ITC launches business support directory for women entrepreneurs

The International Trade Centre (ITC) on Monday announced the launch of a Business Support Organization (BSO) Directory for women-owned businesses in Bangladesh. 

The BSO Directory will function as a central repository for BSO services and information open to women-owned businesses in the country. The roll-out of the directory is a key part of the the SheTrades Commonwealth project, which is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), 

Engagement with BSOs is a key channel through which the SheTrades Commonwealth project aims to help develop a more gender-inclusive business ecosystem in Bangladesh. Since the launch of the SheTrades Commonwealth project in 2018, ITC has delivered numerous online trainings, workshops, and coaching to Bangladeshi BSOs and their staff to promote more inclusive service portfolios for women-owned businesses. 

For many women entrepreneurs, a main obstacle accessing business support services stems from lack of awareness about existing services offered by BSOs, as well as difficulties in establishing contact with relevant BSOs contact and obtaining information. 

‘We have struggled a lot to identify which BSOs provide the kind of support that our business needs. Often we had to rely on information from unknown sources. Now, we have all the essential information about the associations in one place,” said Nurun Nahar Fancy, Managing Director String Technology, a tech start-up.

The BSO Directory, which is an open-source repository, serves to raise awareness among women-owned businesses of the business support services available and increase visibility of BSOs in Bangladesh. In addition to being a one-stop catalogue to  access key profiles and relevant BSO contact information, the Directory will provide updates on training opportunities and services offered, but also information such as membership application processes and an access hub containing data and pointers to ongoing women-focused initiatives.

The resource will be hosted by a local institution, SME Foundation, which is the country’s leading organization for SME development.

‘The creation of the BSO Directory under the SheTrades Commonwealth project is a very welcome initiative,’ said Safiqul Islam, Managing Director of SME Foundation. 

‘Having a one-stop shop for business associations and other crucial information, will provide women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises easy access to much-needed information on BSOs. The SME Foundation is very pleased to collaborate with the International Trade Centre on this on this initiative and support SMEs in Bangladesh.”

The launch of the BSO Directory also provides a timely response to efforts launched by BSOs to help clients deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The BSO Directory includes a dedicated COVID-19 section that offers trusted information on various institutional initiatives and services open to women-owned businesses. For instance, the BSO Directory highlights the range of support services provided by SME Foundation to help SMEs address the crisis. These include financial stimulus packages for SME digital transformation and daily webinars to support women entrepreneurs across the country with crisis management.

Beyond the Directory, the SheTrades Commonwealth project is working closely with BSOs across Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria and has developed a COVID-19 Crisis Management Toolkit that provides women-owned businesses with tools and resources to assess the impact of the crisis and (re-)design their business models for greater resilience. The toolkit is can be accessed here.

In December 2019, the SheTrades Commonwealth project was awarded a one-year extension with additional funding of £3.5 million. In the coming months, the project will continue delivering capacity-building activities to BSOs and their staff to promote more inclusive business support services for women entrepreneurs and BSO Directories will also be deployed in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria.