Women entrepreneurs set success in motion
In a mere decade and a half, the story of the strained women entrepreneur, crafting household and boutique items from the corner of her home, has morphed into a success in Bangladesh.
Thanks to a few visionary steps by a handful of organisations, institutions and individuals, things have changed for the better and Bangladesh has become a home to thousands of women running business outside the confines of homes.
MIDAS Financing Ltd is one of the few institutions that has come forward and helped create enterprises owned by women.
The non-bank financial institution has not ignored credit to a person who single-handedly brought together scattered women entrepreneurs.
Shafique-ul-Azam, managing director of MIDAS Financing, said Mini Mart, a chain shop set up and run by women entrepreneurs, was the brainchild of Rokia Afzal Rahman, chairman of MIDAS Financing and one of the country's most successful women entrepreneurs.
"She came up with the idea of setting up a chain shop so that women could display and sell their products easily and get better prices," Azam said.
In the early 1990s, women in the city did not have showrooms to display the merchandise they made. They could only supply their items to markets, such as New Market, Chandni Chawk and Gausia.
The first Mini Mart was set up in Dhanmondi in Dhaka in 1996, in a rented building. MIDAS financed 18 women who supplied their products to the chain store.
"Initially, we helped them in quality control and management. Later, we handed over full control. Now they run their businesses on their own," Azam said.
Every producer in the chain shop has a unique code, which helps each entrepreneur to get information about sales.
Thanks to the initial success of the initiative, more branches were later set up in Gulshan, Bailey Road and the biggest one in Chittagong. The fifth branch is being set up in Uttara. MIDAS also plans to set up another in Jessore.
Azam said the entrepreneurs who started with Mini Mart have emerged as successful entrepreneurs in the country.
Roushan Ara Mahmud, who has been involved with Mini Mart since inception, said there were hardly any women entrepreneurs in the country 15 years ago. She holds a degree in political science from Dhaka University.
“The activities of women working on handicrafts were confined to their homes. Relatives and acquaintances were their main buyers.”
She said scope for doing business was limited and most ran after jobs.
In 1996, Roushan came to know about a meeting called 'Wed Meeting' that was held on one Wednesday of a month. MIDAS and Rokia Rahman organised the meeting to bring together women entrepreneurs, to help them exchange views and ideas.
“That was when entrepreneurs urged Rokia Apa to help them open a shop, where they would be able to sell their products. The Wed Meeting gave birth to the idea of Mini Mart,” she told The Daily Star.
Roushan Ara, who now supplies home-made food stuffs to major department stores in Dhaka, said they initially faced an uphill climb in making Mini Mart a success.
“Financing was a problem due to the unavailability and high rate of interest for credit. Without MIDAS, we would not have been able to come as far as we have. Getting a place to set up the store was the biggest challenge, as owners did not want us to use their buildings for long.”
She thanked MIDAS and Rokia Rahman for walking the extra, creating women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and inspiring thousands others to do the same.