“The time for paperwork is finished,” declares 23-year-old Zakia Anwar. Living in Hazara town on the outskirts of Quetta, Zakia has entered the digital age, something she dreamt of doing since she was a child. The family did not have a computer at home. The school she graduated from did not have any computers either, although she wanted to become a software engineer.
Finally, when she entered university, she gained access to computers and design software. Zakia discovered she had a knack for design and began to work for people she knew in Hazara Town.
The Hazaras are a minority community, often targeted by extremists in the area. “In this town, people cannot go out,” says Zakia. “Now through using software instead of paper, they can communicate with people not just in other cities, but other countries, to grow their businesses.”
Running the business is not easy for Zakia. “We have a lot of problems going out of Hazara Town because there are bomb blasts, target killings. And for a girl it is even more difficult. But my mother and brothers accompany me on visits to the city.”
Zakia started her business with a few clients, but there were barriers to growth. She says, “I had the basic design sense but no idea how to run a business until I attended training sessions, arranged by Karandaaz. Through these sessions I came to know how I can earn more money, where to invest, how to track expenses and manage my business. Before, I didn’t know too much about profit and loss.”
Karandaaz promotes access to finance for small businesses, to help generate broad based employment in Pakistan. Improving economic participation of women is addressed is a priority area for the organization and its sponsors, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge (WEC), launched in 2017, aims to support women-led businesses by providing business development support as well as risk capital and grants so the enterprises can grow.
In the first WEC round, Karandaaz partnered with three business incubators for capacity building of women entrepreneurs. They are LUMS in Lahore, the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEM) in Quetta and Invest2Innovate (i2i) in Karachi. Businesses that have successfully graduated from the incubation programs will compete to receive funding from Karandaaz.
Zakia, a beneficiary of Women Entrepreneurship Challenge, has gained fresh confidence after completing her training sessions at BUITEMS.
“I learnt many things from the trainers, how to keep to a schedule, how to develop a growth plan. I met other entrepreneurs, we exchanged ideas and I found new customers. Before I was content with a small number of clients. Now I reach out for as many clients as I can,” says Zakia, who helps to meet the needs of her household.
Along with her partner, Mohammad Zia Saleh, she now employs two graphic designers and an administrator. “We have more than 300 customers in Hazara Town and outside,” she says proudly. The company designs websites, brochures, cards and Panaflex signboards. Managing schools through software is another interest and the company already has 25 schools on board. “Every client brings in ten others,” says Saleh. “Through word of mouth the business grows.”
Zakia qualified in the second WEC round and is now the recipient of a grant from Karandaaz. With the grant money, Saleh and Zakia can invest in an offset printing machine. This will enable them to take on larger printing contacts, offer faster turnover and better quality.
And that’s not all. Zakia Anwer and Muhammad Zia Saleh have a vision for the future. They want to reach out beyond Balochistan, to establish branches of the company in other cities of Pakistan. “Once that is done,” says Zakia, her eyes lighting up with excitement, “we can aim for branches in other countries, in Iran, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.”
Zakia wants to open up opportunities for other women in Hazara Town and has started training women in graphic design. She is a firm believer in the innate capacity of women to achieve success in different fields. “There is a woman behind many success stories,” she says. “Every woman should have a dream. Then every woman can have an achievement.”