Fiza Farhan, Co-founder and CEO of Buksh Foundation and Director Buksh Energy, recently made it to the prestigious Forbes’ list of “30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs” for 2015. Ms Farhan is one of Pakistan’s youngest CEOs within the field of social entrepreneurship. From the platform of Buksh Foundation, she works to bring clean energy projects to poor, rural areas of Pakistan. On the eve of International Women’s Day 2015, Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) brings an exclusive interview with this young powerhouse who has made the nation proud with impressive achievements.
Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): As you know the theme of International Women’s Day 2015 is ‘Make it Happen,’ so, what have been your make-it-happen moments that won you a place in the Forbes’ “30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs”?
Fiza Farhan (FF): Since the start of my career, I have made many things happen; not only for myself only but also for my team and the community at large. In fact, all our projects from the platform of Buksh Foundation or Buksh Energy are unique in many respects. No such projects existed in Pakistan before we entered the field. These projects are highly challenging as well because they are meant only for the women; probably that’s the reason why it has been subjected to a lot of scepticism too. Currently, our trademark project is ‘Lightning the Millions Lives’ through which we are out to illuminate even the remotest villages by providing them with electricity. This project of ours serves as a model for women empowerment and also for solar energy generation. I believe this is the project which has earned me the honour of being included in Forbes’ list of top social entrepreneurs; besides many other international accolades. In fact, we are, creating a change by involving all stakeholders.
JWT: How do you see your success as a women entrepreneur in Pakistan because we have only a few women like you?
FF: I always say that I am very proud of being a woman because I believe being woman is a great strength, not a weakness. However, it becomes your strength only when you know it, believe in its power and know the way to use it positively. People always ask me about the challenges I had to face because of being a woman, I often tell them that at all stages of my career I got more opportunities than I faced the challenges. I say so because I think once you start believing in your strength as a woman, then all formidable challenges turn into wonderful opportunities.
Here I would like to add one point. I think working as a woman in professional circles is challenging in the whole world; Pakistan is no exception to it.
Recently, a meeting of Pakistan-Denmark Business Council, which includes twenty-one Danish and fifteen Pakistani companies, was held. You would be surprised to know that I was the only woman present in the meeting. I represented Pakistan but no woman from Danish side was there as her country’s representative. It’s a global phenomenon and should not be considered only a Pakistani peculiarity.
JWT: Can you share with our readers something particularly inspiring about you?
FF: I think that is my determination to pursue higher education. Actually, ours is a male-dominated society and girls belonging to conservative families often find it hard to go on with their education. I belong to an Islamabad-based family that was opposed to sending young girls out for pursuing their studies. It was a huge challenge for me and I dealt with it wisely. I, somehow, convinced my family and got permission to study in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore. I was a sort of iconoclast as my entry into the LUMS opened the doors of higher studies for all my female cousins.
JWT: As you have personally faced conservatism, what, in your opinion, are the causes of the prevalence of such an attitude in our society?
FF: Basically, there are two main reasons behind this conservatism: one is paucity of good precedents, and second is the lack of belief that women should, rather must, have in them. That’s why they do only what others want them to. In fact, conservatism is a collective phenomenon which is generated by individual thoughts. Unless we change our individual attitudes, no substantial change should be expected.
JWT: Keeping the features of our society in view, what sort of women empowerment should we introduce so as to fulfil our social needs?
FF: Candidly, for empowering women, we have to provide them with platforms where they may utilize their innate talent and potential to their own as well as society’s benefit. It is a known fact that women are smarter than men and they are gifted with creative talent. Moreover, they are competent enough to prove their mettle. I think that’s the women empowerment in a real sense. At the same time, we must also have a clarity regarding their roles as a professional and as a housewife.
JWT: But, a woman’s responsibilities as a mother cannot be neglected at all. Then what would you advise young female professionals to strike a balance between their domestic chores and professional demands?
FF: Whenever I have an interaction with confused woman professionals, especially during my lectures in various institutions, I tell them that women are naturally designed to be multitasked geniues and they must realize this unique and distinctive quality of theirs. In short, I emphasise that women should know how to deal with the situation. That’s the only way they would be able to strike a balance between their domestic as well as professional life.
JWT: You have targeted only the rural women for your microfinance projects. Why it is so and what successes have you achieved?
FF: Our project “Lighting a Million Lives” is, basically, meant for remote villages and that’s the reason why we targeted the women of rural areas only. We chose only the women because we wanted to create an agent of change. A woman entrepreneur represents us after we impart her the due training. Moreover, picking a woman as our agent of change and calling her ‘Roshna Bibi’ also gave a prestige not only to that particular woman but to the entire village as well. This is the actual women empowerment because empowering a woman in rural area is actually empowering the whole community of that particular area.
It has not been an easy task but through community mobilization, we are making it happen. We gather all notables of a village and give them awareness on the benefit that their women’s participation in our projects shall accrue. Of course, without the support of men, we cannot empower the women.
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