1. Let's start by talking about the journey with WomenS Era?
When I had formed WomenS Era, a lot of women had their own business but weren’t connected, which is why when they needed any help, other organizations would ignore them, giving various excuses. The entrepreneurs were truly helpless at that time and used to contact me to post about their business which was really hectic for me and that’s why I created this group.
Initially, we had just about 1000/2000 members in the group. The members used to post reviews and help each other. And, when in need, like if anyone was facing financial problems, we used to help that person by collecting funds from the other members to provide to them. We started arranging this from the very first year. We also started individual business promotion from the very beginning which was not common in other platforms at the time because of which the group started to get renowned for the entrepreneurs and a lot more people started doing business which made me really happy.
We segmented the group by selecting different days to post about our businesses or personal issues. We started working on personal problems, family issues, mental health struggles and many more different sections. It was really exciting for me because suddenly the group started to grow. Sometimes we used to get like 1000 join requests but we would only select only 70/80 people. We used to verify everyone’s account before accepting their join requests. Everyone was selected from the business society and we made sure that there were no fake profiles.
This group started to become a help center for everyone who owned a business. We used to help people if they needed any support in their supply, channels, or promotion - especially in promotion. We used to select which business to promote each week.
We basically opened this group to promote the new businesses. From 2015 to 2016, it was going really well. We were adding new members and the group was really active. In the end of 2016, we started to work on mental health because when I lost my father that year, I understood more deeply how important mental health is. So, when someone used to face these kinds of issues, hundred people came forward to help that person. Whereas in other groups, I used to notice that people were gossiping about others and talking behind their backs. So, I informed everyone that if you bully others or gossip about anyone, you would be out of the group. And we did kick hundreds of people out of our group for this reason.
After some time, I put together a team of moderators and they were also instructed that if anyone attacks someone or posts any negative comment, that person should be immediately blocked. I was really serious about preventing bullying and negativity, especially about any religious or political topic. Personal attacks, bullying, groupism; these issues are strictly prohibited in our group. Also another thing we don’t allow is controversies in the group. We avoid the controversial topics because of some past events that we faced. The growth of our group is very slow because we filter people before adding and we remove members who are disturbing the environment. We accept join requests only from those who have an authentic profile, and not a fake one. Even my moderators are cautious about this matter. But even after all of this, it is really difficult to maintain the group’s environment all the time, just one comment or a post can change it within minutes. Also, everyday we face different crises. Someone might have a personal problem, business problem or someone might need other kinds of assistance. I get a lot of personal requests for PR from people who are in dire need of ways to support their family. So, we try to support them as much as possible.
2. Share some of the ongoing activities or projects of WomenS Era?
We are carrying out this segment in our group called “Business Days” for the last few months. The objective was to support people who were facing troubles because of the COVID-19 situation. We decided to make Friday and Saturday our Business Days when people can post about their businesses. They can post about their business, about themselves with pictures of their products, about their new stock or even the old remaining ones. The members can post about their business with whatever they have without any cost.
This initiative really helped the entrepreneurs, especially the housewives. You might not know this but almost 80% of the new businesses in the group are owned by housewives. Most of the people who have started businesses are those who need support for their family. Some of their husbands have lost their jobs or they are facing problems in their families. They started their business from scratch and got their inspiration for their business from our group and we try to support them in every way.
At first, I wasn’t fond of the idea of PR but when people started to send me PR and I posted about them, I noticed that a lot of my close people and friends started to give orders, even in bulk. Then I started to buy from the members to promote them in the group. A lot of women stood on their feet because of these initiatives. And the respect and love I get from people in return is the most satisfying thing for me!
I really do not support promoting others by taking any monetary benefits from them.
3. What makes this group so special compared to others? What are the actual activities of its members?
There are basically two things which make our group unique. The first thing is that there is no bullying allowed in our group and individually every comment is being checked by us. And the second thing is, we invest a lot of time in our group, including myself. Another special thing is, everyone supports each other. Even if they do not buy from a page, everyone still goes to the page, gives like and words of encouragement. When the members go live from their page, about 30/40 other members help that person to share the live. That’s really beautiful and encouraging. You should check out the page আমসত্ত্ব (Amshotto), the owner often shares the story of how we helped her through our group. That was an exceptional case for us. She started her journey with 3kgs of mango only. Her case is a signature case for us.
There are a lot of groups like ours but the members usually do not get much help from others but this is not the case of our group. Anyone who needs our help or posts in the group, gets support or help from the other members. Sometimes even our friends buy products from some new entrepreneur even if the correct size is not available just to support that person.
There was a girl who is a cancer patient and her father lost his job due to the COVID-19 situation. So, she didn’t even have any money to buy her medicines, food or the rent. I posted about her in WomenS Era. I personally verified everything about her and posted in the group. The response was unbelievable. Within one night, I collected 30/40k and sent her the money the next morning. The feeling was heavenly. Later on she posted on our group thanking everyone with a picture of herself and her parents. There are so many stories like this which are so beautiful. We hope to arrange a meetup with them just so that they can share their stories.
4. Were there any challenges or difficulties that you faced during its initiation?
When I initiated this group, there was just one minor problem that we were getting join-requests from a lot of fake accounts. And, later the rivals in the group created a lot of challenges.
