“This is not just a business, this is a social responsibility,” says Esrat, who runs Tulika, a small business producing jute bags in Bangladesh.
Jute is a traditional crop in Bangladesh and has become a popular material in recent years. It is biodegradable, cleanses the air, requires less fertiliser than other crops and improves soil texture. It also plays a vital role in the economy, creating employment in rural areas.
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 difficult to find information and navigate the legal requirements for setting up a business.
Training and mentoring
This all changed when she met up with B’YEAH, a member of Youth Business International (YBI) in Bangladesh. B’YEAH provided her with business training and paired her with a mentor. With this support and her hard work, Esrat built a successful business with 15 employees. She 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, Esrat’s business came to a complete standstill for about three months. 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.
Reaching new customers online
With support from B’YEAH and YBI, through a programme funded by the IKEA Foundation, Esrat has taken her business online. She has received training in e-commerce and digital marketing and has adapted her business plan. She is now promoting her bags and connecting with customers on social media platforms to drive online sales. This has helped her reach new customers, continue to make money through the pandemic and even secure an order from Europe.
Esrat continues to work hard and dream big. 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.
Opportunities for women
Esrat is also passionate about creating opportunities for rural women who have not received a formal education and struggle to find work. She is giving them the opportunity to use their handicraft skills to produce bags for her, working at home so they can earn money despite having to take care of the household and children.
Esrat wants to employ many more women and promote female entrepreneurship and green business around the world.
In Bangladesh, where micro, small and medium enterprises make up almost 99% of non-farm businesses, environmentally conscious young entrepreneurs like Esrat have an important role to play in making sustainability a priority. With their small businesses, they are contributing to an economy that values our planet just as much as profit.