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Purposeful Goods

Curated by Teresa Albor

Social enterprises are businesses with a social or environmental purpose that prioritize transformative social impact-- entrepreneurship with a mission to change society.  Socially engaged practice can involve social enterprise and a social enterprise can be considered process-based, socially engaged art.

Bangladesh has played a revolutionary role in social enterprise. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, new ways of working collectively emerged including more socially viable and sustainable business strategies and organizational forms. Two internationally known examples are BRAC, the largest collaborative network of social business in the world, and the Grameen Bank, which paved the way for decades of micro credit initiatives.  

Purposeful Goods featured social enterprises, collectives and not-for-profit groups associated with DAS 2023, their stories and their products, most of which were for sale along with our book sellers (who operate with low/no margins).  100% of all purchases go directly to the groups represented.

We are grateful to the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange for their in-kind support.


The impetus behind creating AFIELD (founded 2014) was the fundamental belief that artists are essential to the fabric of society, as thinkers, visionaries and changemakers.  Despite changing the world in profound ways, there is not a support structure or advocacy platform for this kind of work. By providing resources and support, AFIELD supports them to lead transformational change in their communities and society as a whole.

AFIELD was initially conceived as a fellowship for social initiatives for arts and culture. It is now a transnational network of practitioners from the creative, literary, scientific, academic and legal fields from 28 different countries. Every year, AFIELD provides resources to artists in the form of discussions, mutual aid, incubation and community building, to help members deepen and strengthen their work in their particular contexts. 

As a nonprofit organization AFIELD receives grants and donations from individuals and international foundations, starting with a pluri-annual grant of a private foundation and now expanding, thanks to a group of engaged collectors and philanthropists who support the program on an annual basis. AFIELD wouldn’t exist without the volunteer work of many members and advisors involved at different levels of the project. Resources are used to give fellowships to artists-led initiatives, to increase the visibility of their projects, to create educational programs in the form of events and workshops (online and irl).  

Every challenge is greeted as an invitation to align practices within AFIELD with their ethics: they are currently exploring horizontality in the decision making in their network, specifically regarding distribution of funds and programming, trying to find the right balance between consensus and efficiency, to advance projects and represent the voices of their communities. 

Finding a shared language to communicate and fostering cross-cultural understanding is critical to their work, as members are located all over the world. Out of practicality, AFIELD defaults to English as the lingua franca. This perpetuates the hegemony of the English language in arts practice. For this reason, it’s a necessity to develop common language groups, so people within the AFIELD network can meet and organize in ways relevant to their cultural and language contexts. 

AFIELD would also like to explore more opportunities for in-person gatherings.  There’s a consistent schedule of online meetings (called “Kitchen Calls”) for their network, one-on-one calls, study opportunities, and regular contact by email. After meeting some of their members for the first time at documenta fifteen in 2022, they became aware more physical presence with their community was needed. Their biggest challenge is securing  funding and ensuring accessibility for members of the network.


Artpro (founded 2016) is a group of artists who want to explore various forms of making art to engage a diverse public. Aware of the impact art can have for social good, one of Artpro’s first initiatives was to mobilize artists to help marginalized segments of Dhaka’s society through workshops and art projects hosted within their local communities.

Keen to expand the impact of their work outside of Dhaka, in mid-2017, the group began conducting Weekend Art Works, a series of daylong public art projects which takes a group of selected contemporary artists to work within a rural village community outside of Dhaka for one day.

The group continues to organize public knowledge-sharing workshops; these have included ceramics, image manipulation, performance art, and video art. The group also organizes festivals. Each year since 2017 they’ve hosted the Artpro Winter Performance Festival (AWPF) and, starting in 2019, the Artpro International Video Art Festival.

Artpro does not focus on selling products made by communities, instead, they showcase the work when there is an opportunity to do so.  This gives the people who have made the work a bit of cash and validation. In most cases Artpro splits the proceeds with the maker, using their share to cover their own costs for materials and running workshops. Sales are modest, what is more important to Artpro is the process.


FRIENDSHIP (founded 2002) began working with vulnerable communities in the most hard-to-reach, climate impacted areas (chars – riverine islands) of northern Bangladesh providing healthcare services via a floating hospital. It soon became clear that to make a lasting impact on people’s lives a holistic approach was needed to address other issues including education, human rights, and poverty.

Among other initiatives, handicraft training as a response to the lack of economic opportunities soon followed. Establishing prefabricated training centers locally, women are taught traditional handloom weaving techniques, dyeing - using natural ingredients, and hand embroidery.  Because the chars where they live are highly vulnerable to sudden and forceful flooding as well as erosion the centers can be moved in two days, reconstructed, and up and running in a new location in a month. 

