The Inclusive Business Space in Pakistan
The challenges are many but not insurmountable for Pakistan women entrepreneurs
In the last few years with the advent of technology and personalized digitization with almost every service accessible to us through our smartphones, there has been a boom in the start-up ecosystem with a special focus on tech start-ups catering to various services from accessible commute services (such as Uber & Careem) to online grocery stories (sabzi.pk) as well as education utilizing virtual reality (Wondertree). This boom has been supported in Pakistan with a lot of local as well as global incubators and accelerators ( E.g The Nest I/o by Jehan Ara, jawad Farid, i2i by Kalsoom Lakhani, Plan 9, LUMS center for entrepeneurship, IGNITE etc to name a few). Many successful start-ups have emerged from this, ranging from healthcare start-ups (such as our’s i.e Sehat Kahani [www.sehatkahani.com], EZPZ Sehat, Procheck etc) as well as very diverse start-ups from matrimonial sites, to school apps to apps facilitating financial transactions.
A lot of start-up competitions have enabled access to mentorship in all areas as well as access to some seed funding. A few examples include the GIST Tech I competition, USAID and DFID programmes. Some involve using Human Centered Design techniques and are interested in social impact areas such as SPRING, Amplify, OPEN IDEO supported competitions.
Many start-ups have raised investment from local as well as global investors ( a few names who have raised investment include Finja, sabzi.pk, Markhor etc to name a few). This has raised interest from many global investors as well.
However, with this growth, a major issue has been that most of the entrepreneurs have been male and there is a dearth of female entrepreneurs. A few start-ups with female founders would include Sehat Kahani (With me and Dr. Sara as the Founders) Sheops, The Dot & The Line, Switch, Goats for Water to name a few but these are just a handful. There are many cultural reasons for this. In general, the number of women in the working population in Pakistan is very low. Also, entrepreneurship in itself is a 24/7 commitment and an arduous job and often times women in Pakistan are expected to focus on family and children. Career pathways often become secondary. For those women who do venture into entrepreneurship, the challenges are many, as my partner and me have found out. Entrepreneurship requires a lot of lobbying, being a part of the ecosystem means one has to be available at almost every event related to start-ups, every activity and every incubator, and as women who are married and are mothers, oftentimes we have to take turns to do that.
Other obstacles for inclusive business in Pakistan include a lack of investors willing to do larger ticket sized investments in social impact oriented businesses. Also, in contrast to Silicon Valley where many entrepreneurs begin their start-ups after gaining experience in bigger corporates and are comparatively seasoned in their 30s and 40s, many entrepreneurs in Pakistan are usually young fresh graduates who lack the initial work related experience.
However, this is the start and change is on the horizon. Having a small yet powerful group of inspirational women in the industry is inspiring others to follow in their footsteps and gradually the much needed support system enabling other women entering this field is developing. Many local companies are converting their CSR funds into venture funds, looking into investing in non-traditional businesses. Apart from that, many venture capitalists are attracting funding from global firms and introducing them to the Pakistani market. With these developments, I sense that the change is happening and should make doing inclusive business in Pakistan much more viable in the long term.
Find out more about my journey as an entrepreneur in Pakistan and the work we are doing at Sehat Kahani in this interview.