In Bangladesh, the average young woman is faced with limited options. To survive, she’s either coerced into marriage before she’s ready, forced to work under poor conditions for minimum wage or less, or lives in extreme poverty. But in a small village on the outskirts of Dhaka, one young woman’s drive and creativity has been harnessed.
Now, 18-year-old Nipa is her own boss.
Nipa lives with her parents, three sisters, and brother in a rickety house made from bamboo and tin sheets. She sleeps in one bed with two of her sisters.
Her father, once a shoe factory worker, wasn’t making enough income to send all his children to school and also feed the family. So, at 15 years old, Nipa’s only option was to leave school and find work in a factory. Nipa’s story is common in Bangladesh. The country’s booming garment industry relies on paying people a minimum wage in unsafe work environments.
Untrained, and competing with thousands of other girls in similar situations, Nipa struggled to find a break. But then she came up with a brilliant idea – and turned to a support network to help bring it to life.
Nipa decided she wanted to manufacture motorcycle grips – a product that’s in high demand in a bustling city like Dhaka – with her cousin. “I am involving my whole family in the production of grips from our home,” Nipa said. “We produce around 300 pairs a day and take them to market.”
She employs her parents and siblings, who all sit together, as they slice up foam materials, glue the strips together for malleability, and use an electric tool to mold each grip into a sturdy product. Much like a production line seen in the factories across the river, Nipa’s family members are each playing their part to keep the business growing.
Nipa caught the attention of B’YEAH, a local organization that encourages young job-seekers to pursue entrepreneurship. Through its outreach program, she developed her business idea and entered the Plan-supported Young Women’s Entrepreneurship Development (YWED) program.
Her venture has grown into an income-generating operation that supports her entire family.
Through the program she is gaining bookkeeping and business development skills, as well as self-respect and confidence. Currently, the income earned is sending her younger sister to school, and providing clothes and food for each family member.
Through the YWED program, Nipa has financial independence, confidence and – most importantly, for a young woman with determination – room to grow. The concept of women’s entrepreneurship is not well accepted in Bangladesh, with women owning less than 3 percent of all enterprises and most banks favoring men in their loan-giving schemes. Naturally a goal setter, Nipa hasn’t lost sight of her studies either.
“My friends are a source of inspiration for me – they are encouraging me to keep my business growing, but they also want me to go back to school once the business is developed,” Nipa said. “Right now I can’t invest time in my study, but I’ll start again next January through Open University. Then I’ll be able to manage both my studies and my business.”
Nipa also dreams of expanding her business. The Plan program has been negotiating with a local bank, allowing Nipa to access a loan. Using the loan, she’ll move the business to a larger space where she can employ other young, disadvantaged women and even start manufacturing seats for rickshaws – a very common and cost-effective mode of transport in Dhaka.
“Not all women feel safe to go out into the community – so I know I can give them work to do at home,” Nipa said. “I’d like to focus on employing underprivileged women in the future so they can support their families.”
Nipa is not dissimilar to millions of women around the world whose life opportunities are limited due to a lack of education. But with her vision for a better life, she is setting an example for everyone around her, and playing her part in breaking the cycle of poverty.