INTERVIEW: BEGUM SALMA AHMED, FOUNDER PRESIDENT WOMEN'S CHAMBER OF COMMERCE & INDUSTRY
Steering Successfully Through All Hurdles Of Life
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI-TARIQSAEEDI@HOTMAIL.COM
Nov 05 - 11, 2007
Iconoclast congenitally, at a first glance one would hit upon a belying serene trait of Begum [Miss] Salma Ahmed, who struggled through all hurdles of life in her complete dexterous mode. Breakups left no stone unturned to mar her life; nonetheless, she treaded on the way of professional successes alongside tied on her kids bond. She expressed her utter thanks for her mother who gave her unstinted support and unconditional love during her life. Having born in an opulent ambience didn't ensure her life with no worries. Rather, she had to invest her indefatigable efforts for returns, she would demand back. Whereas, according to her, being born in an affluent land was itself a good luck during a pre-partition era. Fathered by the Ambassador of Pakistan to USSR, Italy, Syed Akhtar Husain, her upbringings and schooling took place in a moderate and enlightened environ. Begum Salma Ahmed has received the "Priyadarshini Award" for being the best lady entrepreneur from Pakistan during the 50 year Indo-Pak ceremony held in 1997 in New Delhi. She has her ancestral root in UP-a province of India. Begum Salma tries her hands and skills in every profession especially those, which are inundated with the male dominancy. She has been into the high scale manufacturing, trading and now planned to start transportation business.
Begum Salma Ahmed, former Member of National Assembly, has the honor of being the founder president of Women's Chamber of Commerce & Industry. She has been the president of Pakistan Association of Women Entrepreneurs; and Chairperson of Pakistan Civic Forum (A Socio-Political Party). She is the former and first president of International Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (1997-99). She is the former members of Committee on Deregulation Disinvestment Industrial Policy and Privatization; Anti-Corruption Committee of National Assembly; National Taxation Reform Commission; Federal Deregulation & Privatization Committee; and Wafaqi Mohtasib Advisory Committee, Karachi.
Knowing that she is one of the few women of Pakistan determined to revitalize the status of women in economy and having subtle lance to view the economic growth direction, PAGE interviewed her to take her perspectives about the role of women in economic building, reasons behind the blockades, and role of Women's Chamber of Commerce & Industry in emancipating women economically. She lamented her utter dissatisfaction over the present role of women in the economy. She said there could have been done much more for them. Many factors are responsible for the standstill condition. Primary, the financial institutions, which were set up to float easy money, are not offering concession credits to women entrepreneurs, those who wish to start their businesses. High rate of interests and large collaterals stop women to develop a source of earning money. She expressed her dissatisfaction over the performances of Micro Finance Bank, Khushali Bank, and First Women Bank Ltd. They are just doing profitable business without adhering to their preliminary objectives. Second, women don't have many options available to invest their money. While bourses present a better opportunity, but they seem shy to come to this lucrative sector, she dismayed. There is a lack of funding for women entrepreneurs as well. These financial institutions were to supply easy money to people, let alone women. WCCI was established to elevate the economic status of women of Pakistan. As it is the plate form where many women's mind and thought get together, we can bring up breakthroughs in the women entrepreneurship spectra of Pakistan, she said. But instead of recognizing the fact government requires hardly our services and advices in policy making. Even the inputs of women, working in industries, are barely required. Like government claim empties on ground happenings. "Our services are required nowhere."
Given the ratio of working women in Pakistan, she informed that 15 to 20 percent of total labor work force comprises of working women. This includes all profession. This implies that thirty percent women are devoid of any earning.
Begum Salma Ahmed told how she started her business and how it was like to take initiative in politics. When I enquired, "what stirred her up to join the politics?" She answered that when confronted with several problems on every fronts to go ahead with her business venture, she decided to enter into politics. In spontaneity, she clarified that since her intention was preplanned that was primary to establish profitable company and then to join politics. The reason for it, she mentioned, was that politicians should have financial soundness; so that they have enough money to spend on politics. In 1977, she joined PML (functional) and took part in political movement then. She had a busiest schedule at that time, "business in the day and politics by night", she said. From 1985-88, she has been a member of national assembly on the electoral seat of PML (F). Begum Salma said it was her idea to provide lending facilities to women on confessional rate of interests. Proposal of the first women bank was also devised by her back in the 1985. That was later brought up in a next government. She opted to join ship breaking business back in 1978. She has an honor of being the first lady ship "breaker" of Pakistan. Recapitulating momentarily, she expounded that ship breaking business was embarked on in collaboration with lords of Balochistan and Punjab, one of whom held the governorship of a province. The strong links didn't create any problems for canvassing finance and other governmental supports. That was the high point of her career, she believed.
