IT for SMEs
Md Fazlur Rahman
Clicking the mouse on a desktop computer or learning how to browse may sound amateurish to growing IT users in Bangladesh. But for the 120 entrepreneurs at a training centre in Dhaka, this was a novel experience.
The participants at a training programme, IT for SMEs, run by Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, are all entrepreneurs — new and old, or people who are planning to start a business.
Although they are learning the basics of communication technology, internet, and acquiring other skills like how to write a business letter or send an email, these will help them move forward and keep up with the fast changing global trends, they say.
Shimla Pal, 22, one of the five participants from the hill district of Rangamati, said, “I have a computer at home, but I do not know much about how to use it. I am much more confident now after learning the basics here.”
Pal, a student of Rangamati Govt College, said she is participating in the training because she wants to become a successful entrepreneur.
“I have learnt about internet browsing and web management, which will definitely help me. It will also help me to plan my business.”
She has been running a home-based beauty parlour, where her friends and neighbours are usual customers. Now, she plans to set up a proper beauty shop.
“The training will help me run the business when I finally start one,” she told The Daily Star recently.
Pal said every person is an entrepreneur. “Everybody knows something. People should have the opportunities to display their skills first.”
The course module at the 10-day training programme has been prepared in consultation with various associations on the needs of the small and medium entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, organisers say.
Golam Mawla Chowdhury, 45, is familiar with a computer, but knows little about internet. He says he is unable to communicate with foreign buyers to sell merchandise, including jute goods displayed at his boutique, because he cannot correspond over email.
“Now, I know how to write and send an e-mail. This will help me a lot in attracting buyers and customers across and outside the country.”
Chowdhury, who exports jute goods to the UK, urged organisers to offer advanced training on IT use as well.
SME Foundation, the state-run agency responsible for developing the sector across Bangladesh, organised the event in association with BCC. There is no course fee.
Organisers say the country’s growing SME entrepreneurs lack the skills in using ICT that is required to expand operations. The training programme has been designed so as to make them IT savvy to an extent.
The 40-hour training programme that runs till March 24 covers the basics of using computers, internet, business correspondence, use of spreadsheets for SME management, business communication, browsing and voice communication.
It will also teach participants how to use mobiles and social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter, as communication tools for business, as well as the basics of web marketing concepts, e-marketing, online shopping, web payment systems and computer and cyber crimes.
Organisers admit that the training programme is not full-fledged. “We are trying to infuse inspiration into them. Once they feel encouraged, they will find their own way,” said Mian Ashik Murshed, programme manager of SME Foundation.
Lipi Akter, assistant programmer of BCC and also a resource person at the training event, said the biggest thing about the training programme is the participants’ enthusiasm.
“Their will power is really high. Most participants are middle-aged but their passion for IT is amazing.”
She said many participants have businesses and they maintain their accounting, albeit on papers. “They have been convinced that if they can do their accounting on excel, then it will be easy and they would be able to track their income and spending easily.”
Akter said these entrepreneurs produce a variety of things but cannot market them beyond local markets. “Now they will be able to search and find facts, for example, on the latest designs in the world of fashion and thus make their products much more attractive.”
She said many participants even have websites of their companies, but they hardly ever clicked on it, as they did not know about browsing. “Now, they can do it and they know ways on how to make improvements.”
Sabita Maria Rozario, who has a chain of boutiques in Gazipur, Khulna and Gopalganj, said the training should focus on ways of using the web to expand business.
Anwara Siddiqa, 40, owns a factory in the city’s Bashabo area. She employs 20 workers who make furniture from cane and bamboo. A leading boutique house in the country is in her list of clients.
She said, “My children use the computer at home but I had never used it. It would have been better if I had learnt how to use it much earlier.”
Siddiqa said she would soon open a website where her products would be showcased. “I will also sign up on Facebook to reach out to more customers.”
Monjusha Mehera Mila, 45, has a boutique and beauty parlour in Bogra town. She said she had to take help from one of her nephews to communicate with buyers. “Now I will be able to do that on my own.”
“Even if my businesses are based in Bogra and buyers come from across the country or even abroad, I will be able to contact them, sitting here in Dhaka. That’s the biggest advantage of technology.”
Mila, also a culinary specialist, said the government or SME Foundation should organise such training in rural areas, where most SMEs are based.
“In my locality, there are thousands of women running home-based businesses. But they are not receiving any kind of training to improve their skills and make their business more visible.”
She said these entrepreneurs do not have required exposure and do not get fair prices for their products. “We come to know about so many things because we live in the capital and can attend a number of trainings.”
“This type of facility can help them a lot in terms of improving the quality of their products and getting access to the ever expanding markets,” she said.
Mila also urged the Foundation to organise a basic course on English language, as skill in the foreign language is a must to win orders from abroad.
Nazrul Islam, 40, who came from Shirajganj said technology has become a major determinant in helping achieve business goals and affording the SMEs a competitive edge over competitors. “We cannot ignore the benefits of technology.”