Employment & Entrepreneurship

Young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh go digital to cope with COVID-19

Kaniz Fatema YBI - World Youth Skills Day
Kaniz Fatema in her shop. Photo-credits: Youth Business International

On World Youth Skills Day (15 July), as young entrepreneurs face unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, we’d like to thank our partners who are helping them develop new skills to weather the crisis.

Kaniz Fatema and Akhi Akhter Milli are two successful young women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. In a country where women account for only 4.3% of business owners, they are challenging stereotypes, breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for other young women.

But due to the COVID-19 lockdown, both have had to close their shops and factories, threatening the survival of their businesses.

Our partner, Youth Business International (YBI), is helping them to take their businesses online and stay connected with their customers and employees through its Digital Accelerator Programme.

Livelihoods under threat

Kaniz runs a leather goods manufacturing business but had to pause production and close her shop to ensure the safety of her staff. She is now focusing on selling her existing stock online.

Akhi is in an even more difficult situation. The main source of income for her business is to provide beauty treatments and train others in how to give the treatments. It is impossible to provide either of these services under the current circumstances. Akhi is using online platforms to stay in touch with her clients and collaborate with online training agencies.

Akhi Akhter Milli, YBI
Akhi Akhter Milli.
Photo-credits: Youth Business International

Kaniz and Akhi are both planning to reopen their businesses as soon as possible after the lockdown. However, they are worried about continuing challenges, such as shortages of key supplies and resources and losing staff who may be scared to return to work. They both emphasise that more government support is needed to ensure the survival of small businesses, specifically covering medical expenses of infected staff and providing cash grants and tax cuts.

Investing in new skills

As part of the Digital Accelerator Programme with the IKEA Foundation, YBI’s local member organisation B’YEAH is matching Kaniz and Akhi with mentors who will help them improve their digital skills and provide general crisis support. B’YEAH is also helping them and other entrepreneurs prioritise their next steps and provides a range of online support services with a focus on developing e-commerce and digital marketing skills.

Mahadhe Hasan, Programme Director of B’YEAH, said: “Digital capacities are vital for small businesses to stay connected to their customers in times of lockdown and social distancing and survive the current crisis. We need to invest in digital skills now to come out stronger on the other side of this pandemic.”

The IKEA Foundation has an ongoing partnership with YBI to enable young entrepreneurs in India and Bangladesh to create thriving businesses that boost their economies and create jobs in their local markets.