The new skills I acquired made me realise that I can pursue all of my dreams.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Bangladesh’s craft sector employs a large number of women. Tapping into the sector’s potential for women’s economic empowerment, Katalyst identified that by providing independent craft producers and poor women artisans with better access to skills development, knowledge of effective production technologies, and market linkages, they can increase their income and lift themselves out of poverty.

This has resulted in an innovative collaboration between Katalyst and Aarong, Bangladesh’s largest craft retailer and a social enterprise which has emerged from the development organisation BRAC. Under this project, women entrepreneurs and independent producers working with Aarong receive business and technical skills training which they pass on to their women artisans.

Firoza Aktar from the village of Godaikandi, Netrokana district, works as a quality controller at a factory on the outskirts of Dhaka which supplies Aarong with embroidered curtains, bedsheets, cushion covers and table linen. Before that, she used to live with her family of fourteen. “My father and brothers grow rice and vegetables to feed the family, but over time we found ourselves struggling more and more. So I decided to take my destiny in my own hands and go to Dhaka. I wanted to be able to take care of myself and support my family at the same time,” Firoza says.

Firoza really struggled when she first came to Dhaka. She knew no one, and many people tried to exploit her, making false promises and giving her false hopes. “I was on the point of giving up when I came across an employment opportunity at Isabah Enterprise, owned by Md. Rejaul Islam Rana. I started as a helper under the supervision of Ms. Mou, the owner’s sister. Ms. Mou was like a mentor and a guardian to me – she encouraged me to learn from her,” Firoza says. Ms. Mou had taken part in the Katalyst and Aarong skills training programme and, recognising her efforts and dedication to her work, passed on to Firoza the relevant parts of the training she had learned. Through this, Firoza learned about embroidery work and quality checking.

She proved a fast learner and was promoted to the position of quality controller, meaning that she was able to put her newly gained knowledge into practice. As a helper, Firoza used to get a monthly salary of BDT 3,500 (USD 42) – this has now increased to BDT 7,500 (USD 90). “My samples get immediate approval and I’m getting more orders from Aarong,” she says. She spends the money on essentials such as rent and food, and sends additional money back home to her family. With this money, her family has been able to buy extra land on which they grow rice.

The training that Firoza has received, not only provided her with an increased income – it also empowered her. Firoza says that she feels proud of what she has achieved: she has gone from being a helper to becoming a quality controller with a staff of eight working under her.

Now Firoza is keen to attend more training and improve her business skills. She wants to build on her knowledge and become a small entrepreneur, producing toys she designs herself. Thanks to the training and the immense impact it has had on her life, Firoza is confident that she can achieve anything she takes on.