Supporting small businesses to ensure the future of Bangladesh

The first case of COVID-19 was identified in Bangladesh in early March 2020 and the government imposed a national lockdown by the end of the month. The economic fallout of COVID-19 threatens millions of livelihoods. Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have been hit particularly hard.

Bangladesh Youth Enterprise Advice and Helpcentre (B’YEAH), Youth Business International’s member in Bangladesh, is supporting entrepreneurs from underserved communities in urban and rural areas, including young people, women, and migrants, all of whom are being significantly affected by the pandemic. 

B’YEAH’s Programme Director, Mahadhe Hasan, tells us more about the organisation’s response in Bangladesh. 

What is the economic impact of COVID-19 in Bangladesh so far?

The garment sector, central to our economy, has been badly affected by disruptions to supply chains. Ongoing lockdowns across export destinations have led to buyers cancelling or postponing orders. Factories have shut down and workers have been sent back to their villages. Fewer migrant workers can send money from abroad back to their families and this is being particularly felt in rural areas where families often rely upon this money for their subsistence.

How are small businesses being affected?

Small businesses are facing multiple challenges. Many are at risk of being completely wiped out. Market demand has fallen, employees have left cities to return home, and limited connectivity and digital skills are making moving operations online very challenging.

As a result, many business owners are struggling to meet daily costs and are in urgent need of emergency support. Government support to date has been inadequate. At B’YEAH we are very concerned that low-income business owners are particularly vulnerable during these difficult times, especially as they rarely have access to social protection schemes.

How is B’YEAH adapting its services to best support small businesses?

We are moving our business counselling and mentoring services online, drawing on our extensive network of business experts and financial institutions. We are also delivering online training for business owners in key topics, such as how to review and adapt business models, and supporting business owners to identify and access financial support available.

As part of YBI’s COVID-19 Rapid Response and Recovery Programme,funded by Google.org, we are creating an online hub where entrepreneurs can find useful resources and tools and share their own experiences and tips. We are also setting up an Innovation Lab that will help struggling small business owners to identify new business opportunities during this challenging time.

What are you learning as a result of this crisis?

Two things. Firstly, entrepreneurs have to be crisis resilient at all times. In the current context, this includes having the digital capabilities to continue operating and stay connected to customers. Secondly, while financial support is critical, many of the entrepreneurs we are supporting are most concerned about accessing advice and support that can help them adapt their businesses. They want to remain self-sufficient and independent, even at this difficult time.

“In Bangladesh, small businesses are key for employment generation and poverty alleviation. Supporting them means supporting the youth and future of Bangladesh.” Mahadhe Hasan, B’YEAH

Looking ahead, what role do you see for small businesses in the recovery effort?

Now is the time for business owners to innovate and adapt their business models; from moving online and offering home delivery to diversifying their product range. Like the rest of the world, Bangladesh is heading towards a serious recession. Ensuring food security will be crucial to avoiding shortages and possible famine. Small businesses can play a critical role in this and the recovery effort more broadly.

In Bangladesh, small businesses are key for employment generation and poverty alleviation. Supporting them means supporting the youth and future of Bangladesh.

Read more about our global response to the COVID-19 crisis here.

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