Tag Archives: Bangladesh

Regional Business Network Brings Together Women Entrepreneurs from Across South Asia

women's group

Read more about the Women’s Business Network in a five-part blog series published earlier this year.

Women across South Asia face myriad challenges when it comes to participating in the economy — especially as business owners. Women’s business organizations can help their members learn from each other, overcome barriers, and push for changes to laws and regulations that work against women entrepreneurs.

This August, CIPE held its eighth in an ongoing series of capacity building and networking workshops in Kathmandu, Nepal for its South Asia regional network of women’s business associations. Since its inception, the participants of this network, which includes organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India, have been enthusiastic and engaged in learning from both CIPE and their peers.

This year, building on the results of previous projects that aimed to strengthen the internal capacity of these organizations, CIPE has focused on building the advocacy skills of the participants, in order for women entrepreneurs’ voices to be heard in the policymaking process.  

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Investing in Bangladesh: A Gender-Smart Approach to Private Sector Development

This post is Part 5 in a series. Read Part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here. Jump to Ahmad’s comments.

Over the last 28 years, Selima Ahmad, the founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI), has worked exclusively on women’s economic and social empowerment – both in her country and worldwide.

As the first woman’s chamber of commerce in Bangladesh, BWCCI has become a strong voice to support women’s economic participation, calling fora gender-smart approach to private sector development. That approach focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as engines for job creation and growth, and in particular seeks to tackle a range of issues facing women-owned SMEs in particular. For instance, less than five percent of loans for SMEs go to women-owned businesses around the world and the global credit gap for women-owned SMEs is estimated at roughly $320 billion.

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Five Leading Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia


This post is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.

In the emerging democracies of South Asia, the majority of women are blocked from full economic and civil participation by a range of both formal and informal obstacles, including laws and regulations, and cultural and societal norms. While there is no shortage of aid programs for women in the region, CIPE recognized that limited attention was being paid to reforming the broader economic and political institutions that are skewed against women – by improving the business environment so that women-owned businesses can thrive.

Last week, CIPE launched a blog series exploring the connection between women’s economic empowerment and democracy in South Asia. The series, inspired by CIPE’s panel at a March 2015 conference in Delhi, tells the stories of five key members of CIPE’s network of South Asian women’s chambers and associations, and explores the crucial role that women’s empowerment plays in strengthening democracy and furthering economic growth.

Women face great difficulties in obtaining finance; their right to own property (and as such, its use as collateral) is often restricted; and at times their very access to marketplaces is constrained. CIPE launched a program to address these issues by strengthening women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, building a network of such organizations from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Over the last two years, CIPE has brought the network together several times to exchange information and best practices, and to establish links between weaker and stronger organizations. CIPE provided training on governance, financial and staff management, communications, and membership development. CIPE has lately begun to fund small advocacy programs carried out by these organizations. Across the board, their successes have been awe-inspiring.

Key members of each organization were invited to speak about their lives and their organizations at the Delhi conference. Read more about each of these five remarkable women below.

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CIPE Women’s Hangout on Leadership and Advocacy: Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment Globally

Women entrepreneurs are increasingly important participants in the new global economy. In many emerging free-market economies and newly democratic countries, women comprise a significant — and sometimes dominant — portion of the business infrastructure, not only in the informal and small business sector, but in corporate ranks as well. Yet their participation on the management of business overall and the making of public policy is still hindered by lack of adequate gender representation, legal, institutional and cultural barriers, and traditional societal practices.

For over 30 years, CIPE has been working to strengthen democracy around the globe through private enterprise and market oriented reform. CIPE’s program for women focus on empowering them as entrepreneurs and encouraging their full participation in civil life and policymaking with the goal of building democracy that delivers for all.

In honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, CIPE hosted a Google Hangout with a distinguished panel of women leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss how women’s economic participation could be advanced globally. The panel featured Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI); Lina Hundaileh, Chair of the Young Entrepreneurs’ Association (YEA) in Jordan; and Lucy Valenti, President of the Network of Nicaraguan Businesswomen (REN). Discussant and moderator were CIPE Program Officer Maiko Nakagaki and Research Coordinator Teodora Mihaylova.

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Supporting Women Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh through Policy Advocacy

BWCCI founder Selima Ahmad received the Oslo Business for Peace Award earlier this year.

BWCCI founder Selima Ahmad received the Oslo Business for Peace Award earlier this year.

Watch CIPE’s Google Hangout on women’s entrepreneurship, which discusses BWCCI’s work.

While still a poor country, Bangladesh is an economic success story in terms of its economic outlook and expanded employment opportunities for women. In recent years, economic growth has averaged 6 percent annually and a vibrant, export-oriented garment sector has generated employment opportunities for urban women. Bangladesh has achieved food self-sufficiency and significantly reduced poverty, “putting the country on track to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals.”

CIPE began working with the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) in 2006 with two objectives in mind. First, CIPE would provide training and technical assistance to the board and staff to ensure that the chamber focused on member needs and attained financial sustainability by growing its dues-paying membership. Second, CIPE encouraged BWCCI to shift from training individual entrepreneurs to pursuing policy advocacy to remove legislative and regulatory barriers to the equal participation of women in the economy.

BWCCI’s work expanding economic opportunities for women and promoting greater involvement of women in the policymaking process strengthens participatory democracy. Women comprise more than half the population and women-owned businesses generate employment and contribute to Bangladesh’s economic growth. Addressing the specific policy concerns of female entrepreneurs expands the inclusiveness of the democratic process and enhances female representation in the country’s economic and political institutions.

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Could Rana Plaza Help Make Labor Standards a Corruption Issue?


In recent years, the private sector has been increasingly responsive to supply chain issues. This is a result of two distinct forces – one related to corruption, and the other related to issues such as human trafficking and child and other labor issues. While the focus on corruption has largely resulted from legislation such as the FCPA and UKBA, interest in labor-related supply chain issues has often been spurred by NGOs, public pressure, and the media.

However, investigations resulting from the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse may change that. On April 24, 2013, over 1,130 people were killed in the building collapse while many employees were making clothing for western companies. While the accident and the resulting public outcry drove some companies to sign accords promising to establish fire and building safety programs, other companies did nothing.

In July of this year, the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Agency filed charges against 18 people in connection with the disaster, finding that they “grossly breached the building code.” Although bribery may have played a role in the accident — municipal workers were held liable for giving Rana permission to build more floors on top of the existing structure, although they had no authority to do so — the commission’s decision makes no mention of bribery or corruption. Instead, they hold private sector actors accountable directly on the basis of violating local building codes.

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Study Shows Lack of Ideas is Not What’s Holding Women Entrepreneurs Back


south asian women training

Participants at a recent training workshop for South Asian women’s business associations in Kathmandu.

African women are almost twice as likely to have a new business idea they would like to develop than women in Europe and the United States, according to a new study commissioned by Dell. This is further proof of what many of us already know – that there is no lack of ideas and energy among women entrepreneurs in developing countries. It is institutional barriers and local economic conditions that primarily hold back women who are looking to start a business.

CIPE and its partners have supported women entrepreneurs in a number of countries to make significant gains in increasing their role in the economy and their input to public policy. For example, women’s business associations in Nigeria have successfully advocated to increase their role in a national conference to review the nation’s governing institutions.

In Pakistan, CIPE and its partners worked to reform the National Trade Organizations Ordinance to allow women to form their own associations and improve women’s representation on already established chamber boards. The Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry has successfully advocated for local and national level policies to improve access to credit for women entrepreneurs. And in Papua New Guinea, a new CIPE-supported women’s business association helped to establish a “women’s desk” at the largest commercial bank in the country to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to obtain bank loans.

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