Story | 20 Jun, 2016

Empowering women for community and ecosystem resilience

Mangroves for the Future's Small Grants Facility enabled NGO Nabolok Parishad to help local women like Promila Rani establish and run community enterprises that provide alternative and sustainable livelihoods.

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Photo: © MFF Bangladesh

“Stay educated, keep being organised and don’t lose hope,” says Promila Rani, chair of Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity, a Mangroves for the Future (MFF) Small Grants Facility (SGF) beneficiary. “Find the resources and people who can support you, because when you have the drive and a plan in place, people will gladly help you.”

MFF promotes an integrated approach to coastal management to support sustainable development and build resilience in coastal communities. MFF’s SGF provides small-scale grants to initiatives that provide practical, hands-on demonstrations of effective coastal management.

MFF worked with the Nabolok Parishad organisation in Bangladesh to alleviate poverty and promote conservation by providing rural women in villages near the Sundarban Impact Zone with alternative and sustainable livelihoods, financial training and a sense of ecological stewardship.

Women in this region face marginalisation for two reasons: because they live and work in rural, pastoral communities and because of gender discrimination.

Nabolok Parishad helped identify Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity – a group of 100 women from the Borokupot and Bayershing – as an eligible programme beneficiary. MFF SGF provided Shomity sub-groups with a small co-finance of USD $300. This support had many positive impacts for Promila and other women in the group, as well as for the local ecology. 

An afternoon with Nabadiganta Mohila Shamity       Photo: © MFF Bangladesh

Before MFF support, Promila and the other women in the group collected shrimp post-larvae and fish larvae from the Kholpetua River, which put pressure on local and extended ecosystems and accelerated the rate of depletion of Sunderban resources. With MFF support, Promila and her associates were able to start Shomity – a business selling mats they made out of local reeds. Mat prices range from USD $1 to $7 per piece, depending on size.

As a result of the financial leadership training, Promila and colleagues felt empowered to negotiate prices and take orders directly from customers. “My confidence has increased a great deal,” reports Promila.

Using reeds from a 1 hectare plot, they sold USD $3,500 worth of mats in 2015. “I received a supplementary income of 15,000 Taka (US$ 192) by selling my mats alone – this is incredible for me,” she says.

“Without this platform, none of this could have happened. All of the members have invested their labour in the business. If it was not for Shomity I would not have been able to pay the women for their hard work,” she says. 

Some members of Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity       Photo: © MFF Bangladesh

Shomity continues to show signs of improved market access as the women have built and maintained good working relations with local shopkeepers. The enterprise continues to save every week and has appointed an accountant to help manage finances. Members are also eligible to take loans from the group for individual ventures.

As Shomity’s network grows and Promila becomes more equipped with expertise and experience, she feels that opportunities increase, even for future generations.

Promila aims to open a personal savings account to invest in her daughters’ futures, one of whom is in high school and the other in primary school.  “I am happy that I can afford to help my daughters with paper, pens and books. Sometimes I also buy water so as to avoid spending time collecting it,” says Promila smiling. 

Women’s empowerment for ecosystem and community resilience is one of many important issues that will be discussed at the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawai’i in September 2016.

Come, be part of the discussion. 

For more information about the SGF, visit this page. 

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a unique partner-led initiative to promote investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development. Co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, MFF provides a platform for collaboration among the many different agencies, sectors and countries which are addressing challenges to coastal ecosystem and livelihood issues to work towards a common goal across the region.