Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Women have a responsibility to both their family and their business. Find the balance" - Ayesha Edib Khanom

In February 2003, Ayesha Edib Khanom’s life changed forever. Her husband, who served as a Major in Bangladesh Army suffered from a massive heart attack and subsequently retired from his service in mid-2004. Ayesha was a loving wife and mother to two young girls at the time, who was then left with the daunting task of finding work to produce an income for her family. This is her story. 

Although Ayesha came from a well educated family, she had spent the last 17 years as a dedicated housewife and had very little knowledge of business outside the home. For many women in this position, the thought of becoming an entrepreneur would seem impossible, but for Ayesha, it was her only option of ensuring a good life for her and her family. When asked whether Ayesha was apprehensive about starting her own business, she recalled the overwhelming fear of what would happen to her family if she didn’t and explained that people will do extraordinary things when faced with limited opportunities. 

Ayesha was very resourceful when starting her first business. She used the contacts she made as an army wife, found a gap in the industry, and became a general supplier to the Bangladesh Army. Her first business came out of necessity to provide for her family. However, once she got a taste of life as an entrepreneur, she never looked back. In 2012, Ayesha started Unique Catering Service and the following year, moved into both the construction and garment export business. 

Becoming a female entrepreneur in Bangladesh is not an easy task. Not only do women have to succeed in the business world and set the precedent for future businesswomen, but also ensure their family life does not suffer the consequence. Ayesha believes that the challenge for many working women is finding that right balance between her family and business. She noted that women should be willing to treat their business as having a second family and be willing to devote an equal amount of care and attention. 

Ayesha had great insight into the differences on the social and economic situation between women in rural and urban settings, explaining that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all business model for women across the country. She went on to identify possible strategic plans to advance both the urban and rural entrepreneur, believing that women running businesses in urban settings require higher education and proper training in technology, in order to advance their SMEs into larger international companies. As for female entrepreneurs in rural areas, Ayesha emphasized a need to develop not only the economic situation, but also improve the social mindset of women by helping them understand their rights. As well as include training that increases women’s confidence and motivation to succeed in business. 

Ayesha is incredibly positive when looking to the future of women in Bangladesh. She understands how important entrepreneurs are to the development of the economy and also appreciates the impact NGOs have had on the country, especially in the rural areas. She went on to say that she believes in the next fifty years, women in Bangladesh will be empowered and there won’t be a difference between a woman in this country compared to the most independent woman anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, she acknowledged the role Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BWCCI) has had in the transformation of women entrepreneurs in the country. She understood that businesswomen in Bangladesh face an array of difficulties on a daily basis and appreciated the support and advice offered by the chamber, as well as the networking opportunities offered to each of the members. 

When asked where Ayesha gained her strength to become an independent successful business woman, she simply replied, “I understand that nothing is given in life – you have to earn it and I have faith that God is with me to go it alone”. What’s remarkable about Ayesha and so many other women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh is that she didn’t allow her misfortune to dictate her life. Rather, she learned from her hardships and used it to completely transform her life. Ayesha is truly an astonishing woman and BWCCI is proud to have her as one of our members.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

There is no denying that the gender gap between men and women has diminished throughout history. We are no longer worlds apart, yet we are still oceans away. Whether it was granted or stolen, women have worked hard for the rights and freedoms they enjoy today. In 2013, women are beginning to see a world with fresh eyes; a world where they can voice an opinion, choose to work, and have a right to vote. It is bittersweet to rejoice in the freedoms we have today, since these are freedoms that should have never been denied in the first place. When looking back on how far we’ve come, don’t forget to look to the future to ensure our struggle will be carried out by generations to come. Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BWCCI) is comprised of over 3000 members who are doing just that. Despite the individual hardships each member has faced on her journey to becoming an entrepreneur in Bangladesh, they have collectively joined together to form the country’s first Chamber of Commerce exclusively working on women’s economic and social empowerment. 

The number of women represented in the labor force is rising around the world. We must now find ways to enhance their skills and talents to ensure a woman’s ability to increase her income and ultimately experience economic independence. BWCCI has been dedicated to providing women entrepreneurs across the country with opportunities to take part in capacity building training workshops, as well as tirelessly working to find ways to reduce the difficulty women entrepreneurs experience in accessing loans. One of BWCCI’s greatest achievements this year was the successful completion of the project “Promoting Women Entrepreneurship in Bangladesh”, which trained over 900 women entrepreneurs across the country in partnership with the Bangladesh Bank and Asian Development Bank. The project initiatives included the implementation of a refinancing scheme,  the attempt to involve financial institutes in the SME sector, a priority to complete women entrepreneurs’ collateral free loan applications, incorporating a Women Dedicated Desk in scheduled banks and PFIs, and reducing interest rates to as little as 10% for women entrepreneurs.  

BWCCI believes that by continuing to mobilize and empower women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, it can mold them into economic agents with the power to change the country.