Empowerment of Rural Poor

Roshaneh ZafarA BLOG POST BY ROSHANEH ZAFARI often think about what Dr Yunus of the Grameen bank told me when I first conceived the idea of establishing a women only microfinance institution in Pakistan, way back in 1994. “Many times we have to begin our programmes in highly adverse environments, if we wait for the ideal world to happen, we will never be able to bring about change.” This piece of advice continues to resonate in my mind, for at each stage of establishing our institution we were beset with challenges. However, the biggest challenge one has faced is about changing and influencing mind sets – that is why, I decided to name our organization, Kashf, which literally translated means miracle, revelation and discovering one’s hidden potential. Recently, I was at President Obama’s Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington DC, perhaps what he said is the best microfinance speech I have ever heard, especially when he refered to the fact that, “We’ve come together today because of what we share -- a belief that we are all bound together by certain common aspirations. To live with dignity. To get an education. To live healthy lives. Maybe to start a business, without having to pay a bribe to anybody. To speak freely and have a say in how we are governed. To live in peace and security and to give our children a better future.” For after all microfinance, the delivery of financial services to the marginalized is about dignity building and about providing long term sustainable choices to the economically disempowered especially women.

We often assume that the solutions to the world’s problems are complex and require complicated answers. However, sometimes it's about just wearing a different lens and thinking simply. What we say to our women clients is a simple mantra, “Take money, to earn money.” Only a few weeks ago I was visiting clients in a rural community outside the city of Kasur, and I met with Baji Jamila, who lives in a small one room house made of a partial brick structure. Baji Jamila’s story is a typical one and highlights the potential of changing a life, one family at at time. Seven years ago, Jamila had the idea of starting a small loom business in her house, by purchasing a spooling machine to package and sell dyed thread in different colours. The idea had come to her when she had seen a similar business being run by a distant relative. Initally her husband, Muhammad Mansha, was skeptical about the potential of the business, however, after persuasion he agreed to her obtaining a loan of US$125 from Kashf Foundation. At that time, her husband worked as a small time clerk with a local textile factory and with the additional income from Jamila’s business in her first year of operations, they were able to improve their standard of living sligthly. Seven years hence, Jamila has now invested in 3 additional electric spindles, while her husband has left his job and works for her! Furthermore, Jamila has hired 20 women to help her grade and package the thread and they are now thinking of purchasing a mini van to transport their finished goods. The idea is highly intuitive, allowing one person to create a job for themselves through investing in a simple business idea, which can later provide employment for others, thus creating a spill over effect within the local economy.

While sitting in the audience, listening to President Obama speak, it was an absolute honor when he cited Kashf Foundation’s example, “Look at the professor who came up with an idea -- micro-finance -- that empowered the rural poor across his country, especially women and children. That’s the powerful example of Dr. Yunus. Look what happened when Muhammad shared his idea with a woman from Pakistan, who has since lifted hundreds of thousands of families and children out of poverty through a foundation whose name literally means “miracle.” That’s the example of Roshaneh Zafar.” I was humbled and ecstatic at the same time, for there are millions of Jamila’s that we still have to reach out to.

Baroness Goudie's speech at FIWAL's 'Women of Vision' Conference

Women and Public Life: My Trip to Bosnia