interested in natural food production.
Apart from the head office in Thimphu, the organisation has three community facilitating centres – Kanglung, Bumthang, and Gelephu. Gelephu has a small factory where value addition to food products such as packaging and sorting are done.
The textile products ranges from traditional Bhutanese attire – Gho and Kira to home decor items such as cushion covers, table runners, table mat sets and floor rugs, and small accessory items like purse and handbags. The organisation produces 24 food products.
The organisation has 13 tailors and four weavers employed on contract basis at its headquarters who produce new product samples.
He said that some of the challenges faced by the organisation are the frequent movement of home-based workers as most are dependent on their husbands, availability of duplicate products at cheaper rates, low demand being a niche product, and not being able to produce in mass even if there are exporters.
However, with a strong funder and board of directors, and a well-established project team, SABAH Bhutan has been able to achieve its Business Plan Targets for four years.
Chief executive officer of SDF, Sunil Motiwal (PhD), said that SABAH Bhutan is among the top three leading SABAH projects among the seven SAARC countries with SABAH project. “It can be seen as one of the upcoming social enterprises in Bhutan.”
Two products from SABAH Bhutan, silk stole and Yathra won international ward from World Craft Council in 2013. The organization has also received International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification in Food Safety Management System 22000:2005 and Quality Management System 9001:2015.
SABAH Bhutan has its members from 17 districts and is looking into registering members from the remaining three dzongkhags of Gasa, Dagana, and Pemagatshel.
SABAH Bhutan has already established an outlet in Tokyo, Japan, and an agent in Taiwan especially for intricate products.
The organisation is looking into exporting to China and Bangkok in the future.
“Strengthening Livelihood Initiatives of Home Based Workers in the SAARC Region”
SABAH Bhutan is a Public Benefit Organization that functions as a social enterprise model with a primary purpose of strengthening the livelihood initiatives of the Home Based Workers by providing capacity building and marketing trainings to the member Home Based Workers, thereby enhancing better facilities for self-sustained income and generation of employment.
To promote the welfare of the Home Based Workers;
To facilitate, promote and provide guidance for the enhancement of skills of the Home Based Workers and thereby revive the traditional and cultural heritage of traditional art, skills and designs;
To provide facilities through various activities of SABAH for the generation of employment and income of the women Home Based Workers;
To facilitate and promote, through participatory initiative, the marketing of the products of the Home Based Workers, thereby ensuring sustained, adequate and secured livelihood;
To provide a platform for product marketing and facilitation of product initiative and research; and
To generate awareness and recognition of the work of these Home Based Workers.