It’s not very often one comes across a woman entrepreneur in this part of the world and that too winner of South Asia’s Top 100 Power Women Award and Women Leadership Excellence Award in the RMG sector (from the South Asian Partnership Summit, held recently).
So, when Neela Hosna Ara, the Chairperson of Crony Group invited Team Apparel Resources (AR) for an interaction, it was definitely something to look forward to.
Improbable it may sound but despite being a successful entrepreneur in her own rights who along with her husband A.H. Aslam Sunny –Managing Director of Crony Group, turned the company from a 400-machine entity to a vertically integrated knitwear manufacturer, is considered one of the top apparel exporters in Bangladesh. Today, Neela loves to shun the limelight.
“I like to work from behind the scenes,” opines Neela to AR while adding her business philosophy has always been ‘human-centric’.
However, fate had other plans for her.
When the ex-President of BGMEA Dr. Rubana Huq resigned as the Director of BGMEA for the 2021-23 term, it was Neela’s turn to take up Rubana’s position after being elected one of the Directors of the trade body.
But it happened after some serious soul searching and not to mention a long hard discussion with her husband — who himself has been an ex-First Vice President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
Neela’s husband prodded her to take up this position in the Bangladesh’s apex apparel maker’s body.
Neela today is full of appreciation and praise for the current BGMEA President.
“Our President Faruque Hassan is very open-minded and liberal and it is because of him that I am here today. And also because of Rubana Huq as before her, there was no woman Director let alone a President,” maintains Neela, who, for a change, has for company two other women Directors (in the 35-member trade body) in the form of Vidiya Amrit Khan, Director of Desh Garments and Shehrin Salam Oishee, Deputy Managing Director of Envoy Textiles.
This is one such transformation Neela seems to be liking!
“Working in the factory (Crony Group) and being a Director in the BGMEA is an altogether different ballgame. We are working for the whole industry and it’s more about policy-making and problem-solving for Bangladesh’s development,” she says, quite mindful of the increased challenges for the industry in face of the Russia-Ukraine war, the so-called recessions in the main export destinations not to mention the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, all happening in quick succession, leaving very little scope for course correction or manoeuvring.
As made known by Neela, her business philosophy centres around people, which encompasses workers’ welfare and social causes where Neela finds her true calling.
Having shouldered the responsibilities of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), gender equality and women’s health and hygiene issues on behalf of the Crony Group for long and to great success, she is now on a mission to replicate the same for the industry while also focusing on the vital aspects of training and engagement to ensure all-round development of the industry and its workers, dominated principally by women.
“There are four million women working in our industry and we need to take care of them,” she says adding that the next phase of growth would strongly depend on human resource development where training apart, welfare and engagement, will be the keys.
It may be mentioned here that Neela and her husband have been not only instrumental in carrying out a host of workers’ welfare and sustainability endeavours within the Crony Group — from Crony Group’s famed Calorie Distribution Programme for workers to opening fair price shop for its employees to pledging to get certified five of their factories under USGBC LEED (the projects are Crony Apparel Ltd., Crony Textile Unit, Abanti Colour Tex Ltd., Crony Sweaters Ltd., and Crony Printing & Embroidery Ltd.) — but beyond as well.
“Employee experience is a top priority for us. Becoming LEED certified not only improves energy efficiency and lowers our carbon footprint, but also creates a better environment for the Crony Family,” explains Neela, who along with Sunny, was graceful enough to spare a significant portion of their residence at Narayanganj so that BGMEA could set up a health care facility for the garment workers.
This has earned them vociferous gratitude and appreciation from none other than the BGMEA President himself, who maintained without their active support, this could not have been possible.
Recently, Crony Group opened a fair price shop in two of its factories that sells daily commodities to over 10,000 workers at discounted rates with plans to open more in all of its production units.
“The fair price shop aligns with Crony Group’s mission of empowering our greatest asset, our workers,” quips Neela.
Besides these, the husband-wife due have also set up various educational institutes and healthcare facilities in their respective hometowns where the economically weaker section can take advantage of the facilities concerned even if in their individual capacities, both keep contributing to various social causes from time to time.
As underlined by Neela earlier, the significance of women in the industry when she mentions their sheer number in the workforce, the Chairperson of Crony Group now wants to help them earn their rightful position within the scheme of things.
And as they say, charity begins from home; Neela has chosen her company to put things into practice before transcending the boundary and taking it to a bigger arena- the industry as a whole.
“For the last 10 years, I have put my heart and soul to ensure the participation of more women supervisors and managers,” Neela emphasises.
Today, all the departments in Crony Group — from HR to planning to others — have a significant number of women employees and it is her dream to help the women earn their rightful place under the sun, which even saw her contesting the BGMEA election with her motto of ‘more women in mid and higher management’.
Now that she is in the trade body itself, it has given her a much bigger responsibility and an opportunity to work for women’s empowerment and workers’ welfare, which she would like to make the best use of to give a new direction to the industry.