Pakistan WE-NET Session on “Encouraging Women Entrepreneurship”

Pakistan Women Entrepreneurs Network for trade hosted an exclusive morning session on “Encouraging Women Entrepreneurship” on January 24, 2018. The session which was supported by the World Bank Group and the Australian Government, was attended by women entrepreneurs, trade attaches, government representatives, and representatives from multilateral organizations.

Ms. Yasmin Hyder, Founder and President, Pakistan WE-NET, gave an update on WE-NET’s activities since its launch in November 2017. WE-NET became a member of Femmes Chefs d’Enterprises Mondiales (FCEM) in November 2017, making itself the first representative body from Pakistan that has been granted membership to FCEM. WE-NET is focused on developing a database of women led SMEs for trade policy formulation and cross sector partnerships. Ms. Yasmin emphasized the importance of inclusion and collaboration and how WE-NET aims to develop global linkages, engage in advocacy, knowledge sharing and mentoring activities.

Upon request from Ms.Yasmin Hyder, Ms. Reshma Aftab, IFC, WBG, Gender Coordinator, addressed participants of the session. Highlighting how growth in women entrepreneurship contributes to the overall growth of the country, Ms. Reshma shared details of the Pakistan Trade and Investment Policy program (PTIPP) under which WE-NET has been launched. The World Bank Group conducted cross sector dialogues with women entrepreneurs engaged in trade of goods and services across Pakistan. These revealed the need for an active network of Pakistani women businesses and traders, which can engage, with similar networks globally to benefit from regional integration. Therefore, in order to address these needs, WE-NET was launched as the first national, representative platform for women in business and trade of goods and services. Ms. Reshma appreciated the progress made by Pakistan WE-NET in achieving significant milestones within a short span of time.

Highlighting the importance of women’s participation in the economy, Ms. H.E. Ingrid Johansson, Ambassador to the Swedish Embassy in Pakistan, appreciated Pakistan WE-NET for organizing the event for emerging women entrepreneurs. She discussed the policies, which Sweden has in place to encourage women participation in the labour force, and stressed upon the benefits reaped by the economy in this regard. In addition, Ms. Johansson discussed the lessons learned from trade policy initiatives in Sweden and expressed how Pakistan can implement similar policies for boosting trade and strengthening economy.

The session held a panel discussion with Mr. Tariq Huda, Director General Pakistan Customs and Ms. Sonya Battla, Fashion Designer and an entrepreneur. Mr. Qashiff Effendi, CEO, Reem Rice and Member, Advisory Council, WE-NET, moderated the session. Ms. Sonya presented the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs while trading. A few participants of the session also expressed issues faced during exports with the Pakistan Customs especially pertaining to stringent documentation requirement, need for persistent followups, delays in getting solutions and lack of adequate merit system.

Mr. Tariq Huda stressed that the government bodies in Pakistan are gender neutral, whilst acknowledging weaknesses in the system, which can be improved through collaboration. He expressed interest in further collaboration with Pakistan WE-NET in order to address these issues.

Ms. Lubna Farooq, Board member, Pakistan WE-NET, shared her personal success story as a woman entrepreneur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Due to prevalent security situation in areas like Swat, Baltistan and KP, cultural restrictions and gender norms, the challenges for women SMEs are great. It is imperative to bring strength in numbers and address challenges in collaboration with government and private sector bodies.

Ms. Hilde Heye, President FCEM Monaco shared the benefits of having a network. It is important to work together in order to have a stronger impact. There is a need for database development in order to fully explore business opportunities. She highlighted global advocacy platforms as a medium to increase access and gain support. Mentoring through workshops, information and coaching sessions have great benefits and strengthens business networks for budding entrepreneurs.

Ms. Yasmin introduced SheTrades to the audience, which was launched by the International Trade Centre (ITC) seeking to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020. Women entrepreneurs can showcase their business, find partners and connect with markets to engage in trade exports for business growth.

Dr. Mahnaz Shah, Board member, Pakistan WE-NET, moderated a panel discussion on “Marketing your brand through social media”. The discussion was held with Mr. Qashif Effendi, CEO, Reem Rice; Dr. Ani Atanasova, CEO Pixelhunters and Ms. Tuba Ilze Author, Turkey. Dr. Ani shared how her business has benefitted from its social media presence. Moreover, website development and its integration with social media platforms was deemed essential in order to increase visibility. For retail brands, there is no better platform for marketing one’s brand than social media.

Ms. Tuba Ilze shared her pleasure in hearing inspiring stories of women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. She expressed interest in sharing these success stories on her blog in Turkey through collaboration with Pakistan WE-NET. From personal experience, Ms. Tuba shared how making social media groups of women entrepreneurs can lead to creation of small marketplaces and business growth.

Mr. Qashif discussed the differences between weak and strong brands and how businesses should invest in their branding to reap long-term benefits. He also stressed upon the importance of highlighting unique selling points (USPs) of products through effective branding.

The last panel discussion featured Maheen Khan, CEO Gulabo and Shamaeel Ansari, CEO House of Shamaeel moderated by Sadeqa Tayebaly, Board member, Pakistan WE-NET. Ms. Maheen Khan stressed upon the need to leave a mark in the fashion industry through unique and original designs. She also urged women entrepreneurs to invest in research, accounting and bookkeeping and social media management.

Ms. Shameel highlighted the need to develop international linkages. She also encouraged budding fashion designers to participate in trade fares and international exhibitions in order to promote trade. She acknowledged the role of government in facilitating women entrepreneurs for cross-sector partnerships and surpassing international barriers.

The session ended with a closing address by Dr. Mahnaz Shah, Board member Pakistan WE-NET. All participants registered themselves at the WE-NET database and shared feedback on the session. The session was deemed to be informative for all attendees, as it provided learnings, and networking opportunities as well as a platform to express their challenges and learn from one another.