Women have an extraordinary capacity to nurture and build. They are natural problem solvers. Look at a mother care for her baby; she has the power to undertake the ‘impossible’ when demanded. Imagine, what they can accomplish in the public space.
After having worked with over 1000 startups, co-founders and entrepreneurs, I have observed a general decline in women in these fields. The stats show that three in ten startups have a woman as a member and an even lesser number as co-founders.
So, what is the problem?
Pakistan and the Challenge of Female Entrepreneurs
A global survey commissioned by Dell in 2015 ranked a country's conditions for conduciveness on the performance of women entrepreneurs. The study evaluated across five categories including business environment, access to resources, leadership, pipelines and growth potential. Pakistan ended up with the lowest score (1), for gendered access and leadership & rights. While it ranked 28 of 31 for Pipeline for Entrepreneurship, Pakistan ranked second last only before Bangladesh overall.
What does this mean?
Our women are subject cultural and social obstacles, which in no way qualify as deciding factors when it comes to their capability. Why I can vouch for this is because women have always been an integral part of all my teams.
Before tackling the external conditions, let’s evaluate a woman’s day. Majority are not decision-makers in domestic roles, hence deal with low self-esteem and a wavering self-belief. This leads to them not being able to create visible impact which lowers their confidence in contributing to the economy.
Once they do find a way to contribute to the economy, mobility becomes their second obstacle. Security and harassment concerns only deteriorate the situation further. When this issue is extrapolated to the 48.8% of the total population in Pakistan, it becomes conclusive. Furthermore, only 25% of this are are active in the labor force in Pakistan, whereas the world average is 48.7% (2017).
Despite these odds and a nascent entrepreneurship landscape, you have had women like Sidra Qasim (Co-founder Atoms) making it to the Y-Combinator, Hirra Babar (CEO WARP) reflecting belief in unconventional ideas and Rameeza Moin (Co-founder Transparent Hands) whose persistence bagged a Sitara-e-Imtiaz in recognition of her work.
Now, imagine, a world with women as active economic agents. What a world it will be.
So, what’s the way to go about it?
Enabling women requires a supporting policy framework and definite change in societal attitude.
As part of an action plan, aspiring female entrepreneurs need to be equipped with the ‘right’ skills. For example, the value of work and income of a home-based artisan embroiderer will increase if she is introduced to work-place negotiation skills and latest art techniques etc...
One such initiative is UNCTAD-Commonwealth Entrepreneurship Project. Over the next two years, with a project value of US$ 490,000, it aims to train 1,000 women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Furthermore, it will introduce culture-relevant entrepreneurial curriculum and facilitate a larger policy dialogue, which uplifts women, helps them to scale up their business and connects them with investment vehicles.
The outcome of this initiative and similar ones are long-term. To make it work, however, we need immediate ‘inspiration’. We need to inspire young women as active economic agents and as change makers. The need now is to introduce young women like Rafia and Sidra as heroes. We need to celebrate them.
It is then that young women – students, professionals and homemakers will find the inspiration to step up, take risks and live a life larger than ordinary. Help them identify their passion and make extraordinary impact. This, we can do for Pakistan.