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BR Research

Interview with Fiza Farhan, Independent Development Advisor and Expert

‘MCC Pakistan promises tangible and actionable results on gender equality’ Fiza Farhan is a leading global expert on...
Published March 25, 2022
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‘MCC Pakistan promises tangible and actionable results on gender equality’

Fiza Farhan is a leading global expert on issues pertaining to women’s empowerment, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, inclusive growth and impact investment, financial inclusion access to energy and climate change. She is also at the forefront of forging multi-stakeholder partnerships; advising a diversity of governments, private sector and development agencies on critical development issues in both realms of advocacy and action.

Her national & global advocacy of women economic empowerment & inclusive growth opportunities led her selection of representation on the UN Secretary General’s first ever High Level Panel on Women Economic Empowerment. She was also appointed Chairperson, Task Force on Women Empowerment by the Chief Minister Punjab.

Fiza has also been named in the prestigious Forbes “30 Under 30” list of Social Entrepreneurs two years in a row, owing to her innovations and advocacy in the realms of access to energy, clean financing and women empowerment.

Fiza continues to work as an independent development advisor and expert with various organizations including: UNDP Pakistan; Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership REEEP; Dalberg Development Advisors Private Limited; UNEP Asia Pacific; UNIDO International; EY Pakistan / Punjab Skills Development Fund PSDF; RTI International USA; EY Pakistan/World Bank and Male Champions of Change Australia amongst many others.

Fiza has held and currently holds several significant honorary positions. And for her extraordinary contributions to women’s empowerment, access to energy and sustainable development, Fiza has also been the receipt of several awards.

Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with Fiza Farhan:

BR Research: What projects are you currently working on these days?

Fiza Farhan: As an independent advisor and through my development advisory firm ORA Global Development Advisors, I work on multiple projects all the time with different UN agencies, governments, development sector partners and the private sector. These days I am deeply involved with the Male Champions of Change Project that I launched in Pakistan with the Australian Government that enables CEO’s from the private sector to commit to gender equality and women’s leadership, in addition to working on a project for Home Based Workers with JICA International, and with UNEP & UN Women Asia Pacific on a project bringing the nexus between energy access and women’s economic empowerment in the Asia Pacific amongst others.

BRR: Over the last decade, what changes have you observed in women economic empowerment and financial inclusion in Pakistan? Has there been any progress?

FF: Indeed, there has been a lot of progress on women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion in Pakistan. The State Bank’s recent policy on gender “Banking for Equality” is a sentiment to the same whereby things are changing in the financial inclusion space and there are a lot of positive interventions being taken up by the regulators and the financial institutions to catalyze financial inclusion of women. Also, I feel with the digital space opening up avenues, economic empowerment of women has significantly opened up, from free-lancing opportunities to home based enterprises, providing opportunities for women to operate freely from the comfort of their homes and become economically empowered. Of course, within the formal work space as well, there are lots of initiatives happening to engage more women, enable their career growth and consciously focus on having more women in leadership. The Male Champions of Change program accelerates this journey and empowers the CEOs with the collective knowledge and leadership to achieve tangible action.

BRR: During your stint as the chairperson of Punjab’s Task Force on Women Empowerment, what were the key initiatives that were taken, and where do we stand as of today?

FF: Right, of course there were lots of key initiatives that were taken in the Punjab Task Force for Women Economic Empowerment. For example, the Violence Against Women’s Center, which became an international best practice. It was a blueprint that was certified and verified and also taken up by a lot of international agencies and countries that I visited. And we did lots of bilateral showcasing of the project because during that time I was also the advisor to the UN Secretary General and a Member of his High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. The Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) and the Domestic Violence Policy we launched was one of my favourites as they addressed the problem with such a multi-dimensional solution. Apart from that we had the Women on Wheels WoW initiative addressing the greatest concern of mobility that women face. In addition, lots of important bills were passed at that time, including the Fair Protection Act, the Domestic Violence Bill, and the Anti-Dowry bill amongst others.

BRR: A much seldom talked about issue is women’s access to energy. What in your view is its significance? Do you see any disparity in this realm?

FF: Absolutely. There’s a lot of disparity. Whenever we talk about climate injustice, women are known to bear the burden the most. There has been very little work done in the nexus between women’s economic empowerment and climate change.

