Volume 4 Issue 24| June 18, 2011|


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From Sylhet

An Exemplary Woman Entrepreneur

Sharnalata Roy is one of the pioneers in organizing women entrepreneurs in Sylhet. Her story started off seven years ago with just a small boutique shop. It has now grown into a chain with two outlets in the city, which together provide employment to 60 women.

Iqbal Siddiquee

Sharnalata Roy recieved the SME Foundation Award in 2010

Braving all odds, Sharnalata Roy has attained success on her own. She is now the Vice-president of the Women Business Forum, Sylhet. Besides that, she was nominated as the best woman entrepreneur in the division, and was given the SME Foundation Award 2010. Two others, from the capital and Jessore were awarded the same. The Finance Minister AMA Muhit had handed over her certificate at a function in the capital in December 2010, where the Industries Minister and the State Minister for Women Affairs were also present.

Sharnalata's journey had started with a meager capital of just Tk. 50,000 as she had rented a small room for Tk. 5,000 per month in Sylhet's Miremaidan area. The boutique shop had 12 employees back then in 2004, which has now grown into a chain with two branches in the city. “The capital I started off with was a huge amount for me as it was all that I had saved over a few years,” said she, “but it was all I needed to get engaged in a business of my own.”

She continued saying that it was a great venture for her at the time. “Coming from a middle class Hindu family, and being a young woman at the time, it was very difficult to start off with the business. Most of my family members, friends, and even acquaintances believed that I would not be able to carry on with the business, let alone achieve all the success that I have. They used to mockingly say, 'Give it a few months and the housewife that she is will return to her daily chores in the household. There is no way that she can succeed.' Even though the comments were very hurtful, they were based on the preconceived notions of the Bangladesh society. But times have changes and it is no longer considered impossible for a lone woman to start a business and look after it.” Sharnalata was steadfast in her goals, and serves as the example women in the society can look up to.

On the other hand she did acknowledge those who had always stood beside her, and are the reasons for her success. “My mother and husband, Shekhor Das, were the ones who were supportive of my endeavors at all times. Shekhor provides me with a helping hand even to this day without any questions asked.” Sharna kept on saying, “It was my husband who had managed to convince bankers at the time that I would be able enough to start the business, whereas I had failed to do so myself. I guess that was the foundation for how the commercial banks are now more open to extending helping hands to upcoming women entrepreneurs.” Sharnalata's comments prove that, in order to make women economically active and to change the preconceived notions of society, it is the men whose mindset needs to be changed. Sharnalata is grateful to Shekhor for standing by her side.

According to Sharnalata, developing skills and learning about business is very important for success. Sharnalata herself had taken up short courses at home before starting off. She later achieved study courses on the business from Dubai and the UK. She asserted on training for anyone before trying to open a business. “Most women are more capable and aware of things these days. Institutional support needs to be spread to them in all levels of the country so that they are given the chance in starting their own businesses,” she added. “The society has accepted many changes regarding women entrepreneurs, but it is still very difficult in places. We are trying to organize women in the district and Upazila levels in this regard with great difficulties as our efforts are very limited.”

The Women Business Forum has already helped over a hundred women in starting off their own businesses. Other organizations such as the Sylhet chamber and Asia Foundation have been supporting their cause with full force for quite some time now. Sharnalata individually has helped a lot of these women realizing their goals, and is now aiming to launch a training center for the young upcoming businesswomen. She is currently looking for authentication and government approval with certification for the center.

Sharnalata's venture has not only improved the local economy, but continues to provide a valuable service to the community as well. 50 of her employees are from the Garo community, Modhupur, Tangail, and other rural areas. The unmarried workers are provided with lodging in apartments that she herself rents as a tenant. July Simsang and her husband Pritish Chisim of the Garo community in Modhupur are both very old employees for this strong willed, golden hearted woman. They are happy working under her as their two children are able to attend school and have a chance for a bright future.

Sharnalata Roy receiving the award from Finance Minister AMA Muhit

Sharnalata is originally from Habiganj, Sylhet. She was schooled in the capital and had graduated from the Sylhet Government Women's College and pursued her Masters from the MC College after her marriage.



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