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Building inclusive markets in rural Bangladesh

Much effort goes into building markets as a tool for economics and social development. However, those pursuing or promoting market building often overlook those in social exclusion and poverty prevent, mainly women, which affects them from participating and accessing markets. In our research, we gathered data from rural Bangladesh, and analysed work of a prominent intermediary organisation, and found institutional voids as the source of market exclusion.

In an effort to help and break conventions, we identified two sets of activities – redefining market architecture and legitimating new actors – as critical components for building gender inclusive markets. The best way to achieve these two sets of activities is by promoting intermediaries.

Research Summary

What are institutional voids? Researchers and policy makers have long argued that markets are engines for economic growth and that market-based activities constitute an important tool for social progress, economics empowerment, and human development. Our research exposes these voids as analytical spaces, and demonstrates how they result from conflict and contradiction among political, community, and religious spheres. Social conventions, customs and religious beliefs help determine the rules of the game, which play into the economic game and therefore support market activity.

Markets system of economic exchange, spaces for social interaction as well as complex bundles of institutions; they are constructs, rather than ‘natural’ or spontaneous entities. When markets are weak, this is normally because of reinforced social inequalities and constraints in market activities. The patriarchal system in rural Bangladesh reinforces norms that confer control of women’s property, income, and labour.

We focused our research on the case of Bangladesh and the work on BRAC (Building Resources Across Communities), who is a prominent local intermediary agency. Our analyses of the varied work of BRAC over several decades suggest that market access and participation are negotiable and market boundaries are potentially permeable for actors who have been excluded. However, we do not intend to claim that our finds represent the only way in which inclusive markets might be built. Our intention was to illustrate how exclusion from market activities can be traced back to institutional voids and to surface the microprocesses involved in building inclusive markets by examining the activities and role of an intermediary.

Read the published article

Read the research article in Academy of Management Journal (AMJ). “Building inclusive markets in rural Bangladesh: How intermediaries work Institutional voids.” Academy of Management Journal, 2012, Vol. 55, No. 4 819-850.