DHAKA, May 27 (Xinhua) -- The initiative of some 100 Bangladeshi women which they undertook nearly two decades ago to change their socio-economic condition and those of other women in poor communities in Dhaka is now paying off.
The financial cooperative that these women founded is now believed to be the largest of its kind in Asia.
With depositors and members numbering nearly 42,000 women, the Baridhara Women Co-Operative Society Limited is the only women's financial cooperative in Bangladesh.
The cooperative has now some 1.40 billion taka in resources from a measly 5,000 taka start-up capital. (1 U.S. dollar equals to 78 taka)
"The cooperative members are all women. Our members can borrow or deposit in our society anytime," Golap Banu, founder and current president of the cooperative, told Xinhua recently.
The cooperative is distinguishable from Bangladesh's world- famous micro-credit scheme because it charges very minimal interest for loans and since it is non-profit, all members benefit from its success.
"We provide loans to the members under easy terms with very small interest," Banu said.
According to Banu, the main objective of their cooperative is to help members improve their lot by providing them with low- interest loans which they can use to go into business or for other purposes such as in paying hospital bills or children's schooling.
"We've founded the samity (society) as part of our plan to do something for poor women, because, I was also poor. I think that all poor and deprived women members of our society are now better- off," she said.
Banu said almost all their loan recipients are now almost self- reliant.
"I joined the cooperative in 1994. Before joining the cooperative I was a simple housewife but later on I venture into business through a loan from the cooperative," said Rahima Begum, a member and loan recipient.
Begum said that with her first loan, she bought an old vehicle at cheaper price. "Later, I sold it and bought a good air- conditioned vehicle. Now I have six vehicles which I rent out to my six drivers. My husband is helping me because he is a driver himself," she said.
There are many other members like Begum who were able to improve their lives with the support of the cooperative.
Hashi Beguem said that she used the loan she got from the cooperative to set up a restaurant and tea shop and later on a grocery. She said she was able to send their children to the best schools because of the loan that she got from the cooperative.
Sufia, who uses a single name, said that she used to own only 15 rickshaws but after she got a loan from the cooperative, she was able to increase her rickshaws to more than 100 now.
Members and loan recipients said it would not be possible for many of them to secure loans if they had not become members of the cooperative.
Even for marriage purposes or engaging in small trade like buying cow, of putting up a small store, women members would prefer to apply for loans from the cooperative instead of borrowing from banks or NGOs.
Nittya Adhikari, manager of the cooperative, said that their underlying mission is to empower women so that they can stand on their own and improve their lives.
"The journey of the organization began in 1992 with 100 women and 5,000 taka capital. Currently, our society has 42,000 members and 1.40 billion taka fund and 75 officials and staff," Adhikari said.
He said they plan to give pension to members who are senior citizens, establish a hospital and home for elderly women and housing for members.
Banu said they are keenly interested in spreading the concept of the organization and its philosophy of service to women not just in other parts of Bangladesh but all over the world.
"We always love to share our knowledge and experiences to other women of the world, Banu said.