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‘Women now better accepted as entrepreneurs in Bangladesh’

37Attitude of men towards women entrepreneurs has changed in Bangladesh significantly in recent times, said a young woman entrepreneur of the country.

She also thinks the responsibilities—such responsibilities vary from one society to another because of the cultural differences— of a woman towards her family is a major barrier to exploiting her full potential as an entrepreneur.

“When I had to visit various food companies and restaurants for marketing and delivering our products, men around me did not seem to be a problem. But when I had to make deals while setting up a petrol pump in Rajshahi, the men concerned could not accept me easily,” Nagina Najnin, chairperson of Eminent Agri-Industries Ltd, told the FE in an interview.

Eminent Agri-Industries Ltd started as a project titled ‘Eminent Dairy and Food Processing’ in Thakurgaon in 1997 aiming to build and develop a backward and forward linkage for homestead dairy and agricultural products of the rural farmers organized by the Humanitarian Agency for Development Services (HADS) with the initiative of Ms Najnin’s father.

At that time, Ms Najnin said, the price of cow milk was less than a bottled mineral water in that area. So the main focus was to help the poor farmers sell milk at a reasonable price, which the NGO used to buy.

Later in 2004, the NGO started producing Mozzarella cheese. Eminent Agri-Industries became a limited company and registered under the Joint Stock Companies targeting to supply dairy products to the restaurants and catering industry.

It was one of the first manufacturers of mozzarella, cheddar and Feta in Bangladesh. Along with cheese, the Eminent also produces butter oil on demand from its existing customers.

Najnin’s father wanted her brilliant daughter to be an academician. She joined in Southeast University in 2003 after completing her masters in 1999 and working in an NGO for some time.

The Eminent established an independent production unit in Salamdar, Thakurgaon in 2010 to increase production, improve quality and supervise production directly as it separated from the collaboration of HADS by that time.

Ms Najnin had to take up the responsibility of the Eminent in 2011 all on a sudden as her father fell sick. With her limited knowledge about the NGO and its cheese, she moved from office to office to survive and save the family property. Finally she had to leave the university job to become a devoted businesswoman.

“In the beginning, we employed five female and one male workers in the cheese factory as per the advice of our Danish consultant. Cheese making needs skill, technology and affection that women have,” she said.

At present, 25 women work in the Thakurgaon factory including the manager and in-charge of two production units. In the head office in Dhaka, two men and two women work including the chairperson.

“I used to deliver cheese to different companies with one delivery man which was quite unusual. Now I am thinking to recruit female delivery personnel for my products,” she said.

Starting with a working capital of Tk 2.5 million, her investment now has reached to Tk 3.5 million over the past three years excluding land price.

The Eminent produces 2.5 to 2.6 tonnes of cheese per month and supplies those to 40 food and catering companies of the country. The monthly turnover is Tk 1.61 million. There is a demand for 3.0 tonnes of her cheese which she cannot supply due to capacity constraint of her factory.

“I did not take loan from banks for my business until now. As I am thinking of expanding the business, I am preparing all the necessary documents for a bank loan,” said Ms Najnin, adding: Islami Bank which is the financer of the Tk 40 million petrol pump project, will also finance the cheese project as the bank finds the business financially lucrative.

Ms Najnin wants the Eminent to be an automated one and grow in such a way so that she can create employment for more women in her factories and meet the demand of the huge local market.

For her, marketing was the most challenging job in becoming an entrepreneur than the complicated documentation, legal matters and accounting for her business.

Ms Najnin agrees women have been empowered considerably in the country. Yet she wants government support for the rural women who have all the potential to develop as entrepreneurs. But the rural women are struggling due to familial and social barriers.