Begum Salma established Pakistan Association of Women Entrepreneurs in 1986 and continued in the field till the end of the century. When felt bit marginalized by the main business community and the federation trade bodies, the idea came in to have a separate chamber of commerce for women. "Pakistan is the first country in the world having an independent women chamber of commerce and industry." WCCI was established in September 2003, envisioned as an autonomous body. It is run by women entrepreneurs, professional staff with input from technocrats and other experts. Its goal is to empower women economically; to transform economic development at national level through women's entrepreneurial activities; to make women equal partners in all economic fields; to make women active players in all entrepreneurial forum by providing them a level playing field; to help them gaining access and control over capital, credit, and other resources; and make women owners and managers of small, medium and large enterprises.
WCCI focuses on the potential of women entrepreneurship in Pakistan and to create a forum for networking. It also focuses on to provide advisory services to all business women building their capacities. WCCI adopts an open door policy to encourage women entrepreneurs to enroll as a member against a nominal fee of Rs. 1000 per annum. It undertakes innovative methodologies for capacity building and training of women. It also focuses on research and documentation and dissemination of information at national, regional, and international levels. Right now, WCCI emphasizes to extend scope of its research activities.
WCCI has been clamoring for registration of the chamber but it falls on dumb ear. It was in November last year that Presidential ordinance was promulgated that recommended women chamber of commerce to be registered. To our utter dismay, Begum Salma said, bureaucratic delaying tactics stumbled at the registration process to move forward for one reason or another. That is one of the reasons women chamber operates solely depending on its own funds and resourcesurial development zeal. They had designed handicrafts and cloths, which instantly were sold out. Referring to TDAP, she said there found a total nepotism in terms of favoring to selected few.
All in all, Begum Salma sounded disgruntled about the operational mechanism of the government. She reiterated that nothing in reality is being happened to emancipate and empower women economically. Women should also come forward. In her concluding remarks, she said that professional, industrial labors, and businesswomen generate the working women force of Pakistan. WCCI works to promote the women entrepreneurship industrial working labors should also be support. It is not easy to keep up market activities going on in absence of financial and other supports. It is mere a shame that we haven't yet been registered, she lamented. Had it been done we would have been funded by USAID and CIDA and other foreign donating agencies, which only funded registered bodies. "My five time back and forth visit to Islamabad didn't either make any difference." The prevalent disturbed situation in the nation stymied other government affairs and entire machinery engaged itself only into disentangling gridlocks. Therefore, all other issues have gone into back side. The judicial-government confrontation in March end and prevailing political rifts also threw impediments in the registration process. She also blamed the parliamentarians" apathy and lackluster response toward presidential ordinance, which only to be implemented once after their rectification. The excuse attributed to the delay in the registration was government's priority to firstly register deregistered chambers. Since four years, we have been carrying forward top to bottom operations with our own expenses. The financial supports, doled out from business fellows and economic philanthropists, form a tiny and fragmented amount insufficient to keep up the sustainable business. Typically, complimentary air tickets or concession on air fares lessen burden of monetary budget somehow while we attend international conferences/seminars. Even with tightened budget we try to attend all international conferences along with the local ones. Ironically, the ladies who attend such conferences have to bear expenditures by their own. They are the committed women, who want to help out. For instance, in an exposition in Dubai we arranged sale out of products designed by two women. Since these women had no means and resources to display their designs, women chamber of commerce industry did it with entreprened and promoted. Presently, women are being inducted into clerical jobs in the industries. Commuting for women industrial labors has been a daunting task amongst others. There are few or no baby day care centers. Their creative expertise should be utilized in the industrial development processes. They should be trained for the technical jobs. There must be skill development and skill advancements academies. She forwarded a suggestion to develop women employment exchanges to increase job exposures for women. She thinks exposure is indispensable, which provides a window of economic development. Women are working in every field, what they need is to start thinking and find space to apply their ingenuity and skills. As far as the entrepreneurship is concerned, women are given religious right to embark independently on their own way; in fact, they are the real economic growth agents of the nation. Lastly, Salma Ahmed advices that government should move forward to give impetus to working women and remove their basic problems.