Although the primary goal was and is to provide skills through which women develop their own social identities, enabling them to stand for their rights, it soon became clear the beautiful eco-friendly products made by the communities had real market potential.  Following some small corporate orders, FRIENDSHIP moved beyond simply providing training, and established a brand, FRIENDSHIP Colours of the Chars. Women are paid by the piece, giving them total flexibility;  FRIENDSHIP sets the retail price, using any profits to provide further services.  There are many challenges and costs, the training and production centers are remote, making it difficult to get raw materials in and finished products out. But unlike a commercial enterprise, a social enterprise does not aim to maximize profits… more important are its social goals.  

In 2019, FRIENDSHIP opened its first retail outlet in Dhaka.  Today there are two in Dhaka and a shop in Luxembourg, run under separate management, partly staffed by volunteers. 350 women work on a regular basis and over 1700 have been trained.  There are eight rural production centers, and in Dhaka, a separate management team including specialists in sales and marketing, production, design, accounts and so on. Annual fashion shows draw large crowds.  Having their own ‘bricks and mortar’ outlets provides a steady revenue flow and steady work for producers, which means they maintain their manual dexterity.   FRIENDSHIP is committed to ethical practice and fair trade, fair wages, and creating healthy and women-friendly working environments, ethical sourcing of raw material, and overall responsible product offerings.

JAAGO Foundation 

JAGGO Foundation (founded 2007) is committed to eliminating poverty and social inequality through providing free, quality education to underprivileged children. Influenced by the new development paradigm, which puts people before things, JAAGO Foundation follows a participatory approach in every sphere of its work. For example, volunteer and youth groups are established to empower young people and others living in the communities where they work. Besides education, JAAGO also runs climate change, governance and women’s projects.

Starting with 17 students and a chalkboard; today 4500 children are in education and 50,000 youth leaders operate in 64 districts of Bangladesh. JAAGO’s innovative Digital Schooling Program, brings quality education to remote areas and others with access challenges. Its alternative learning opportunities project reflects the special needs of  children and adolescents. JAAGO also provides nutrition, hygiene and health programs for their students, families and the wider community. 

The products on sale as part of Purposeful Goods were made specifically for the Dhaka Art Summit by JAAGO students. Taking every possible opportunity to empower the children and young people they work with, JAAGO also worked with curator Sean Anderson as contributors to ‘To Enter the Sky’, another DAS 2023 show.


Jothashilpa (founded 2016) is a center for traditional and contemporary arts, which considers itself a melting pot where fine art, folk art, native art, and crafts are juxtaposed and create a new art language. The group questions the notion of ‘high art’ and believes art is an integral part of society which emerges from everyday art.  They work with cinema banner painters, weavers, and ceramicists among others, and their priorities include fair trade, women’s empowerment, and community development.

The concept of social enterprise is central to their vision. It was not easy at first.  The team had no business experience and without any investment planning they spent over a million taka in six months and had no products or sales. They had the mistaken idea that if they could somehow work with artisans to produce products someone would buy them.  They now say that having a marketing strategy is critically important along with the reality of understanding operational basics.

Working with and supporting over five hundred artists, artisans, and craftspeople from across Bangladesh, the group makes sure their collaborators are paid fairly and acknowledged for their work. They maintain a showroom and small shop where work made by collaborating artists can be purchased, as well as an online shop.

They believe that every artist produces something that is a product, and can be sold, whether it’s an expensive painting or a notebook.  They believe that we are all just doing our work as producers and they have no problem leaning into the reality of the capitalist world if it means continuing traditions. Jothashilpa wants to be a bridge between the contemporary and traditional, urban and rural, grassroots and elite and the processes of creating and selling. They believe one can be an artist and an entrepreneur.


Re/DRESS (founded 2021) is a response to the fact that less than 1% of the world’s textile waste is recycled into new clothing. It’s an environmental non-profit disguised as a responsible fashion brand. It has three goals: to promote cotton recycling in Bangladesh, to make sure textiles made from a high percentage of recycled fibers are readily available at factories for buyers, and to promote responsible fashion to the Bangladeshi consumer.

The first task was to work with factories to develop lightweight textiles made of 100% recycled fiber.  This led to developing a clothing collection made from these textiles.  The clothes are retailed in both Dhaka and London and all profits support responsible fashion.  In collaboration with Reverse Resources the project tracks and makes information available about cotton recycling in Bangladesh. Since the project started there’s been considerable investment in this industry, and Bangladesh is poised to become a global hub for cotton recycling.

