Financial inclusion is a key enabler for driving economic and social development across Pakistan, and it is only possible if each and every person is given equal opportunities. While great strides have been made in fostering financial inclusion across Pakistan, women’s inclusion still stands at 7%. However, with micro-financing institutions on the rise, the prospects of financially including underserved segments are getting better.
Starting a new business or expanding an existing one can be a daunting experience. Nevertheless, countless exemplary women have rebelled against centuries-old practices and fought for financial independence through sheer hard work and devotion. Such is the story of Sara Danish from Multan, who turned her passion into a high-revenue generating business by starting her home-based bakery.
“Baking is something I have always enjoyed from a young age. I knew I had the skill and the drive to start my business but was always hesitant to take the plunge,” Sara shared. “I started my home-based cake business three years ago, and with time and effort, I honed my skills and built a strong clientele,” she added.
As orders started to rack up and her business gained momentum, Sara needed working capital to expand her operations. “With huge orders pouring in, I was unable to keep up with the demand using my current equipment. Unfortunately, I did not have enough savings to inject the required capital in my setup, so I started looking for affordable and convenient loan options,” explained Sara.
Financial literacy stands at 39% across Pakistan, where only 14% of women understand basic financial terms. Banks need to understand the barriers nascent female entrepreneurs face and create an ecosystem conducive to increasing their share in the SME sector. Besides offering greater access to financial instruments, it is also imperative that financial institutions provide skills & training to improve the entrepreneurial adeptness of the local populace.
“One day, my husband brought home a brochure from Mobilink Microfinance bank (MMBL). After reading about their easy and affordable financial services, we decided to visit the branch in Multan,” Sara continued. “I still remember being a little anxious when I first entered the branch, but to my surprise, the feeling went away as soon as the staff greeted us and explained their loan products in detail. Not only was my loan approved within days, but the loan officer also enlightened us about the vast products and services MMBL offers to small-business owners like myself,” she added. Sara feels very fortunate to have an understanding and supportive husband who stepped up to take care of their two children, while she worked tirelessly to grow her business.
Sara secured a loan of PKR 100,000 with the help of MMBL and bought new baking equipment, including a commercial oven and an edible sticker-printing machine. These upgrades allowed Sara to amp up her business portfolio, and the subsequent growth enabled her to not only generate a handsome profit but also expand her product range with a variety of new offerings such as customized cakes for special occasions. With her financial challenges addressed, Sara was able to focus on other crucial aspects of her business, such as marketing, customer support, and further scaling her bakery.
“I did not have the financial means or capacity to achieve success without the Bank’s timely support,” expressed Sara. “MMBL has enabled me to become financially independent, something I have wanted for a very long time. I pay monthly installments of PKR 6300, which I can easily manage with my flourishing business. I have also encouraged other budding female entrepreneurs to start their businesses with the help of MMBL. It fills me with great pride and joy when I share my success story with other women. Looking back, I do not believe that I would have been able to reach this height of success with my bakery if MMBL had not supported me and my business in our time of need”, she concluded.
In Pakistan, only 1% of entrepreneurs are women. Moreover, the female labor force (% of the total labor force) in Pakistan was reported at 20.16% in 2021, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources. This has set the ground for financial institutions to create ample opportunities, enabling budding female entrepreneurs to succeed in their business endeavors.
Financial institutions, therefore, are making earnest efforts to bridge digital, economic, and gender gaps in Pakistan. Today, women are more emancipated than they were a decade ago, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. Sara’s story is one of the many successful accounts made possible through MMBL’s support. The Bank’s innovative and digitally charged microfinance products have been a key enabler of financial inclusion and gender equality in Pakistan. Determined to bank the underserved segments of society, MMBL is committed to fostering an inclusive and virtuous financial ecosystem that will bolster gender and income equality across the nation.