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.