How going digital helped a small business in Bangladesh to build back better after the pandemic

  • August 28, 2023

  • Dhaka, Bangladesh / Bangkok, Thailand


Dewan Jahidul Hassan

UNCDF would like to thank Radhika Holmström for writing and Jon Stacey for copyediting support (both for Green Ink,

For further information, please contact:

Georgii Nikolaenko
Learning, Knowledge Management and Communications Analyst
Asia Regional Office, UNCDF  


Shamim Ara Aziz, 41, lives with her husband and their two sons in Dhaka. She is a creative designer who has built up her own clothing line, specially focusing on block-printed womenswear. Today, she is the owner of Shapno Chhoa Lifestyle, with a boutique shop, a tailoring shop and a factory in Badda, Dhaka. A combination of customer sales, online sales and supplies to superstores and other brands currently generates a monthly average income of $1,500.

Shamim Ara’s career as an entrepreneur started back in 2005 when she was a student.

During one of our marketing courses, our instructor said: ‘What is the point of becoming a marketing graduate if you do not dare to showcase your creativity and build something from scratch?’

It made her stop and think; and she decided at that point to try to set up her own business, starting even before she had graduated.

The first challenge she faced was finding the capital for creating samples from her designs. She funded this by teaching art classes to children and saving some of her own allowance, and, as a result, she was able to start producing her first womenswear designs. She sold some to friends and family, but without access to Facebook or digital marketing the business did not bring in enough revenue to support her, and she had to take a job after completing her degree.

At the same time, she continued to produce her own designs and to learn new techniques such as block-printing and screen-printing. She also investigated the market, selling her designs at different events and venues and gaining an understanding of how different designs are suitable for different market segments. She joined useful organizations for networking and promoting her business. When she got married and had her first child, her husband realized how difficult it was for her to combine family life, her salaried job and her creative business, and he encouraged her to leave employment and focus on her creative work. With his support, and some finance he arranged for her from savings, Shamim Ara got her first big break in 2011. She started supplying designs to a range of large suppliers.

I always dreamed of being a creative designer and creating unique dresses for everyone to admire. Then when I started getting paid for that and becoming financially independent it inspired me a lot.
Shamim Ara Aziz
owner of Shapno Chhoa Lifestyle

However, she still faced obstacles, particularly other people’s attitudes. Everyone in her family except her husband opposed her decision to leave her salaried job for a new and risky venture. Other people, including male suppliers, did not respect small business owners in general, and women running micro businesses in particular. She had to make difficult and sometimes risky journeys on her own to Dhaka’s suburbs and other remote regions to collect supplies. At the same time, she had household and family responsibilities. But she was committed to building up the business, and slowly suppliers started to recognize her as a valued colleague and treat her with respect.

As Shapno Chhoa Lifestyle expanded, Shamim Ara was able to open a physical store, build a factory and employ five staff. She registered her business with a trade licence and initiated the process for acquiring Digital Business ID. However, she still focused mainly on selling to other businesses rather than directly to customers and sold mainly within Dhaka. She had not investigated how digital platforms such as Facebook or Instagram could be leveraged most effectively to connect with customers. There were whole areas she knew little about, including online platforms and communication, social media engagement and digital marketing.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced her to change her business model. When physical shops shut, many of Shamim Ara’s clients cancelled their orders, and she was left with huge supplies of stock. She did not know what to do with it or how to sell it, and her monthly revenue dropped from an average of $1,000 to $500 a month. She started attending workshops and seminars that aimed to help small businesses survive during the pandemic, which is how she first found out about ekShop—an e-commerce aggregator platform developed by the Government of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology division and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Aspire to Innovate (a2i) programme. ekShop helped her with door-to-door deliveries during the pandemic, and she also completed all 10 digital and financial literacy modules developed by ekShop with support from UNCDF and Visa.

Impact of the training on Shamim Ara’s family and everyday life

For the first time, Shamim Ara was able to develop brand awareness for Shapno Chhoa Lifestyle, reaching new customers and businesses through social media. Her new skills equipped her to set up digital shops by engaging with Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp; today approximately 10 percent of her business revenue is generated from these digital stores. She is now selling more widely within Bangladesh, as well as to Sweden and Canada. With her greater social media presence and advertising, more customers are visiting her physical shops too.

Impact of the training on Shamim Ara’s financial and digital skills and financial decision-making

I want to explore opportunities and export my products.

Shamim Ara has also benefited from other aspects of the digital and financial literacy modules. She was not managing the business systematically before, whereas now she is able to do her own financial and budget planning and identify monthly cash flows better. The product pricing module enabled her to calculate the cost price for any product more effectively, factoring in the different elements rather than simply applying a simple mark-up. She has gained more insight into negotiation skills and techniques, which has put her in a better position for dealing with suppliers. In addition, she now knows about the procedures involved in applying for a loan, and the percentage of income required, and she is organizing the documentation to apply for a loan so that she will be able to grow her business further.

Impact of the training on Shamim Ara’s business

The training modules and digital presence have transformed her brand, with her monthly revenue now at $1,500. Shapno Chhoa Lifestyle is now known to many more customers and won the Joyeeta Foundation award for women entrepreneurs at the Dhaka International Trade Fair 2023. Shamim Ara believes that the training she received was an important part of helping her reach the position she is in today. She would recommend the digital and financial literacy modules to anyone who is considering embarking on a similar business venture.