Pebble Toys - The Young Ones

Pebble may seem swan like on the surface but underneath it is an is an extraordinarily complicated organisation. It employs 12,000 women across rural Bangladesh and makes a range of over 400 toys.

The Head Office is in Dhaka which given the lack of infrastructure (trust us the roads are abysmal!) means that power has to be devolved to the rural centres and this is where Pebble’s supervisors come in.

Each rural centre has about 50 – 100 women producers. Head Office sends the supervisor of the centre an order containing all the cotton and stuffing needed to crochet the toys and an indication of when the toys need to be finished by. This varies immensely by order as the octopus rattle is long established and can be crocheted very quickly by most of the women while some of the newer toys like the insect toys take a lot more time.

From that point it is up to the Supervisor to manage the order. Not all the women in her centre will be able to work that week/fortnight, some will be slower than others but the supervisor needs to ensure that the work is allocated in a way that the order is finished in a timely manner. A black and white octopus rattle can take someone one and half hour to make (very experienced!) or it take take someone three hours to make.  People management is key to the role.

However its not just management skills which are needed. The Supervisor needs to manage the allocation of raw materials to the right ladies, for example Humpty Dumpty has several different coloured yarns of varying amounts that need to be issued, they check that each toy is made to an acceptable standard, log who has made what so that the ladies get paid correctly and finally manage the shipment of finished toys. The Supervisor is the conduit between the producers and Head Office, if she gets it wrong then the Head Office may get the wrong toys or the ladies not get the right pay. and ultimately we at Best Years Limited might not get the right stock we ordered.

So Supervisors are key to the success of Pebble production, but how do you get such a responsible job?

In order to become a supervisor, you have to sit 2 tests, one for reading and writing and the other basic bookkeeping skills.
And once you have passed these tests you have to be elected by the women of the centre. It is important that the women like the supervisor as they are key to the success of each rural centre. This is why the women elect their own supervisor rather than having one imposed on them by Head Office.

So what's surprising about the supervisors when you meet them is how young they are!

The supervisors we met on our latest trip were a lot younger than you would think given the responsibilities of the job, with a couple being just 20 years old. If you think that they will be managing 100 women with ages stretching up to 60 years old its really impressive that someone so young could inspire the confidence to be elected as supervisor.

Bright, opinionated, funny and capable they set the tone for each of the production groups we met.

Diffident or confident, married or single, their character influenced how the group reacted to our visit and undoubtedly impacted on the productivity of the group.


We are sure that some of the reason that the younger women were elected by their older peers was down to education. In just 30 years the literacy rate of women in Bangladesh has soared from 30% to 70% and literacy rates in the 15 – 24 year old group are over 90% so it is very likely that the younger women are more confident in the tests and this confidence spills over in to the way they interact with the other producers.

However what's so great to see was the confidence the older women had in their young companions. Bangladesh is going places, there is an optimism about the country which is really heartening and some of this is reflected in the trust that the older generation have in their young people. These young women were elected supervisors by their peers because they trust them to manage the business and look after their best interests.

However they did fail in just one way. Despite their best efforts they were still not able to teach us how to take selfies!


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