More frontier technology needed to aid women entrepreneurs

The panelists also called for more initiatives by co-operative societies to help the advancement of women entrepreneurs in rural areas

Technology is currently playing a significant role in taking women entrepreneurs forward, so more frontier technology should be brought in to continue the trend, said panelists at an international summit on Wednesday.

They also called for more initiatives by co-operative societies to help the advancement of women entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Speakers made the remarks on the first day of the International Women Entrepreneurs' Summit 2022 in Dhaka. The summit is being organized by the Bangladesh-India Business Council (BIBC) in collaboration with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) and the Association of Fashion Designers of Bangladesh (AFDB).

In a session on Agriculture and food production, Tapan Kanti Ghosh, senior secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, said: “Like the developed countries of the world, co-operative societies in rural areas of Bangladesh should be strengthened, so that farmers and entrepreneurs can make more profits and develop. They have the potential to contribute significantly to the country's GDP if they get more opportunities.”

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Keynote speaker Kazi Inam Ahmed, director of Gemcon Group, said: “Agriculture contributes a lot to our GDP. The GDP growth has been 3-4% in the last 4-5 years, while 47% of our income is spent on food. We expect the food processing market size to be $5.8 billion by 2030.”

He also highlighted that 28% of women entrepreneurs are engaged in the livestock sector, while 11% are engaged in agricultural work but do not receive wages.

“Our men are supporting women in their work outside the home. This support should be increased further,” he added.

“Women entrepreneurs have increased in the past few years, and most know how to run their businesses from home, which is made possible by technology. They are using social media in a remarkable way. But it's not enough,” said Rubaba Dowla, country managing director of Oracle for Bangladesh, Nepal & Bhutan.

“In many cases, girls are not getting access to smartphones in the same way that boys are. Give them that convenient opportunity,” she added.

She also mentioned that the number of women in the F-commerce sector had increased, especially during the Covid pandemic, and women-led businesses rose by 65% on Instagram during that time. 

Women have created around 40% of Facebook groups about entrepreneurship. According to Meta, women own 70% of Facebook-based businesses opened during the pandemic.

Rubaba Dowla said 16% of the ICT workforce are women, and 2-3% are in ICT leadership. 

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“Some 32% fewer women than men use the internet in less developed countries. So, it is time to introduce frontier technology. Access to advanced tech is a must for women, including biotechnology, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, cyber security, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, etc,” she added.

The women entrepreneurs of Bangladesh are energetic, willing to learn, innovative, hardworking, and bold enough to take risks. Experts said that even a little assistance is extremely effective for them to graduate from micro to more sustainable small and medium sized entrepreneurs.

“Now they need loan assistance from the government and private institutions on easy terms to pave the way to overcome challenges. Forget about the papers for giving money,” said keynote speaker of the SME session Nihad Kabir, chairperson of Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD).

She said women own 36% of businesses in Asia. In the last 20 years, the number of WSMEs has grown by 114%. In Bangladesh, the total number of CMSMEs 8 million and 7% of Bangladesh's CMSME businesses are owned by women. 

Syed Nasim Manzur, MD & co-founder of Apex Footwear Ltd, said bank loan facilities are needed for women to accelerate their entrepreneurship. However, he also stressed the need to take planned loans without risking excessive burdens.

Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury inaugurated the summit.

Lokman Hossain Miah said that the conference would boost the confidence level of women entrepreneurs and encourage them.

Around 4,000 women entrepreneurs, professionals, and experts from 50 countries are participating in the summit. 

The summit will end today with the distribution of awards among women entrepreneurs.