Empowering, enabling Thar

Dr Mir's dream is to empower the women craftspersons of Thar


Kamal Siddiqi June 04, 2018
The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA, Karachi. He tweets @tribunian

Despite the doom and gloom like the rest of the world, in Pakistan too are some people working against the tide. They help in the form of cash or goods or in education, health or other sectors. We can proudly point to many examples in our country where people and institutions have bridged the gap between what the people need and what the state delivers.

Then there are those who want to empower others. One such person is my Institute of Business Administration (IBA) colleague, Dr Shahid R Mir, an assistant professor with a PhD in management, an MBA in MIS and a BE in Electronics, quite an unlikely combination.

At a gathering at IBA recently, I was able to fully understand to what extent he has gone to fulfill this dream. To begin with, Dr Mir says that one of the recurring themes of Thar has been the death of infants owing to malnutrition.

This is because the mothers are also malnourished because of their circumstances. In Dr Mir’s vision, if the economic circumstances of the women and their families are improved, malnutrition will recede. Given that Tharparkar is one of the country’s most economically-depressed areas, this is a good strategy.

Dr Mir is working on business skills of the women craftpersons. It’s not just about what products they make but about how to market them and also what the requirements of the market are.

He even managed to convince 10 Thari women to travel to places as far as Rawalpindi, Lahore, Bahawalpur, Multan and Karachi to attend trade exhibitions where they would not only exhibit their work but also see what national and international trends are. So eye-opening was the experience that when they came back to their respective villages, they were able to explain and impart knowledge to their families and colleagues. Till then they had no idea of design or clothes.

Today, he says, these 10 women have become celebrities in their areas. More than 100 women are now willing to travel out of Tharparkar to see for themselves how the market sees their work and what it expects of them.

Dr Mir and his team are now training the women in what he calls digital awareness. This includes taking pictures of their products and uploading them. An office has been set up in Mithi to help with logistics.

In one instance, Chinese giant Alibaba has shown interest in this project to source their products as part of their outreach to neglected communities. SIMS and phones are being procured and bank accounts are in the process of being opened in order to facilitate these women entrepreneurs.

Helping Dr Mir is another academic with an equal amount of passion: Farhat Umar, a senior lecturer at DHA Suffa University. Farhat says the three challenges facing Thari women with regard to their products are merchandising, quality and design. It’s about what the new season wants, about colours and cuts with designers adding individuality. He has worked in international fashion houses and knows what it takes to market and sell.

This team is being complemented by icons like Imrana Shahryar who heads the textile department of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She will bring in the design expertise to the project. Shahryar is well known for her work with the artisans of Banaras Colony in Karachi where she has worked at improving their skills. Naushaba Brohi, a designer who has made her mark in a short period of time with her collection of clothes and jewellery, and Hyder Daudpota, who comes from a family of artisans, and makes tiles, are included in this group.

Dr Shahid Mir believes in the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” For the past few years, Dr Mir spends his weekends travelling to Thar — come heat or cold. His dream is to empower the women craftspersons of Thar.

To my knowledge, Dr Mir isn’t a rich man in terms of wealth. But the lesson I learnt from him is that one does not necessarily have to have money to give back to society. You can use, devote your skills to help others rise out of their wretched circumstances. And it need not be charity.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2018.

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