Pakistan Yet to Start Its Journey from Livelihood to Entrepreneurial Culture

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. 


8 thoughts on “Pakistan Yet to Start Its Journey from Livelihood to Entrepreneurial Culture

  1. Hammad sb I agree with you on certain points. In Pakistan the policies are developed at top level with out looking to ground realities same happens with the women entrepreneurship . Whether NGO or Government agency or corporation involved in such initiative have very good top brass talented people but most of them rely in the stories available in market rather then looking to ground realities how female entrepreneurship should be in Pakistan what is the mind set of society specially in the rural areas. the result is that they initially develop few success stories from urban areas and get funding but at mass level no change in the entrepreneurial culture but focus on shop manager or micro shop business. Even at universities level entrepreneurship is taught but vast majority of student after completing the course never thought to become entrepreneurship they only look for jobs.
    I think there is need a drastic change in policy for that with focus on more practical thing by taking the ground realities so that we should move from livelihood to entrepreneurship with special focus on women.


  2. @Altaf, Pakistan has a total of 3 cities making up the “urban” areas … Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The rest at best are progressive rural areas – Peshawar, Multan, Faisalabad. It doesn’t matter where we get the success stories from as long as they keep coming. Their trickle down effect would help with bringing the same development and culture to rural areas. For example, WDL is based out of Islamabad/Rawalpindi but is working towards training and employing women in the remotest parts of Pakistan. We need to be clear on what is needed where. You can’t expect to have big startups coming out of Vehari and Sui.

    My friends are working on a community development project in Hunza. They give microloans to local ppl based on the simplest of business plan competitions. These are sustainability or livelihood projects but that’s what’s needed in those areas. The same $100 grant is not getting you any excitement in urban areas. So we need to really be practical and go according to the needs of the people. Not all doctors go on to starting their own hospitals, do they? Yet we go on teaching medicine. 🙂


  3. A nice article. We should definitely have more women entrepreneurs in the country. But there are many things that stop us from doing so. Below are my two cents:
    1. Pakistani society is already discouraging to the new people starting their businesses. Even males who wish to do something of their own lack local support. In such situation, for a girl to start thinking of doing a business is considered ludicrous and stupid to say the least. Until we change mindsets, whatever we do is not going to make much of a difference.
    2. There are already very few opportunities for any types of budding entrepreneurs in the country. Lack of funds, entrepreneurial ecosystem and social acceptance are the main cause for this.
    3. We should establish a collaborative ecosystem to be able to create opportunities for youth and women empowerment. If US can have Kickstarter funding thousands of enterprises, what can’t we have similar type of initiatives in Pakistan?
    4. Lastly, whining about these issues and stating the obvious won’t help us much. We need to take some practical steps to make it happen. Majority of the people I meet only talk about doing this and that but never end up doing so. Let’s join hands and start taking practical steps to do all we can for the cause.


  4. We are part of and NGO effort working on comprehensive poverty alleviation in Gilgit-Baltistan. Livelihood issues are paramount in our project area, where some 60% of families have four or less months of food security a year (meaning if they don’t get food aid during the other eight months, they starve).
    Mr. Hammad Siddiqui makes a very important point. We do need to focus on entrepreneurial development with educated women. However, the idea that we need to shift away from livelihood development at the grassroots in order to take up other this higher level development focused on women’s entrepreneurial systems represents, we think, a misunderstanding of the whole problem of prosperity development in the context of poverty stricken areas.
    To us, it’s not an either or problem. What is needed is a great bubbling up of micro-economic activities (which need to be stimulated and guided) and as well as a weaving together of many of these activities into value chains and marketing systems that need to be facilitated and led by educated, capable and prosperous women (and men).
    These two levels of work are actually interdependent in a well functioning and inclusive economy. To lift the poorest out of poverty we need an army of young, educated, creative and visionary entrepreneurs, who see their success not only in terms of their own personal wealth creation, but also in terms of how effective they are at linking in and contributing to the livelihood improvement and prosperity development at the grassroots of society.
    Michael and Judie Bopp
    Four Worlds Centre for Development Learning
    The HiMaT Indigenous Leadership and Development Program, of KADO (the Karakorum Area Development Organization), Hunza.


    • Livelihood programs are also essential for a country like Pakistan and particularly in economically depressed areas. In my views, a true entrepreneurial culture needs focus on educated class. This segment needs less efforts and resources, and potential for creating opportunities are greater. Thanks for your detailed comments and appreciation.


  5. Great point Maria! Pakistan needs women who are creating opportunity for increased employment and GDP for the country, not just running a single shop, a point well taken. I also love that this does not mean they have to be a BIG start up, just have the potential to grow and continue to increase their reach. Focus on value creation, and the support for that focus, is badly needed all over the world right now, and would greatly assist all entrepreneurs, big and small!
    Keep up the good work!


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