My 1woman this month is a young & dynamic social entrepreneur . At only 28, she brought ground breaking modifications for economic enhancement of poverty ridden communities and renewable energy business solutions in Pakistan all the while working towards women empowerment and targeting untapped markets to create sustainable environment.
She has been quick and efficient to communicate with and a delight to interview ! This one woman with many hats is no other than the fabulous Fiza Farhan!
Fiza Farhan is the CEO Buksh Foundation and Director of Buksh Energy Pvt. Ltd as well as being (more recently) appointed ‘Future Energy Leader’ at the World Energy Council. She has received the 11th annual Environmental Excellence Award for the ‘Best Performance in Renewable Energy’ and is the Co-Chairperson of the Italian Development Chamber of Commerce in Lahore.
She has brought clean energy projects to poor, rural, areas of Pakistan. The foundation has trained 135 women as energy entrepreneurs; they’ve brought solar-powered lights to 6,750 households. Its business and clean energy loans have been extended to 12,000 entrepreneurs. Work of the Foundation is supported by investors and a network of local and international donors.
Not only that, Farhan has made it in this year’s Forbes’ international list of 30 Under 30 social entrepreneurs’ and has become the beacon of hope and inspiration for Pakistani youth and women.
1w: What woman inspires you and why?
FF: Any woman who has set her mind to achieve her dreams and pursue a life that aligns with her talents, abilities and skill sets inspires me.
It can be a woman from the village who earns the bread for her household all day and comes home at night to perform all household chores with a smile or it can be an extremely powerful woman who has decided to pursue her life her way and counter all challenges that come across from family, culture, religion and society.
Any women who stands up for her life and her dreams is a source of inspiration for me.
1w: Reflecting on your childhood, what factors influenced your chosen career path, if any?
FF: The one major factor that influenced my career’s path was my mother’s life; being the only daughter she led an extremely pampered and protected childhood.
She got married and devoted her entire life to her husband and the children she gave birth to. She always aspired to be a career woman, to travel for work, to meet different people, to have a life of experiences. However, her social, cultural and family obligations set precedence in her life as she at that time did not have the courage to take up the fight.
Her “I wish” moments in the later stage of life, when it was too late to reverse time and opportunities , was always an alarm of caution for me.
Therefore, I never let myself get swayed in the midst of responsibilities that others bestow upon me, so that I don’t look back at my life with regret when time has gone by.
1w: Did you ever consider following the conventional route when you finished your studies, i.e. taking a normal 9-5 job? if not why?
FF: I believe what I do today is also a 9-5 job. Entrepreneurship is not a profession or a career, it is an “attitude”, a spirit of creation, of experimentation, of never giving up and always being on the outlook for new opportunities.
Time has no relevance in one’s life when this burning desire of entrepreneurship exists. One can be an entrepreneur even within the 9-5 bracket or one can never have this spark for continuous growth and momentum with all the time on their hands.
1w: As Director of Buksh Energy and Co-Founder/CEO of Buksh Foundation, your passion as a social entrepreneur is evident. What, specifically, differentiates you from other entrepreneurs?
FF: In my opinion, my passion for social entrepreneurship comes from my belief that a successful business or enterprise is one that creates multiple impacts on all stakeholders involved.
The “Win-Win” scenarios where there is equity and value generation for all associated with the business model. I believe without a triple bottom line approach, sustainable social enterprise cannot be created or at least will not last for the generations to follow.
1w: Where did the LaML (Lighting a Million Lives) initiative stem from as part of the Buksh Foundation?
FF: The mandate of Buksh Foundation was to evolve the conventional model of microfinance into a more holistic approach of “impact investment”. To create demand driven products and services for the poorest of the poor communities in order to create immense value addition in their lives and provide them with not only access to finance, but also to education, health, clean environment, energy, market linkages and vocational trainings.
With the same, Buksh Foundation launched “Clean Energy Loans” in 2011 for the micro-entrepreneurs who either had no electricity or were facing 16 to 18 hours of black outs that were deeply affecting their business productivity. These green loans were a huge success especially amongst women micro-entrepreneurs who would use the solar home solutions during the day for the enterprise e.g. a beauty salon, small retail shop, school canteen and other cottage industry set ups.
At night, the women would take the mobile solar solutions to their homes and conveniently use it for cooking, household chores, for their children to read at night and for other domestic purposes increasing safety and creating a better environment for their household. Observing the impact, Lighting a Million Lives Project (LAML) was launched in 2013 as a turn key community based rural electrification model to convert villages in off-grid areas of Pakistan to solar through a model of developing a women energy enterprise, leading to multiple impacts for the entire community.
1w: Did you find it difficult, initially, to command respect as a female entrepreneur? Especially in the world of Energy? what advice would you give to female entrepreneurs out there?
FF: I must say, that in a male dominated industry like Energy, being a young woman is challenging in the beginning. The industry does not take you seriously and believes that at most your career is a “parking space” between your education and you identifying with the “perfect spouse” to live happily ever after with.
However, if you overcome these initial challenges and continue to strive in the face of opposition or criticism with your self-believe and confidence, the situation changes 180 degrees and being a women becomes your most important asset in the same industry.
I say this from personal experience, that when you establish your professional competence in any business sector, when you make your mark that you are a serious professional who has the talents and skill set required to lead the industry; then being a women earns you more respect and admiration in the same industry.
Within the Energy sector in Pakistan, I rarely come across a woman and none in any leading capacity. This gives me the opportunity to be unique and prove the stereotypes of society wrong with my competence, professionalism and leadership.
