The economy of Bangladesh is rapidly growing and aiming to achieve the middle-income country status by 2021. Country’s largescale garments industry to small-scale craft enterprises all are contributing in the same way. The young generations in Bangladesh are entrepreneurial minded and creating their opportunities by implementing the ICT, social business ideas and also with traditional business concepts. A considerable number of micro, small and medium scale of enterprises are located outside of metropolitan areas like Dhaka and Chittagong. It is challenging for them to get proper facilities to establish their business. The positive things are Central Bank, SME Foundations, chamber of commerce and industries, training institutes and other supporting organizations continuously promoting and trying to create a better environmental ecosystem for SMEs.
SME Foundation (SMEF), a national organization established by the Government of Bangladesh under Ministry of Industries to develop SME sector in the country. The major area of works to implement policy and strategies, advocacy, provide skill development training and support to build the capacity for SMEs. With all these support, SME Foundation has dedicated wings for women entrepreneurship development in all over the country from rural to urban. Mr. SM Shaheen Anwar, General Manager and Head of Women Entrepreneurship Development program is a passionate person to implement policies and took initiatives to develop new ideas. My first involvement was with SME Foundation to organize a workshop “Access to Bank Finance for Women Entrepreneurs” in 2009 when I was working at Mutual Trust Bank Ltd. After this successful program, we did many works jointly with SME Foundation to develop women entrepreneurs. One of the remarkable projects is ‘MTB Gunabati’, easy access to finance for women entrepreneurs.
Access to finance is one of the vital issues for women entrepreneurs to establish their enterprises. There are other critical challenges such as lack of entrepreneurial knowledge, proper training, networking, market opportunity, information availability, product development and ICT facilities. To support the women entrepreneurs, MTB started Women Desk in 2008 after the Bangladesh Bank circular on March; all Banks & NBFIs set up separate “Women Entrepreneur’s Dedicated Desk” to provide a financial assistant for women entrepreneurs. Soon after we designed a loan product ‘MTB Bhagyobati’ only for women entrepreneurs without collateral and other features to follow the central bank circular ‘interest rate not more than 10% per annum’. Because of closely working with women entrepreneurs, I found that they need the comprehensive financial product and other supports, especially who are new in the entrepreneurial journey and first time in bank finance.
MTB Gunabati product launch program
I was looking for a complete solution to support the women entrepreneurs to grow their business consistently. For this reason, I made conversations with other organizations who are directly involved with policy-making, advocacy, provide training and support to the women entrepreneurs in all area of their requirements. Still, I can recall the discussion with Mr. SM Shaheen Anwar on how we can make bank loan simple and more accessible for women entrepreneurs who are the first-time borrower and mainly lives in rural areas. He mentioned about their wholesale credit program which can be a source of fund and we can use for lending facilities. From this information, I got an idea to make a product for particular women entrepreneur with specific features related their requirements.
After several discussions and in-depth market research, finally, I designed the ‘MTB Gunabati’ loan product especially for those women entrepreneurs who are involved in manufacturing and service industries. The MTB’s ex-Head of SME Banking Division Mr. Iqbal and the team we worked all on this project launching and overall success. Finally, in 2010 August, we started ‘MTB Gunabati’ operation and the market feedback was extraordinary. I was very enthusiastic about the feedback and trying to develop the project more accomplished for the target people. I communicated with experts and sent the project concept to DevNet conference. They invited me to present the outcome of this specific financial product design jointly with a commercial bank and an organization like SME Foundation. Post presentation feedback from the global experts made me confident to move forward with this specialized product for women entrepreneurship development.
‘Gunabati’ is a Bengali word which means “woman with capabilities and skills”. Mutual Trust Bank Ltd. MD & CEO Mr. Anis A. Khan is the wordsmith of this name. At the inauguration program, Ex-Chairman of MTB late Mr. Samson H. Chowdhury mentioned that the selection of this title is the perfect match for those women with entrepreneurial characteristics and take the risk to become a business lady and contribute in countries economic growth. In 2010, the SME Foundation’s Chairman was Mr. Aftab Ul Islam, FCA; who guided and promoted the project for sustainable women entrepreneurship development with his extensive business experiences and expertise. The SME Foundation team worked wholeheartedly for the success of ‘MTB Gunabat’ lending project. Among them, the two members Mr. Suman Chandra Saha, Assistant General Manager closely monitored the Pre-finance fund of loan product and Mr. Md. Masudur Rahman, Manager support to create the matchmaking with bank and women entrepreneurs for financial assistance.
After having started ‘MTB Gunabati’ program, we got incredible outcome except for some unsuccessful stories because of unanticipated issues. In this lending project, a huge number of women entrepreneurs are doing business successfully and gradually moving forward to explore the international market with their products. For instance, in 2013 we financed in a small enterprise ‘Rangpur Craft’ makes ‘Shatranji’ (handloom carpet) from jute. I noticed the enterprise in an event organized by Care Bangladesh and JITA, where craftspeople were showing their products. Local and international NGOs are doing great work to support these micro-level enterprises in rural and semi-urban areas of Bangladesh through their various skill development training and seed funding. In 2018 Dhaka International Trade Fair, ‘Rangpur Craft’ is showcasing and selling products on SME Foundation pavilion. It is an excellent opportunity for an enterprise to get into the international marketplace. SME Foundation has 24 stalls in their pavilion where 22 stalls for SMEs around the country to sell their products. There are different types of products mostly made from local resources like Silk, Jamdani, Muslin, Silver, Jute, Bamboo, Shital Pati, Nakshi Kantha, Pottery, Terracotta, and other materials.
SME Foundation pavilion in Dhaka International Trade Fair 2018
‘MTB Gunabati’ project promotes the traditional crafts and innovative ideas of business like products made from waste paper, coconut shell craft, handmade food items, office stationeries and gift items made from leather and jute, household items from bamboo and many more creative enterprises, especially in unprivileged areas. It is not enough for the large number of SMEs to bring them in financial inclusion but a noticeable step to move forward and achieve the target. Currently, SME foundation has 19th Credit Wholesaling Projects (CWS) with different financial organizations to access the bank finance for SMEs in the specialized sector. Public and private both sectors have programs and projects to develop the SME sector especially for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. I believe if all these different initiatives work collaboratively with the joint program like ‘MTB Gunabati’ project that will be a great success to create an entrepreneurial environment for female entrepreneurship development.