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A world to be won in Bangladesh

Incubators

Bangladesh is struggling with extreme unemployment and poverty. Fortunately there are people who believe that things can change for the better. BetterStories Limited is aimed specifically at those people. This incubator has set itself the target of training a new generation of entrepreneurs, and PUM is happy to lend a helping hand.

Bangladesh is also badly affected by the consequences of global warming and rising sea levels. Flooding, the salinisation of agricultural land and the lack of drinking water are causing people to migrate to the capital city Dhaka, in huge numbers. “Walking around in Dhaka, you cannot believe your eyes,” commented PUM expert Jan Blok. “The rubbish tips are full to overflowing. There is still so much work to be done here, and a whole world to be won.”

Accelerator programme

BetterStories is an incubator, established by a group of young entrepreneurs. Supported by the private sector and the World Bank, BetterStories has been helping start-ups to set up their own sustainable business, since 2008. For some time now, the company has also been offering a special accelerator programme for established small businesses with growth ambitions. These so-called scale-ups were the focal point for the first PUM mission. Jan continued, “The idea behind my visit was to advise BetterStories and their clients on sustainability. The main focus is on saving energy, cleaner packaging and recycling.”

‘BetterStories is aimed at entrepreneurs who believe that things can change for the better’

Making a difference

By the end of his visit, Blok had advised a total of 17 entrepreneurs on sustainability and safety. “The entrepreneurs came in all shapes and sizes, from a small business producing compost from organic waste through to a honey producer and a female entrepreneur producing cheap sanitary towels. I was also surprised by an entrepreneur who had developed a ‘taxi’ app for women. Because it is not common practice for women to take a taxi driven by a man, this particular entrepreneur only employs female drivers. Based on what the various entrepreneurs told me and showed me, I drew up advisory reports for each of them, with a range of recommendations including the use of LED lighting, solar energy or biogas. There was also specific attention for safe working practice, as working conditions in some of these small businesses were far below par. I was delighted that the various entrepreneurs seemed to very much appreciate my safety recommendations, too.”

Jan Blok (70) was employed for years as project manager for a wholesale company supplying cooling machines and air treatment installations. Since that time, he has focused on climate solutions in general and energy saving in particular. This was his seventh mission for PUM. 
Mozahid Ahmed, an entrepreneur based in the city of Bagerhat, founded Natural Fibres in 2001. Mozahid’s small business produces coconut oil. A few years ago, he came up with the brilliant idea of using the hard coconut shell to produce other products. Thanks to Natural Fibres, the coconut shell is no longer a waste material but the basic component for a wide range of products, from coconut mats to mattresses, and even flower pots. Natural Fibres has become Bangladesh’s leading supplier of coconut products, but Mozahid has even more ambitions. “Natural Fibres is still a small business but we believe that our product has huge potential,” explained Mozahid. “With support from BetterStories, we hope to take the next step. The Scale-up accelerator programme is ideal for us. The various professionals taught us a great deal about product development, market research and sustainability. I discussed sustainability with expert Jan Blok. He was able to explain how we can save energy, in a relatively simple manner, for example by switching to LED lighting. He also calculated how many solar panels we needed to run our factory. He taught us to take a close look at ourselves and showed us that the wellbeing of our workforce is essential to the success of our business.”