More and more women around the world are breaking barriers to establish startups in various niches proving that entrepreneurship is no longer exclusive to men. Pakistani women are no different.
Meet Afshan Khan, a young woman from Peshawar who turned her dream of starting a business into reality. Afshan embarked on her entrepreneurial journey armed with a Master's degree in Project Management intending to open a boutique for women. But the biggest challenge she faced was finding suitable packaging and branding options for it. While most would give up after a speed bump like this, Afshan decided to be innovative and turn it into an opportunity. She knew the problem and wanted to fill the gap by creating FastMove, a one-stop shop for all packaging and logistical needs.
(Afshan Khan in her office, Peshawar)
During the last few years, there was increasing demand for packaging products, as many businesses shifted from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to online platforms. To ease this transition, Afshan turned to Meta's SheMeansBusiness initiative, a global program designed to support and empower women entrepreneurs to build and grow their businesses using Facebook and Instagram platforms. With access to resources and training sessions covering various topics such as social media marketing, business development, and financial management, Afshan’s Fast Move began accepting online quotations and pricing estimates for businesses and day to day customers. Despite being in a market that had little online business presence, Afshan now has clients from all over Pakistan and even abroad, with outreach extending as far as Kenya.
“Today, FastMove has grown by many folds and I am so proud of myself that I did not give up when my first venture failed,” said Afshan.
Another Pakistani woman who did not give up on her dreams is Natasha Oliver Dass, who runs Natx Collection by designing clothes for plus-sized women in the country. Natasha shared that she weighed 50kgs when she got married, but gained weight after facing a few health issues. As someone who has personally experienced the negative impact of body-shaming, Natasha knew how important it is to feel confident and comfortable in one’s own skin. She started designing and stitching clothes that suited her physique and made her feel good about herself.
(Natasha Oliver Dass and team displaying their designs)
This gave her the inspiration to launch a clothing brand for plus-sized women, to provide them with options that would make them feel confident and comfortable. Natasha believes that it’s not just about creating fashion, she also wants to promote body positivity and inclusivity.”
“Every piece I create is to celebrate and empower every body, because beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” said Natasha.
Since launching their SheMeansBusiness program in Pakistan in 2018, Meta has trained over 30,000 women entrepreneurs and facilitated meaningful connections. Like Afshan, Natasha also participated in Meta’s workshops and has since gained confidence in terms of managing business finances. She has also seen her profits increase by 25 percent.
Another woman who benefited from this initiative is Saima Rizwan who turned her passion for cooking into a successful business by connecting home cooks to households through personally crafted recipes. She started her business with a small team of home-based women and established a supply chain where local women from all over the country supplied food items. By empowering women to work out of their homes, Saima was able to limit the costs of a physical outlet and train other women to be part of the supply chain behind Sam’s Kitchen.
(Saima Rizwan, the founder of Sam's Kitchen with her clients from the Italian Embassy)
Despite the pandemic and the current economic downturn in Pakistan, Saima persisted in keeping her passion for cooking alive and turning it into a thriving business. She learned how to digitize her business and use social media to reach customers. The company invested in local vendors and employed nutritionists to provide healthy home-cooked meals. Today, Sam's Kitchen is operating in multiple cities and supporting women and transgender individuals to establish their own home-run food delivery services, while also providing delicious meals to families and corporate events.
“I make it a point to empower others around me, just like I was empowered through Meta,” said Saima.
Saima and other small business owners continue to attend the workshops organized by Meta to keep themselves well-equipped with the best practices and digital tools, encouraging others to do the same. They believe that when women become entrepreneurs and manage their own businesses, they should avail any opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge.
However, the transition of women into financial inclusion is often hindered by psychological barriers rather than physical ones. These barriers can include self-doubt, reluctance to own a mobile phone, and hesitation to go online to explore different platforms for business. Overcoming such apprehension can lead to positive gender dynamics within families, where women gain more economic power and set an example for their families.
With the right examples in front of them, the younger generation can view women as economic contributors rather than dependents, which is still a prevalent issue in the society. Inspiring leaders like Afshan, Natasha and Saima are defying stereotypes and making the way for other women entrepreneurs who are changing Pakistan’s business landscape.