In Bangladesh, female students develop business ideas to improve society

Date: Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Author: Julien Domergue

Rangpur, Bangladesh — Launched on International Women's Day 2019, the first Women Peace Café has been gaining ground at Begum Rokeya University (BRUR), in Rangpur, Bangladesh. The student-led business incubator aims to engage young women in promoting peace through social entrepreneurship or by combining livelihood and social issues to improve the lives of people from their community. During the first year of its launch, the Women Peace Café will help 250 female students to develop 50 social business concepts.

Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Representative in Bangladesh, and female students from Begum Rokeya University celebrate International Women's Day at the Women Peace Café launch in Rangpur on 10 March 2019. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer
Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Representative in Bangladesh, and female students from Begum Rokeya University celebrate International Women's Day at the Women Peace Café launch in Rangpur on 10 March 2019. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer

As part of the programme “Empowered Women, Peaceful Communities”, UN Women works with the Centre for Peace and Justice of BRAC University to increase the knowledge, skills and abilities of 2,000 female students to engage in leadership at two regional universities: BRUR and Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University (JKKNIU).

Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Representative in Bangladesh and Prof. Nazmul Ahasan Kalimullah, Vice-chancellor of Begum Rokeya University award Rahat Ara Risti with seed fund at the Women Peace Café launch. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer
Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Representative in Bangladesh and Prof. Nazmul Ahasan Kalimullah, Vice-chancellor of Begum Rokeya University award Rahat Ara Risti with seed fund at the Women Peace Café launch. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer

Female students take part in three-day “business bootcamps”, where they discuss problems in their communities, including violence, sexual harassment and violent extremism. They then learn about the concept of social entrepreneurship and gain essential business skills, such as marketing, sales, customer service and fundraising strategies. Using this knowledge, mentors guide student groups into developing their own ideas for small social enterprises that could work in their communities.

According to Parveen Huda, training facilitator at BRAC University, community violence and violent extremism are significant problems that put added pressure on women. “If your husband gets involved in violent activities, if somebody’s son gets involved, it becomes a problem for women because they are often the first affected by violence in society.” She says female students have the power “to change these kind of mindsets”, if they are given the chance to do so.

Parveen Huda, a training facilitator at BRAC University, talks about social entrepreneurship with young female university students in Mymensingh, Bangladesh in December 2018. Photo: UN Women/Tasfiq Mahmood
Parveen Huda, a training facilitator at BRAC University, talks about social entrepreneurship with young female university students in Mymensingh, Bangladesh in December 2018. Photo: UN Women/Tasfiq Mahmood

Following the success of the first round of trainings, female students were encouraged to submit project proposals to be considered for funding. The Women Peace Café was the first project selected as a pilot to be awarded with seed funds. To help bring other ideas to fruition, the Women Peace Café will provide services such as management training and office space to female students from BRUR. To ensure successful implementation, students will receive mentoring from university professors trained by BRAC to guide and support them as they set up and run their small businesses.

Thus far, seed funding has been awarded to 20 female students from four groups. At BRUR, two projects, “Songshoptok”, a community club for learning self-defence skills against sexual harassment, and “Break Through”, a student’ magazine on women, career and campus related issues were awarded.

UN Women and BRAC University offer training for young female university students on social entrepreneurship in Mymensingh in December 2018. Photo: UN Women/Tasfiq Mahmood
UN Women and BRAC University offer training for young female university students on social entrepreneurship in Mymensingh in December 2018. Photo: UN Women/Tasfiq Mahmood

“I want to become an entrepreneur and a businesswoman”, said Snigdha Gupta, a participant in the programme and social science student at BRUR. “My idea is to give trainings to women and transgender people to become bus drivers and helpers in the transportation system. This way, other women can feel safer on public transport. It is also an opportunity for women and transgender people to have an income-generating activity and to be less vulnerable.”

Snigdha also hopes to serve as a role model: “I want to inspire other women to become entrepreneurs themselves and have a positive impact on society.”

Spurring women to build businesses with a positive impact on society is precisely the objective of the Women Peace Café, which will bolster further female student-led projects in Bangladesh.

Female students from BRUR proudly display their seed funding awards at the Women Peace Café launch event in Rangpur. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer
Female students from BRUR proudly display their seed funding awards at the Women Peace Café launch event in Rangpur. Photo: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer