Ujjwala started by encouraging would-be women entrepreneurs and providing them with the tools and skills for their entrepreneurial journey, especially in the service sector of Bangladesh.
The economy of Bangladesh is undergoing tremendous growth; the increase in per capita income of the consumers creates opportunities for several sectors to flourish. At the same time, for the economy to sustain its momentum, it is essential to maintain gender parity.
Ujjawala has identified a few sectors that they believe will perform much better with the growth of the GDP, including Beauty and Grooming, Hospitality, Retail, and Health Care. Currently, they are providing women with encouraging opportunities to excel and to prove their entrepreneurial skills in these sectors. This, in a nutshell, is the concept behind Ujjwala.
Initial introductions aside, talking to Afroza Parveen, Co-founder and Managing Director of Ujjwala, showed a glimpse of the dedication behind the hard work that Ujjwala is doing.
“When we started Ujjwala, developing the Beauty Industry was our first thought. Even though the government and the respective NGO-s are working on their own, they unfortunately lose momentum after a phase. Ultimately, those who need assistance, the true underprivileged, they do not receive anything,” says Afroza as she mentions the beginning before starting Ujjwala.
“On paper, the 10-25 girls per batch and their training sessions look as good as anything, the true scenario is vastly different. I personally can vouch for the fact that even the certificate they receive needs payment. The sad reality is even the people who are providing the training are not ready,” she adds further.
Considering these various concerns, Parveen wanted to see if there was anyone who would start on their own, who would help those who truly needed it. “Ultimately, I felt the responsibility is mine. The Beauty Industry is where I work in, I introduce myself as a beauty artist, an entrepreneur and I run my own business. I felt it was my obligation to the people, the women who could do something so much better if I can help them.”
Parveen mentions her work with the government SME-s in the last five years. As she worked in the district level, she felt the lack of follow up-s were definite shortcomings, but she also identified potential sections that needed improvement. These helped her in establishing the ground work for Ujjwala.
Of course, this was not done just within mere months. It took two years of constant work, including surveying over 100 parlours and analysing their demands. The factor that kept coming back was Women Empowerment, which would trigger phenomenal growth.
Parveen talks about the creative, outgoing and knowledgeable women who can do the necessary work in a parlour, but just aren't able to do so. These women, she mentions, didn't know who to go to, or how to deal with the eventual happening. Some even went up to opening a parlour with very little thought.
“I have so, so many stories,” she said as she started talking about the girls and women they are working with. “I have known a girl who was married off right before her SSC, and was deserted by her husband after having a child she was left by the husband. Her struggles are countless as she is pursuing higher studies now. She is currently with her father. Even medical expenses are a burden for her. For an individual who is stuck in a situation like this, she needs a comfort zone where she can work with safety and security. Ujjwala is that place for her.”
As for progress, she mentions that Ujjwala in the last seven months has reached over 850 girls. Ujjwala not only provides training and secure dormitories, but mental support as well. What sets them apart even further is their approach in understanding the individual. Every person that comes to them has a specific need. Some need the training, some need advice, and others just need the right guidance to work better. Ujjwala welcomes all and works for all. The training sessions as well as other workshops are most often conducted by industry and business heads and CEO-s as well as university professors— to deliver good quality content to the attendees.
Parveen added that Ujjwala has great strengths that can only be fully visualised with empowering women. She expects that more highly educated women will enter the Beauty Industry to move it further. Just as every other industry and business segment receives the spotlight, the service-based Beauty Industry too will share the same platform.
As for future plans, Ujjwala is looking to spearhead the progress and growth of the Beauty Industry in Bangladesh. Their district level mobile training centres would become permanent and be run by the representatives or Ujjwala Sarothis. Ujjwala also plans to market local, superior quality salon products to be used by all. Just as Bangladesh now looks to the outside world and depends on imported beauty products, Afroza Parveen is a believer that the scenario will be reversed very soon.
With high optimism and a single-minded focus of growing with all who are involved, Ujjwala is out to make that much needed difference in helping women grow on their own terms.
Photo courtesy: Ujjwala
For more on Ujjwala's vision and plans, visit http://www.ujjwala.co
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