We started working on this initiative and this nexus back in 2007 with Buksh Foundation and Buksh Energy Private Limited, because we identified that it was such a big problem which was completely unheard of, considering 43 percent of Pakistan’s population lives off the grid with the majority of the brunt on the women. That’s why we launched various projects including, Lighting A Million Lives, which was a flagship project that led to becoming an Internationally Certified Best Practices, creating this important nexus between women’s economic empowerment and access to energy, enabling them to become “Agents of Change”. Within that, my own presence as a young female entrepreneur in the space of energy is a sentiment to how important I view this cause.

Decades ago, when I started my career, there were literally just two women in the energy space (myself and MD PPDB). I used to often find myself as the only woman (and the youngest) in a room full of 100 to 300 men. Now, after all these years, the situation is still the same because not a lot of work has been done in empowering women to enter the energy equilibrium, the climate change equilibrium and make a space in the energy sector for them from the get-go. I was surprised to realize the same, when I was recently appointed by the Prime Minister on the board of the Diamer Bhasha Dam Project, and found myself to be the only woman on the table. However, I do feel that now I am the only woman “on the table” and not “in the room”, it puts responsibility on my shoulders to open the doors for other women and girls to follow in the energy space and make room for them in this male dominated sector.

Unfortunately, this is a global phenomenon and does not just exist in Pakistan because globally as well, only 2 percent of leadership is women, including CEOs. In the energy sector that number is less than 0.5 percent. So I think there is ample disparity which needs to be resolved and the initial mindset needs to be changed that women cannot perform in this male dominated technical sector. I think we have enough examples to showcase that and things are changing for the same as well. We have investors who are now looking to invest in women led energy businesses; we have agencies who are working actively on promoting women led energy businesses that I am delighted to bring to Pakistan including Private Financial Advisory Network (PFAN).

BRR: What in your view are the some key challenges women startups and women entrepreneurs face?

FF: There are a lot of key challenges that women startups and women entrepreneurs face. A few being; lack of technical capacity, lack of legal support, lack of understanding the whole business cycle, lack of financial access and lack of family support.

The main challenge of lack of financial access is hopefully now going to be addressed with the State Bank’s Banking for Equality Policy incentivizing commercial banks and financial institutions to specially focus on female clients and develop products that address their economic needs. Majority of other challenges women startups face are turnkey in terms of their inability to transform their mom-and-pop shops from their drawing rooms and little boutiques to tangible businesses that are part of the formal economy. Lots of angel investors, venture capital firms, and other kinds of investors are looking at giving this technical capacity and incubation to female entrepreneurs so that they can transform their business ideas from the little businesses they have to tangible sustainable quantifiable business plan.

So in my opinion, incubation capacity, building access to finance, access to legal support and access to turnkey business solutions is what is required to help these women out, in addition to family support of course.

BRR: Please tell us about Male Champions of Change Pakistan and your specific role?

FF: The MCC, Male Champions of Change Coalition, is a globally recognized, innovative strategy for achieving gender equality, advancing more and diverse women in leadership, and building respectful and inclusive workplaces. In the strategy, men of power and influence step up beside women leaders. They form a high-profile coalition to lead and be accountable for change on gender equality issues in their organizations and communities – be they local, national or global. I am honoured to bring this international best practice for creating diverse and inclusive workforces to Pakistan, in my capacity as a Convenor for Male Champions of Change Pakistan.

BRR: Do platforms like MCC really give tangible results on ground? Can you broadly share some numbers that support this for the Pakistani chapter?

FF: The Champions of Change Coalition in Australia is an International Best Practice for empowering women in private sector workforce through tangible and impactful actions. When I was the member of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, I learnt about this initiative founded by Elizabeth Broderick and now comprising more than 300 CEOs. From my frustration of a lot of talk in the women empowerment space, with mostly the conversations happening between women, by women, to women, in a room full of women, whereby 98 percent of the leadership is men; it was an obvious decision for me to collaborate with Champions of Change Australia and launch the first international group in Pakistan.

Till date, the Pakistan Group is represented by strong and influential leaders from the private sector community including CEO’s of Telenor Pakistan, Jazz, Pepsi Co, Loreal Pakistan, Unilever Pakistan, Interloop Limited, Serena Hotels, TCS Private Limited, Swyft Logistics, Shan Foods, EY Ford Rhodes, Euronet Limited, and Chottani Industries amongst others. With the CEO’s committing and EY Ford Rhodes (technical advisors to MCC Pakistan) translating their commitment to action with decades of knowledge, learning and best practices from Australia, MCC Pakistan promises tangible and actionable results on gender equality which are also showcased in the Global Impact Report annually.

© Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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Interview with Fiza Farhan, Independent Development Advisor and Expert

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