A revolution of women entrepreneurs

The corporate sector can help encourage home-based women entrepreneurs

A revolution of women entrepreneurs

A quiet revolution is taking place on the streets of Pakistan to uplift women. This revolution is aided by digital technologies and social media that have enabled many homemakers to start a business from their homes.

Using applications like WhatsApp for Business, Instagram and Facebook Shop, these women entrepreneurs have been able to develop their clientele in the digital space.

The diversity of businesses is astounding. The businesses include private tuition centres, handicrafts markets, including designer clothes, handbags and jewelry, bakeries and home-based restaurants, art shops, skincare and cosmetics shops, stationery shops, including handmade cards.

However, this revolution needs help. We need to champion this movement, advance it, and encourage home-based women entrepreneurs from every corner of Pakistan to become a part of it. We’ll tell you why that is important.

Pakistan lags immensely behind other countries in South Asia on Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFP). Half of the population of this country consists of women, yet only 25 percent of the women’s population participates in the economy.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, has an FLFP of 36 percent. The world average stands at around 48 percent. Why does this matter? A low labour force participation rate indicates a loss of potential productivity in the economy which contributes to poverty. Just imagine the economic gains of bringing the remaining 75 percent of women into our labor force.

Even though the answer is right in front of us, we have not been able to make much headway in resolving the problem of low FLFP. Women in Pakistan face numerous social, cultural, and religious pressures that restrict entry into the workforce.

Further, college and university education fails to focus on the opportunities of entrepreneurship accelerated by the digital marketplace. Social media and digital skills are part of management and IT schools in our universities. However, a majority of other disciplines have zero or minimal focus on digital skills.

Further, access to the internet and digital technologies is still limited and expensive in Pakistan. Only a marginal segment of women have access to them.

A lower labour force participation rate indicates a loss of potential productivity in the economy, which contributes to poverty. Just imagine the economic gains of bringing the remaining 75 percent of women into our labor force.

Most of the women who are not part of the labour force also face a lack of confidence in entering the labour market. Some mentoring, guidance and coaching can help them overcome these challenges. Our experience tells us that a college graduate from any discipline can learn necessary digital skills in three months to start her own business.

If the problems of education and access are resolved, we can overcome at least 50 percent of the socio-cultural and religious barriers to women’s entrepreneurship.

The internet has allowed home-based women entrepreneurs to break the confines of their homes and express themselves in a digital space with no boundaries. They are able to interact with customers, showcase their products and services, and manage societal and cultural expectations of them at the same time. This financial empowerment is a much-needed respite in a patriarchal society where men typically control the financial decisions of the household.

This is the reason that atomcamp, a skills development place, started wecamp. Wecamp or women entrepreneurs’ camp aims to identify and support home-based women entrepreneurs. The idea is how women entrepreneurs can inspire one another and guide new entrants.

For instance, one of the sessions featured Hira Mubasher, the founder of Kardia Krafts. Ms Mubasher started her online business in 2016, making customised hand-made cards. Her portfolio has since expanded to customised hand-made invitation cards, announcement boxes, giveaways and much more. Her success story was an inspiration to all women entrepreneurs to be persistent and stick to their passion.

The recent Arts and Crafts Festival in Islamabad featured some home-based entrepreneurs. These included Ramsha Ali (founder of Vibrance by Ramsha), Sameeha Khaliq (owner of an art studio by the name of Rang-i-Jahan), Asma (founder of Amigos Why Not, a custom art and craft business), and Alishba (owner of a home bakery called Bakery Street). Such opportunities for home-based women entrepreneurs can help them feature their products and talent.

So what can we do at the policy level? The government needs to recognise small businesses and cottage industries and enhance their access to finance. Regulatory barriers, especially in the banking sector, should be eliminated to help these businesses grow and access international markets.

Further, massive infrastructure investments are needed to increase access to the internet in all cities of Pakistan, with a special focus on regions, such as Gilgit-Baltistan, KP, and Balochistan. These changes should be at the forefront of the economic development agenda of the government.

Finally, the corporate sector can also play its part for this cause and encourage home-based women entrepreneurs. This can be done through corporate social responsibility initiatives that are targetted towards female entrepreneurs.

The writers are   co-founders of atomcamp. Twitter @atomcamp

A revolution of women entrepreneurs