Little efforts to a bigger change

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
October 01, 2019

Women are best consumers of microfinance loans and the change they bring is big. This week You! takes a look at the stories of a few women who emerged as excellent entrepreneurs with the help of a microfinance programme ...

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A resident of Pasrur started work at a small-scale and hired two women from her community on contract to stitch soccer balls.

Over the years, it has been observed that if women have access to the right support they can be extraordinary economic multipliers - both at the community level as an essential part of building thriving communities - and collectively as a significant economic force. This perception gains strength from some findings of global studies and citations by organisations like Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). According to these studies, women control $20 trillion of the worldwide spending, do 66 per cent of the world's work but earn 10 per cent of the world's income and yet reinvest 99 per cent of their income into family and community.

Shabnam Bashir, a resident of Lahore, set up a small beauty parlour at home and began catering to women from her community.

Similar trends have been seen in Pakistan where women have performed extraordinarily well when given a chance to manage finances and businesses. Case in point is of Jannat Bibi, who resides in the town of Thatta in Sindh. Due to a meagre family income, she decided to start her own business. She knew the skill of ralli (bed linen) making but never had the resources to start a business. One of her friends told her about Kashf Foundation and she approached the nearest branch to apply for a loan.

Jannat started with her ralli business with PKR 35,000 she got from Kashf, with the support of The Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF). Within a short span of time her financial and living conditions started to improve. She now manages to sell 25 to 30 rallis every month. Not only does her community buy products she makes, she also manages to sell them in Matli and Gharo. She has established so many contacts that people now come to her home to place orders and collect their products. Her husband has also started to support her extensively in her business and helps her in purchasing raw material as well as marketing her products.

To further women empowerment in the country, The Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF) and Kashf Foundation have been collaborating since 2010 to economically empower low-income women entrepreneurs. As a part of TCCF's 5by20 programme (where the aim is to financially empower 5 million globally by 2020), Kashf has been able to provide loans to over 9,972 women for establishing/ expanding their businesses. This includes loans funded directly in the grant year and loans financed through the repayment of the original grant.

A woman working at a sari-sari shop.

Moreover, TCCF has supported Kashf Foundation in funding various training and development initiatives to enhance the skills of women to ensure they are effective economic agents of women. The trainings have focused on various areas such as vocational skills trainings (football stitching, rally making, crafts-making), client mentoring and business development. Till 2019, around 1,619 women have been trained under this programme. This is a good example of how corporations and mega businesses can share their dividends with the common people in a disadvantageous situation and help bring a positive change in their lives.

TCCF funded Kashf Foundation’s Football Stitching Training programme for three months in Pasrur.

Zeba, a resident of Pasrur, also has an inspirational story to share. She got divorced from her husband eight years ago and the responsibility of supporting her family and children fell on her. Living in Pasrur which is the hub of sports goods manufacturing, especially soccer balls, Zeba got an idea of starting her own football stitching business. Initially with the support of a loan under this project, she started work at a small-scale and hired two women from her community on contract to stitch soccer balls. She faced a lot of resistance, especially from the community, primarily because it was a male dominant field that she was entering. She ignored all this criticism and pursued her goals with passion. Not only did she acquire continued financial support from Kashf to expand her business, Zeba also attended the TCCF funded Kashf Foundation's Football Stitching Training programme for three months in Pasrur. The training significantly enhanced her football stitching skills and the improved quality resulted in increased orders from factories. Today, Zeba has 12 women from the community working for her and she manages to save around PKR 20,000-25,000 per month.

Another story that merits mention here is of Shabnam Bashir, a resident of Lahore. Financial crisis struck her family quite early in her marriage. She had the basic skills of a beautician but did not have the resources to put her skills to good use. With three children to provide for, she could not manage their expenses from her existing household income. With the assistance from the project, she set up a small beauty salon at home and began catering to women from her community. TCCF gave her the opportunity of a paid trip to Karachi for Pakistan's first 'Beyond Beauty 2019 Expo' and participated in Nabila's certified master class. There she was able to learn the best of the makeup techniques, and with such exposure, her salon has now become a talk of the town. She even provides home services to women in her community who rate her services quite high and are even ready to pay higher price due to the better quality of her work.

There is significant empirical evidence that suggests financial inclusion of women is imperative to promote inclusive growth in the country. In fact a study by the International Monetary Fund (2018) reported that by economically empowering women, the Gross Domestic Product of the country can improve by a significant 30 per cent.

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TCCF was established 1984 and more than $1 billion has been donated and invested globally across sustainability initiatives where the company gives back one per cent of its annual operating income back to communities. Every year, three grant cycles are launched where local NGOs can apply for a grant. So far more than 10 projects have been funded through this foundation in Pakistan. "Our experience with women all over the world is quite impressive. An imperative component of the project was to create market linkages to increase employment opportunities for the women entrepreneurs. In order to do this, the trainees are trained on how to create a portfolio of their products and then the trainers connect them with possible vendors," shares Natasha Haroon, a representative of TCCF. "In some countries, over 70 per cent or more of our small business partners are women. Approximately 86 per cent of small sari-sari stores that we do business with in the Philippines are owned or managed by women and so on. In Pakistan, through special focus on gender trainings, more than 75 per cent of the females now believe that their spouses are more supportive of their entrepreneurial initiatives to support their families," she adds.

Since establishment in 1996, Kashf Foundation has disbursed over Rs 100 billion to over 2.6 million low income families. It has a current client base of over 500,000 clients across its network of 300 branches in 60 districts across four provinces. 40 per cent of clients reported increased access to hospitals, 82 per cent of clients reported increased decision-making authority after availing the loan, 50 per cent reported improved quality and quantity of food consumed by girls and women post loan and 69 per cent of women reported increased authority regarding household budget/expenditure. Through its training and development programme across the three major provinces, the foundation has also provided financial literacy trainings to over 1.5 million females to help improve their financial management skills and business development services to 32,000 women to enhance their business management abilities. It has also undertaken social advocacy and gender empowerment interventions to help create an equitable environment for women business owners and has delivered gender trainings to males, females and youth in communities and has also regularly used theatre as a tool for social change.

Roshaneh Zafar, Founder & Managing Director of Kashf, highlighted the various social and economic indicators which proved the success of the trainings conducted under the TCCF-Kashf partnership. Women were 1.2 times more likely to expand their businesses; 94 per cent of the women beneficiaries reported an increase in income; 83 per cent of the respondents reported an increase in average savings of PKR 1,534; 89 per cent of the respondents claimed increase in decision making abilities; 82 per cent of the respondents reported improved quality and quantity of nutritional intake; 88 per cent of the respondents reported an increase in self-esteem.

"The trainings were focused towards women, which is imperative for inclusive growth in the country as women tend to invest more in their families and societies. Through these trainings, not only the vocational skills of the clients were enhanced, they were also trained in areas such as building marketing and networking linkages to increase their business/employment opportunities," informs Roshaneh. "When you work with women it is important to take a holistic approach and not just focus on building their financial capacity but also creating a socially conducive environment for them to work in. It is imperative to invest in the value chain for women entrepreneurship," concludes Roshaneh.

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