Ms. Selima's dedication to the cause of new enterprises has won her the best businesswoman award.

Selima Ahmad

Started in 1984 as a $500 venture, this leading women entrepreneur's automotive business has grown into a $300-million business house with diversified interests, writes K.A. Martin

Selima Ahmad did not consider it important to make it big when she founded the Bangladesh Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2001. She wanted to make a difference. And she did.

The way small enterprises run by women have grown to grab public attention in Bangladesh in a way never before.

Now she spends the bulk of her time helping women entrepreneurs build their businesses. She also advocates the growth of private enterprises in her country. She was here in Kochi last week to attend the sixth Commonwealth-India Small Business Competitiveness Development Programme.

As a business graduate from the Dhaka University, she wanted to launch here own enterprise. Her friends deserted her for the safety of their jobs while Ms. Selima chose to launch a business in partnership with her husband. Between 1984 and now, the $500 automotive business has grown into a $300-million business house with diversified interests.

Not that the Women's Chamber did less well. Today it has 400 small and medium entrepreneurs and 300 micro entrepreneurs as its members in addition to the 10,000 micro enterprises that have close linkages.

All these and more when the environment is not friendly to new enterprises. Getting a small loan is easy. But raising capital for a new enterprise is a difficult task, she says.

It was direct advocacy by the Women's Chamber that led to the banks in Bangladesh to lend to women's enterprises in a big way. Ms. Selima says that the advocacy programme also saw banks cutting interest on loans to women's enterprises.

Women in Bangladesh are courageous and dedicated. They are hard working and persevering even during heavy odds. Entrepreneurs like Syeda Jahanara Waheed can vouch for the great work being done by the Women's Chamber. From a $500 enterprise in traditional craft works in 2001 to a $9,000 enterprise in 2004, her company Grameena has come a long way. Constant training and assistance to participate in fairs abroad helped Grameena grow rapidly. Ms. Selima's dedication to the cause of new enterprises won her the best businesswoman award in her country.