Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh has a population of 162 million within a relatively small land mass and has struggled with high poverty rates. The country has made major strides in economic growth, poverty reduction, and improving literacy over last couple decades. Poverty rates have fallen from 44.2% in 1991 to 14.8% in 2017; literacy has risen from 58.7% in 2011 to 73.9% in 2018. This has all been underpinned by steady economic growth, GDP growth has averaged 6.5 percent over the last 10 years, with 2020 expected to remain strong at 8%. In 2018 Bangladesh celebrated fulfilling all three criteria for graduation from the UN list of Least Developed Countries; they are on track to graduate in 2024. The country has remained democratic since 1990 but has struggled with a volatile political climate along with rising Islamic extremism in recent years. Bangladesh has continued to make progress through the political tensions and will be celebrating 50 years of independence in 2021.
Historically, agriculture is the largest employer in Bangladesh, but as the economy has grown there has been a shift to other sectors such as manufacturing. SMEs in non-agricultural sectors have also experienced significant growth in the recent decade and employ more than 20 million people in Bangladesh. SMEs in Bangladesh are also hugely active in trade activity, showing they have already started the process of internationalization. Manufacturing has opened doors for many entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and provided much employment for women, increasing their participation in labor market. However, it has not developed more women as business owners, rates of women’s entrepreneurship are still relatively low in Bangladesh (5.9%). This is due to multiple factors including a preference for salaried work as well as gender bias and competing domestic duties. However, as women become more educated there is increasing interest in business ownership. CEED had the opportunity to work in Bangladesh for several years in partnership with USAID; with a dynamic set of entrepreneurs, providing numerous technical and business development trainings that led to improved management and profits for participants.