“This is not just a business; this is a social responsibility.”
Five years ago, the Paris Agreement created a commitment for countries to work towards building clean, climate-resilient economic futures. In Bangladesh, where micro, small, and medium enterprises make up almost 99% of non-farm businesses, environmentally conscious young entrepreneurs like Esrat will play an important role in reaching this goal.
Esrat’s small business Tulika produces bags from Jute, a traditional crop in Bangladesh. In recent years, Jute has become a popular material due to its biodegradability as well as the environmental benefits of Jute cultivation: it cleanses the air, requires less fertilizer than other crops and improves soil texture. It also plays a vital role for the rural economy of Bangladesh. Higher demand for Jute creates more employment and development in rural areas of the country.
These are all reasons why Esrat chose Jute as a material for her bags. But when she first started her business, no one believed in her vision. Even her mother was angry at her for choosing to quit her job to start her own business and refused to provide financial support. Esrat found it very difficult to get any information on where to buy Jute fabric and navigate the legal requirements for setting up a business. She says no one was willing to help her and she felt lost.
This all changed when she met with our local member in Bangladesh, B’YEAH. B’YEAH provided her with business training in different areas and paired her with a mentor. With this support and her hard work, Esrat built a successful business and now has 15 employees. Her vision was true and her bags proved incredibly popular, she even earned enough money to pay for her daughter’s education and contribute to her family’s expenses.
But when COVID-19 reached Bangladesh and the country went into lockdown in March 2020, like so many others, Esrat’s business hit a rough patch. All orders for her bags were cancelled and no money was paid. Esrat says her business came to a complete standstill for about three months and she even had to move production to a smaller factory to save costs. At the same time, her husband’s salary was reduced by 40 %, which put her family in a financially impossible situation.
With support from B’YEAH through our Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era programme, funded by IKEA Foundation, Esrat has been able to take her business online to get through the crisis. She has received training in e-commerce and digital marketing and has adapted her business plan. She is now focusing on promoting her bags and connecting with customers on social media platforms to drive online sales. This has enabled her to reach new customers and continue to make money through the pandemic. This has opened up new customers that would have been impossible to reach before the pandemic - she recently secured an order from Europe.
Esrat continues to work hard and dream big for her business. Her goal is to export her Jute products all over the world to raise awareness of and demand for this environmentally friendly material while bringing sustainable economic growth to Bangladesh. She is particularly passionate about creating opportunities for rural women through her business. Many of these women have not had the opportunity to receive a formal education and struggle to find work. Esrat is giving them the opportunity to use their creative and handicraft skills to produce bags for her. They are working at home so that they can earn money despite having to take care of the household and children. Esrat’s goal is to employ many more of these women and promote female entrepreneurship and green business around the world. She believes that the support she is receiving from B’YEAH and the IKEA Foundation enabling her to take her business online will be vital for her to reach international customers and achieve her goals.
Around the world, inspiring young entrepreneurs like Esrat are changing the world of business by making sustainability a priority. With their small businesses, they are contributing to achieving the vision of the Paris Agreement – a sustainable economy that values our planet just as much as profit.