Our impact, Their voices

Child marriage didn’t stop Reshma to become an entrepreneur

ILO’s EU funded Skills 21 project is assisting the partner TVET Institutes in providing entrepreneurship and management training programmes for potential and existing entrepreneurs, using proven ILO training tools such as Know About Business (KAB), and Start and Improve your Business (SIYB) and their ‘green’ extensions. Like Reshma Akhter, other 2100 youths took the entrepreneurship development training from the TVET institutes under this programme.

Feature | Dhaka | 19 July 2022
Reshma Akhter is preparing the bottles of apple cider vinegar for distribution © ILO
I am Reshma Akhter from Bagerhat (southern part of Bangladesh). I got married at the age of 13 while studying in class six. Growing up in a village, I had to accept this reality. My eldest son was born two years after the marriage, and the youngest two years later when I was 17 years old. I grew up with my boys and as soon as they had grown up, I started my education and passed an open university course. My sons are in eighth and ninth grade class now in madrash (religious stream) education.

My husband is a seasonal businessman – he was involved in making uniforms for primary schools all over Bangladesh. I used to help him with his business. We already didn’t have a good income from that business; but then the COVID-19 lockdowns suddenly brought our income down to only one-third.

A couple of years ago during the COVID-19 lockdown, I used to follow a famous dietitian online who recommended apple cider vinegar for good health. I searched the market and found that it was imported from abroad and the price was quite high. Then I thought, why not just find out the recipe and make it by myself. I found out the recipe required very few ingredients so I started making it for myself and gave it to a few friends and relatives.

Reshma is pouring her signature apple cider vinegar into the bottles © ILO
They were quite appreciative as they were getting some benefit from it. Then I thought how can I make and sell a little more! So, I decided to start my own small venture. During that time, I followed a Facebook page called ‘tell your own stories’ specially for entrepreneurs. There I found information on the initiatives of a lot of people, the stories were very interesting and sounded encouraging. One day I learned from the group that the Institute of Marine Technology, Bagerhat was going to conduct an entrepreneur development training with the ILO’s Skills 21 project supported by the EU.

Enthusiastically I enrolled on the course with a friend of mine and had such an excellent training. The books that were given to us in the training contained detailed descriptions of what we needed to do to become an entrepreneur. Each step was explained in detail to our class. From the training I learned how to get a trademark and do the legal paper work, how to get the certificate from the Bangladesh Standard and Tasting Institution, and how to set up a dealership to roll out the product to the market.

The brand name of my product has started to spread little by little in Bagerhat. In addition to informing people about the benefits on our Facebook group, I am also receiving their feedback and advice. This entrepreneurial training seems to have taken my work a lot further. I dared to name it 'Tahseen Food Industry'. Tahseen is the name of my eldest son. I have now rented an office and a factory in Bagerhat.

Reshma among the participants of the entrepreneurship and management training in IMT, Bagerhat© ILO
Besides Bagerhat, I am now working to set up dealerships in Khulna, Dhaka, Feni, Noakhali, Sylhet, Chuadanga, Chittagong, and Tangail to market my product. I will market the product with the approval of BSTI. I also hired an assistant to help me with the marketing.
As per my demand and production capacity, I will be able to produce 3,000 bottles of 460 ml apple cider vinegar per month. Since I am going to start work on a large scale, I am now hiring some staff. In line with my work, women workers will get priority.

I have come to this position in my life beyond the child marriage. I will now take my Tahseen food company a lot further and at the same time also start a new agri-based business. With the entrepreneurship development training I have learned ways to increase the range of my business. Now, little by little, I will apply those tips to grow my own company. This is why I will be able to create employment for skilled people. Because I have come this far by using my own skills.