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Dhaka Tribune

Women lead the way

Women entrepreneurs in rural areas have made a massive impact towards Digital Bangladesh. Digital Centres have been a catalyst for them

Update : 11 Nov 2022, 04:21 AM

Despite the advancement of digital public platforms, financial services, infrastructure, business, and skills, women still face social oppression and economic inequality. Without empowerment, women and gender equality -- social and economic development will be unrealized. 

The Aspire to Innovate (a2i) program promotes women's entrepreneurship, labour participation, and economic activity through its Digital Centres, which is a bottom-up initiative of delivering public services, enabling access to effective information by e-service equipment at the union level. 

Notably, women and girls from the vulnerable and marginalized communities get the opportunity to strengthen their capacity to participate in economic activity, innovate, and engage with experts and professional networks. The government of Bangladesh is also committed to attaining the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal 5 (gender equality and empowering all women and girls). 

In our society, inequality and discrimination towards women unfortunately start at an early age. This significantly limits their growth and decision-making capacity. By establishing the Digital Centres at the union level, a2i has accelerated rural women's ability to acquire skills and training and improve educational qualifications.

Through the 8,805 Digital Centres, it has facilitated over 5,000 women entrepreneurs to be self-sufficient. A woman entrepreneur named Mst Sheuli Akter from Srimongol of Moulvibazar remembered her journey to becoming an entrepreneur of Digital Centre:  

“After my father's sudden illness, my family was in a great financial crisis. I felt an inferiority complex as I did not have any opportunity to contribute to my family. Ignoring the outside noise, I took the risk to become an entrepreneur at the Digital Centre of Srimongol, facilitated by a2i. 

Afterwards, I took responsibility for my whole family, consisting of seven members, completed my graduation degree, and also took responsibility for the treatment of a disabled girl. Currently, I earn more than Tk1 lakh and am proudly self-reliant.”

Besides this, Mst Sheuly started a Facebook page to sell traditional Monipuri sarees and tea leaves during the lockdown of Covid-19, which was the heritage of Srimongol. She has created employment opportunities for others at her Digital Centre and online business. It can be said that the “Digital Bangladesh” initiative of the government has been a blessing for rural womenfolk to become self-reliant. 

The establishment of the Digital Centre has enabled the e-governance of services effectively and efficiently by ensuring digital infrastructure at the lower levels of administration for people's rights and information. Meanwhile, the a2i program has won various awards at national and international levels for the simplification of service by saving time, cost, and (number of) visits (TCV) of service recipients towards service facilitation and digitization. 

Currently, over 300 services are provided by the Digital Centres. Shilpi Khatun, a Digital Centre entrepreneur of Saguna (Sirajgonj), is among the pioneers of silently building a digital Bangladesh. She said: 

“The citizens of Saguna were deprived of basic civic amenities before establishing the Digital Centre. Becoming economically self-sufficient, I had the opportunity to work for the development of my marginalized society. I made them aware of their rights and fought against inequality.”

Besides running the Digital Centre of Saguna, Shilpi works for social awareness for unprivileged women in her village. She works to prevent child marriage, child abuse, the dowry system, and helps facilitate better health and education.

Along with improving the living standard of women entrepreneurs, the Digital Centre contributes to women's empowerment and gender equality, which will be an optimal tool for building Smart Bangladesh 2041. The average income of women entrepreneurs at the Digital Centre has been lifted to Tk30,687 per month from only Tk3,100 -- far higher than their expectations.

The revolutionary journey of women entrepreneurs has started at Digital Centres. It is paving the way for the advancement of information technology and women's empowerment in the marketplace, workplace, and community. Woman entrepreneurs have fulfilled their dream and have made a massive impact in fulfilling Digital Bangladesh. 

Shirin Zahan (Sumi), a woman entrepreneur of Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), shared her story of entrepreneurship: 

“DNCC arranged a workshop facilitated by a2i, which made me realize my inherent will to be an entrepreneur. I have taken the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, and it boosted my confidence to work independently with skills and competence. Besides enhancing my skills, I have helped 20 entrepreneurs in the Dhaka district with graphic design training and have trained five people in outsourcing work -- and all are now established.” 

Nobody was concerned about the homemaker Sumi, but entrepreneur Sumi is known to many as the one who created job opportunities for others. 

There is also the “Joyeeta Virtual Shop,” where women entrepreneurs of rural/remote areas can bring their work handicrafts to the national and international community for exposure. The Digital Centre created this digital connectivity by bypassing multiple layers of intermediaries to secure the fair price of women entrepreneurs' products. 

Indeed, it is gratifying to note that all stakeholders are benefitting from the services of Digital Centres and have realized the importance of adopting e-services. Technology is reaching the grassroots level with the public, private, people, and partnership (4Ps) model, and helping usher in a sustainable rural transformation in Bangladesh which will help the country achieve the SDGs by 2030 and become a smart, high-income nation by 2041. 

Ashfaq Zaman is Adviser, Strategic Development & Communications, a2i.

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