“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
It’s as cliché to start an article about entrepreneurship with a Steve Jobs quote as it was to end an essay in school with an Allama Iqbal couplet. The latter we did because his poetry was shown before every news hour on dear ol’ PTV in the days before we were familiar with the term channel surfing. But I can honestly say Jobs hits the right notes almost every time.
I am one of the foolish ones, the crazy ones, the mad ones, the ones with the constant hunger for better. I am an entrepreneur. A very romantic notion in the country we live in. Building something amongst the chaos surrounding Pakistan is absolute madness. We are torn by the worse wave of sectarianism and terrorism ever. Power shortage, redtape, strikes are the norm. Add to it the fact I am a pushtun woman with a Master’s degree in English Literature.
There are loads of Mad-Hatters out there but I take the cake.
So how challenging is it to be a woman entrepreneur in Pakistan! Let’s take it one step at a time.
The Lack of Guidance
You are sitting with a crying baby in your lap and the next big business idea hits you. Now what do you do with it since you don’t have a business degree, not that those have ever produced anything but great managers. The first challenge is to find someone who has been there, done that, and will listen to your idea. Of course your friends and family brush it off as a continuation of your postpartum depression. Now you start scouring the Internet for “I have hit the next big idea since the light bulb. Who do I contact”. Find a few helpful articles, hopefully land on Quora. If you are really intelligent you will turn to LinkedIn and look for CEOs, founders etc of various businesses in Pakistan. Having a nice display picture helps at this point. IF they accept your invitation you will send out lovingly drafted messages about your idea and hope they reply back. Maybe, just maybe, a few will. And even maybe-ier then maybe, one of those emails will actually be helpful in telling you what to do.
You take the address of the kind guy (let’s not kid ourselves – it WILL be a guy and not a gal) and go pay him a visit. You ask all your carefully planned questions. You get crap MBA-type answers – all right but completely useless. But of course you don’t know it at that point. You sit a bit more, sip on some tea, get asked strange questions that appear innocent but something tells you they aren’t. Still you leave feeling forever indebted to the guy. You reach home and he has added you on Facebook, Skype and also sent you an emoticon on Viber. Hmm.
Bless your heart. You really think any bank will give you a loan? Yes they will talk to you kindly. A woman entrepreneur is still a pretty rare specie. But don’t let them fool you. To get a loan you need to have 3 or 4 different accounts and show movement between them (I am forgetting the exact term here). You also need to have property in your name. No, not gold and car but actual land and building sort of property. And let’s face it – who gives property to a woman in this country? The father and brother don’t believe in it because it would split their family wealth. The husband doesn’t because she is an outsider and might leave him any time with it. So you can forget it.
The “Log Kia Kahein Ge” (What will people think!)
In the beginning your family will let you be. It will be highly amusing to see you trying to set up shop. Endearing, actually. But wait till you actually start making it happen. Have you read Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind? Just to give you a quick idea – the men leave to fight the American Civil War. Women are left to tend for themselves. Many start doing business such as open a general store or a bakery. The remaining men and society in general love the idea and help out the women by buying stuff they don’t need. But Scarlett O’Hara is looked down upon for starting a business. Why? Because she is very successful at it. You see … it will be alright as long as you don’t make anyone feel insecure. After all, a successful entrepreneur is a threat. I mean give a woman some money of her own and she will definitely bring dishonor to the fam. Everyone will try and persuade you into giving it up. Most (over)used argument will be, “Log kia kahein ge!” (What will people think!). Tongues will start wagging about how you meet men to get business. Who knows what antics you use to get them to buy from you! If you are married they will also tell you your husband won’t find you woman enough as a man likes dim-witted trophy wives that churn out one dish after the other in the kitchen while looking like Vidya Balan in Parineeta. Nobody wants a wife that talks numbers and gets her hands dirty at a factory.
Now, now ladies. Don’t let my whining scare you off. Being anentrepreneur is awfully exciting and gratifying. I get to be my own boss. Wake up when I want to and work when I want to. I can spend the entire day actually thinking, planning and creating rather than discussing which was better, Fatima Gul or Zindagi Gulzaar Hai. There are certainly days when I want to jump off a roof. However, every time I pick myself up, and trudge along for another few months I look back and realize how true Job’s words are. You just have to believe and not give up. Challenges will come. Horrifying experiences will follow. But through it all there will be moments of utter joy, such happiness as can only be felt and not explained. Looking back you will understand why you never gave up.