In Conversation with Roshanay Zafar

An empowered woman is well grounded in her roots and culture

Founded in 1996, Kashf was the first NGO microfinance institution envisioned to become a ‘one-stop financial service provider’ for low income women and their families to have rooted in Pakistan.

Roshanay Zafar is a founding member of Kashf foundation and Kash microfinance Bank Limited (FINCA Bank). In addition to this, she chairs Kashf Holdings and manages the operations of Kash Foundation. Kashf and Ms. Zafar were also awarded the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in March 2007 and the OneWoman Initiative Award by the US State Department in 2009.

As part of its 5by20 global commitment, Coca-Cola collaborated with Kash Foundation to support women across the rural areas of Pakistan. The partnership has come a long way over the past few years in achieving ‘sustainable’ deliverables and empowering women by instilling in them a sense of self-sufficiency.

In and attempt to enlighten our followers, the Profit team interviewed Roshanay about her exciting journey with Kashf.

  1. What is the vision and mission of Kashf Foundation?
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Kashf started 20 years ago to economically empower female micro-entrepreneurs from low income communities across Pakistan. Our vision is to provide women economic voice through access to financial products like micro-loans, micro-insurance and micro-savings, while enhancing their capacity and financial management through trainings in financial education and business management.  Not only that, we also work with the families of women entrepreneurs to help them overcome many of the social constraints that women face when running successful micro-business.  In other words, we work towards alleviating both financial and social constraints that push women entrepreneurs out of the economy.

  1. How has the journey with Coca-Cola been so far? What is the collaborative project and it’s accomplishments?

Our journey with Coca-Cola has been extremely impactful, as we have worked together to not only fund over 6,000 female entrepreneurs, but have also constantly innovated to work on strengthening the value chain for enhancing women’s productivity, whether it was through business management initiatives or more recently via vocational trainings.  Our data from this collaboration has revealed that not only has women’s productivity been enhanced in terms of greater income with over 80% of the clients earning higher incomes year on year, but women’s self-esteem and their decision-making has also been positively impacted.  By working with Coca-Cola to offer a holistic package for women’s economic empowerment, Kashf has further demonstrated the proof of concept that investing in women reaps benefits beyond the expected, an empowered woman creates an empowered household.

  1. How do you see the Foundation changing in the last 6 years ever since its collaboration with Coca-Cola?

Over the past 6 years, we have strengthened our vision on the capacity building aspects of our work, for there is no doubt that creating a level playing field for women entrepreneurs requires greater investments in their acumen and their expertise. Given the many hurdles women face at the community level, simply providing access to financial services will not reap the same benefits, unless it is twinned with relevant trainings and other measures. Over time we have also learnt that being inclusive and working with the entrepreneur and their family (both men and women) is a critical factor for success and therefore developing appropriate interventions to involve the family are also an important part of what we do at Kashf.  Kashf has also become the voice of gender equity both at the community level and at the corporate level, to quote a point we are one of the few institutions in Pakistan to offer paternity leave to our staff and also have an exciting program of “women on wheels” where we provide interest free loans to our female staff to purchase scooties.

  1. Can you tell us the story of your prior success, challenges and major responsibilities?

Well a 20 years journey is a long one, and without challenges we would not have succeeded as an institution.  For one, if we talk about numbers we have enabled over 2 million households to set up micro business over 43% of these were exclusively women led enterprises, we have also generated over 650,000 additional jobs as a result of these loans, and not only that but we have also enhanced the ability of such households to invest in better education and better nutrition of their children.  Over 85% of the female clients who have been working with us also share enhanced self-esteem, self-confidence and decision-making capacity. We are also delighted that this year one of our clients from Haripur Rizwana Shah won the prestigious N-Peace award which is sponsored regionally by UNDP, her journey from Haripur to Bangkok (where the award ceremony was held) is a testament to the success of Kashf’s economic empowerment program, for as Rizwana Baji told me “Kashf is my power for it has given me voice and recognition.”

  1. How do you describe women empowerment in Pakistan in contrast to the West?

Well, I would not like to make a normative judgement here but respond to this by looking at real issues. For one when it comes to the labour force participation rate of women in Pakistan, we continue to be at a low with only 19% of women currently in the labour force; contrast that with the fact that over 50% of the enrolment in higher education institutions are female, so my sense is that as these young female graduates enter into the job market this aspect will change over time. At the same time, women’s participation in the informal sector and agriculture is over 80%, however the downside is that in many cases women are earning less than half of what men earn for the same job. In other words, we can’t really measure empowerment as one single outcome, we have to view it holistically and only then can we work on eliminating the root causes. So to give you an example, at Kashf through our business management trainings we educate women about prevalent market rates so they are aware on what the true value of their products is so that they can negotiate the correct price.

  1. Is it hard in Pakistan for women to strike a balance between a career and household duties?

I think this aspect is relevant to women across the globe, irrespective of where they come from – work life balance is a struggle in any society. I feel it is perhaps easier for many of us to work, given the close knit family structures we come from, where child care is usually a communal process. Also child care is more affordable in a large number of cases. I think our struggle in Pakistan is more about mind set, I have seen many young women with children leave the work force as they are compelled to do so by their in laws and not out of their own design.

  1. What does it mean to be an ‘empowered female’ in Pakistan?

Well, let me tell you it is not the stereo type we see on popular media, where an empowered woman is shown as someone who has a job, earns an income and neglects her family! Or the other option is that she is a happy-go-lucky talking back to her elders, fighting with the entire community type of young woman who ultimately has to capitulate to the will of the man that she is married off to!  My sense is that an empowered woman is someone who is very well grounded in her roots and her culture and who uses her influence positively to transform the choices of others in her community, she is both a doer and a leader and is willing to take risks to change society.

  1. What should the Pakistani community be expecting in terms of future projects?

Well, as you know we have been working on many projects to raise awareness through media, what we term as edu-tainment, the last of which was the Udaari drama serial which we produced recently. We hope to continue with several such projects in the coming years especially focusing on radio, while we will continue to strengthen our work on the capacity of building female entrepreneurs.

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