Women-led businesses in Jamalpur benefit from Coca-Cola model

Adnan Hossain Bhuiyan

A number of women in rural Jamalpur after getting training in skills now eye changing their way of life becoming entrepreneurs using the platform of a unique business model.

The Women Business Centre (WBC), an empowerment project for women, has provided skills to thousands of women in information technology (IT) and communication, agriculture, and first aid and preventive healthcare. Training in these fields have made them optimistic about achieving financial independence.

The model of the WBC was developed by Coca-Cola under the company’s Sustainability Commitment programme while the project was implemented by Concern Universal, a non-government organisation (NGO) from January 2015 to June 2016.

The company launched Women Business Centres in Bangladesh as part of its global 5by20 initiative to ensure economic empowerment of 5.0 million women entrepreneurs globally by 2020.

The women empowerment project reached more than 10,000 women of Sadar and Melandah upazilas of Jamalpur district directly and indirectly  by setting up 10 WBCs, mostly in hard-to-reach areas.

The project was completed four months ago, but the beneficiaries are confident about continuing the activities with their developed skills, as the WBC platform integrated them to carry on small businesses and improved agricultural production.

Each WBC is operated by five women entrepreneurs who have never been in business before, receiving technical services and training from Coca-Cola Bangladesh. They shared the ideas with approximately 1,000 neighbouring women.

Talking to the FE, a beneficiary of the programme, Sabuja Begum of Ruheli village of Jamalpur Sadar said, “We have been cultivating many agricultural products for years but we didn’t know the proper process of boosting production and selling the crops within the community or to the wholesalers.”

The WBC also provided first aid and preventive healthcare services to its recipients. In this connection, she said women of her village knew little about nutrition issues before, but now they have become aware nutrition issues.

Under agriculture and home industries training, women were connected with a WBC got skill development training on vegetable cultivation, backyard poultry, livestock farming, fishery, medicinal tree plantation, handicrafts and small businesses like grocery shop.

The implementers of the project have found that the women producers, receiving training from WBCs on crop plantation and fertiliser application, increased production of rice by 13 per cent and vegetables by 17 to 21 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014.

Shamim Hossain, Head of Food Security and Livelihood Unit of Concern Universal, said 91 per cent of women engaged under the WBC project received health services and 25 per cent of them women visited a professional doctor twice in 2015 compared to 20 per cent in 2014. This indicates growing consciousness among the community.

Each WBC is an e-commerce-based one-stop business service system providing IT services such as computer, mobile recharge, photocopy, scanning, photo printing and internet facilities to the local community.

Five women entrepreneurs Morsheda Begum, Akhi, Sanoara, Jotsna Ara Begum and Morsheda Banu run together a WBC in Dakshin Baluchar village of Shyampur union in Melandah.

Morsheda said they have become very successful running the centre because many people come to them for different services including mobile recharge, photocopy, photo printing, consumer products and primary health care as the centre is the only place to offer these services.

In the Dakshin Baluchar WBC, for instance, Coca-Cola provided equipment worth Tk 173,000 (the average cost of setting up a WBC) including laptop, camera, mobile phone, photocopier, printer and training to operate the technologies.

At the same time, the female entrepreneurs also invested Tk 44,424 of their own money to run a grocery shop under the roof of their WBC.

While the cost associated with setting up of a WBC are mostly below that of equipment, the bulk of Coca-Cola’s US$ 100,000 budget for the Jamalpur project focuses on numerous training programmes that are organised to prepare and equip the women to run the centres.

Public Affairs and Communication Manager of Coca-Cola Bangladesh Shamima Akhter said the key objective of the project is to empower rural women by facilitating them with business skills training, market information, agriculture training, technological knowledge development and healthcare counseling.

She also said based on the experience of the project in Jamalpur, Coca-Cola is expanding the second phase to the villages of Khulna and Bagerhat to empower another 10,000 women.

Source: The Financial Express. Date: 09 Nov 2016