Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY September 25, 2019

Connecting Women Entrepreneurs to Value Chains in Bangladesh


Tarango CEO Yeasmin Kohinoor (l) attending graduation ceremony in Dhaka, Bangladesh, of an access-to-markets training program for women entrepreneurs

Photo: World Bank Group

Women entrepreneurs can transform their local economies and contribute significantly to the global economy. But first they need to overcome obstacles in accessing markets and finance. With the support of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, the World Bank Group is working to address these constraints. This is the first in an occasional series.

When Kohinoor Yeasmin opened Tarango, her small handbag manufacturing enterprise in Bangladesh nine years ago, the prospect of business growth and job creation seemed intimidating. 

“I was scared to talk to corporations because I did not know how to deal with them and meet their demand,” she said at a recent learning event geared toward helping women entrepreneurs access markets. 

Today her firm has grown from 5 employees to 180—all of them women—making fair-trade, eco-friendly handbags and purses. Yeasmin welcomes these opportunities, and the fears have faded. 

“I am not scared any more. I am confident.”

Yeasmin spoke at a learning event jointly organized by the World Bank Group, and WEConnect International, a global network that connects women-owned and women-led businesses to buyers around the world. Begun as a pilot, the Bangladesh project is now continuing as part of the World Bank Group program supported by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). 

"I was scared to talk to corporations because I did not know how to deal with them and meet their demand...I am not scared any more. I am confident."
Kohinoor Yeasmin
Handbag manufacturing owner

We-Fi is a collaborative partnership among 14 governments, six multilateral development banks (MDBs), and other public and private sector stakeholders, hosted by the World Bank Group. It seeks to address financial and non-financial constraints faced by women-owned and women-led small and medium enterprises (WSMEs) in developing countries. We-Fi will benefit 115,000 women-owned SMEs in over 50 countries.  

The World Bank Group We-Fi program is a joint global initiative of the World Bank and IFC, leveraging public and private sector interventions in support of WSMEs. The initiative tests innovations and scales up successful pilots under three thematic pillars—strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems, expanding financial services, and improving market access. More than half of the $75 million of WBG We-Fi funding is committed to IDA-eligible (including Bangladesh) and fragile countries. The program aims to reach 43,000 women entrepreneurs and catalyze 40,000 loans to WSMEs. 

The Bangladesh project involves networking and training programs to raise the capacity of WSMEs to build their business networks and compete for new contracts by upgrading skills and tools needed to achieve business growth. Participating in the pilot, Yeasmin said, “opened my eyes” to the information gap that exists for women, while training sessions “guided me on how to make a business plan,” and “how to deal with corporate buyers.”

In June 2019, Yeasmin, along with other graduates of the program and a Bangladeshi delegation from the Ministry of Commerce and the government’s SME Foundation, attended a trade fair in Baltimore that offered opportunities for making contacts with potential customers. Asked by a department store representative if she could supply 5,000 pieces, she responded with assurance. “I can do it in three months, but if we have the raw material in stock I can mail them to you in 15 days,” she said. “Now I feel like I can compete!”

The networking approach through the training program not only links women-owned and women-led small and medium enterprises with new customers but also with each other. 

Through the project, Yeasmin is now working with software engineer Tauhida Haider Reema, another graduate of the program and CEO of an e-business and IT services firm, Global WebOutsourcing Ltd., based in Dhaka. The IT firm is upgrading Tarango’s software systems to the level required by many corporate buyers. In this male-dominated field, Reema, who has been in business for 12 years, provides computer training for women to work in her company. Allowing employees to work from home has helped overcome a barrier to women in the workplace. 

“If I give her the opportunity, she can do this!” said Reema, who also attended the Baltimore trade fair. Through the project, she has networked with other women businesses in need of IT solutions, enabling her to expand her business and hire more Bangladeshi women.

The pilot project in Bangladesh trained 53 growth-oriented, women-owned businesses in person and provided online training to 111 WSMEs. The WB We-Fi Bangladesh project aims to scale the pilot to train 1,200 WSMEs, support creation of a database linking WSMEs and corporations jointly with the SME Foundation, and establish a network of at least 40 multinational corporations that have made specific commitments to source from WSMEs.