Women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are lagging behind their male counterparts because of the obstacles they face in accessing credit and information, and connecting with corporate organisations, experts said at an event on Sunday.
They said despite remarkable progress in female education, women entrepreneurs are limited to the fields of boutiques, garments, beauty parlors and some other selected sectors.
WEConnect, a global chain of women-owned businesses, and the World Bank Group jointly organised "the Corporate Connect 2020 Conference & Business Fair" at a city hotel.
Experts recommended taking proper initiatives to overcome these problems.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said women entrepreneurship has is not been developing in line with the rising growth in female education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Both the government and the common people's perception about women, activities of financial institutions and other public and private agencies have kept them behind.
As half of society is women, it is not possible to attain double-digit growth without empowering them.
The minister said currently, there are 5,000 women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, and the government intends to double the number within the next few years.
He also inaugurated a project meant for helping women-owned businesses connect with potential large local and multinational corporate buyers.
Wendy Werner, the IFC country manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, said only 5 percent of formal micro-, small- and medium-sized companies are owned by women in Bangladesh.
The gap between women and men in the private sector must be reduced in Bangladesh, she added.
Barrister Nihad Kabir, president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said a change in mindset is required to ensure the country's economic development.
The large participation of women in the labor market and as well as in businesses is also required to achieve inclusive growth.
She also suggested ensuring women-friendly market management to develop female entrepreneurship.
Caren Grown, senior director (Gender) of the World Bank Group, said the development of supply chain strategies is critical to the success of businesses, but women-owned firms are often overlooked as key participants in those chains.
She recommended connecting women-owned businesses with corporate buyers to benefit women entrepreneurs and eventually, the country.
The World Bank Group will help create a database of Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs in order to increase their participation in corporate value chains in the next three years, she added.
CEO and Co-Founder of WEConnect International Elizabeth A Vazquez said her organisation is excited to bring its expertise in gender-inclusive sourcing to help buyers gain a competitive edge and women-owned businesses reach a broader market with their goods and services.
Hosna Ferdous Sumi, private sector specialist of the World Bank Group, gave an overview about the project launched at the event.
The earlier pilot project provided capacity building training to over 150 women entrepreneurs and facilitated linkages with large corporations through various business networking opportunities. Nearly 90 percent of the beneficiaries reported improvements in their businesses.
The project also led to the creation of the country's first Supplier Diversity Advisory Committee, she added.
Banks hesitate to provide loan
After the inauguration of the event, Senior Operations Officer of the IFC Natalia Kaur Bhatia said bank and non-bank financial institutions hesitate to provide credit to new investors due to a lack of confidence in the absence of proper collateral.
Women do not often get money from banks, and if they do, they get amounts below their requirements.
Presenting some empirical examples, she recommended providing funds for women, saying that women-owned businesses are very profitable.
Rupali Chowdhury, managing director of Berger Paints Bangladesh Ltd, said the supply chain sector has to comply with many performance indicators that discourage women to get engaged in it. She also said there are female suppliers in all sectors, but there are very few of them.
Arup Haider, head of retail banking at City Bank Ltd said, last year his bank introduced "City Alo", a banking division, dedicated to women. The bank launched 32 branches with dedicated desks for female customers.
Korshed Anwar, head of retail sales and SME banking of Eastern Bank said, their bank is providing a maximum of Tk4 crore in loans to women entrepreneurs, which is the highest in Bangladesh.