Fouzia Qazi has true entrepreneurial spirit. She set up her tourism business in Gilgit Baltistan in north Pakistan four years ago. She soon noticed that tourists were bringing back dried fruits from the north as a specialty gift. Spotting a new business opportunity, Fouzia established her second venture, Nature’s Best, selling dried fruits, honey and oils.
Forty-five-year-old Fouzia is frank about what she has overcome as a businesswoman: “The biggest hurdle I faced was the element of fear, and whether I would be able to achieve my goal. I broke that barrier,” she explains. In Pakistan, only 1% of women are engaged in entrepreneurial activities, as opposed to 21% of men, so Fouzia is one of only a few entrepreneurs blazing the way for other Pakistani women. Fouzia does not take this responsibility lightly and she has already taken a fellow entrepreneur Fariha under her wing, offering her encouragement and business advice.
“The world has changed and the way that we interact with our clients online has also changed. We need these digital skills.”
The low representation of women in business and Fouzia’s initial fear can be explained in part by the cultural practice in Pakistan of men making all the decisions both at home and in business. Fouzia and her husband, whom she runs the businesses with, have broken that mold.
“In the two businesses I am solely responsible for all the analysis and I make a lot of the decisions on my own,” she says. The couple employs one permanent member of staff and several temporary staff.
For women, securing a loan to start a business is also a challenge. “It is more difficult for women than men to get a business loan as women rarely own any assets to use as collateral. Literacy and less knowledge about financial procedures is another impediment, as well as the lack of a guarantor,” Fouzia explains. She used her own savings to start her business and will now be applying for loans and financial packages specifically tailored for women to help grow her business.