By: Ghalib Nishtar
Today, on Women’s Entrepreneur Day, there is much to celebrate. Presently, the global economy boasts 244 million women running their own businesses. It is anticipated that one billion women will enter the global workforce over the next decade. These figures suggest a more balanced workforces across the globe in the coming years, but they also remind us that there is a long way to go before there is workplace and economic parity between the genders. This is especially true for Pakistan. Women entrepreneurs have started making their mark in the workforce in Pakistan. Some exceptionally brilliant Pakistani women entrepreneurs are succeeding in their businesses and become prominent on the global stage. Last year, Fiza Farhan a young social entrepreneur from Pakistan was listed in Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs list. Nor was this the first time a Pakistani woman has made it to this list. Shiza Shahid, co-founder of Malala Fund and Khalida Brohi, founder of Sughar (NPO) have been recognised by Forbes earlier. As impressive as these women are, for me, the real dramatic changes in female entrepreneurship are occurring far away from the front pages of Forbes. Heading a major microfinance bank in Pakistan, one gets to see and meet the women who are transforming Pakistan society through their work. I witness women entrepreneurs who may not be recognised internationally but have been adding to the economy, increasing employment and in the process they are transforming their communities and improving lives of their fellow women. It is time to remember the Wazeeran bibis, Komals and Shaheens of Pakistan. They may not be making headlines, but they are creating an impact at the grass root level. Wazeeran bibi is a disabled woman, and a mother of six, who has benefited from microfinance. She opened her own poultry and cattle farm in a small town in Punjab and now saves regularly, reinvests in her business and maintains a healthy credit history while providing for her family and children. Komal is from Muhalla Christian Colony in Sukkur. Using a microfinance loan to open her own beauty parlor, she has now employed three other women who beautify young girls and instill confidence in them everyday. Komal’s story is one of the many success stories of microfinance beneficiaries who are running successful businesses, inspiring women in their area to pursue work opportunities and increasing employment. Shaheen, another microfinance beneficiary, is a widow in Karachi, who now has her own school with 15 teachers and over 300 children. Not only is she a successful entrepreneur, but her business is providing a social good for her community. By providing education to students in a part of the city where good schools were lacking, Shaheen has helped impact the lives of her young students. Shaheen, Komal and Wazeeran bibi are just three of the many untold stories of women entrepreneurs who have benefited from microfinance to start their own businesses and drive economic growth. It is this growth at the grassroots that need to be recognised, encouraged and replicated to build a resilient and dynamic economy in Pakistan. It is these women who are helping Pakistan diversify away from an agrarian economy. They are making sure their communities and children have the skills to survive and thrive in tomorrow’s knowledge economy. These women entrepreneurs are determined, hard working and have great attention to detail but they need financial support to jump-start their business ideas. Microfinance provides that vital support. It is the fuel that empowers them to take an initiative and start their own business. At Khushhali bank, we realised the impact that Microfinance loans have for women entrepreneurs and the greater impact they have on Pakistan. The benefits of microfinance are not only limited to access to credit, but it also offers better loan repayment rates that commercial banks, making it easier for the poor to benefit. However, that’s just the financial impact of microfinance. The social impact is just as significant. Microfinance helps in extending education, improving health and welfare, sustainability and job creation. In Pakistan, the microfinance sector has contributed to rural development, poverty reduction, literacy rate, women empowerment and overall financial inclusion. The fact that the number of women microfinance beneficiaries has been increasing over the years is a reminder of how useful this tool is for women entrepreneurs. It has been calculated that this year, 54% of all microfinance loan borrowers in Pakistan are women. This percentage is not just a statistic but also a timely reminder on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day of the popularity of microfinance on women entrepreneurs. Pakistan needs its women entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs need access to credit. Microfinance banking is doing its part to ensure that businesses led by women continue to expand.