Washington, DC
September 29, 2022

A Path to Prosperity for Bangladeshi Women Entrepreneurs–By Eroshan Alagaretnam & Dan Holdredge

Moon Das, a lawyer by profession in Bangladesh, had a dream to help hardworking rural women. This led her to start her entrepreneurship journey in 2018 to promote Jamdani, a fine muslin textile. She soon started facing the challenges of operating a business. Her business idea was more of a non-profit initially. She realized that she needed more information about running a business to sustain her endeavor.

The last decade has seen the start and growth of women owned businesses in Bangladesh, like the one started by Moon Das. Yet in as little as 3 years after obtaining their trade license, the country has seen many exits. At WEConnect International, where our mission is to connect women business owners with corporate buyers, we have identified some of the top reasons that keep women entrepreneurs from scaling their businesses. Our recent ecosystem research compares similarly with women entrepreneurs across the globe, Bangladeshi women business owners tend to lack:

  • business networks and connections to large buyers (48%)
  • ability to communicate the value of their products or services (27%)
  • practical experience and hands-on exposure
  • mentors and sponsors
  • Building partnerships to create capacity building opportunities

That is why we partnered with the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) to co-create Corporate Connect, providing women with the tools they need to succeed. North South University further helped design and deliver this capacity building program to specifically enhance women entrepreneurs’ ability to do business in Bangladesh.

In the first year, the program has impacted 228 Women-owned Small and Medium Enterprises (WSMEs) in Bangladesh to enhance their business connectivity and readiness as suppliers and develop their confidence as business leaders. As a cohort they built strong bonds and support system.

The cohorts received training in Business Strategy and Technology, Financial Decision making, Marketing, Total Quality Management and Human Resource Management Practices. The program included practical application, hands-on exposure, expert facilitators, studying real world scenarios and focused immersion approach.

After the training the WSMEs participated in business connection activities with large local buyers. They had the opportunity to apply their newly learned skills and created strong business connections buyers and with each other.

Measuring impact to build upon future capacity building programs

Six months after the capacity building sessions, WEConnect International assessed the program through a survey to determine if participants believed the program to be beneficial to their ability to take their businesses to the next level.

Of the 228 graduates, the business application and impact surveys produced an 83% response rate. The results show that providing opportunities for capacity building in the focus areas of the program to women business owners has a direct impact. Ninety-nine percent of the respondents reported being satisfied or highly satisfied by the program. The business impact attributed to the capacity building by the women owners included:

  • 78% saw an average revenue increase of 41.55%
  • 45.43% attributed this success directly to the knowledge they gained in the Corporate Connect program.
  • 95% reported adopting innovative or upgraded products and services
  • 83% reported an increase in their use of technology
  • 80% reported finding it easier to access funding

To better understand the top skills that were being used relevant to the increase in revenue, the respondents answered:

  • 93% incorporated Digital Marketing and Social Media skills
  • 86% incorporated Financial Practices
  • 83% incorporated Business Strategy skills
  • 76% formalized Human Resource policies

Celebrating beyond the numbers!

While the numbers sound tremendous, the experiences shared by the participants was undeniably heartwarming. The training was eye-opening for Moon Das in many ways. She now has a better understanding of product costs.

Moon Das took to heart the value of packaging and immediately secured new, more attractive packaging. She also wanted to develop ways to promote men’s dresses and ties made of Jamdani. Now, she has designed shirts, ties, and bow ties for men. She has learned about marketing and put her new knowledge to work.

Moon Das expects that her sales revenue will double in 2022, and then double again in 2023, and is now working on her business plan to increase revenue and make Jamdani popular, not only among women but also among men. She feels very positive about the training she received and expressed interest in participating in next-level training programs.

Supporting capacity building partnerships to make an impact

The Corporate Connect program in Bangladesh is only at the mid-way point in a three-year plan. The goal is to train at least 500 more women business owners. Partnerships like this one, can leverage resources and have greater impact.

In the coming years, the role played by partnerships for the capacity building of women business owners in Bangladesh will be crucial. The country has a commitment to empower half the population that has traditionally been neglected in this part of the world. The Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum in 2021 ranked Bangladesh at 65 out of 146 countries, higher than its South Asian counterparts.

Further, the Bangladesh economy is an unexpected economic success story in South Asia, with its GDP expected to grow by 6.9% in 2022 and 7.1% in 2023. An unlimited untapped potential exists for women wanting to chart out their own course and contribute equitably into their communities and economies.

Providing programs that leverage partnerships, like WEConnect International has with its partners We-Fi and North South University, shows what it takes to effectively advance women’s economic empowerment. Learn more about WEConnect International at www.weconnectinternational.org