It takes a special type of woman to be an entrepreneur.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when, earlier this year, I met with a group of women entrepreneurs in Karachi who are participating in the World Bank Group’s womenX program. I had read a lot about the low numbers of women running businesses in Pakistan, the challenging environment they operate in, and their many constraints. But I was struck by the positivity and drive of the women I met. They shared with me how they are improving their business and financial practices, building their confidence, and expanding their networks.
Take for instance, Mussarat Ishaq, who runs Al-Karam Packages. Mussarat was a Karachi-based housewife, pregnant with her third child, when her husband divorced her. With no work experience, little education, no money and no plan, she learned the ropes of polythene production and with a business partner, started out small – purchasing the raw material from local markets, using outdated machinery to produce plastic bags, and supplying them to small businesses in their area. Today, they have purchased more sophisticated equipment and they employ 250 employees, working to provide low-cost, high-quality, reusable and environment-friendly packaging materials to Pakistani clients.
Or consider Sarwat Muzammil who is the founder and CEO of Ecode, an industrial electronics consultancy firm that does product design and that manufactures, assembles, repairs and maintains electronic items. Sarwat works out of a one-room office space adjacent to her brother’s laptop repair business, nestled in Sassi Arcade, Karachi’s buzzing electronics market and the go-to place for electronics repair. In the four years since she launched Ecode, Sarwat has hired two full-time, paid employees and she is poised and eager to expand.
All around the world, women are starting and growing enterprises, often juggling work and family commitments, and facing a range of legal, regulatory, societal and financial impediments.
A recent McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report entitled "The Power of Parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth" has outlined the huge implications of excluding women, who today account for half the world’s working-age population, from the economy. The World Bank Group’s new Gender Strategy similarly focuses on achieving parity between men and women.
How can the Bank Group, through its Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, boost women’s economic participation and address the negative effects of gender inequality? Gender is after all, a cross-cutting priority area for our practice. T&C is active in a range of solutions, from addressing discriminatory laws and regulations or other investment-climate impediments; to facilitating the entry of women into key sectors of the economy; to piloting skills and capacity-development programs for women entrepreneurs like Mussarat and Sarwat. It’s a critical agenda, and it's time for innovative new solutions.
The opportunities for engaging women to foster economic growth are myriad and, through our work and our evolving partnerships with businesses, NGOs and economic-development counterparts, we're working to boost the efforts of entrepreneurs, associations and workers in our client countries. By marshalling women’s energy and creativity in business endeavors, all of us stand to benefit.