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    LightCastle Partners in association with ACDI/VOCA and Rural Reconstruction Foundation (RRF) completed the second batch of the Business Scale up Program “Unnoty,” providing business development support to 22 women agri-entrepreneurs in Jashore via accelerator and investment readiness programs. This initiative helped women ag-entrepreneurs and ag-SMEs to become fully investable growing businesses.

    The consortium partners have successfully completed the event with a Demo Day on July 24, 2019 at RRF Training & Resource Center, Ramnagar, Jashore. The Demo Day concluded an eventful month-long Unnoty Accelerator Program.

    Figure: Timeline of ACDI/VOCA Unnoty Accelerator Program

    Roadshow

    The initial phase of the project was a 2-day Roadshow, which was held on the July 1 and 2. The project team conducted road shows in Jashore (Charabhita, Bagharpara, Narikelbaria and Khajura) and Jhenaidah (Barobazaar). The day-long roadshows attracted the community dwellers with over 150+ participants who were interested in the accelerator program. The project team handed out leaflets of the accelerator program and briefed the applicants about the project; participants showed keen interest and eagerness. More than 120 female entrepreneurs agreed to take part in the Boot camp, which was taken place in RRF Training & Resource Center on July 4. The event was attended by sector experts of the country, along with representatives from ACDI/VOCA, LightCastle Partners and RRF.

    Boot camp

    Boot Camp was the second phase of the Unnoty program. The boot camp was facilitated by LightCastle Partners at RRF Training & Resource Center, Ramnagar, Jashore. The event saw 67 female entrepreneurs attend with a remarkable enthusiasm to learn. The prime areas of discussion were ways to increase productivity, business expansion, and division of capital, provision of financing and tactics which would help raise income. The consortium team, held key one-on-one interviews with the participants to help shape their business models into a more sustainable and fruitful one. The interview panel short listed 22 female entrepreneurs for the accelerator program.

    Accelerator Program

    As a part of the accelerator program the first residential session was held in the second week of July – 8th and 9th. Workshops were conducted by industry experts, government personnel, business consultants, gender expert, education psychologist, and local market leaders for providing a holistic knowledge building and experience based learning. The workshops entailed both hands-on practical learning sessions and theoretical lessons.

    The hands-on learning sessions included:

    • Debate: Participants were divided in two groups and provided with relevant topics to debate on.
    • Critical Thinking: Participants took a MCQ based quiz regarding the topics covered in theoretical sessions.
    • Presentation: Participants were asked to present and explain their case study’s solutions.

    Alongside, the theoretical sessions covered the following knowledge areas:

    • Business Principles
    • Product Matrix
    • Business Model Canvas
    • Financial Governance
    • Financial Management
    • Branding & Sales
    • Business Opportunity
    • Financial Investability
    • Modern Ag-Technology
    • Agro-Technical Knowledge

    Second phase of the residential workshop was held in the 4th week of July from 22nd to 23rd. The first day consisted of sessions focusing on financial planning, analysis, record keeping, and cattle health care. The second day consisted of practice sessions where the participants learned and practiced how to present their businesses in the form of pitches. The session allowed participants to detect errors and correct them, as well as honed their public speaking and presentation skills. Additionally, a session on seed processing and seedling plantation was arranged to enlighten the participants about modern agro-technology.

    Apart from the ones mentioned above, there were sessions on Women Entrepreneurship, Women Empowerment, and Education. These sessions were taken by the following personnel:

    1. Sabrina Haque, Director, Chicks & Feeds Ltd.
      Session: Women Entrepreneurship
    2. Nabeera Rahman, Gender Expert Consultant
      Session: Women Empowerment and Education
    3. Maliha Ahmed, Education Psychologist
      Session: Women Empowerment and Education

    Local Government officials were present to take sessions on knowledge enhancement of the participants; the sessions were about livestock rearing and fattening and rice seed production and storage. The sessions were taken by the following personnel:

    1. Bhobotosh Kanti Sarker, District Animal Resource Officer, Jessore
      Session: Livestock Rearing and Fattening
    2. Sushanto Tarafder, Additional Deputy Director, Agriculture Office, Jashore District
      Session: Rice Seed Production and Storage

    Demo Day

    The Demo Day of Unnoty Accelerator program Batch Two for Ag-MSEs was held on July 24, 2019, at RRF Training & Resource Centre, Jashore. An esteemed panel of judges graced the occasion. The panel consisted of representatives from ACDI/VOCA, Bank Asia, LightCastle Partners and Animal Resource Officer, Additional Deputy Director of Agriculture Office of Jashore, an Independent Gender Expert and an Independent Education Psychologist.

