Pandemic cost young Bangladeshis their jobs. Now they are self-employed

Sourav Sheikh had been working as a photographer in a Japanese company since December 2019. But as the coronavirus pandemic struck, the company started cutting costs and put him on furlough in April.

“I realised it would be hard to survive without the job, so I even offered to go out to work amid the pandemic. But they asked me to either wait or quit and stopped paying me,” said Sourav, also a final-year undergraduate  student.

Sourav quit his job and decided to pursue his childhood dream of becoming self-employed. He opened an online saree shop on Facebook called ‘Parban’ on Jun 6.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought significant changes to the lives of many people over the past five months in Bangladesh, especially those who lost their jobs.

Despite being thrown into unemployment, many young people have regained their footing by dint of their indomitable will. They all are entrepreneurs now.

Sourav Sheikh, a photographer-turned-entrepreneur who sells Jamdani and Tant sarees and other products on his Facebook page Parban.

Having started on a small scale, some are planning to expand their businesses thanks to the growing success of the online ventures. These freshmen entrepreneurs don't intend to go back to their old jobs once the situation goes back to normal.

“Initially, there was a lukewarm response to my Facebook page Parban. The ball started rolling on Jun 18, when a friend ordered two sarees for his mother and sister. I am receiving lots of orders now,” Sourav said.

The prices of his sarees range from Tk 1,500 to Tk 2,500.  Later, Sourav extended his product range which now includes disposable plates and cups made of palm leaves, traditional reed mats and traditional sweetmeats such as 'naru' and 'moa'.

“When I lost my job, I decided to fight and not leave this city without succeeding. I wanted to be my own boss and hold my head high,” Sourav said.

Rajib Hasan used to be a planning manager in a garment factory in Gazipur. With a decade of experience in the readymade garment sector under his belt, Rajib lost his job during the pandemic.

Rajib Hasan doesn't want to return to his previous job anymore. He wants to expand his online business of selling pure mustard oil and honey.

“Many senior staffers like me were laid off. I didn’t know how I'd pull through with my family,” he said.

Suddenly, it occurred to him that he could make ends meet by selling pure mustard oil from his village home in Gaibandha. He subsequently brought the oil from Gaibandha and began selling to his acquaintances two days prior to Eid-ul-Fitr.

“I sold 55 litres of oil in a week. In June, the sale was 300 litres, which jumped to over 400 litres in July. I also sold honey. I started the business with a working capital of Tk 10,000 and it's now turning a good profit,” Rajib said.

He wants to continue the business with integrity and plans to expand it.

"I want this pure oil to reach everyone as most of the edible oils available in the market are adulterated. I want to set up a factory."

However, Rajib does not plan to start looking for a job when the coronavirus crisis abates.

"The garments sector requires more time and labour. I had suffered a lot but still there was uncertainty. I would rather continue my own business."

On average, one in six youngsters is jobless in Bangladesh, most of whom are women, according to the International Labour Organisation or ILO.

Mahfuza Mou is running an online catering business with the help of her family. The pandemic has given her the chance of living out her dream of being an entrepreneur.

Mahfuza Mou, who worked as a graphic designer in Alvee Group, is among the women who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

While her marriage registration was done in January, the formal wedding ceremony was due to take place in March but it got postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.

To make matters worse, she was told by her employer that her services were no longer required while her husband lost his job as well.

"I was at my wit's end at the time," Mou recounted.

Mou had always dreamed of opening a restaurant. Although the lack of capital had proved to be the main hurdle, she nevertheless took on the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur.

"My mother gave us courage when my husband and I were lost. She said no-one will visit restaurant amid the epidemic so we could start a catering service. She convinced me to open a page on Facebook although I believed it would be tough to sell food online."

Mahfuza Mou's ‘Ahar Kendra’ has garnered a good response on Facebook.

Mou's online catering business kicked off on Jun 30, when she opened a Facebook page called 'Ahar Kendra'. The menu includes biriyani, pulao, roasted and grilled chicken, along with different types of mashed vegetables.

"A senior friend was sick and unable to cook. She gave us our first order on Jul 7. That's how it started and now I am getting a good response," Mou said.

"I never wanted to work under anyone but preferred to run my own business. I feel great to do that now. I want to expand and open up a restaurant in future."

The entrepreneur, who grew up in Mirpur 6, said she has the full support of her family to take on the new challenge.

"My mother does the main cooking while I cook the grilled items and mashed vegetables. My father does the packaging and my brother delivers the food. I run the Facebook page. The biggest advantage in the business is that you don't need any investment. I have full satisfaction. The coronavirus epidemic has made me an entrepreneur," said Mou.

Many people with underlying diseases had to quit their jobs during the pandemic. Aurangzeb Himel, who suffers from Asthma, was one of them.

Aurangzeb Himel is putting his decade-long experience in the garments sector to good use. He is selling clothes from his Facebook page ‘Wish Hub’.

Himel used to work in a readymade garment factory in Narayanganj. He did not want to risk his health when the lockdown was lifted in April and informed his office about his condition, as he was suffering from a sore throat at the time.

Initially, the factory authorities granted him a week off but warned him that he would lose the job if he didn't rejoin after the leave. But when his condition worsened, Himel decided to quit his job.

"I was devastated thinking of how I would maintain my household without a job. Then I went for an online business as suggested by my sister," said Himel.

He started a Facebook page called 'Wish Hub' with an inventory of products worth Tk 4,000.

"I opened my Facebook page on May 24. I thought I'd begin with clothing items as I am familiar with the products and know many people in the sector. Initially, I sold clothes for children. After getting a good response to that, I started selling clothes for men and women."

Himel made his first sale on Jun 8.

Regardless of the nature of the job or business, he believes it must be done with the utmost attention to detail to reach a point of success.