Jhorna Islam had never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. However, when her husband, the sole earner of the four-member family, suffered from heart disease 10 years ago, her small embroidery work at home was not enough to cover the family bills.
So, Jhorna, 45, of Dattapara in Tongi, took a Tk 5,000 loan from Brac Microfinance, bought a sewing machine and began making garment products for sale. As she started making a small profit, she increased the loan amounts.
Over the years, through diligence, she set up a shop -- Jhorna Fabrics -- and its annual turnover is Tk 45 lakh now. She also employs 16 workers at her shop.
With the profit, she not only manages the family, but also supports education of 10 underprivileged children in her neighbourhood.
“I want to help women living in vulnerable situations so that their children are not deprived of education,” Jhorna told The Daily Star yesterday.
She had a special audience too.
Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, who is UN secretary-general’s special advocate for inclusive finance for development, excitedly listened to Jhorna’s story at her residence. The queen had visited the place four years back.
“I am very happy,” Queen Máxima was heard telling Jhorna about the notable changes she has made over the years.
Máxima arrived in Dhaka on July 9 on a four-day visit to promote financial inclusion and digital financial services in Bangladesh. This is her second visit to Bangladesh. She visited the country back in 2015.
Before visiting Jhorna, she also visited Zinardi Union Parishad’s Digital Service Centre, established under the Access to Information (a2i) project of UNDP, at Palash upazila in Narsingdi yesterday. Máxima spoke to government and private service providers and beneficiaries.
Apart from providing digital services such as birth registration and applying for passports, the centre has a platform for the private sector to provide services like money transfer, mobile banking, delivering of government pension or safety-net services like stipend for students.
Queen Máxima was elated to hear the stories of progress in financial inclusion.
“Financial inclusion has increased from 31 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2017 and so this is actually very exciting,” she told reporters. This has primarily happened through mobile financial services, so basic technology has played a very important role, she added.
Citing example of an old man, she said he used to get pension from the government but had to walk miles. Also, a woman had to spend 13 percent of the government stipend for transport and other necessary reasons before the digital payment system was introduced. Now both can avail the services in the neighbourhood.
While the queen lauded increase in financial inclusion, she said there is a huge gender gap. Sixty-five percent of Bangladeshi men have accounts, while the number is 36 percent for women. Gender gap in financial access grew a staggering 20 percent from 2014 to 2017, she said.
“This is because not all the ladies have mobile phones,” Máxima said, adding that digital inclusion of both men and women, therefore, is extremely important.
Financial and digital inclusion of all is vital for livelihood, income as well as for investments -- that contribute to the reduction in poverty and inequalities, she said.
The Dutch queen also held meetings with the representatives of Grameen Phone, bKash, Brac Bank, Bank Asia, Surecash, D Money, Shop Up, IFDC, Bangladesh Bank and development partners like DFID, IFC, Swiss Embassy, World Bank, UNCDF, Nathan Associates, USAID, IMF, GIZ, Swisscontact and Helvetas at the UN office in the city yesterday.
She also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the parliament.