10,000 Women and Project Artemis graduates from Afghanistan and Pakistan come together

Written by: Shagufta Parveen, Owner of SUAYYA Enterprises – Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, Project Artemis Pakistan graduate, 2011

Edited by: Wynona Heim, Program Manager, Thunderbird for Good


Formal photo of Summit attendees

I was recently invited to attend the Istanbul Forum for Economic Cooperation between Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in Turkey on November 1st.  Heads of state from all three countries were at the meeting, as well as the President of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Vice President and Secretary from the Pakistani Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

There were three of us ladies from Pakistan who were invited to attend: myself (Shagufta Parveen), Shah Rukh (both of us 10,000 Women graduates), and Saddaf.  We were pleased to meet four fellow businesswomen from Afghanistan who are graduates of our sister 10,000 Women program there: Fatima Akbari, her daughter Shahla, Andeisha Farid, and Malalai Jawad.


Women Entrepreneurs from Afghanistan and Pakistan

Basically the conference was a forum where we put our thoughts into words for our government leaders about what problems we are facing being business women in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The event was arranged by tepav (Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey) and TOBB (The union of chambers and commodity exchanges of Turkey).

Here is a summary of the challenges that we are facing as women entrepreneurs running businesses in our countries.  All of these challenges were communicated to our leadership at these meetings, and we hope that this opens the eyes of our leaders so that they can make it easier to have success for women like us.

Common Problems to Women Business Owners in both countries:

  1. Getting a loan is too difficult and the interest rate is so high.  Often banks do not believe in women’s abilities.  Also, weak property rights mean that women do not have property to pledge in order to get loans.
  2. There is a lack of marketing resources and ability.
  3. The gap in electricity and gas power for running industry is a serious problem.  Even in areas where security is good, the power situation holds back business and keeps us from making our product.


Afghan entrepreneurs at round table discussion on Day 1 of the conference

Problems expressed specifically by the Afghan women entrepreneurs present:

  1. Government policies are confusing and not well enforced if at all.  In addition, these women did not feel that the government of Afghanistan is paying enough attention to the welfare of women.
  2. There is a serious lack of seed funding for startup and growing businesses in Afghanistan, especially when those businesses are owned by a woman.
  3. The Chambers of Commerce and Industry around the country are not doing anything to help businesswomen in their communities.
  4. There is not a way to network with other business owners regularly, creating a lack of knowledge about what is happening in the marketplace.


Pakistani entrepreneurs at the round table discussion on day 1 of the conference

Pakistani entrepreneurs at the round table discussion on day 1 of the conference

Problems expressed specifically by the Pakistani women entrepreneurs present:

  1. There is no NSF (National Sanitation Foundation International: www.nsf.org – which provides standards development, product certification, auditing, education, and other services for public health and environment safety) in Pakistan or other mechanism through which business owners could get international certification for their products.
  2. The government does not have long term policies for business and they put a high import duty on raw materials which business people need to import for making products.
  3. There are not enough opportunities for trainings and skill development that will help businesswomen, such as the 10,000 Women Project Artemis training program we were able to attend at Thunderbird in the United States.

On the 2nd day of the conference we had an open discussion and after listening, officials and others in attendance explained to us what they are doing for Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Programs that they described included:

  1. A project to build a train line from Istanbul to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This will reduce transit time for goods to 15 days and will reduce travel/shipping costs for cargo and passengers.
  2. Turkey is working to provide more electricity for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and hopes to have nearly universal electricity coverage in the region by the end of 2014, Inshallah.
  3. The three countries are going to create a mutual funds program from which business women can more easily get loans for their business at affordable interest rates.
  4. They have already set up a website where business owners can go and ask advice from others who can help learn how to export products abroad.

It was good that there were so many people from our governments and business chambers at this conference.  While some of them did not seem to want to listen to the women business owners, and just took pictures with us for the press, others did listen.  I think that they didn’t know about the Pakistani and Afghani ladies and what we go through to own our businesses.  To hear from us was sometimes a bitter surprise, but it was good because we could open their eyes to the truth, and now they can better know how to help us.

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