As many as 6,000 women entrepreneurs in urban and rural areas of Pakistan are now successfully marketing their homemade products online.
This was made possible after they got digital marketing training under the “Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme” offered by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which started in 2011.
Ten such entrepreneurs got together here on Monday at an interactive session to share their success stories.
All from middle-income families, the women said they are now using the internet to expand their home businesses to reach out to a wider clientele.
Asma Kamran, a housewife, who initially did not know how to even operate a computer or access the internet, now uses social media for marketing her homemade food items.
“I used to scramble for keys on the keyboard as I typed or waited for my husband or children to come home to help me access the internet,” she said with a laugh.
Asma has now earned the moniker of “master chef” among her friends and family.
She said that she started her business with a small set up in her home under the name of “Mom’s Home Made” to sell homemade foods such as samosas, kebabs and chutneys to her limited clients.
After taking digital marketing and entrepreneur development courses, she polished her digital marketing skills that helped her achieve high profits in a short period of time.
Initially, she used to earn Rs30,000 a month, but after the training, she earns around Rs70,000 a month. “My profits doubled just by using better packaging and marketing online,” she said.
With all of them running their own social media pages, Afsheen Imran, who runs a mosaic business, said that the likes on her Facebook page helped her in tapping a whole new market.
Women entrepreneurs said that through the initiative, they have even gained access to international markets.
Profits of jewellery and textile businesses have gone up 30 to 40 per cent while some businesses have achieved 100 per cent gains, according to the participants.
The “Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme” was developed in response to serious challenges to women at enterprise, institutional and government levels in Pakistan.
It aims at empowering women economically through while providing them with an enabling environment. It also aims to enhance production capacities, develop market strategies, identify skills requirement and provide relevant training opportunities to women as a means to achieve its goal.
UNIDO National Programme Coordinator Shahina Waheed explained that some women have also become trainers.
Shazia Nawab from Chitral was one such example. She runs her own marble business alongside four training centres in Chitral.
Waheed said that some women entrepreneurs were still facing the problem of direct access to the market and a major chunk of their profits went to middle men.
“My father would not let me step outside the house. He used to come to the training centre with me. Ever since my business expanded, my entire house has been converted into my workshop,” said Jabeen Siddiqui who runs her own marble mosaic business.
Waheed said that a special curriculum for training polio-affected women has also been developed and will be shared with the government soon.
UNIDO Country Representative Essam Alqararah said that the second phase of the programme aims to replicate the same model for women in rural areas in fields to venture into renewable energy and other businesses.
He said that FATA, Sindh, Lahore and Muzaffarabad have been identified as target areas.
“We cannot realistically reach all women in Pakistan, but we will be working closely with institutions such as chambers of commerce to develop such models and ensure development and success,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2014.