Ronju Begum's path to becoming a successful entrepreneur was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride and filled with numerous obstacles. When her parents married her off, Ronju was barely a teenager.
Like others, she dreamed of becoming educated, getting a job, taking the burden off her parents' shoulders, and living independently. But, her dream (a reality for many) became an illusion with her marriage. W
hen her second child was born, Ronju's husband abandoned her, and she moved back in with her parents and to make ends meet she juggled three jobs: supplying water to tea shops in Morrelganj market, working as a house help and husking rice.
With an overburdened family of two children, five sisters, two brothers, and her parents, this was still barely enough.
When Ronju's younger brother started a grocery store in the local market, she further supported him working as a cook in the DC office. These earnings covered the educational expenses of her brothers, sisters, and two daughters, along with family expenditures.
Life was still anything but easy. After struggling financially for a long time, she borrowed money from a local cooperative and started her own store near the market. Soon after, she met a representative of Bopinc who trained her in entrepreneurship skills.
With their guidance and training, Ronju became an established entrepreneur in her area. This marked the start of her journey in the business sector. Today, she is recognised as a trusted and successful entpreneur, for her family and other women in her community.
The same people who used to taunt her now respect her and call her 'Pusthi Apa.'
Like Ronju, there are numerous inspiring stories of over 200 women from the remote areas of Khulna. Overcoming many odds, thousands of women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are starting businesses to become self-dependent.
Against the backdrop of financial independence, these women-led initiatives play a vital role in shifting the narrative of gender inequality. To support the women who are making strides in the field of entrepreneurship, Arla Foods and Bopinc have partnered to launch the Pushti Ambassador Partnership program – designed to create women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh.
The project aims to contribute to women's financial empowerment and improve nutrition in rural Bangladesh.
Funded by the Danish Market Development Program, the initiative was launched with the objective to validate and scale viable business models in low-income markets.
Under this project, they are working with 200 women entrepreneurs serving approximately 60,000 to 70,000 consumers.
This program carefully identified locations where products are somewhat unavailable, but there is demand and enough purchasing power of consumers. While identifying the right location, the product distribution network was also mapped out, so that once the agents were onboarded, uninterrupted product supply was ensured.
Pushti Ambassadors were recruited based on a clear criteria, that included entrepreneurial mindset, age group, family and community, capacity, amongst others. After the recruitment, needs assessment exercises were conducted, and based on this, training content and plans were developed.
The project offered tools for digital training as well as programs comprising of sales management, storytelling videos, and more. Women entrepreneurs were then supported with sellable products, as starting or injected capital, without handing over cash, which creates the risk of misutilisation.
As a result, women entrepreneurs were able to generate income in places where there are generally very few other opportunities, especially for women. Most importantly, through this project, they not only gained a steady income, but also more respect, independence, and new skills.
By empowering and supporting these women, we can tap into their potential and talents while also driving innovation and progress. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that women have the right tools and opportunities they require to reach their true potential.
This can allow them to thrive, and when women thrive, communities thrive, economies thrive, and the whole world thrives. With optmisitic, courageous & dedicated women embracing the unpredictable business environment and breaking the stereotypes, we can truly progress as a community.
Although Bangladesh has been witnessing an explosion in women entrepreneurship, market access still remains a challenge. Women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), or micro SMEs in Bangladesh face a higher cost of borrowing, lack of access to finance, and limited access to markets compared to male-led businesses.
In addition, lack of proper training, education and gender discrimination may limit the growth and success of women-led businesses. Women-led businesses require better access to markets and corporate value chains to boost the country's inclusive growth and create more jobs.
More efforts from the public and private sectors are needed to connect women-led businesses with corporate buyers that will eventually benefit both women entrepreneurs and Bangladesh.
For women entrepreneurs, capacity development and skill development are imperative. Training programs, workshops, and mentorship opportunities must be provided by both government and non-government parties to help women develop their entrepreneurial abilities.
The primary emphasis should be on company planning, marketing tactics, technology adoption, and financial management, allowing women entrepreneurs to thrive in competitive marketplaces.
Apart from these initiatives from the private sector, the government of Bangladesh has initiated various programs to encourage women entrepreneurs and provide a healthy atmosphere on their road to success.
Policies and programs like the National Women Development Policy (NWDP) and the National Women Entrepreneurs Development Policy (NWEDP) are allowing exceptional benefits to these women-led enterprises. These strategies and policies focus on addressing the difficulties confronted by women entrepreneurs to provide a supportive environment for them.
With each passing day, more women are becoming interested in entrepreneurship, seeing the active participation of their counterparts. Women feel empowered and inspired when they see other women in various training programs, fairs, and entrepreneurship development.
For this reason, we need more initiatives like the Pushti Ambassador Partnership program that can significantly impact women entrepreneurs in the country. Because when more women lead, communities thrive and the world thrives with them.