As part of the Fulbright program, the Center for Women’s Empowerment of the BRAC University Business School (BBS) hosted Dr. Sharon Hart, the first Fulbright Scholar for six weeks who helped develop the curriculum for women’s entrepreneurship and leadership training, designed research questions about gender and women’s economic empowerment. questions and build capacity to conduct workshops for researchers and BBS faculty members. The Fulbright Program is one of America’s premier exchange programs that strengthens and expands people-to-people and educational ties between the US and Bangladesh. Dhaka Tribune’s Kohinur Khyum Tithila sat down with DR Hart to find out her thoughts on the future of women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh.
Can you explain why you became interested in this project? What are the areas of focus when it comes to female entrepreneurship?
I was very happy when I saw that the University of Brač emphasizes the empowerment of women. There are two main focus areas of the Women’s Empowerment Center. One is to help with women’s leadership. Brac will help women who are already in key roles and want to improve their leadership capacities and help them become stronger leaders throughout the country. Another focus is women who want to become entrepreneurs — mostly women who have a degree but don’t have much knowledge about starting a business.
There are many Facebook based female entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. Do you think this will hold?
Entrepreneurs should focus on diversification in the long run. They have to consider different marketing strategies. The entire field of marketing or selling a product can change very quickly. I think everyone, especially a woman who really has a great product or service that she wants to deliver across Bangladesh or beyond, should stay up to date with current trends. And I think the best way to do that is to stay continuously engaged in education. So is it to take advantage of what Brac is trying to do here with her Women’s Empowerment Center, is that person just an active reader, is that person taking advantage because there are a lot of resources online that people can find today. That’s one of the great advantages that people didn’t have 40 or 50 years ago. Now they have all these resources at their fingertips and easily accessible to be successful in their company. It is up to the individual to see how far they want to expand their entrepreneurial activity, but take advantage of the different media or other platforms that exist.
In addition to selling products, women can also use skills such as taking cooking, art, language courses online. Do you think schools should focus on these skills?
I think educators have a responsibility to prepare students for the workplace, and that even comes down to working with children at a very young age and preparing them for high school graduation. They should have the skills to at least understand the basic principles behind being an entrepreneur. But I think it will be very important to present the possibilities for establishing entrepreneurship centers for different communities, where children can go after school if they are interested in being entrepreneurs and for those who are entrepreneurs in the community to come. and help by giving back and helping to share what led to their successes.
What are the challenges for female entrepreneurs?
I think one of the biggest challenges, not only here in Bangladesh, but also in other countries, is the opportunity to educate people in these fields. For example, a woman in a rural area who may not have the formal education to reach certain levels. And are there activities that would help these women reach those basic levels so that they can become successful entrepreneurs? But if some women out there who still have a very hard time reading and writing, even in their own language, how do you expect them to be entrepreneurial in the long run? It will be very challenging for them. So there are a lot of basic skills that need to be there first.
You worked in Bangladesh for a few weeks. Tell our readers about your trip.
I think it was a wonderful opportunity. I think the American Embassy is looking forward to bringing more American experts here to help. Not only can it help that some of us are here to give land or give institutions that have been connected with information and knowledge, but it is also very useful for us to learn more about the land. It should also be about the cultural experience of coming here, learning about the people, learning about the food and learning about how they live. It was extremely useful for me.