Pioneering entrepreneur Rokia Afzal Rahman is the guest on the eighth episode of IPDC Finance Limited presents Ogroj
On the ninth episode of IPDC Finance Limited presents Ogroj, pioneering entrepreneur and trailblazer Rokia Afzal Rahman was the guest.
She has the distinction of being the first female bank manager in Bangladesh. Her career started in 1964 at the Muslim Commercial Bank in what was then East Pakistan.
In post-Liberation Bangladesh, she played a large role in developing agriculture and industry. Over 15,000 farmers in Munshiganj have worked with her. With MIDAS Financing Limited, she endeavoured to create women entrepreneurs.
An iconic entrepreneur herself, Rokia Afzal Rahman has been involved with the media, real estate, and insurance among others. She is also a part of Women Entrepreneurs Association, Beach, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladesh Freedom Foundation, and many others.
A former adviser to the caretaker government, Rokia is currently the chairperson of Mediaworld Limited, president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, vice-president of the International Chamber of Commerce, alongside many other organizations.
She was born in 1941 in Undivided India’s Kolkata to an eminent family among 12 siblings. Her early education took place at Kolkata’s Loreto Schools. After the 1947 Partition, her family moved to Karachi, where her father – who prized education above all else – enrolled her at St Joseph’s Convent School, renowned for its quality education.
“In the evening after the Maghrib prayers, all of us brothers and sisters would sit down to study. I would help my younger siblings with their studies, and my elders would help me in turn.
“Eventually, I completed my school years and sat for the matriculation exams instead of Cambridge to quickly finish my studies. When I was at college, I heard that a lady’s branch would be opened for a local bank, where I quickly applied.
“In those days, it was anathema for men and women to work together, so we received training and banking education separately from the banker’s institute. I obtained a diploma and became promoted to manager and became assigned to the Ramna branch in Dhaka.”
Rokia recalled that her brothers had married West Pakistanis, but her father refused to marry her to a West Pakistani. When offered to look at photos of a prospective suitor, Rokia refused, saying that she would not pick her life partner based on a photo. One of her aunts had exclaimed at Rokia’s expectation of a man to travel from East Pakistan to West Pakistan just to meet her.
Later on, when she was in a meeting with her boss at the bank’s Karachi office, a young man was also in attendance. Rokia’s boss excused himself, opening up the opportunity for the young man to introduce himself. It appeared that he was the prospective suitor who had tracked her down via mutual acquaintances and travelled to West Pakistan to meet her.
In 1980, when she started a cold storage business for potatoes in Munshiganj, local farmers were initially apprehensive as she was a woman. Her persistence led to the farmers take a chance, and eventually the business flourished. Rokia remains the sole woman in the region to own and operate a cold storage.
She joined the board of MIDAS Financing Limited In 1982, where she advocated to raise the borrowing cap without any mortgage from Tk2 lakh to Tk25lakh. The benefits of MIDAS’s borrowing schemes have benefited women across generations.
Rokia lauded several departed post-Liberation luminaries of Bangladesh including Transcom Limited Chairman Latifur Rahman and Brac founder and chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, both of whom she closely worked with for decades.
Her advice to successive generations is “to walk”.
“I started walking and earning a salary since I was 20 and I’m still walking. Always keep marching on forward and do something” she advised.
IPDC Finance Ltd presents Ogroj takes place from 8pm-9pm every first and third Thursday of the month. Guests on previous episodes include ex-Finance Secretary Matiul Islam, CPD Founder-Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan, Adcomm Limited Chairwoman Geeteara Safiya Chowdhury, ex-Finance Minister AMA Muhith, ex-Bangladesh Bank Governor Dr Farashuddin Ahmed, ACI Limited Chairman M Anis Ud Dowla, eminent novelist Selina Hossain, and ex-Finance Minister M Syeduzzaman.