Recognition Of Social Entrepreneurship

Two young Pakistani women social entrepreneurs were presented at OPEN Silicon Valley’s  SOCAP11 conference held in San Francisco during the “Empowerment Through Enterprise: Let No Girl be Left Behind” event held on Sept 10. These women’s social enterprises aim at empowering, educating and enriching the lives of other Pakistani women. OPEN (Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs) is a voluntary non-profit organization promoting entrepreneurship and business leadership in the Pakistani-American community.

Khalida Brohi’s Sughar

When she was 16, Khalida Brohi lost a friend to honor killing. Puzzled about what honor killing was, Khalida Brohi dug around and found out that honor killing was a custom practiced by her tribe that allowed its men to decide to kill their wives should the wives be unfaithful or be suspected to be unfaithful. When her family moved from a tribal town in Balochistan Province to Karachi she and her six sisters received an education that she did not know existed. She was “shocked to see that a woman could become a camerawoman, a banker, and stuff”.

After several futile campaigns on her own, she later, with the help of the United Nations, realized that, in fighting the sex discrimination and injustice prevalent in tribal communities in Pakistan, it was better to embrace rather than fight old traditions. Thus, with her new plan and with some UN funds, she approached tribal leaders asking, “What do you think of us building a center in town where we can preserve our culture, language, customs and embroidery?” They agreed, and cultural centers were set up. As a sign of respecting local customs, Khalida Brohi also went back to wearing her traditional garb.

There are now 11 centers, each of which offers an 8-week program called Sughar, designed to help women learn embroidery, create her own “primary production unit”, and sell her products locally as well as in Karachi.

Saba Gul And Bags For Bliss

Saba Gul’s background was quite different from Khalida Brohi’s. She is a member of Lahore’s privileged class, graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked for years in Silicon Valley before returning to Pakistan to launch a program aimed at helping Turkmen refugee girls, who were not eligible for state schooling. There was a refugee community in Attock, near where she lived, and she saw how some of the girls worked 14-hour days for Rs 4000 ($50) a month.  Her first instinct was to get them free schooling but she realized that the girls would not opt for school if it meant losing their income. So she  set up the Bags for Bliss program, combining school and work by offering them an embroidery workshop at the end of their school day, enabling them to build on their skills and make saleable products while getting an education. The girls embroider cloth that is sent to production houses where they are made up with leather into bags that sell for about $100, 30% of which goes back to the girls.

There are 38 girls in the program now, with plans for expansion later this year.

The Unreasonable Institute

This year, both Khalida Brohi, 23, and Saba Gul, 28 attended the annual 6-week mentorship-driven program run in Boulder Colorado by The Unreasonable Institute for entrepreneurs tackling social and environmental problems. The 25 attendees are mentored by 50 successful entrepreneurs, form relationships with investment funds, get advice on legal issues and design, and present their work to over 400 potential investors.

Think About It

Do women always have to play a secondary role in Pakistan? Do Khalida Brohi and Saba Gul make good role models for their countrywomen? What is it that they have given to the less privileged of their fellow countrywomen? Is it just financial security? Or is it also dignity and self-esteem? Will the beneficiaries of their program be motivated to in turn help others?

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