Access to finance, a market paving the way for women entrepreneurs

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Raisa Maniza Akter, a small entrepreneur who makes paintings, artifacts and jewelry, relied heavily on online sales or pricing because she has no outlet of her own.

But after taking part in a recent program organized by the SME Foundation that connects small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SMEs) with large companies, she gained access to a bigger market for her products.

Like the buyers-sellers summit, the SME Foundation, Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) and other government agencies have taken a number of measures to promote women entrepreneurs in the country.

Easy access to finance, exploration of new markets, extension of non-taxable income limit, formation and reservation of tariff quotas are some of the most notable measures recently taken by the government to empower female entrepreneurs.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Economic Survey 2013, the total number of business establishments in Bangladesh was 7.82 million, of which only 7.21% were owned by women.

Of 7.4 million active owners, only 5.9% were women.

Those involved in this sector have said that the number of women entrepreneurs in the country has increased rapidly in recent years due to the favorable working environment and various government incentives. However, no government agency or SME organization has recent data on this.

The Managing Director of the SME Foundation, Md Mafizur Rahman, told The Business Standard: “A lot of women want to be entrepreneurs now, but a few years ago the situation was almost the opposite.”

“Women are becoming entrepreneurs because of the government’s emphasis on creating women entrepreneurs and policy support for business facilitation, low interest loans and skills development, training and product market expansion,” he said.

“Previously, women could not market their products smoothly after making them. So currently, we are working to access new markets to sell the products of women entrepreneurs,” he added.

Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, President of the National Association of Small Craft Industries of Bangladesh (NASCIB) told TBS: “The image of women entrepreneurs has changed a lot from what it was five years ago.”

“The biggest hurdle for women entrepreneurs was getting finance. We removed that hurdle. Now we have to focus on improving the quality of the product,” said Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, who is also the director of the board of directors of the SME Foundation,

Besides the development of entrepreneur skills and product quality, BSCIC reserves a special quota for allocating industrial land to women entrepreneurs in industrial cities.

The SME Foundation offers training, access to new markets and a one-third quota system at various fairs to encourage women.

Easy access to financing

Access to finance was a major problem for female entrepreneurs, who started businesses with little capital but found it very difficult to obtain bank loans to expand their business as they often could not provide the necessary documents.

The SME Foundation has secured easy loans for women entrepreneurs by involving them with banks under its wholesale credit scheme. Often, foundation officials act as focal points for providing loans to women entrepreneurs.

Under this scheme, 2,186 entrepreneurs across the country received loans of Tk 121 crore till December 31, 2021. Among them, 24% were female entrepreneurs.

In addition, the SME Foundation has so far disbursed Tk 300 crore out of the Tk 1,500 crore incentive announced by the government, where the allocation to female entrepreneurs was around 30%.

Women in rural areas who could never borrow money from a bank before have managed to obtain a loan under this program.

Connect buyers and sellers to expand the market

According to the SME Foundation, 20% of women entrepreneurs identified the commercialization of products as their main problem.

Women entrepreneurs found it difficult to sell their products even after improving their quality because they did not know where to source goods other than local markets.

To solve this problem, the SME Foundation has been organizing a summit for six years to put entrepreneurs and buyers in contact.

About 60 women entrepreneurs participated in the last summit organized in March this year.

They showcased their boutique products, jute products, leather goods, handicrafts, jewelry, for online marketplaces, chain stores, Aarong, Anjans, Kay Kraft and other corporate entities.

Extended tax-free income cap

The government has raised the ceiling on non-taxable earnings for female entrepreneurs to ensure their economic and social empowerment by increasing their participation in the economy.

In the 2021-22 budget, the tax cap on women entrepreneurs’ turnover was raised from Tk 50 lakh to Tk 70 lakh.

30 women entrepreneurs to present their products in New York

Thanks to funding from a foreign organization, the SME Foundation has trained 30 women. Fourteen of them will display their products at a fair in New York in August this year, while the rest will attend a similar exhibition in January next year.

Md Mafizur Rahman said, “It is a very positive thing for women entrepreneurs from small local and cottage industries to showcase their products on foreign soil, as we are focusing on creating female exporters. to export $250 million worth of products – made by women – in the next three years.

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