How could a micro-entrepreneur, with a meagre capital and some old-fashioned instruments, survive in a competitive market? Their stories are simply spirit-lifting.
Can hard labour alone keep a micro-entrepreneur in the race? Not really. Rather, thinking out of the box and adoption of modern technology help him or her not only to penetrate the market but also have a dominance over it.
The Business Standard recently met some visionary micro-entrepreneurs who demonstrated a strong will to cross all hurdles to finally reach their goals. While their dreams were small, their success stories came coloured with the same passion the giants of businesses are also affected by.
These successful entrepreneurs participated in the weeklong "Development Fair 2019" organised at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital. The fair came to an end yesterday.
Only a couple of years ago, the market of these small entrepreneurs' produce was limited and so was their income. But replacement of hand-driven machines with power looms, along with attractive product designs and marketing communication, have increased their production capacity as well as profit. Now, they can create employment for other marginalised people.
The micro-entrepreneurs are beneficiaries of the Promoting Agricultural Commercialisation and Enterprises (PACE) project launched in January 2015 by Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), a government institution to finance rural development and provide training.
"The project has set a goal to generate higher income from self- and wage-employment and ensure food security for moderate and extreme poor. The approach goes in a sustainable manner," said SM Niaz Mahmud, the value chain specialist of the PACE project.
The $92.85-million project has been jointly financed by the PKSF and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
A Gamchha-maker now hopes to weave Kashmiri shawl
Among the micro-entrepreneurs, one was Azizul Haque. The forty-year-old man has come out successful among 250 shawl weavers in Dupchachia of Bogura.
Fifteen years ago, he used to weave gamchha (a traditional thin, coarse cotton towel used to dry wet body) and sell them at a wholesale market at Shaoil Bazar in Adamdighi.
Using a handloom, the one-man enterprise used to produce one piece of gamchha a day. Later he replaced the machine with a power loom. Now he can produce at least 18 shawls a day.
And he sells the products, tagging the label of his own enterprise "Abdul Khaled Weaving Factory," at different traditional markets in and around Bogura.
Interestingly, he supplies shawls to some Cox's Bazaar-based buyers who resale the products with a Burmese tag.
"I visited Saudi Arabia twice between 2003 and 2015 as a migrant worker, but every time returned home after a short stay as I did not enjoy working as an employee," he recalled.
"Then, I decided to run a weaving business that originally belonged to my father. Now, I wanted to expand my business," he said.
In 2017, Azizul was selected as a beneficiary of a non-government organisation DABI Moulik Unnayan Sangstha, a partner organisation of the PKSF.
"Eventually, he went through a series of training on operating power looms and drawing attractive designs. He was also facilitated by market communication so that the market for his products did not confine solely in Shaoil Bazar," said Ashrafun Nahar, the executive director of the DABI.
With a hope of weaving Kashmiri shawl at his cottage industry in Dupchachia, Azizul will visit Kashmir next month to get a first-hand experience.
A Chanachur-maker now markets brand product
Nazmul Islam Dildar, 35, the maker of locally-famous Dildar Chanachur (Bombay mix), was struggling hard to stay alive in the competitive market already dominated by different brands.
He failed to deploy permanent bakers at his factory established by his father Abul Kalam Azad at Salandar in Thakurgaon several decades ago.
The factory used to run only when there was a demand for the product. The process of preparing doughs, baking and packaging was mostly manual.
"The products would go damp within one month. As the market was limited, I had to incur losses on regular basis," Nazmul said.
In February this year, Nazmul was selected as a beneficiary of the Eco-Social Development Organisation (ESDO), another partner organisation of the PKSF.
He took training on modern food manufacturing. As he was garnering confidence, he added automated compressor, dough mixture, air-drier and packaging machines to his factory.
The modernisation increased the factory's production capacity. Currently, his enterprise – the Dildar Food Products – produces several other varieties of snacks like chips from jackfruit seeds, and pop-corn.
"Now, the production capacity is 100 kg per day. And there are 15 permanent workers, including bakers, in the factory," Nazmul said, adding that he received Tk11 lakh in loan on zero percent interest from the ESDO. The NGO facilitates him with the service of a food engineer for regular quality control, and a marketing officer as well.
ESDO markets two products of Dildar under a registered brand "Eco Food".
"Before the new approach, the market of Dildal Chanachur was confined only in Thakurgaon town. Now, my products go to Rangpur, Dinajpur and other surrounding districts," Nazmul said.
A poor ornament-maker owns a factory
Imran Hossain, now at his 29, was a poor imitation-maker of Maheshpur under Jhenaidah. His aging father, also an imitation-maker, became unemployed due to illness. Hence, Imran had to take all responsibilities of the six-member family.
With a scanty capital, Imran crafted cheap earing with the mixed metal of bronze, brass and copper. He used impermanent Dry Golden to colour the imitation items.
"Colouring 100 pieces of earing would cost Tk100 then," Imran said.
In 2016, Imran got in touch with the Shishu Niloy Foundation, a Jashore-based NGO as well as a PKSF partner organisation. He took part in training sessions and learnt imitation crafting with automated machines.
Now, he can craft all types of traditional jewelleries such as bangles, check neckless, earing and finger ring. He uses expensive Golden Print colour to make the ornaments longer-lasting.
"Colouring 100 pieces of ornament now costs Tk2,000. The value-addition facilitates me in attracting more buyers," Imran told The Business Standard.
Previously, Imran could sell the cheap products merely at village fairs. Now, his products gain a market in 35 district headquarters, including Dhaka, and enthusiastically online.
"Three years ago, my daily earning was around Tk150. Now, my daily earning surpasses Tk400. I have employed eight workers at my cottage-based factory," Imran said.
Masud Karim, a Shishu Niloy staff overseeing the value chain under the PACE project, said Shishu Niloy had sponsored Imran in October this year to visit India to observe jewellery industries in Gujrat, Rajkot and Kolkata.
"Expensive machineries will be needed to craft the Indian-standard imitation jewellery. But I am experienced and enthusiastic about it," Imran said.