My dear Always-Quiet-Never-Commenting-But-Very-Loyal-Readers, I’ve started a new segment where I am going to have guest bloggers talk about entrepreneurship in Pakistan with a focus on – you guessed it right – women entrepreneurship. Below is the first blog in the series. Tell me what you think. Who would you like to see featured here? Leave a comment. Top 100 comments get a free iPod 3 – IN THEIR DREAMS! But still. Happy reading!
For many years there have been talks about developing women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Donors such as USAID and others are spending money on women entrepreneurship development, I believe in millions of US dollars. The recent USAID program (which is almost rolled back) had a major component focusing on this subject. SMEDA started women incubation centers, and many NGOs are busy in running training programs for women entrepreneurs.
But why despite all these efforts, we do not see many women entrepreneurs in the country – why do people fail to understand that a shop owner is not an entrepreneur, she is only an owner manager? Having worked with women entrepreneurs and women chambers in Pakistan and in South Asia, I wonder what keeps Pakistani women away from making money by entering into entrepreneurial career.
The country is considered as a male dominated society and being a male, generally I am not accepted as someone who would be professional enough to talk about women entrepreneurship development. In one of the major focus group meeting held in Islamabad last year, when I tried to help women participants from NGO groups to focus on policy issues and what enabling policies are needed in Pakistan for the development of women entrepreneurs – I was accused of being biased. I told them that enough of complaints! We can move in the right direction only if these groups stop complaining and start talking about policy reforms.
Astonishingly, they did not know that in Pakistan’s SME policy, there is no special provision for women! So shall they not be talking about including women in this policy? Alas, those who can do it do not understand it!
Now in my view, if we really want to move forward and encourage more women to contribute in the economy, the focus needs to be shifted from livelihood to working with progressive women. The concept is simple – It is easier to train educated individuals with a bit of experience then complete newbies. The current donor and NGO focus on livelihood will never create a culture for women entrepreneurship in Pakistan. Moreover this group is large and scattered, needs more efforts and yields feeble results.
How about working with girls studying in business schools, engineering colleges and universities? Are they not the right target group for creating the entrepreneurial culture?
Educated youth is technology savvy, they are better communicator, they can move in the society. Those who argue that women are a marginalized segment in Pakistan (and I do not disagree with them), the great news for them is that educated youth has almost overcome these issues, so let’s work with them!
If funds are re-directed to help the educated youth, I am sure we will see a significant improvement in the number of women entrepreneurs entering in the mainstream economic activities in Pakistan – But perhaps, NGOs and donor agencies have some other focus or due to some unknown reasons they are not interested in exploring this route!
Hammad Siddiqui is a passionate blogger and an expert in the field of institutional capacity building. He is the Deputy Country Director at Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). Hammad has written over 300 articles on entrepreneurship, social media and policy reforms. You can follow him on Twitter @HammadS.