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Akhti Akher Milli

Bangladesh

29-year old Akhti Akher Milli is challenging traditional expectations of Bangladeshi women.

She grew up in a subdistrict of Dhaka in a lower middle-class family as the oldest of five siblings with one brother and three sisters in a very traditional and conservative environment. Her family expected her to become a housewife and a mother, not an earner. But Akhti had other plans: Having experienced her family’s financial difficulties from a young age, she was determined to become independent and earn her own money to support her family.

In 2006, at the age of 16, Akhti left school after completing year 9 to work at a local company so she could support her family financially. She worked there for three years and at the same time started taking courses in tailoring and fashion design. She discovered that this was her true passion and talent and saw it as an opportunity to achieve the financial independence she had always wanted by turning it into a business. However, she didn’t have the confidence to turn her dream into reality, mainly due to her limited education and lack of financial support. But this was all about to change when she found out about B’YEAH, YBI’s member organisation in Bangladesh. B’YEAH is a not-for-profit organisation empowering young Bangladeshis who want to start their own business and realise their dream of becoming successful entrepreneurs. Akhti attended one of B’YEAH’s outreach events and enrolled in their support programme. She received training in business plan development, was paired with a mentor and got access to finance for starting her business. She still receives ongoing business counselling from B’YEAH. Thanks to this support, she became confident that her dream could become a reality and that she can be an entrepreneur.

Akhti first started her business from home, selling women’s clothing such as saris and beautiful, decorative items from paper mound, all hand-made by her. She also offered beauty treatments and products and made home visits to customers. As she started to build her customer base, her business became successful enough for her to open a shop outside of her home. In 2012, Akhti opened Nokshi Beauty Parlour, Fashion House and Tanning Centre, a one-stop shop for beauty treatments, such as manicures, women’s fashion and decorative items made from paper mound.

Starting her business has changed Akhti’s life and her role within her family completely. As the second biggest earner, after her father, she now makes decisions for her family. Her business is doing so well that she has six full-time employees, all of them female. In addition to providing employment opportunities to other women, Akhti also gives back to young people in Bangladesh. She works with a government programme for youth development providing training in tailoring at schools. To date, 1,000 young people have received training from her!

To other young women who are dreaming of being entrepreneurs, Akhti says:

“Times are changing for women. We now have more opportunities than ever. Don’t stay at home, go do what you want and learn from others!”

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