Women worldwide are raising the bar everywhere, whether it is in education, technology, architecture, fashion, healthcare, media, or sports. Every year, the world welcomes more and more women entrepreneurs to enrich the global economy. Our country is also blessed with such rising stars as well. However, women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh is not as common as in the world as only 7.2% of all businesses in the country are owned by women.
But the scenario is changing, and more Bangladeshi women are entering the world of business as leaders, paving the way for thousands of people while also inspiring and guiding them. Today, we will introduce you to ten of these inspiring women entrepreneurs whose determination, self-confidence, and courage propelled them to become some of the most influential figures in Bangladesh.
1. BiBi Russell
One of the legendary fashion designers in the Indian subcontinent, Bibi Russell, is working continuously to promote the local hand-woven textile industry of Bangladesh. She was born in Chittagong in 1950 and graduated from the London College of Fashion in 1975. For the next two decades, she had a very successful career in fashion modeling, working for renowned magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue. In 1994, Bibi Russell returned to Bangladesh and founded Bibi Production to realize her dream of rejuvenating and taking the local textile and handicraft industry to the global market while highlighting the native Bangladeshi culture. The drive to improve the local craftspeople’s quality of life worked as her primary motivator. Now the company strives to establish itself as an innovative, ecological, and global brand that brings humanism and harmony together.
Bibi Russell organized hundreds of local and international fashion shows and showcased her creations in countless countries. In the ’90s, she organized multiple fashion shows in Spain and Paris. She showcased her innovative fusion, Rajasthani Khadi, at India Runway Week Winter-Festival 2016. In 2022, Bibi Russell launched her collection in another fashion show in Bengaluru, India. UNESCO titled her “Artist of Peace” in 2001. Furthermore, she received Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Costume Design in “Moner Manush” in 2009.
2. Taslima Miji
The CEO and founder of Techmania, Taslima Miji, is one of the best examples of women’s leadership in the tech industry of Bangladesh. She was born in Chandpur and grew up in a large joint family. She started writing in newspapers in 1997 and worked as a journalist until 2007. However, because of some unfortunate circumstances, Taslima Miji left journalism, and with a friend’s encouragement, she started her journey as an entrepreneur. Taslima Miji started exploring the field of computer hardware businesses. Finally, in June 2008, she established Techmania, a company that offers computer-related hardware and networking solutions. Techamania’s services are available inside Dhaka, which includes assembling, troubleshooting, and repairing computer systems.
Taslima Miji went through many ups and downs before reaching her position today as a successful entrepreneur. She faced many obstacles to establishing herself in the male-dominated tech industry of Bangladesh. However, because of her determination and bold spirit, she confronted them head-on and triumphed. Today, many other aspiring entrepreneurs admire her for her hard work and personality.
3. Ivy Huq Russell
Ivy Huq Russell always considered failures as delays, not defeats. She is constantly driven to take on challenges, and is very persistent to succeed. After leaving her career as an investment banker, she wanted to explore her underlying passion for helping people in need. As a consequence, her brainchild, Maya, was born. Ivy Huq Russell founded Maya in 2011, known as “Maya Apa” back then, to improve Bangladeshi women’s access to information, especially regarding physical and mental health. By 2014, the company started working with BRAC as a partner and focused on offering complete healthcare services, such as video consultations and an online OTC medicine shop.
Maya App was launched in 2015, making its services more accessible with a user-friendly interface. Maya became immensely popular among users as it is easy to understand, allows users to ask questions anonymously, and enables experts to deal with each query as fast as possible.
Maya is the first Bangladeshi startup to join Google’s Launchpad Accelerator program. By 2019, 25% of Maya’s consultations were being operated by AI (artificial design) technology. Through this amazing venture, Ivy Huq Russell contributed to improving health awareness and promoting women empowerment all over the country. Her accomplishments highlight her talent and desire to use it for philanthropic purposes, earning people’s respect.
4. Sabila Enun
Sabila Enun grew up focusing on two things – establishing her own identity with her work and making her parents proud. She is always exploring new opportunities to learn and improve. Often found successfully handling multiple responsibilities at once, Sabila Enun will inspire you to strive for more. Currently, she is working as a Lead Technological Analyst in a Nike Foundation project. However, her main concern is DCastalia, a leading software development company in Bangladesh that is thriving with Sabila Enun’s contribution. Sabila Enun is one of the founders and the Head of Communications and People at DCastalia, which was established in 2009. The company offers technological solutions both nationally and internationally. Its services include website development, software development, app development, graphic design, technical support, and many more.
Sabila Enun has been nationally and internationally recognized for her work. She received the “Mobile Innovation Award 2016” from Google Developer Group, Bangladesh. In October 2017, she was titled “Outstanding Women Entrepreneur.” Moreover, in May 2016, Sabila was one of the judges at the Hult Prize. Being an extraordinary businessperson with a wandering mind, Sabila Enun has always been destined to be a successful entrepreneur.
5. Rubaba Dowla
Rubaba Dowla has been a renowned figure in the world of business even before becoming an entrepreneur. She proved her merit in product innovation, brand management, and correspondence again and again, especially in the telecommunication industry of Bangladesh. After being involved in this industry for 15 years and working with giants such GrameenPhone and Airtel, she decided to be an entrepreneur in 2017. She is currently working as the Country Managing Director at Oracle as well. Rubaba Dowla is Pulse Healthcare Service’s founder, which was established in 2017. It is a telemedicine platform that connects patients and doctors through video conferences.
