The rise of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BWCCI) as a nodal organisation for developing women entrepreneurship is one more success story in the broad canvas of the country’s successful model for women empowerment.
This is a model we have successfully exported elsewhere in the world.
BWCCI started with only 24 members in June 2001. Fifteen challenging years later, we now have 5000 members across Bangladesh’s 64 districts.
Not only have we successfully promoted women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh, but over the years we have carried our model to other countries across Asia and Africa, from Papua New Guinea to Somalia.
BWCCI has achieved UN consultative status with its Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Oslo Business for Peace Award 2014 that I won was a recognition of BWCCI’s proactive and pioneering work across the world.
We formed the BWCCI to create a platform where small women entrepreneurs of Bangladesh could run their businesses in SME and slowly graduate into the mainstream private sector. We lobbied hard to initiate the first Women’s National Business Agenda where barriers were identified and policy changes were advocated.
We influenced banks and the Government to have a separate allocation for women, enabling them to start businesses with loans at a low interest rate.
Bangladesh Bank finally announced a unique gender-sensitive policy, after which BWCCI lobbied for a separate allocation for women entrepreneurs in the national budget. Our efforts resulted in the allocation of a billion takas for women entrepreneurs in the annual budget.
BWCCI then teamed up with CIPE to create a South Asian regional network of women business chambers to promote entrepreneurship among women. Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lankan women chambers have joined us in this network. We mentored most of them.
BWCCI went to Papua New Guinea, which was drafting its first SME policy. I acted as a facilitator in their first seminar.
I showcased our policies and advised stakeholders and policymakers to adopt our model. I guided PNG Women Chamber board members to have an efficient board with a plan.
My work was appreciated by ILO Nairobi, and when I was invited by the White House to speak at the Global entrepreneurship Summit, Nairobi, I met the ILO representative and discussed the prospect of a Somalian Women’s Business Organisation.
I partnered with CIPE to have a workshop in Uganda and helped the Somalian Women’s Business organisations build their capacity.
Developing a business development lesson plan (Services and Business Plan), I trained these organisations in this area. Now they have developed different business services and are also preparing a business plan.
BWCCI has gone to remote regions of Bangladesh, organising special sessions in Hili of Dinajpur, Benapole of Jessore and Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar. These three important border trading routes with customs clearing offices are connected with India and Myanmar.
The three networking meetings we organised in Hilli, Benapole and Teknaf helped women businesspersons develop a perspective in cross-border trading with our two neighbours, India and Myanmar.
Selima Ahmad is a leading woman entrepreneur, president of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and winner of prestigious Oslo Business for Peace Award 2014 along with British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.