University of Stirling
Stirling FK9 4LA, UK
Director, Overseas Development Group
Small Business Centre
Durham University Business School
Durham City, DH1 3LB, UK
Telephones: 44-1786-467-343, 44-191-374-1221
Faxes: 44-1786-450201, 44-191-374-4765
Studies on women entrepreneurs in the industrialised countries suggest that women business owners have emerged largely from the educated, commercially experienced segments of the female population. Yet the corresponding category of women in the developing countries has received little attention either from development planners or from academic researchers. The few studies that investigated women entrepreneurs in developing countries relate largely to the very poor, uneducated women in rural areas who are involved in survival oriented activities on the fringes of the economy.
So little is known about entrepreneurship/business-ownership of urban women in developing countries, that a significant amount of exploratory field-work is required to form a rudimentary foundation for more rigorous scientific method. This exploratory study looks at business ownership as an economic option for middle-income educated urban women in Bangladesh in order to investigate the issues surrounding the aspiration of a woman to set-up her own business. It also seeks to explore factors affecting the acceptability and the feasibility of business-ownership as an economic option for women in Bangladesh.
A sample of 229 women consisting of both potential (presently housewives, graduates, and employed) and actual business-owners based in Dhaka, the nation's capital, were interviewed by using a largely open-ended questionnaire. In addition, a sample of 10 CEOs of both government and non-government support agencies were interviewed to investigate the issue of feasibility of women's business-ownership from a practical support point of view. Due to unavailability of a comprehensive list, majority of the sample of 75 women business-owners were identified by using a list of women who had received support from a support organisation as well as from the membership of a women entrepreneur's association. The others were located through "straight walk-ins " into "suspected" women-owned businesses.
The results of the study suggest that lack of capital, family support, support from promotional agencies in the areas of finance, training, information, technical and marketing, negative social attitude towards women in business, lack of exposure of role models by media and promotional agencies, and lack of security and freedom of mobility of women are major problems affecting women's aspiration of business start-up in Bangladesh. Similar to the findings of previous research in developed countries factors that have "pulled" and/or "pushed" women into entrepreneurship in Bangladesh are a desire for independence - to be one's own boss, to raise economic returns for the family, to develop a flexibility that caters for the combination of family responsibilities with gainful employment, and to make use of idle time. Interestingly, business aspiration of majority of the women were a result of the influence of non-family role models and/or mentor(s).
The study also shows that demographics (age, marital status, age of youngest child), socio-economic class, network and supporters, and type of business are most explanatory in the context of Bangladesh in determining acceptability and feasibility of business-ownership as an economic option for women. Therefore, those who choose entrepreneurship very often have backgrounds, resources, supporters, networks, and experience conducive to "successful" development of their own enterprise. The role of husband (in some cases, father) is, however, crucial in the business set-up and management process.
In this exploratory study, an attempt has been made to offer a framework for understanding factors influencing the aspiration, the acceptability and the feasibility of educated urban women in the socio-cultural context of a developing country, namely Bangladesh. In order to augment women's entrepreneurship in Bangladesh, overall concern must be to develop aspiration of business start-up among women and to promote acceptability and feasibility of women's business-ownership in the country. In so doing, efforts should be made to encourage wide spread media exposure of role models, ideas for product and market development, introduce effective women friendly 'software' (provision of information, counselling, training) and 'hardware' support (grants, loans, premises provision etc.) as well as to improve the overall law and order situation in the country.
Although this study recognises the limitation of non-random sampling procedure, it is hoped that by selecting samples of women in various stages of life cycle as well as in various categories of businesses this study will give sufficiently wide range of experience to indicate both interesting academic and policy questions. Finally, as many women in non-traditional sectors were found to be "fronts" in their husband's businesses or operating a business actively set-up and guided by their husbands, the whole concept of who or what is a woman entrepreneur in Bangladesh is being questioned.