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Sameya Karim: Making connections and creating a lasting impact on international trade

Posted: 31 January 2019

Bangladesh,

Australia Awards alumna Sameya Karim is working to create a lasting impact on international trade, a sector very few women in Bangladesh venture into at a leadership level.

Sameya has always been determined to rise above societal norms, believes in the importance of women in leadership roles, and is an advocate for equal opportunities for women in the workplace.

Sameya was selected to participate in the Australia Awards Short Course, ‘Professional Certificate in International Trade’, delivered by the University of Adelaide in 2018. Recognising the importance of trade in supporting Bangladesh to achieve its development and growth objectives, industry professionals in Bangladesh were selected to participate in the Short Course to develop trade-oriented capacities.

Sameya currently works as a Deputy Secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), one of the largest trade associations in the country representing the ready-made garment industry. A strong independent woman trying to make small changes whenever she can, Sameya says being selected for an Australia Awards Short Course literally opened a new chapter in her life. This is her story – where she speaks of the impact she wants to make in Bangladesh, what independence means to her, strengths and challenges, and how the Australia Awards experience added value to her plans for career growth.

Who is Sameya Karim?

‘I am a free-spirited person who also knows how to keep her feet on the ground when required. I have a passion for learning. My journey, my experience, and the people I meet – it has all made me who I am today. I came from a place where I have witnessed different shades of life closely.

I have seen the gap between rich and poor. I have grown up witnessing inequality in every stage of my life. The community that I belong to is of the view that settling means getting married. I always felt like an outcast within my own society. To me ‘settle’ means working and earning my own living. So, I started working at a very early age. There, I witnessed male dominance in the workplace. Nobody asked about my work much and what I do; instead they were interested in when I plan to get married and settle down.

In my journey, I have seen struggle, but those struggles made me stronger and a more independent woman.

I am working at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) as Deputy Secretary. We have over 300 employees, and only 50 of them are women. I am working in a mid-level position where being a woman is a challenge: I often feel the need to prove myself. Therefore, I work harder and try to focus on leadership skills as I dream to become a female leader in our top management. I want to learn and create a lasting impact not only regarding trade negotiation related issues but also in creating room for other females to join in this line of work, too. I feel strongly that female leadership in the private sector as well as in the government sector is overall low in Bangladesh, especially in top-level management.’

Workplace challenges

‘I am working at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) as Deputy Secretary. We have over 300 employees, and only 50 of them are women. I am working in a mid-level position where being a woman is a challenge: I often feel the need to prove myself. Therefore, I work harder and try to focus on leadership skills as I dream to become a female leader in our top management. I want to learn and create a lasting impact not only regarding trade negotiation related issues but also in creating room for other females to join in this line of work, too. I feel strongly that female leadership in the private sector as well as in the government sector is overall low in Bangladesh, especially in top-level management.’

Importance of work for a woman

‘From my personal experience, I feel it is important to work and become independent regardless of what gender we are. There is no doubt that Bangladeshi women fall behind when it comes to leadership, but the worst part is they cannot gauge the importance of working. Therefore, through my work, I want to set an example that women can also be good at trade negotiation or in general in a leadership role.’

Why the Ready-made Garment industry?

‘I believe the Ready-made Garment Industry (RMG) is the key to economic development in Bangladesh. It holds a greater potential than any other sector in terms of growth and foreign exchange earnings. RMG makes a significant contribution to the national economy by generating generous employment opportunities and reducing poverty through socioeconomic development. Bangladesh has vast prospects to grow as RMG holds only 6.36% share in the world market. With an expectation of high-volume manufacturing activities in the coming years, BGMEA plays an important role. I am committed towards the work I do, as I feel that through contributing towards the industry I will in return make a significant contribution towards the development of my country – Bangladesh.’

The Australia Awards experience

‘I wanted to participate in the Australia Awards Short Course, Professional Certificate in International Trade, to gain a better understanding of international trade in order to learn and apply new knowledge and skills to the RMG sector. The international exposure I gained in Australia, and the knowledge I gained in trade dispute and international diplomacy, helped me understand the depth of international trade. Among the topics covered were the negotiation of trade agreements, new opportunities, pacific partnerships and practical aspects of international trade. During the course, I was also able to explore the economic benefits of gender and social inclusion, and how to develop innovative strategies for realising these in Bangladesh. I am always committed to learning new things, and this improved knowledge, in turn, will benefit my career growth. This course has developed my capacity to understand international trade and contribute to the RMG sector.’

Australia Awards alumna Sameya Karim from Bangladesh making connections in Australia

Making connections

‘Through the course, I got the opportunity to network and create linkages with various industry professionals. I participated in site visits and met leaders from both businesses and the Australian Government, including representatives from Austrade, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Santos. I met guest speakers from organisations with first-hand experience in international trade and economic development, including representatives from the Institute for International Trade (IIT). Thanks to these connections made, I had the opportunity to learn about current international trade and investment issues, and how to negotiate trade agreements internationally, keeping in mind the opportunities and challenges presented to businesses by the globalised economy and the current political landscape.’

Paving a path for others

‘In looking at the bigger picture, if I am in a more senior leadership role in the next few years, I will try to create room for others to join me regardless of their gender. I would also like to emphasise that it is essential that women participate in leadership roles not just at the entry level. In my personal journey, I will try to inspire other people by sharing my stories regarding struggles, as well as stories regarding my journey to becoming independent.’

The Australian experience

‘This experience and exposure I got in Australia was actually a turning point in my life’ – Sameya Karim

The country itself taught me so much. I witnessed in subways how diversity is celebrated, and how women have progressed over the years. A country where all races as well as different sexual orientations are accepted – where people are valued for who they are, not their looks. The people I met from different organisations institutions made me realise there is so much to learn. I learnt more from the exchange of conversation than sitting in a classroom. I learnt from meeting Australian Government representatives. I met female leaders, who are in a position because of their knowledge, hard work and because they are good at what they do. My take on higher learning from here is not what to learn but how to learn new things. The course instructors and the system in Australia taught me that even a tough course like international trade can be interesting. I learnt how to apply different theories to my every day working life. What I appreciate the most is that Australia taught me how to envision my dream and how to believe in myself. The course has given me a drive to learn and be an expert in international trade diplomacy. My journey of enjoying learning started in Australia.’

Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships, Fellowships and Short Courses funded by the Australian Government. Australia Awards Short Courses offer the next generation of global leaders an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development opportunities in support of key development and foreign affairs priorities, while building people-to-people links in Australia.