Fiza Farhan, is a young women entrepreneur, featured in the US Magazine Forbes 30 Under 30 List of Social Entrepreneurs for 2015 and again in Forbes Asia List of 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs in 2016. Furthermore, she represents Pakistan on the United Nation's Secretary General's first ever High Level Panel on Women Economic Empowerment along with global leadership in addition to advising the Government of Punjab, as Chairperson to Chief Minister Punjab’s Task Force on Women Empowerment. Previously, Fiza was the CEO of Buksh Foundation and Director of Buksh Energy Private Limited, both companies pioneering unique and demand based multi-stakeholder solutions in the domains of gender equality, inclusive growth, renewable energy and impact investment. Fiza continues to represent Pakistan on multiple international forums including the UN Foundation, ADB Energy for ALL and the Clinton Global Initiative.
You are now working with UN Secretary General's High Level Panel On Women Economic Empowerment, can you please share us about the current status women in economic field, are we seeing any significant changes and what we should do different to achieve a better result?
Women Economic Empowerment is the trending topic that evokes broad interest. At least seven of the SDGs revolve around the idea of gender equality in all aspects. The gravity of the issue is further emphasized by the findings of McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report which states that lack of gender parity has drastic consequences as the global economy will bear a loss of the additional $12 trillion by 2025. Of course, these economic implications have a trickle-down effect to all the countries, including Pakistan. The report further mentions that closing gender gaps completely in the labor-force participation i.e. the ‘full potential’ scenario, will result in an increment of 26% in the global annual GDP by 2025. There have been tremendous amount of studies conducted on gender parity, but why this particular study is quite noteworthy is because it stresses that woman empowerment does not lie on just the nexus between a humanitarian cause and a social or a political cause. It is far more intricate than that as it also affects the future economic progress of the world. The UN high level panel recognizes the fact that this is predominantly a financial issue.
Our economic realities are changing as women have started working but we need to build on this reality, in our individual capacity, to achieve a 50-50 nexus of women economic empowerment.
Why do you think it's important to give women an equal voice in decision-making, be in home or company?
Firstly, there are two factors, which are interlinked, and women can reach their full potential only if we work towards both the factors. Making opportunities available for women is one very important aspect of women economic empowerment but it can only be successfully achieved when women have a strong support system of family and friends who encourage them to reach their full potential.
Secondly, women make up half of the population and not giving them a voice in decision-making is like neglecting the needs of half of the mankind. This also points to the fact that a woman can best represent the other women so they must equally participate in the decision making in all the spheres of life.
Additionally, we are living in a very consumer-oriented age. Women are passionate and sentimental so they are better at understanding the consumer mind and at gaining insight in to behavioral patterns. Hence, women are capable of making well-informed decisions, which also have an added element of humanism that creates strong profitability for the business world.
What advice can you give to girls and women who are still fighting for their rights for education?
The real advice must be given to the state to practically make economic and other opportunities available for women to avail. “Education for All” must be a priority agenda for any state led development plan. One meaningful advice that I would like to give to young educated women is that it is their responsibility to help other women to come up to the mark and give back to society in a formal or informal way. An eye-opener for me was a small reunion planned with some of my batch matches from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), which is the most prestigious university of the country, whereby I found out that out of 20 girls that came for the reunion, only two are working women. I strongly believe that as so many resources have been invested in our best quality education, we must work towards giving back some sort of value to the society. Even if a woman cannot enter the professional field due to certain reasons, she should at least work informally to put a drop in the ocean of efforts toward achieving collective equality.
You are an active social entrepreneur, especially promoting women empowerment, what has made you to choose this career path?
