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Guide women entrepreneurs to new heights
« on: January 24, 2012, 12:45:59 PM »
Guide women entrepreneurs to new heights
President of Chittagong Women Chamber and Commerce and Industry says women need to take part in industrialisation
Monowara Hakim Ali
Md Fazlur Rahman
The government should extend assistance to women entrepreneurs not only to create jobs across the country but also to boost their contribution to the economy, a leading entrepreneur said.

"Entrepreneurship can empower women who constitute about half of the country's total population," said Monowara Hakim Ali, president of Chittagong Women Chamber and Commerce and Industry.

She said women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are no longer small entrepreneurs. "They have come a long way. We consider them as part of our small and medium enterprises sector. Now is the time to guide them to new heights."
Monowara, vice-chairperson of Intraco Group, which has interests in hotels, real estate, shipping, textiles, energy, automobiles, travel, tourism, fishing, fertiliser, and agriculture, singled out problems in marketing and access to finance as the major impediments that women entrepreneurs face today. "It will be tough for them to grow if they do not get easy credit at low interest rates," she said in an interview in Dhaka recently.

"It is true that banks are providing loans, but they are giving loans as working capital, not as project loans. Besides, financial institutions are more interested in giving loans to entrepreneurs who are already established."
Monowara said banks should give them project loans collateral-free and extend the grace period. "At present, banks do not give any grace period and borrowers have to start paying back the loans the month following loan sanction. As a result, women entrepreneurs do not dare to take bank loans. Normally, an entrepreneur requires at least three months for giving a business a foothold."

She said banks have to change their lending model so that women borrowers can repay loans after getting a grip on their business. "We have to create new entrepreneurs. To do so, we have to give them encouragement and extend assistance on various fronts."

Monowara said banks are now more interested in lending to businesses headed by women thanks mainly to some important steps taken by Atiur Rahman, governor of the central bank. "Under his leadership, the central bank has organised road-shows and fairs across the country to motivate banks to lend more to the cash-strapped entrepreneurs and to build awareness among them."Now women entrepreneurs are more confident."

She also said the government should set up sales-centres at district levels to help grassroots entrepreneurs sell their products. "There are many entrepreneurs who are doing fine at rural levels. But many of them do not have the ability to set up stores in their localities or showcase or sell their products in Dhaka. If we can create markets for them, it will help a lot."

The entrepreneur thanked the government, particularly Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, state minister for women and children affairs, for taking steps in setting up Joyita, a centre for marketing the products of small women entrepreneurs at Rapa Plaza in Dhaka.

The platform is part of government programmes aimed at strengthening different business initiatives of level women entrepreneurs at grassroots levels. It plans to encourage women entrepreneurs to boost their business initiatives.

Monowara urged authorities to set up more such centres not only in Dhaka but also in rural areas. "As a result, the number of entrepreneurs can increase, helping the country create huge employment scopes and develop economically."

She said women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh work amid an army of limitations. Currently, most of them produce products at home. "If the government sets up special industrial parks for them, then many will be able to work under a same platform."

She said women should become active in industrialisation and be given tax holidays for a certain period so that the young entrepreneurs can establish a strong position, she said. Monowara said the women's chamber in Chittagong is helping women entrepreneurs in the region through training, workshops, awareness-building programmes and fairs. "We have been organising month-long fairs for SME women entrepreneurs for the last five years. The effort has been very successful in mobilising them and creating a network."She said handicrafts produced by the entrepreneurs have demand at home and abroad. "They need incentives for exports."
Monowara, the first elected women director of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said the association is taking a series of steps to support women entrepreneurs.

"We are providing them with training to build their capacity so that their confidence level grows. We are also organising awareness building programmes," she said.

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Md.Shahadat Hossain Mir
Senior Administrative officer
Department of Law
Daffodil International University
Campus -3 ( Prince Plaza)