This platform aims to ensure patients receive good healthcare from their homes, avoiding waiting in long queues at the hospitals. Such online consultations are secure and convenient, and the platform showed its significance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. Sabrina Islam
While so many brilliant entrepreneurs are advancing the technology, healthcare, and fashion industries of Bangladesh, Sabrina Islam is modernizing the country’s architecture field. In the late 90s, when she used to work with Bangladesh Handicrafts Cooperative Federation (Karika), Sabrina realized that stained glasses were not available in the country and they needed to be imported. However, the demand for decorative glasses was growing, and architectural trends were changing. Identifying this market gap, Sabrina Islam gained skills in making decorative glass arts and founded Reflections in Bangladesh in 1998. Initially, with no trained employees and a lack of raw materials, it became difficult for her to keep Reflections afloat.
However, with hard work and determination, the company started to become more successful. Now it sells products such as curved glass, etched glass, sandblasted glass, stained glass, engraved colored glass, and traditional glass overlay.
In April 2009, Sabrina Islam received the “Outstanding Women in Business for 2008” award from The Daily Star-DHL World Wide. In addition, she was titled the Most Outstanding Women Entrepreneur – From Asia by the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industries in Doha, Qatar, in 2008. Currently, Sabrina Islam is the president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association (WEA) Bangladesh. She is an executive committee member of the Bangladesh Employers Federation as well.
7. Samira Zuberi Himika
Samira Zuberi Himika grew up in a family that always encouraged her to take part in the country’s development. As a result, she developed an interest in working for social and economic development and wanted to infuse the process with innovation. But before becoming an entrepreneur, Samira Zuberi Himika worked with several development organizations, including UNDP and BBC World Service Trust, Bangladesh. In 2010, Samira Zuberi Himika established Team Engine, a social-good company. The primary goal of this company is to support other entrepreneurs and innovative ideas. It works towards enabling an excellent ecosystem to promote entrepreneurship, incubate promising ventures, and ensure the overall social good of the country.
8. Selima Ahmad
Selima Ahmad is another inspiring and ambitious entrepreneur, thriving in both her business and political careers. She has a long history of working with some of the biggest entities in the country, such as the Nitol-Niloy Group. She was also a board member of Janata Bank and Sonali Bank. But her most significant achievement is establishing the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or BWCCI, in 2001. BWCCI is the first chamber of commerce that is dedicated to only women in Bangladesh. The organization researches and offers support to women entrepreneurs in the country. In November 2021, BWCCI, with funding received from UNDP, started working on a project aimed towards providing digital and financial literacy training to 3,000 women entrepreneurs.
Taking such a noble initiative to empower Bangladeshi women and improve their quality of life, Selima Ahmad has been honored locally and globally. In 2014, she received a “Special Recognition Award” at the 28th CACCI Conference. In the same year, she won the “Oslo Business for Peace” award as well. Her dedication to promoting entrepreneurship among underprivileged women will inspire others to contribute to collective progress.
9. Selina Qadar
Selina Qadar is one of the pioneers of women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh. She focused on one of the primary industries of the country – agriculture. In the 1980s, Selina Qadar observed that the Bangladesh Government provides only a 10% subsidy for potato export. With the primary goal to promote the export of potatoes, she established Agriconcern in 1985. Agriconcern has been supporting farmers to produce and export 10,000 to 20,000 metric tons of potatoes every year. The farming venture has grown big, and now it is able to develop the export market for other agricultural products of the country as well. Therefore, it has prepared a dedicated R&D plan to help the winter vegetable market. Agriconcern also promotes farming among local women entrepreneurs.
10. Nadia Binte Amin
Nadia Binte Amin started her journey as an entrepreneur in 1993 by co-founding Research and Computing Services Private Limited (RCS) with some of her friends. She is also the MD and CEO of BEAS and TARA foundation and the Director of The Federation of Chamber and Commerce and Industry (FBCCI). It is impressive to see how one person successfully manages all these huge responsibilities daily. Nadia Binte Amin’s own organization, RCS, was established with the goal of offering advanced IT, research, logistics, advertising, training, and event management services to businesses and social communities in Bangladesh. It has been involved in research work for organizations such as UNDP, UNICEF, and other renowned global entities.
Just like her brainchild RCS, Nadia Binte Amin has been enthusiastically engaged in the social development of the country. Many of her personal collaborations with projects on education, child protection, sanitation, hygiene, and labor security further prove her keen interest in improving the quality of life of the underprivileged population. Because of her relentless effort to contribute to the employment and economic empowerment of Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs, Nadia Binte Amin won the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Federation of Indian Women Entrepreneurs in 2022.
What is the Future of Women Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh, with a score of only 36.4 out of 100, was one of the lowest-ranked countries in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs in 2020. The score essentially suggested that the country’s economy still has to be improved further to encourage more women to explore entrepreneurship. The current barriers that the women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh face primarily include cultural norms and their limited access to connections, collateral, networks, and business skill development.
However, in an event jointly organized by UN Women, UNDP, and UNDCF on International Women’s Day 2022, it was suggested to improve women entrepreneurs’ access to financial services through further development of financial inclusions. Financial and banking institutions are working towards the same goal as well. For example, in August 2022, HSBC decided to launch the Female Entrepreneur Fund to promote women-led startups.
Moreover, LankaBangla and Bangladesh Bank made an agreement in August 2022 that enables LankaBangla Finance to provide loans at a minimum rate of 7% to women entrepreneurs. In March 2022, Meta, partnering with BWCCI, the ICT Division’s a2i program, and LightCastle Partners, introduced the “She Means Business” program. The program aims to equip women entrepreneurs with connections, skills, and technology to grow their ventures online.
With so many new initiatives and support programs from national and international organizations, we can see a bright future for women entrepreneurs in this country. The top women entrepreneurs we have got to know today have gone through many obstacles and thrived on clearing the path for newcomers in this field. Their contribution to the country’s economy, development, and women’s empowerment will remain a significant part of our history.