How Baby Dinosaur Toys Are Spreading Happiness

You may not think that making a baby dinosaur toy was the route to happiness but we can assure you it is for one group of women, because we've seen it!

When we visited Bangladesh and talked to the women who worked for Pebble they were unanimous that working for Pebble Toys, crocheting baby toys was a great job. As old and cynical people we did wonder whether we were talking to a select group of carefully chosen happy people so we wanted to find out exactly why crocheting toys was such a good job.

It became clear as we talked to the ladies that apart from a couple of women who had worked in the garment industry in Dhaka, Pebble Toys was the first chance the women had had at earning money outside their homes.

So why don’t more women have jobs? Its not as if they are not hard working enough!

The issue is that any job has got to work around women’s role in the community. As in most countries it is the women who do the bulk of the home making and child rearing. However, in Bangladesh this is an entirely manual process. There are no washing machines or dryers, no hoovers, there are no combi boilers producing instant hot water and there are definitely no dish washers. Everything is done by hand. This extends to cooking as well. As Samantha puts it dinner preparation usually starts with “First catch your chicken/fish” Maintaining a clean house in this environment takes hard manual labour and it takes time.

Something else which takes time is taking the kids to school. This is normally done on foot because very few women have access to motorised transport. Women do not ride motorcycles or push bikes and private ownership of cars is almost unheard of. Getting kids to school means walking them and until the kids are old enough to walk with friends this takes several hours out of each day.

So against this background the concept of holding a 9-5pm job looks slightly ridiculous. Most women work for Pebble Toys for a couple of hours in the morning, they crochet any thing from an octopus rattle to a humpty dumpty toy depending on the orders that are in. They break to make lunch for their families, and then resume work in the afternoon for another couple of hours. If they want to earn more money they may crochet at home in the evenings but the Pebble working day is normally around 4 hours/day.

The good news is that in these 4 hours a day they normally earn in a month more than a garment factory worker does for their 8-10 hour days. And they are at home so they don’t incur additional costs such as rent.

We met women who worked for Pebble Toys while doing degrees and Masters, others who juggled home, kids and crocheting and most had some form of agricultural work they need to complete every day. All of them were thankful for the opportunity to earn money without having to neglect their homes and families.

But its not only the opportunity to make money which makes Pebble a popular job. It is also very social work. The women sit with their kids and other women and chat while they work. Popular toys such as the octopus rattle and the multi coloured bunny rattle can almost be done blind folded by the ladies now, so Pebble Toys provides work which fits in to their lives and their culture and doesn’t force constraints on people who already have more than enough on their plate.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of job satisfaction with Pebble is that they now employ over 12,000 people yet they have never had to go out to recruit for more workers.

The centres increase purely through word of mouth. As a centre becomes busier one of the women who maybe has to walk 20 minutes to work will start asking in her own village whether there are enough people to create a new centre in the village. If there is enough interest, then they will ask the Pebble supervisors to come and talk to them about opening a new centre. Each centre needs its own supervisor who is elected by the women themselves, but if centres are close enough they can share the other resources such as trainers, and the manager who brings out the raw material and collects the finished toys.

So employment has risen not through recruitment drives and persuasion but through an osmotic increase, interest and employment rippling out from each centre until they in turn are able to set up a new hub.

But lets face it, if you were offered fairly paid and flexible employment within a 15 minute commute of your home what would you think? And if you could take your kids to work and work at hours that suited you? Its not that a job with Pebble Toys is perfect, but it has been conceived and set up to fit in with the community and that’s why it works, and that’s how crocheting can make for so much job satisfaction!

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