The Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge
Of the total women population in the country, only 22.4 percent are employed. This is very low compared to middle income economies such as Indonesia (38.2 percent) and Malaysia (38.1 percent) and higher income countries such as United States (45.8 percent) and the United Kingdom (46.5 percent). African countries including Nigeria (45.4 percent) and South Sudan (49.2) also fare much higher in this regard.
But we have all heard the arguments in favor of women empowerment. Women are not only prudent savers, but are also efficient in doing business. A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group showed that women with similar amounts of investment in their businesses as men, perform better. 
Karandaaz has taken a unique step in transforming the lives of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. The Women Entrepreneurship challenge, initiated in 2017 and now in its second round, is a game changer for potential women entrepreneurs, especially since there is no grant or investment scheme that is aimed at directly supporting women led businesses in Pakistan. Challenges such as this not only allow women entrepreneurs to be better at their businesses, but also instill hope in other women aspiring to start their businesses. The first round of the Women Entrepreneurship Challenge was aimed at providing access to finance to women led businesses, after providing technical and financial support to the selected female entrepreneurs through incubators and accelerators.
Women Entrepreneurship has a long way to go in Pakistan. Karandaaz, with a special focus on empowering women financially and bringing them within the formal financial sector, is playing a critical role is in this journey. Through identification of women run businesses throughout the country as part of the Women Entrepreneurship Challenge, Karandaaz incubated businesses through partner organizations and provided grants and investment after rigorous business plan evaluations.
Karandaaz Pakistan has recently undertaken the signing ceremony for the winners of the Women Entrepreneurship Challenge, 2017. A total of 15 women owned businesses from different parts of the country were provided combination grants, loans and equity investment to grow their businesses. Through financial assistance, these businesses will be able to challenge the local stigmas around women entrepreneurship, mobility and self-sustenance,.
Profiles of Investees
Polly and Other Stories is Pakistan’s first online store for handmade, unique products sourced directly from artisans and small businesses from across the region; giving big voices to small ventures. Amneh and Angela, the co-founders, started this business in 2015 and are currently working with 65 micro businesses, out of which more than 80 percent are owned by or employ a significant number of women.
Aero Engine Craft, is the brainchild of Dr. Sarah Qureshi and her father. Together, they designed contrail free aero-engines that induce artificial rain during aircraft flight through an on-board water recovery system from fuel emissions. The innovative and revolutionary design will not only reduce aviation induced global warming but also adopt an approach to treat the fuel emissions as a resource. With Karandaaz’s support, Dr. Sarah aims to convert the patented technology into a full scale commercial application ready to be used by modern civil transport aircrafts.
Organic Jiyo is an exclusive online retailer for natural, organic and health food products in Pakistan. The business started in 2016, currently has 5 employees and offers 200+ products from 15 local producers. Anoshia, the co-founder, recognizes that her objective is to become the largest national retailer of organic products in the country with the intention of bridging the gap between local producers and the market.
Zari Faisal Designs is an e-commerce based fashion and lifestyle product and content influencer platform. Zari, the founder, manufactures high end clothing at high street prices and retails them via her website, mainly targeting millennials and upcoming generation Z. The company started operations in 2016 and currently has 12 employees.
While Karandaaz launched the first round of the programme through incubators and partner organisations, the second round in 2018 will be conducted directly, without an intermediary. This change in design is influenced by findings from the first round, which are:
- Women entrepreneurs are unwilling to participate in incubator programmes outside their city as a result of limited mobility
- Incubator programs are more suitable for startups than established businesses.
- Organizational capacity of incubators is stretched as they are working with multiple stakeholders at the same time.
- Women entrepreneurs have extensive family obligations and find it difficult to attend incubation programmes whilst also running their businesses
- Programme delivery is mainly in English and that excludes potential applicants who may not be well versed in English.
Karandaaz has also decided to undertake the Women Entrepreneurship Challenge on an annual basis. This year’s challenge was launched on 19th June 2018, and targets only established, running businesses with an operational history of at least three years. It is anticipated that a fair number of women-led and managed businesses from across the country and covering a variety of sectors will take part in this contest.
Brief profiles of some of the winners are: