Irshad Bibi has long had dreams of building a better life for herself, her children, and the rest of her family. “I come from a humble family,” Bibi explains, “where [money] was always an issue. My father used to run a small livestock business that barely helped us to run our household expenses. It was difficult for my father to support our family due to his meager income.”
When Bibi was a child, it was not clear what her future would hold. She knew that she wanted to get married and have children. She also wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps raising animals.
Bibi wanted the feeling of accomplishment that comes from being an entrepreneur. Based on her own childhood, Bibi also knew that her children would be better off if both of their parents were earning money.
It would not be easy. Pakistan is a conservative country. Women entrepreneurs are rare. Bibi’s rural community in particular did not encourage women to strike out into business on their own. Though Bibi’s husband did not obstruct her efforts, it was still very tough going.
“It is unfortunate that Pakistan has a male-dominant society,” Bibi recounts. “Here it is very difficult for women to start their businesses or to pursue self-employment and to stand on their feet. I faced many hurdles when I started my livestock business. The financial capital available was limited, and at times, I thought of giving up.”
Bibi recounts that bank after bank turned her down. “Then a representative from FINCA approached me one day,” Bibi remembers. What Bibi didn’t know but soon learned was that FINCA Pakistan had products specifically tailored for women like her. “I initially got a loan of 50,000 rupees [a few hundred dollars]. I recently received my eighth loan from FINCA, and it is worth Rs 3 lakhs [nearly $2,000]. I now own five buffaloes and many goats.”
“I was just fortunate enough to know about FINCA Microfinance Bank,” said a beaming Bibi. When asked about her family’s reaction and support over the years, Bibi noted that “their support swelled with the passage of time. They were skeptical in the beginning. However, when they saw the impact and results of my struggle, I earned their support and respect.”
The change in Bibi’s life and the lives of her children have indeed been dramatic. As Bibi notes, “my journey, my struggle has resulted in a better lifestyle for my children.” Bibi and her family used to share a small house with the livestock that they raised. Now they live in a more spacious house, in a better neighborhood, with separate quarters for the animals.
More importantly, Bibi’s growing income allowed her son to continue his education beyond secondary school. Bibi proudly explains that “he is currently in the fourth year of his undergraduate studies.”
To other aspiring Pakistani women entrepreneurs, Bibi says, “If you want to pursue something of your own, do not hesitate. Just have faith in yourself, just take a step forward. If you work hard, Allah supports you as well.” That and a little financial support from FINCA.
Adapted from an article by Sadiq Suleman that appeared in Parhlo, a digital newspaper in Pakistan.