There were businesses whose products were similar. Sometimes one member used to post about her products and soon enough another one posted about hers which was the same as the first one. And the differences in the price of their products led to fights between them, and they even started to mention their suppliers. These fuelled a lot of rivalries among the businesses, and I had to solve these issues.
What I did was that I started to go do Facebook Live with businesses similar to mine. I also purchased products from them if I liked because I believe that having a mentality that no one can be in the business as I am is very wrong. So, I had to explain to the members of our group about this matter that we need to understand everyone’s needs and should avoid thinking that no one can do business similar to mine. It’s a very wrong idea that someone else is stealing my customers. Even if your customer goes to another business, you will get more customers eventually if your products are better. I had to stop these rivalries.
Another challenge that we faced was that there was a lot of bullying which we had to control. We had to block a lot of people because of their hurtful comments or direct attacks on others.
5. Is there any other community you follow in both local or abroad that encourages and motivates you?
Not really. We actually didn’t follow any other groups or communities while creating our group. Our dedication was to help female entrepreneurs. We never thought that our group would turn into a big platform. I noticed that there was no one to professionally help women and those who did, used to charge them money. I felt that it should be different in our group than others. We never intended to match with another group or their rules. The motto of our group was set completely on life lessons. We maintain our own rules and own goals to help women with their employment. I haven’t seen any dedicated group like ours.
6. Tell us how one can be a part of this group, who are eligible, and what is the procedure to follow? What are the benefits she will receive from this community?
There are no specific requirements but we do look into accounts to verify that they are authentic. We even help those who have any personal problem, we have sessions for them. I personally used to talk to people who were facing mental health related difficulties. One time we brought an expert who used to work with mental health related issues and we arranged a session with her.
I also used to share personal stories of people who faced various difficulties and yet made it to the top just to motivate others. Members can ask about products that they want to purchase, they can share their reviews, queries, and so on. We always try to give moral support to our members as much as we can.
So, we help our members both personally and professionally. For professional purposes, WomenS Era is a heaven. Whatever you need, suppliers, promotion, delivery support and other kinds of supports, we are completely open to help. Even YouTubers also use our group to promote their videos.
7. What are the common discussions you mostly have and how are you planning to expand this group?
We get a lot of business queries in our group. Members seek help for their personal and professional problems. We actually have a lot of discussions where we get a lot of questions from the members as well which cannot be generalized.
We also get a lot of questions about how to start a business, expand the business and so on. So, I started to make videos answering each question and posted them on my page which is basically a business page. I make a lot of individual videos only for WomenS Era, that is basically how I started my own page. There are some videos made by me on how to start an online business, which can be found in both my page and my group WomenS Era. I have made different videos on how to promote your business, rules and regulations of opening a business and so on. The topics about which I cannot individually discuss with others, I make videos on them and post them on my Facebook page and also share them in WomenS Era. I also ask the members for ideas about topics they want to know about. I even help others businesses by talking about their products on Facebook Lives.
Initially we weren’t focused on expanding the group but when we understood that we need more authentic people who will really support and help each other, then we started to expand. We never really pushed for expanding but our target was to add 15,000 women. We sometimes organise contests to motivate the members to help us expand the group.
8. Do you have any foreign members right now? How do you maintain their relationship with the local communities?
I have some foreign friends in the group. When we sometimes post in Bangla, they Google it and then ask me what it means or why did this post get so many likes. The communication is a bit hard but they have come through on several occasions. When we collect funds from the group, even they contribute from their community to help us, which is huge!
They react to the posts and comment on the ones which are in English. When we upload help posts for someone, we translate it into English so that they can understand and help the fellow member. Our members also get frequent orders from the foreigners.
There are some Japanese members who learn from our group. Their community is really different and nothing matches with ours. They usually do not have groups like us and so they enjoy our group a lot. One of my Japanese friends has also created her own group in which I am a member. I really love seeing their posts as well, after translation, of course!
9. What is the type of events or programs you usually do from WomenS Era? What are the roles your members have to play during those events?
We still haven’t organized any physical events, we arrange online events only. Although sometimes we arrange some small get-togethers. We discuss business and issues of others. 99% of the events we have organized till this day, 99% were online based. We announce the topic before going on Facebook Live so that everyone can join and participate online.
10. What is coming next from WomenS Era? Any message that you want to share with your followers?
We had been planning for a get-together since last November but we couldn’t manage time. But we want to arrange a big event as soon as possible. We want to arrange something big with our star members who have received help from our group. This is our next plan.
I think it’s very important for a woman to stand on her feet and do something for herself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for a specific reason. The situation is getting better than before. I hope that society will flourish in the future, career-wise. I want women to be independent, financially and personally. I want women to forget the idea of depending on others. This is the message which I want to share with the girls. We need to learn to be independent, financially, mentally, and also family-wise.
11. What is the ultimate vision of WomenS Era?
Our vision is that our group will give rise to some big star businesswomen.
We want to see ourselves as a big successful group whose members are able to help one another. When I’ll see these individual small businesses have evolved into big organisations or companies, I will be able to measure WomenS Era’s success, as these are the achievements I’m looking forward to.