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Young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh go digital to weather the crisis

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Kaniz Fatema and Akhti Akher Milli are two successful young women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. In a country where women account for only 4.3% of business owners, they are challenging stereotypes, breaking barriers, and creating opportunities for other young women.

However, due to the current COVID-19 lockdown in Bangladesh, both had to close their shops and factories, threatening the survival of their businesses. Our Digital Accelerator Programme with IKEA Foundation is now helping them to take their businesses online and stay connected to their customers and employees.

Kaniz runs a leather goods manufacturing business but had to pause production and close her shop to ensure the safety of her staff. She is now focusing on selling existing stock online. Akhti is in an even more difficult situation as the main source of income for her business is to provide beauty treatments and train others in performing these procedures. It is impossible to provide either of these services under the current circumstances. Akhti is using online platforms to stay in touch with her clients and collaborate with online training agencies. Kaniz and Akhti both plan to reopen their businesses as soon as possible after the lockdown. However, they are worried about continuing challenges, such as shortages of key supplies and resources and losing staff who may be scared to return to work. They both emphasise that more government support is needed to ensure the survival of small businesses, specifically covering medical expenses of infected staff and providing cash grants and tax cuts.

As part of the Digital Accelerator Programme with IKEA Foundation, our local member organisation B’YEAH is now matching Kaniz and Akhi with mentors who will help them improve their digital skills and provide general crisis support. Furthermore, B’YEAH is helping them and other entrepreneurs to prioritise next steps and provides a range of online support services with a focus on developing e-commerce and digital marketing skills.

Mahadhe Hasan, Programme Director of B’YEAH, said:

“Digital capacities are vital for small businesses to stay connected to their customers in times of lockdown and social distancing and survive the current crisis. We need to invest in digital skills now to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic.”

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