Along the way, Re/DRESS has faced many challenges: how to make a robust new textile from recycled fiber, working within the limited availability of very busy research/development departments of factories and having an all-volunteer staff. In addition, Re/DRESS’s commitment to making technical successes (i.e., the ‘formula’ for new responsible textiles) freely accessible goes against the competitive nature of the textile/garment industry.  This is further complicated since, on the other hand, Re/DRESS needs to protect its designs and brand to have impact.  Re/DRESS has been able to take advantage of opportunities, especially the access to and the generosity and willingness of factories who participate in the project.

Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre and Artolution 

In the world’s biggest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a cultural renaissance is in swing. Fighting back against the brutal violence and attempted cultural genocide inflicted on their people, who were forced to flee their homes in Myanmar, this renaissance is led by Rohingya artists, storytellers, musicians and artisans who create healing, hope and community, reviving tradition through art.


The Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre (RCMC) and Artolution are at the movement’s forefront.  A project of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the RCMC is a community center, artist workshop, and safe space for cultural expression. Located in the heart of the Kutupalong-Balukhali megacamp, it is home to a collection of cultural artifacts made by Rohingya artists and craftspeople, including embroidered tapestries, model boats and houses, farming and fishing tools, recordings of folk songs, folk tales and proverbs, themed gardens, and more... Telling their stories in their own words and making these objects promotes positive cultural identity, challenges stereotypes, and reconnects Rohingya men, women and children to their ancestral language, land and traditions.


A natural next step would be for the center to evolve into a social enterprise project, connecting skilled artisans to livelihood and market opportunities making them less dependent on humanitarian aid. However, despite initial hopes that refugee-made products could be sold on a small scale, this is now on hold: the Government of Bangladesh has not approved social enterprise projects for the Rohingya, and IOM policies prohibit staff from engaging in ‘business transactions’. Moving forward will require policy shifts at governmental and organizational levels.

Also on display are works by Rohingya artists who have participated in community-based art programmes run in the camps by Artolution, a global organization that, in partnership with UNHCR, strengthens communities experiencing crisis through collaborative art-making. Although not a social enterprise, the RCMC team wanted to share the platform of Purposeful Goods with these artists, a good example of working collaboratively vs. competitively, a feature of social enterprise initiatives. 

More work by Rohingya artisans is on display in two other shows here at DAS 2023: ‘Very Small Feelings’ and ‘To Enter the Sky’.

Stools and mats 

This is the newest project participating in Purposeful Goods… so new, in fact, it is yet to have a name.  This is the first time these products are available for purchase, and in part, their existence is the result of ‘To Enter the Sky’, another DAS 2023 show, which, amongst other considerations, looks at how architecture navigates notions of community.  Architect Rizvi Hassan, whose practice explores the role of design professionals in unconventional fields, responded to the provocation of curator Sean Anderson, by seeking out artisans whilst in the field with the Institute of Architects on a flood response project in Sylhet and in Chittagong for a private client.  He was intrigued by the process, planning and vision of the women who weave mats– from harvesting the inputs, to planning the design through to execution. 

He is currently working with less than ten artisans. The intention is to continue to explore how this work can be framed as an art form. Watch this space! 


TransEnd (founded 2019) aims to support the marginalized and underrepresented hijra, non-binary, gender queer, transgender and intersex community in Bangladesh.  Besides their focus on social and economic empowerment through skills development, they aim to sensitize society, providing visibility with the ultimate goal of achieving broader acceptance of these communities. 

TransEnd did not initially consider setting up a social enterprise. However, with economic empowerment as a goal it seemed an obvious option; secondly, as a small group with a young leader it was easier to set up a social-enterprise than register as a foundation or society. 

To date they’ve provided life skills such as cycling, basic computer, English Language, communication, leadership, and digital literacy skills. They’ve helped people find work as paid models, and with Pathao, FoodPanda, ChalDal, and Hyundai. Their public awareness campaigns are innovative using comic strips and animation.  

It is TransEnd's handicrafts project that is at the center of their social enterprise work.  Making things and preferring more open-ended livelihood schemes (vs. having 9-5 jobs) appeals to many in these communities.  In 2020, the first 40 tie-dyed T-shirts which were produced were featured on instagram and Facebook and sold out in five days. Profits went to a person who wanted to start poultry farming. The group immediately produced 200 more T shirts, only to discover that scaling up was challenging– sales, for some reason, slowed down.  

Most of TransEnd’s products are upcycled, eco-friendly and sustainable: macrame bags, beaded jewelry, tote bags, tie-dye, scented candles, and handmade soap and are featured on TransEnd’s social media and e-commerce platform.  Customers can pay cash on delivery or through Bkash. They also showcase work at different craft fairs– but stall fees are going up and TransEnd is determined to pay fair prices to their makers. Without an office, and no regular core funding, everything operates on a temporal basis.   

One of the things TransEnd has learned is the value of a unique selling point.  In their case it is their transparency about how they use their profits to uplift the communities they work with.

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