Many people got frustrated during the lockdown enforced following the outbreak of Covid-19. This was because of uncertainty as none knew when this situation would end. Economic activities, including retailing had suffered the most. Usual businesses done during PohelaBoishak (Bengali New Year's Eve) were not there in 2020. All the offices, schools and shopping malls remained closed. Many lost their jobs and some others did not get their salary on time while many did not receive it at all.
This was a time when women of those affected households had taken up the responsibility of their families. They utilised their cooking expertise and started selling through our Women and also many other ecommerce groups.
This is one of million stories of this kind. Some of the entrepreneurs had small off line shops which had to be closed during the pandemic. Yet they had to pay the rent of the shops from out of small or almost no savings. They also had to pay wages of their employees. These women were in the midst of a deep sea as far as their financial obligations were concerned. In such a situation a few of them decided to switch over to online business. They started posting in WE group in for branding of their products. That proved to be a turning point for them.
The sufferings of the handloom weavers knew no bounds. Handlooms sarees had gone out of fashion. During the lockdown, import of clothing came to a halt while we were promoting locally manufactured products. Before long, people started showing interest in our locally made clothings. Manipuri and Khadi handloom weavers started getting orders from WE entrepreneurs. Today, many of the weavers are overloaded with orders in hand and had to refuse to take more orders.
Looking few years back, WE used to arrange training and workshops for women, all of whom were Dhaka-based. So, women from other districts and villages were deprived of the training facility. At that time we also were not able to conduct training workshops outside Dhaka. During Covid all could be taken on board our group and the first thing we did was to advise people to stop worrying. Then we tried to utilize our idle time to enrich ourselves with skill development programs. Several workshops and trainings were arranged on different topics. We tried and infused the dream of becoming entrepreneurs into them and helped them utilise their capacity to take the charge of their families, particularly in relation to financial activities. Women in their mid life dilemma dared to come out of typical thoughts and took the first step of entrepreneurial journey. Students came out of the box and started selling her hand made ornaments to earn her tuitions. Since 2017 the WE has been working with millions of women of this kind. But during Covid there was a huge and astounding response.
During this period many have learned how to use innovative ideas in work, how to sharpen their own skills and how to use the technology best for business. But none of this came easily as it seems.
While discovering a new 'self', these 300 entrepreneurs in their bid to help families financiakly faced challenges from multiple sources, including society, social media. Still these entrepreneurs had won Lakhpoti title during the pandemic. Some ignorant people tried to laugh at them. But nothing could stop them from trying more. They put their utmost effort against all odds and continued to do so till today. As on today, WE created more than 25 millionaires.
I would urge our government and relevant authorities to render prompt support to few sectors. I think private sector stakeholders must also stand side by side with the support extended by the government. Together we could be more committed. Fully devoted can remove all hurdles for the women entrepreneurs, for sure.
My message to all entrepreneurs is be honest with your entrepreneurship. Conceive your dream and hold it tight, take it along. Don't lose hope against hurdles, goals are not far away.
Nearly half of our population is female. I have strong faith in the ability of women. They will contribute to the national economy and help bring in a brighter tomorrow.
The writer is president of the Women and E-Commerce Forum (WE) and managing director of Reverie Corporation Limited
She can be reached at: [email protected]
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