About 20 lakh people are involved in micro-merchant retail trade in Bangladesh, transacting more than $18.42 billion a year, according to a United Nations study.
The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the UN's capital investment agency for the world's 48 least developed countries, and Dnet, a social enterprise based in Dhaka, published the study report at a programme at the Westin Dhaka hotel yesterday.
They also launched a web portal, www.microentrepreneursasia.com, where anyone can find data about the country's micro-entrepreneurs who conduct most of their business activities in the form of low-value transactions.
The UN body undertook the first-ever comprehensive study on retail micro-merchants landscape of Bangladesh this year. It found the retail micro-merchant sector offers great opportunities for innovation such as introduction of digital payments to retail micro-merchants and digitalisation of whole supply chains. Md Ashadul Islam, secretary of the financial institutions division under the finance ministry, inaugurated the web portal. He said the portal would act as an enabler of rural development through micro-entrepreneurs.
“This is a big step forward to better understand the landscape of our micro-merchants and entrepreneurs which will enable policymakers and financial service providers to design policies and targeted products in an effective manner,” Islam said.
The secretary also said the government is prioritising the inclusion of micro-merchants and other micro, small and medium enterprises in the formal sector to accelerate sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
He said the government is continuously recognising the potential of using digital technologies and digitalisation across economic sectors, including retail shops.
Manfred Fernholz, first secretary of the European Union delegation to Bangladesh, said the country has successfully improved its socio-economic status emerging as a middle-income country.
“Going forward, special attention is required for women empowerment in the micro-merchants sector because less than 10 percent of the shops are managed by women.”
Fernholz said, right now the UNCDF is trying to reach out to 100,000 micro-merchants and gradually it has to expand its coverage to the whole segment.
“It's high time we extended supports to enable micro-merchants to incorporate wider range of digital financial services in their business operations.”
Md Arfan Ali, president and managing director of Bank Asia Ltd, said there are about 13 lakh micro-entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. But banks have failed to serve them.
“To give a boost to the economy we need to collaborate with each other -- among the government agencies, mobile phone operators, financial service providers and development partners -- to make sure digital financial services are accessible by everyone, irrespective of status.”
Md Nazim Uddin, an executive director of the Bangladesh Bank; Sirajul Hossain, chief executive officer of Dnet, and Rajeev Kumar Gupta, programme manager of the Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations programme of the UNCDF, also spoke.