Chattogram college student Sabrin Shanta Urmi attended a sewing training workshop a year ago. After the short course, she got a sewing machine free of cost. Now Urmi earns from sewing at home, supports her educational expenses and also contributes to the family.
Like her, at least 30 women of Mirsharai upazila have found additional means of income after completing the free training and getting free sewing machines, thanks to Chattogram woman entrepreneur Ruhi Mostafa.
Ruhi's "train and equip" model has created more than 300 entrepreneurs in Chattogram so far, most of whom are marginalised and rural women. Ruhi's initiatives, according to the new female entrepreneurs, played a pivotal role in bringing wealth and prosperity to the marginalised communities.
In a recent interview with The Business Standard, Ruhi said she was among the few female entrepreneurs who had dared to establish the Chittagong Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry in 2003. She said she has been working in Chattogram for the past 22 years to promote a separate identity for women in business.
Ruhi's venture, "Essentials Catering and Handicrafts", manufactures frozen and cooked food items, supplying them to such supershop chains as Agora, Shwapno, Meena Bazar, Chittagong Club, Khulshi Mart, Lavender CSD, Nandanik, Radisson Blu and Mehdi Mart.
The food-maker employs about 100 people. Ruhi said she spends a large chunk of her income – nearly Tk10 lakh per year – on empowering other women.
Ruhi's tale about becoming a self-made entrepreneur resembles sheer will power, struggle and patience.
Born and raised in Chattogram city, she married a government official while she was yet to complete her higher secondary school certificate (HSC) exam. While staying with her in-laws, she subsequently completed her HSC and graduation in 2000.
She first thought about getting a job, but later changed her mind to become an entrepreneur. With a capital of Tk1,000 only, she began her dream entrepreneurship by making and selling homemade snacks.
Ruhi Mostafa's inclination towards business was burgeoning as profits were pouring in slowly but steadily.
In 2001, she established Essentials Catering and Handicrafts with an investment of Tk2 lakh and a nominal factory space. Her customer base started increasing gradually, as the food items ended up on supershop shelves.
Ruhi Mostafa is currently the director of the Chittagong Women Chamber. She previously served the chamber as a senior vice-president. She was also the president of Inner Wheel Club Agrabad. Ruhi is now involved with various social and cultural organisations, including Chittagong Ladies Club, Rotary Club and Colours of Life.
She has attended a number of foreign workshops and training programmes abroad and imparted the lessons so imbibed among local entrepreneurs.
Nargis Akhtar, a food producer and supplier in Chattogram, said she is now doing business after learning it at Essentials Catering factory.
"Thanks to Ruhi Mostafa, I now earn about Tk20,000 per month," she told The Business Standard.
As Ruhi now looks to expand her social enterprises, her plan incorporates a business expansion. She hopes about getting a foothold in foreign markets soon.
"My social enterprises and business are intertwined. The more I can grow my business, the more social enterprises will grow," she stated.