Cover Story

The role of privilege in successful entrepreneurship

Illustration: Wardha Moriam

From Nike's "Just Do It" to Samsung's "Do what you can't", capitalism has constantly told us we are the masters of our destiny in a free market. Whatever we set our minds on will surely work out, and if it doesn't, we just didn't try hard enough. Or, as Kim Kardashian infamously said, "Nobody wants to work anymore."

Privilege and its consequent perks for some people's careers were rarely talked about until the past few years. Although the discussion is more commonly seen involving pop culture and entertainment industries across the globe (think of Lily-Rose Depp, the KarJenner family or prominent Bollywood dynasties), the concept of privilege is very prevalent in the world of business as well.

It seems only logical to assume that studying at the right college, knowing the right people or having the right bank balance from the get-go will tip the scales in favour of some entrepreneurs over others.

To better understand how the Bangladeshi entrepreneurship scene in particular is swayed by privilege or lack thereof, we interviewed some successful Bangladeshi entrepreneurs from different industries and saw the business sector from their point of view.

One of the first lotteries of luck that we are played in life is the family we are born into. Afjer Porshia, founder and owner of the clothing brand Nazakat, got the longer end of the stick in this regard as her father is the owner of a successful clothing store. Being allowed into the backstage of the world of apparel business through her father inspired her to go into business as well.

infograph about silver spoon billioniares
Design: Aaqib Hasib

For Shabnam Nida Wazed, on the other hand, her familial background had little to do with her current position in the sphere of entrepreneurship. Wazed is the founder and CEO of AGAM International, a UK-based FinTech company operating in Bangladesh to eradicate financial inequity in the country's current banking system. Her work has earned her several international accolades, including the Joint Winner position at the Global Fintech Competition 2021.

"It was a fairly normal upbringing; I had supportive but strict parents and they encouraged me to pursue my ambitions. Nothing was forced upon. No one from my family was big in the business scene either," she says.

What came to Wazed's aid is her stellar education and working experience. Having achieved good grades throughout school, she went to England to pursue her LLB from Bristol Law School at the University of the West of England, Bristol, with a full free scholarship from Lord Templeman.

Upon completion of her second master's in Emerging Economics from King's College London, she joined a UK-India financial services firm Geosansar, and quickly became the Country Head of Bangladesh. Soon after, her own company, AGAM International, was born. Today her company's board includes her mentors from King's as well as Geosansar.

What Wazed implies about her connections, though, is that they are a byproduct of her work ethic and networking abilities, not opportunities that fell into her lap without trying. As for the career and financial risks she took for her business, Wazed was aware of the danger but not discouraged.

This leap of faith is harder to take for someone who has a family that depends on them or debts they need to resolve. Mohammad Raiyan Tamzid, founder and owner of a popular restaurant, Callisto in Rajshahi, says, "During Covid-19, I used my first three month's profit to pay my employees for 6 months. I could only do that because I did not need to depend on that profit to take care of my family as I started this business out of passion, not need."

Even banks won't lend money to someone for business if you do not have a certain amount to begin with. Tamzid says, "One of the major problems I faced while trying to make my business work is capital. I did not have enough capital to begin with. Banks are also reluctant to give out loans to anyone who does not have any assets or money to their name." 

The financial risk associated with business is therefore exactly what stops people who are in a more financially vulnerable position to go after their dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

Going back to Afjer Porshia, the owner of Nazakat, she says, "Whoever wants to be on this platform to do business must tend to take any kind of risks, as anything can happen at any time. Also, there must be a financial backup."

When you hear about Saria Saguaro Bibi, a journalist/advertisement agency executive who went to Le Cordon Bleu London and became a bakery shop owner in a location like Gulshan, the first thing that comes to mind is she must've had enough privilege to be able to pull that off.

In reality, she had to quit her A-levels because it suddenly became too expensive for her. In a matter of weeks, her life changed completely as she took on multiple jobs to make ends meet while her friends went about pursuing university degrees. Later down the line, she got into ULAB and could only do that because they were offering 40% off for older students at that time.

Thankfully, after her graduation, she got a job, saved up and had friends and family help chip in when it came to going abroad to study and also later when she bought her first studio. The financial risks Saria took to make her dream a reality were not small in any way. But Saria is a firm believer of "The only thing you need to fear in life is the fact that you can do anything and be anyone you want".

Privilege does not always come in the form of being born into a rich family or having an inheritance to lean on for capital. It can be anything from having an expensive degree, having a family business that allowed you to learn how this world works, having a safety net that allows you to take a leap of faith, having a presence in social media that allows you to have loyal followers and exposure, having friends who believe in you and are happy to help you in need, or even not having to take anyone's responsibility but yours.

When you recognise privilege and its many forms, it becomes easier to understand that despite the hard work that any successful individual puts into their craft, a lot still depends on luck!


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