Pakistan’s Fiza Farhan empowered the nation when, earlier this month, Forbes magazine enlisted her as one of 2015’s ‘30 under 30’ social entrepreneurs to look out for. The 29-year-old cofounded the Bukhsh Foundation, which primarily focuses on innovative microfinance.
But what landed her the applause was her ‘Lighting A Million Lives’ project that provides electricity to off-the-grid villages across Pakistan. With similar projects under way in India, Bangladesh and Uganda, The Express Tribune explored what sets Fiza’s initiative apart.
“It’s a women-centric project. That is what attracted Forbes,” said Fiza. “Woman empowerment stemming from a female entrepreneur is an attractive deal and, that too, an innovative one,” she added. She felt she has become an inspiration for younger girls and women around Pakistan. “Locally and internationally, I am usually the only woman in boardrooms and meetings and that is what sets me apart from the rest.”
“We believe in creating enterprises rather than just clients. That way, the community benefits more and creates employment opportunities for others,” said Fiza. What made her a cut above the rest was more than just resolving energy woes. “What I feel set me apart in the pool of candidates was the fact that we were not only providing power to these villages but also creating women-centric entrepreneurship along with community empowerment.”
Commenting on why her project has been a raving success, she said, “The most important thing about setting up a venture is that it needs to be a win-win situation for everyone. Only then can it flourish,” stated Fiza. “When all parties have something to gain from a deal, it will be a success and have a lucrative outcome.”
After she met her now partner Asim Bukhsh in 2008, the duo decided to set up companies for the energy and development sector, venturing into untapped markets and offering practical solutions. “Microfinance companies that existed in the market had no accountability and their default rate was way too high. There was no diligence,” Fiza commented.
In every village, there is an appointed woman called Roshna Bibi, who takes care of the lanterns and rents them out to the villagers. She is taught how to charge and maintain the solar-powered lanterns and, in turn, makes an income for her family, while also creating awareness in her community. Since 2012, the foundation has effectively provided power to 140 villages and livelihood to 7,000 households.
As to how her most recent accomplishment has affected her personal life, she responds, “It has changed the people’s attitudes towards me, even in my own family. People now know what I’m doing and it’s taken more seriously. Most of all, there is a beaming pride surrounding everyone who meets me and that makes all my hard work worth it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2015.