9 out of 10 ways of Rizq can be found in business - Prophet Muhammad

Melanie Bixby and US-Pakistan Women’s Council

Issue 6  - Melanie bixby and US-Pakistan women's council
  1. Desire to Promote Female Entrepreneurship

You cannot achieve results in the above areas unless women are empowered and involved on all fronts; so my work at State has always included some aspect of women’s empowerment. Starting in 2009, Secretary of State Clinton brought the role of women’s issues in foreign policy to the fore. I was asked to help launch entrepreneurship initiatives for women in Central Asia and Afghanistan, as well as all of South Asia. The global microfinance movement that began decades ago had lifted countless women and families out of poverty; while the trend to support women’s small to medium eEnterprise (SME) has been a more recent focus. Supporting women as SME owners and managers has a larger ripple effect. It empowers them to lead change, while creating a higher number of jobs. The talented women and girls of Pakistan are an untapped resource across much of the country; if they are allowed an education, and if their economic power is unleashed, they will boost prosperity for their families, communities and country.

  1. Aim to Establish the US – Pakistan Women’s Council

The State Department in conjunction with American University wanted to support women’s economic empowerment in Pakistan. So the Council was created to focus explicitly on getting more women into the economy through entrepreneurship and employment. We also promote higher education among young Pakistani women and workforce entry or re-entry. Both gender equality and long term economic growth and stability benefit when women are empowered economically.

  1. An entrepreneur to you

A risk taker. An independent person, usually an innovator. A job creator. A game changer. Entrepreneurship is particularly important in Pakistan where jobs are not available for every person seeking one, and where owning one’s own business can allow one to set the parameters of one’s hours and location, which can allow women to have flexibility for family responsibilities, or to work from home.

  1. Significance of women entrepreneurship in Pakistan?

At the micro level, running her own business may allow a woman to work from home, and earning an income can raise a woman’s status within the family and community. Having more of a say over how income is used matters a lot, because income in the hands of women is a development multiplier. Research shows that compared to men, women are more likely to invest in education, nutrition and health care for their families. At the small to medium enterprise level, job creation adds to the benefits of female empowerment and economic development, while boosting Pakistan’s overall economic growth and development.

  1. Challenges and Obstacles

Issue 6 - Melanie bixby and US-Pakistan women's council  3In Pakistan, women entrepreneurs represent only 1 percent of this gender’s population, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, so Pakistan has yet to benefit from the economic talents of half its population in any serious way. Barriers women now face include access to finance and the regulatory and tax environment that constrain all entrepreneurs; however, these issues are magnified for women due in part to cultural and social constraints that restrict women from leaving the home to join the formal work place and that make it harder to run a business.   Most women do not own property, so in order to start a business, women need seed money or an investor, and typically this would come from family or friends. If families are not in support of the women in their household working they may not provide such seed money, and may in fact prevent her from completing a high school education or university degree, or work outside of the home. However, the trend is now changing in Pakistan. People from all walks of life there tell me that economic necessity is driving a cultural shift. More girls are being allowed to complete school, and more women are being permitted to enter the workforce.

  1. The Taboo of Women Working

Issue 6 - Melanie bixby and US-Pakistan women's council  4I think entrepreneurship should be perceived differently than a job. When you own your own business, depending on the business of course, you may have more flexibility. You are essentially your own boss. Although you will need the support of your extended family to cover household and child care, which you can no longer do atop of running a business, the extra income generated is often a motivator to the extended family to do this.

  1. Opportunities Here Vis-à-Vis Other Countries?

Issue 6 - Melanie bixby and US-Pakistan women's council  5There are many opportunities for women entrepreneurs to network with other women entrepreneurs through programs hosted by the U.S. Embassy, and in February we launched the WECREATE Center. The Center serves as an entrepreneurial community center for women interested in starting or expanding an existing business. The Center provides mentoring, business connections, specialized training, connections to the community, media attention, access to markets and capital along with the technical tools and resources necessary for taking any business to the next level. Additionally, there are many opportunities for women to be mentored by other successful business women not just in Pakistan but around the world. There is a program called WomenX, an initiative of the World Bank that provides training for women entrepreneurs that want to expand their business. The Council in partnership with American University and LUMS is developing a similar program in Lahore called the Pakistan Women Entrepreneurship Program (PWEP). We aim to launch the pilot class in summer 2015.

  1. Favorite Female Entrepreneurs

Every year we encounter some motivational women entrepreneurs. So instead of picking one woman I would like to point you in the direction of the Council’s International Women’s Day campaign where we highlighted six inspiring women. Some like Iffat Gill and Anum Kamran are entrepreneurs who use technology to create opportunities for themselves; others like Anam Asif and Ifrah Shah are career women working in professions that are either typically male dominated or are lacking in Pakistan

  1. Business Ideas from Home

Again, I would like to use Anum Kamran, nominated as the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council’s Miss Inspiration 2015, as an example. She started an online store in Pakistan so she could work while being home with her children. E-business is an untapped resource in Pakistan. However, there is no pre-packed business idea that anyone can launch. Men and women have to put the work in. If a woman has an idea, but not the means, she can go to the newly created WECREATE Center in Islamabad funded by the State Department and implemented by StartUp Cup. The Center teaches women ways to make their business idea a reality, and provides access to mentors so they can get advice from real business people.

  1. Next generation of Women Entrepreneurs

I believe the next generation of women entrepreneurs will use technology to bring goods and services to people across Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. For example there is the Savaree App, a ride share app for people in Lahore. The app was launched by a female LUMS student who identified the need and availability of ride shares. Other Pakistani companies like Pronto Promo in Lahore have entered the supply chains of Fortune 500 companies.

  1. Future Plans for the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council

The Council is primarily a networking platform. Our members and partners, including American University, the State Department, the Organization for Pakistani Entrepreneurs (OPEN), the U.S.-Pakistan Business Council, and a wide variety of organizations, associations and companies on the ground in Pakistan, are managing activities that can help get more women into Pakistan’s economy through higher education, entrepreneurship and employment. In coming months, we will welcome our first official corporate members, who will spearhead the Council’s new initiative to facilitate getting more women into jobs in companies, and more women owned businesses into their supply chains. This could have an exponential impact over time, as more companies join with us.

  1. Advice for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs

Issue 6 - Melanie bixby and US-Pakistan women's council  2A combination of education and life experience that opens the mind to new possibilities is important. I don’t think anyone could duplicate my career path, and I could not have planned or predicted it. I grew up in a conservative family of modest means, far from anything international. My family supported my education with what resources they had, but I had to make my own way. As a child I was told that it’s easier for God to steer a moving ship, meaning that if you are at least striving for something or are in motion, even if you are going the wrong direction, new opportunities and key people will find their way to you, and that happened in my case. Undergraduate degrees in theology and sociology, and a Master’s Degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs opened a path that offered a sense of purpose; the opportunity to learn from different societies and better understand my own; the ability to assist those in need; and a clear view of the issues that transcend all our borders. I ended up in government, or public service – but you could support global issues like women’s empowerment from the corporate, NGO or academic sectors as well. As for all parents raising children, work-life balance must be factored in, and your situation may not be your neighbors’. Your career will be driven in part by opportunities that seem beyond your control, but you will be assisted by people that happen to cross your path or enter your life, as well as mentors you actively seek. I realize that women in most of Pakistan face constraints I did not; however, from among the opportunities that do come your way, it is, and must be, your own decision regarding your focus and purpose that will shape your life and career.