It was a natural process. I was studying International trade and Economics at LUMS. From Warwick, I completed my masters in business management. So I was primarily a business student and women economic empowerment was never my main forte. It came out for me naturally, being a woman and perhaps being passionate about it. Then it evolved for me in to representing Pakistan on the US high-level panel. So the subject for me is not a matter of research, it has evolved for me as I have evolved over the years. I had always wanted to work towards projects, which do not only enhance my professional capabilities but also lead to creation of social value. Now the topic has become very close to my heart especially after having a professional experience of so many years as a social entrepreneur. When I launched my two companies a few years back, Buksh Energy and Buksh Foundation, we started off working for the rural social development solutions. Along the way, we realized that many development problems culminate from lack of gender parity. Hence, when one identifies problems in the rural context, one will always come to the realization that economic empowerment of women is an inevitable part of every development solution that we foresee.
Did you find it difficult, initially, to be a woman entrepreneur?
Being a young entrepreneur, it took immense courage to make my place in a fairly male dominated field of energy, within Pakistan. Being a woman in Pakistan, a nation characterized with patriarchal norms and culture, I understood that my struggles were a story among millions of other Pakistani women who were held back on account of their gender. Through consistent dedication and resilience, I evolved and noticed that the challenges I faced started to wither away. As a young woman, who is positioned as CEO of two companies at a fairly early age, and usually negotiating with professionals twice or thrice her age, I did find the experience largely intimidating at first. However, a point comes in your life when you have to decide whether you want to overcome your challenges or let your challenges overcome you. I realized that being a women is not only my biggest power but it is a very valuable asset as there are a very few of us who are working in a professional environment. This puts a high responsibility on us as role models for other women. This is the “turning point” in any young women’s career, as she keeps her gender and age aside and decides to commit to the professional within her transforming her weaknesses into her strengths.
What do you think about children, especially girls who are not being allowed to pursue formal education? What can we do to help them?
I believe that by working towards improving the school enrollment rate of young girls substantially will help us address the root cause of gender inequality not only socially and politically, but also economically and morally. I am currently working as the Chairperson to Chief Minister Punjab's Special Task Force on Women Empowerment. The direct way of helping girls is by incentivizing them to go to schools. The Punjab government is currently working towards increasing the primary enrollment of girls to 95%. The government has also launched various programs to incentivize women to work for example; the Women Development Department has established hostels for women who are working away from home in the province to provide them residential facilities. Due to the non-availability of well-protected and safe living place, women normally do not take jobs away from their hometown.
Another way to work towards women economic empowerment is to incentivize the families to send their girls to schools. The Benazir Income Support Program is doing wonders as it gives direct cash transfer to women for education and other purposes.
In a nutshell, the state needs to come forward and work to curb the problem of gender inequality on both the federal and the provincial level, great examples have come out of Pakistan in recent times towards both goals.
What has been your greatest challenge and how do you overcome it?
I became an entrepreneur at a very young age. I was 26 when I founded my two companies and I had to deal with men (and women) who were twice or thrice my age. The main challenge that I faced was to present myself as a serious professional and as a competent leader. I had to be taken seriously in order to excel in what I was doing. Instead of letting these challenges absorb me; I absorbed them and evolved in to a social entrepreneur consistently working towards bettering myself and to my offerings to the society. By focusing on the professional in me, I was able to move forward successfully keeping both my age and gender aside. The same principle leads me in all my professional decisions till date, whether it is being the youngest member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women Economic Empowerment amidst global leaders including Christine Lagarde Managing Director IMF and Jim Yong President World Bank or whether it is being the youngest advisor to the Chief Minister of Punjab.
What advice can you give to our next generations’ readers?
An advice that I would like to give that resonates with me is that our young generation should live their lives to the fullest by following their dreams. Don’t live a life that is dictated by others; follow your own purpose and your own heart in making your own destiny. Learn to make your own rules. The more experience you will get in the practical world, the more you will evolve as a professional and most importantly, as a human. We all make mistakes but we must not get side tracked by them. One must believe fully in his or her innate potential and use it to give back value to the society. We all live our lives once, live it without any regrets! Make mistakes, be crazy, follow your dreams and create your passions into the reality your work for everyday. “Live Life before it outlives you”!