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Business Incubation Program by IBA, AF and USAID - Experience Report

This post is my experience report on the “Business Incubation Program for Women Home-Based Workers” that happened in collaboration with IBA and Aurat Foundation and was funded by USAID.

Back in May, 2016 I received a call from Soha Zulfiqar (Manager Women Entrepreneurship Program – IBA CED), she told me that they have a project for me and that I should come and meet with her and Dr. Shahid Qureshi (Director – IBA CED). I met them and were briefed about the program, we discussed the scope, terms and over the coming weeks we were to develop a course outline and see if it is fit for our intended audience. The content was in Urdu (as it's our national language) and every participant were to get a practice book that they can take home. 

The program was in collaboration with Aurat Foundation under their Gender Equity Program (GEP) sponsored by USAID and the orientation happened in January, 2017.  Two cohorts were planned for this program, one in Karachi and the other in Quetta. The training for each cohort was of three months (Quetta had a condensed version of the same training) and had different areas of study including, Accounting and Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurial Skills, Soft Skills and IT for Business. Participants were women from marginalized areas and were skilled in different crafts, including Beauty and Fashion (tailoring, designing and embroidery, makeup and grooming, herbal cosmetics, handbags), Food and Beverages (cooking, baking), Teaching and Home D├ęcor. The idea was to train them and help them kick start their home-based businesses. The program also included seed money and access to further finance.

My part consisted of 20 hours of training (using Computer Labs) to help these upcoming entrepreneurs in effectively using Information Technology for business. I divided the content into four parts, which meant 5 hours each day and my course outline looked as follows:

Day 1: Getting to know your Devices
The participants were taught about different devices we use in everyday business, including computers, smartphones, printers, USB devices and scanners, etc., they were also taught about operating systems, installing different apps (Skype and Chrome), and how to use common desktop apps like calculator, calendar and MS Paint. They learned to connect their smartphones with computer via data cable and also the use of USB drive.

Day 2: Introduction to the Internet
We talked about the history of the internet and the world wide web, learned about browsers and their features, about different websites and search engines. Participants were given time to explore Google Search and we did different exercises in selecting good keywords and finding information in different formats. Participants created their personal email accounts and learned to send emails to their peers and to me. We talked about different features that Gmail offers and also taught them to use Google Drive.

Day 3: Using Social Media for Business
Day 3 was all about social media, participants created their Facebook profiles and business pages and learned to navigate them. We also talked about privacy settings, internet safety, brand building, content types, product photography and descriptions, setting up a Facebook shop and customer services. They also learned to use Instagram for product promotion.

Day 4: Introduction to MS Office Apps
Last day was about using MS Office for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Participants created their resumes and a presentation about their dreams and aspirations. They used images and quotes that resonated with them and emailed them to me so that I can respond with my feedback.

After the completion of all the content, we did an extra two hour session (for Karachi only) where I answered all of their questions and talked about the plans for them to move ahead with creating a social media presence for their businesses.

After Karachi’s cohort, I went to Quetta for two days (IBA partnered with BUITEMS and we used their campus facilities) and we condensed all the work in 9 hours each day. We have a Facebook group where both cohorts are added and it’s open for questions or to showcase their recent work and wins. Most of these ladies are very active on their social media profiles and we have seen great friendships coming out of this Entrepreneurial program. 

Each cohort had their own Pitch day and Bazar where they presented and showcased their Business Model Canvas and products to their trainers, mentors and officials from both universities, Aurat Foundation and USAID. They took feedback and networked with the guests. I couldn’t attend either of them but I saw the pictures and spoke to the team afterwards and got to know about the amazing professionalism shown by the ladies. 

This program was an notable initiative for encouraging women's economic empowerment and successfully trained more than 100 upcoming Women Entrepreneurs. We all know that Women’s economic empowerment is a really important step towards creating a better and more economically stable world. Investing in women is smart economics because it causes a shift in spending habits of a family and we see that more is invested into children’s health, nutrition and education. You will find numerous researches where it was proven that women invest more in their families than men and add greater value to the household and the economy. For more details on this, check "Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment" at UNWomen's Website. I would also recommend you to take a look at "The Economic Crisis: The Impact on Women", a fact sheet by USAID and a report on “Indicators of Women’s Empowerment inDeveloping Nations” by University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Now, about my own thoughts on the project, I don’t think I have ever been involved into something that made me so overwhelmed with emotions and there were times when I had to take a moment and process all that I was seeing. I run a community for WomenInTechPK, so I have seen plenty of talented and ambitious women but this lot topped everyone else. These women were skilled, eager to learn and more than that had so much hope for the future. Our workshops were very open for communication and these women had no hesitation in asking questions and I saw that the more they learned, the more fascinated they became with technology.

In the first session I asked them about their expectation from this program and most of them wanted to learn how to use technology for their personal and professional goals. Also, when we talked about the reasons to start a business, I heard some really remarkable goals, like, putting kids to a better school, helping husband/father/brother with finances, buying a house/car, be financially independent, able to afford better living and healthcare, improving themselves and making their families proud. These women were inspiring and had an intense growth mindset, they took notes, completed their exercises and sent me questions via email after each session.

A lot of these women had rational and some irrational fears about technology and we discussed in great length about how to use internet safely. We also talked about how to spot a fake profile or a troll and ways to deal with these situations. I sat with each one of them to make sure that they understood Facebook’s privacy settings and also taught them to block and report people. This whole exercise was really important in building their confidence and to help them understand good and bad behaviors on social media.

I have had some great teammates during this project and their guidance and support were vital for the value that I was trying to deliver. Soha Zulfiqar, KanzaSohail and our EAs were really helpful and executed this project flawlessly. I owe a special shout out to Ayesha for being super amazing especially during our trip to Quetta! 

This project will always remain very close to my heart and I would love to be a part of further Women Empowerment initiatives. Let’s talk about the possibilities, tweet at me

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