    The Demo Day started with a welcome speech by the consortium, followed by introductory speeches from the esteemed dignitaries and judges. The main program began with women empowerment session followed by pitches from the participants. Through the pitch, the entrepreneurs described their profile, experience, business plan, current financial solvency, revenue, profit projections and capital requirement. After presenting, each participant faced a Q&A session from the panel and guests where different queries were asked regarding their business plan and they had to defend their stance.

    Outcome

    At the end of the evaluation 22 ag-entrepreneurs were introduced with fund providers i.e. banks and also were connected to forward market actors in seed, dairy and vermicomposting wholesalers. The closing ceremony ended by acknowledging the participants with a certificate and communicating instructions from the consortium partners regarding the future proceedings of the program to become investable and expand their businesses.

    The female entrepreneurs from this region were at a disadvantageous position with lack of access to finance and both forward-backward market linkages. Due to having limited scope of formal education, they were unable to access financial institutions for their working and growth capital. The patriarchal culture and gender power distance has caused the female entrepreneurs to be lagging behind their male counter parts. The female entrepreneurs were not able to stay overnight at the venue’s dormitory due to not having permission from their spouses and other family commitments.

    Insights to key problem areas:

    • Lack of access to finance
    • Gender power imbalance
    • Little or no formal education
    • Little business administration and management knowledge
    • No formal method of book keeping of financial transactions
    • Not using formal stamps while doing business contracts
    • Lack of support from family

    Case in point: Ms. Aleya Khatun from Noapara, Jashore Sadar, Jashore; is a seed, fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock feed trader. She has work experience of over 9 years, which helped her in becoming an experienced trader and entrepreneur. She is currently processing seeds and feed, and selling them to local farmers in nearby areas.  Before attending the accelerator program, she was unaware of provisions of capital from private commercial banks at interest rates lower than micro credit financing. She also did not consider indirect costs such as rent and utility bill while calculating cost of her product. Quoting Ms. Khatun,

    “I feel very privileged to have attended this training program and getting to know about the basics of business management which have opened up new opportunities for me to get access to loans at a lower cost and understanding the pricing process to include indirect costs while calculating the price of my products. Earlier I did not have a proper action plan for my future goals, but after attending the sessions and creating my own BMC (Business Model Canvas) I believe that I will be able to manage my business better and more efficiently”

    Post event feedback from the participants and guests were very promising, they applauded the initiative and were very enthusiastic to support and participate in such an event. The executives from the Bank Asia stated that they would try their best to facilitate the financial needs of the participants starting from opening a zero deposit account to arranging SME loans for them upon evaluation.

    The Animal Resource Officer of Jashore District, Mr. Bhobotosh Kanti Sarker highly praised the participants for their enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit. He assured them his utmost help in regards to giving advice on poultry farming, dairy farming and vaccination of domestic animals. The initiative was also highly praised by Mr. Sushanta Tarafdar, Additional Deputy Director, Agriculture Office, Jashore District. Another guest Mr. Sohel, Director of Ujirpur Organic Seed Co. mentioned his eagerness to induct more female seed suppliers in his supply chain to help empower women and be more gender inclusive.

    The three wholesalers of Dairy, Vermicomposting and Paddy were present. Mr. Pintu Ghosh proprietor of M/s Priya Ghosh Dairy Traders, Mr. Rafiqul Islam proprietor of M/s Rafiq Vermicompost Enterprise and Mr. Kalyan Dash proprietor of M/s Kalyan Rice Mill & Traders promised to provide credit for advance purchase of paddy, milk and vermicompost to these entrepreneurs. This will enable the female entrepreneurs to increase their processing output and get higher revenue.