A journey of Education, Empowerment and Entrepreneurialism
Growing up in Pakistan, Shakeela Bibi - like millions of young girls around the world - was passionate about beauty. Shakeela though wanted to share her passion with others and dreamt of one day running a salon. She embarked on a long journey of education, empowerment and entrepreneurialism to achieve her dream.
Before she could open the doors to her salon though, she would have to overcome some tough barriers to entry. As of July 2022, only 1% of women in Pakistan participate in entrepreneurial activities compared with 21% of men. The female literacy rate in Pakistan is 48% compared with 70% for men, and approximately 22.5 million children do not attend school, the majority of which are girls; by grade nine (age 14-15) only 13% of girls are still enrolled in school. Financially, at least 82% of women in Pakistan are unbanked.
The good news is things are changing. There is growing recognition that the gender gap is holding back girls and women and the country’s chances for economic development. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has developed a Gender Mainstreaming Policy that aims to promote women and financial inclusion in Pakistan. This policy was not yet in place when Shakeela embarked on her mission, but that did not hold her back.
Gain Confidence with the Help Family
Before starting the business, Shakeela needed to learn her trade. “I’m based in Muzaffarabad, in northern Pakistan, the largest city of Azad Kashmir, but I took formal training at various salons with some other master trainers in Lahore.”
These classes ran over different time periods from 10 to 40 days, in between and after training Shakeela was able to practice her craft on relatives, “once they started appreciating my work, I got the confidence to start the business,” she says.
Mobilink Microfinance Bank's Financial Assistance
Shakeela has always been driven and in her own words “self made”. But like almost every other entrepreneur before her she was going to need help, financially at least, before she could start up her own business. Her friends and relatives could not afford to help her. So help would need to come from a bank. She reached out to a number of financial services organisations. “I tried a few different banks, but some of the terms and conditions were not just difficult but impossible to meet. For instance, one bank required six months’ worth of payslips,” she says.
Things were challenging until Shakeela approached Pakistan’s largest digital bank Mobilink Microfinance Bank Limited (MMBL).
What made things easy from the outset was the welcoming attitude and the friendly staff at Mobilink. I think it also helped me personally that the branch manager I spoke with was a woman.
She explained the process in detail and it was comfortable talking with her. On the practical side, making repayments is made easy, because MMBL offers multiple channels, including mobile banking, so I don’t have to visit a branch. I can do everything online.”
The initial loan was for PKR 100,000 (roughly $500). The money was used to furnish Shakeela’s first salon with chairs and spa beds, absolutely essential equipment to run any beauty business, and create an online booking experience for her customers. In 2010 she was ready and opened what would become a thriving studio in Muzaffarabad. But she had ambitions to do more. “From a young age, I wanted to get into business. It is not just about creating an income though, it is about empowering other young girls who had similar dreams to my own. In much the same way that a female manager at MMBL helped me realise my dreams.”
In 2015 Shakeela turned from student to teacher. Every year from that point until now she has trained up to five young women every six months in the salon, and in 2018 he also started teaching at a training academy which has an intake of about 25 women every six months. In total, Shakeela estimates that she has trained nearly 300 young women. “Most of the girls trained are either working at their homes or have started their own salon business,” she says.
Moreover, approximately 10 girls have followed Shakeela’s footsteps and successfully applied for starter loans from MMBL using her as a reference. “I try to make my trainees capable of earning their own money so that they can support their families within months.”
Female entrepreneurs are catalysts for a prosperous tomorrow
The financial empowerment of women is central to realizing their rights and conforming to gender equality. Nations, generally, and companies, in particular, cannot prosper and succeed unless the potential of the entire talent base is utilized- which includes both males and females. In line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), and under MMBL's flagship program, Women Inspirational Network (WIN), the Bank constantly strives to create ample opportunities for female entrepreneurs and startups, so that their financial stability can be further boosted.
The future is bright for Shakeela who has a thriving business and all the young women she has trained who can gain financial independence thanks to her vision. As far as her own business goes, she plans to develop her studio in Muzaffarabad further with the addition of specialist equipment for procedures such as hydrafacials and create an online booking experience for her customers. It will set her salon apart from the others in the area giving her first mover advantage, and once again she’ll turn to MMBL for financial assistance.
For the women of Pakistan, financial empowerment is a necessity, as most of them remain unserved or underserved through mainstream financial services. Shakeela is the embodiment of a strong, independent woman, determined to live life on her own terms. Women like her are catalysts for a prosperous tomorrow because they not only strive for their own financial freedom but empower and inspire others around them as well.
“Financial independence means I can take my own decisions. Not just for me but also my family. Our two sons can attend better schools, and our lifestyle is more comfortable which is a challenge during these times of economic crisis,” says Shakeela, “If it hadn't been for MMBL my business would have been finished before it started. MMBL has played an integral role in my life and in the lives of the girls whose dreams I’ve helped come true.