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FEATURE STORY November 1, 2018

WomenX: Multiplying the Power of Women Entrepreneurs in Pakistan

This feature is an outcome of infoDev, a multi-donor program administered by the World Bank Group, with a focus on entrepreneurs in developing economies. This piece was originally published on January 23, 2017. 

In recent years, Pakistan has seen a growing number of successful women-led companies and a new, energized generation of women entrepreneurs. Mussarat Ishaq, for example, built from scratch her own packaging company, Al-Karam Packages, which now employs more than 250 employees. In Karachi, Fariha Alim turned a 15-student school into an institution with over 800 students and three local branches.

Thanks to their business acumen and determination, Ishaq and Alim have become successful entrepreneurs. But their path wasn’t easy. Pakistan is a tough place for women entrepreneurs — according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Report, in 2012, only 5% of the entrepreneurs in the country were women. Among other social and economic challenges, lower rates of education, limited access to finance, and poor exposure to professional networks represent key obstacles for women entrepreneurs in the country.

To help women like Ishaq and Alim overcome these issues and launch their businesses, the World Bank Group launched in 2014 WomenX. With Enclude Pakistan as implementing partner, to date, the initiative has supported almost 300 Pakistani women entrepreneurs by providing them with business training, mentorship, and networking opportunities.

A key component of the program is a four-month business training designed and delivered by IBA AMAN-CED. The course aims to teach women core business skills, such as accounting, marketing, operations management, and basics of legal affairs.

The program’s efforts were recognized last week at the annual conference of the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, where the IBA Aman-CED’s business education course won the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Education Award in the category of Outstanding Specialty Program.

“IBA is honored to have been nominated for this award, and we are pleased with the success of this program, which was designed and developed to serve the needs of women entrepreneurs in Karachi who are seeking to grow their businesses,” said Dr. Shahid Qureshi, director of the AMAN Center for Entrepreneurial Development at IBA. “We are proud to have played a role in supporting these dynamic women."

The program brought together a diverse group of women entrepreneurs. While over 40% of the participants had a business connected to the apparel industry, the program saw the participation of entrepreneurs from the design, personal care, food and beverage, transportation, and construction sectors.

“For the longest time, I thought I was operating in isolation; my business problems were only mine, and no one could help me out,” said Afsan Lakdawalla, one of the women who joined WomenX. “Having been a part of the program … I have learned that all entrepreneurs have similar problems, and each has a unique way of handling it. There is a whole lot to be learned; it’s a great environment to network in, and we not only learn from the educational content, but also from each other. In a few sessions, being a part of this has helped boost my confidence level and create ideas for my business which did not come to the forefront before.”

WomenX has launched similar initiatives to support 300 women in Lahore, 50 in Peshawar, 100 in smaller districts across Punjab, and 400 in Nigeria.