Business/Donor partnership, the best formula for empowering the poor – The Agora case study

The Business/Donor partners working on the Agora SME development project.

Agora established in 2001 with an ultimate aspiration to be the Wal-Mart of the East is an expanding chain of retail outlets in Bangladesh, run by Rahimafrooz Superstores Ltd. Agora now operates 11 outlets, a sourcing and processing centre for commodities and a state of the art distribution centre with 680 employees and 320 suppliers. With an aggressive expansion programme in mind Agora recently migrated to an end to end ERP system powered by SAP and WINCOR NIXDORF.

When Agora started its supermarket [providing food, personal care and household needs] business in 2001, the brand was positioned as the best solution for customers for the purchase of fresh produce [fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy] of high quality at the right price as this was the predominant customer need in the absence of an organized modern trade [supermarket] system. This resulted in Agora investing in cold and chill storage, transport and display facilities. The absence of organized fresh produce supply chain resulted in Agora solely developing fresh produce suppliers. This included training perishable traders who operated in the unorganized wet market on proper sorting, grading, storing &transportation of produce and fundamental disciplines of running a business. We also formed partnerships with farmer associations toward this objective.

As Agora expand, the company realized the need to further build the capacity of small and medium fresh produce suppliers and develop robust supply chains and trading relationships. As Agora was looking for solutions for this important need, a meeting between Ms Parveen Huda of BIF [Business Innovation Facility] and Mr Niaz Rahim of Agora led to the signing of an MOU designed to address Agora’s needs while developing their SME suppliers ensuring the ‘inclusive’ aspect.  The project was funded by DFID, BIF and AGORA and the capacity building expertise was received from one of the world’s leading business consultancies Accenture and PUM from Netherlands.

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Anything is possible – Creating a World without Poverty – with inspiration from outer space and inner space!

Inspiring Millions, Creating a better World
With Muhammad Yunus, Ron Garan, M A Muhith & Monica Yunus at Social Business 2012

When I received an invitation from the Yunus Centre to attend the Social Business Day 2012 at Sarvar Bangladesh, I was excited at the prospect of listening to a man who is one of a kind. I had heard of Prof Muhammad Yunus many years ago and had once met him at the Dhaka Airport Business Class Lounge where we had an interesting conversation about the quality of leadership in Bangladesh. Professor Yunus is a Nobel Lauriat for introducing Micro Credit to the world. After its amazing success in Bangladesh, it has been adopted in many countries around the world including the United States of America.

I was also intrigued to know that NASA astronaut Ron Garan will be the key-note speaker. While getting an opportunity to listen to an astronaut was interesting, I never knew the significance of Ron Garan’s presence, his relationship with Professor Yunus who also invented the concept of Social Business that also spread around the world in the same manner micro credit spread.

It was amazing to discover that Ron Garan took Muhammad Yunus’s book; ‘Creating a World without Poverty’ with him during his 5 1/2 month in space. The book therefore travelled 65,340,224 miles in 2,624 orbits during 164 days in space together with Ron. Ron Also took with him the Bangladesh national flag to honour the motherland of Professor Yunus.

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