The one advice I will give to female entrepreneurs out there is to ensure that their self-belief and confidence is never compromised in the challenging situations they will initially face. It is like the trout fish that swims against the tide, the faster you swim against the tide and the stronger the tide; the studier you will arise from it. Being a women is your most important asset and your strength, only if you believe in it and know how to use it.
1w: Do you believe Buksh Foundation is influencing the world or is the world influencing Buksh Foundation? Tell us More..
FF: I truly believe that Buksh Foundation is influencing the world in a positive way.
Every client we impact, directly or indirectly generates a positive impact on the community they live in. With this trickle down philosophy of impact Buksh Foundation aims to creating prosperity and happiness amongst the millions of deserving lives in Pakistan.
1w: What changes would you like to see in the next decade for LaML and how will the Buksh Foundation influence and ultimately stimulate this change?
FF: The only key change I would like to see in LAML is to achieve the scale the project deserves.
Currently, there are more than 50,000 un-electrified villages in Pakistan constituting a total of 15 million people that live in complete darkness and isolation from any progressive infrastructure. These are the communities that deserve to be impacted with projects like LAML.
With the support of various donors and partners, LAML has reached out to 150 villages impacting 45,000 lives; however there is a long way ahead of us to achieve our target of 1 million lives in the first phase of the project.
The only way to stimulate the attainment of this goal is to seek more and more local and international partnerships and request the larger UAE , Europe and US based donors to join hands and enable us to scale our impact to the millions of deserving lives bringing them out of the darkness they dwell in. It costs $5,500 only for a donor to sponsor a village, providing access to energy and life to more than 300 individuals while creating a sustainable energy enterprise for 1 woman (Light-Lady) per village.
(1woman readers click here if you would like to support this noble cause)
1w: You must be really proud to have made it into the Forbes’ international list of ’30 under 30 social entrepreneurs’ – do you envisage this will leverage your plans to expand? How?
FF: Absolutely; the Forbes 30 Under 30 achievement has certainly been a great feat this year not just for me but for the entire country especially the youth and women.
Being the 4th Pakistani woman to appear on the list brings a lot of positive media attention locally and internationally, something that the citizen’s of Pakistan crave especially amidst all the negative news created by political and extremist causes.
The achievement was accepted with extremely proud sentiments all over the country with every news and media channel covering the story as the “daughter of Pakistan.” It certainly made me and my entire family very proud.
I certainly believe that this news and the local and international media attention that came with it, will certainly enable us to broaden the audience for the support of LAML and share the impact of the project on a much larger global platform to create more synergies and partnership making the scale possible.
After Forbes many other prestigious platforms have opened up for Buksh Foundation including the Clinton Global Initiative, UN Foundation’s Sustainable Energy for ALL and World Energy Council Future Energy Leaders Program.
1w: What questions have you asked yourself and others to get to where you are today? What fuels your inspiration?
FF: I believe excellence and success is a continuous journey, there is no one destination but an evolution that keeps building on itself.
I keep asking myself questions to motivate myself to achieve more and progress in life. What changes should I bring in my life today that will make tomorrow better than today? What are my next personal and professional goals? How will I discipline myself further to enhance the quality of my life? Is the life I live in line with the potential I have within me?
The most important question I feel is, am I truly happy with my life and the way I live it day to day?
My passion, energy and zest to live life to its fullest fuels my inspiration to keep working in the direction of my goals, because I believe that a happy life is only achieved when our outer world is in sync with our inner desires.
1w: What is the worst experience you have encountered to date in the development stages of your business?
FF: I would not say there hasn’t been any worst experience, but certainly there have been many challenges in the development stages of both businesses.
It is not the challenge that makes the experience worst but our response towards it. For me, a challenge is an opportunity to increase my strength further, to overcome it and add a feather of strength to my cap. Every challenge and in fact even failure is a stepping stone towards success, only if we respond to it with the spirit of learning and positive fight.
1w: What was your proudest moment? and what makes you feel strongest?
FF: I recall a proud moment when I went on my first field visit after implementing the project “Lighting a Million Lives”. The female energy entrepreneur we train and empower to become our agent of change for every village and to run the business of the solar charging station is named “Roshnah Bibi” or “Light Lady” whereby “Roshnah” means light in urdu and “Bibi” means lady.
When I went to visit the communities, I was overjoyed to see not only the happiness and prosperity in the lives of the villagers who were earlier living in the dark, but also that the energy entrepreneur’s original name had now been replaced with “Roshnah” and everyone would call her as “Roshnah” or “Light” rather than calling her by her name.
It had become her identity to be the source of light, inspiration and happiness for the entire community especially other women and girls. To see the creation of this identity full of light and hope for the future was indeed a very proud moment for me.
1w: Girls’ education features in all Governmental policy but, despite improvements in Pakistan, there remains a ratio of male to female literacy at 65:40. Does the Buksh Foundation support education in any shape or form for this population? How?
FF: Certainly! We truly believe that education is a basic human right for all human beings.
Within its project objectives, Buksh Foundation strongly includes the mandate of informal education, vocational trainings, technical and non-technical trainings to develop the necessary skill set of the individuals who have not had access to formal education, in order to enable them to become formal economic agents of the society.
Be it the productive loan, the clean energy loan or the lighting a million lives project, every initiative of Buksh Foundation has the compulsory mandate of trainings and informal education embedded within the core.
Further, we do not only believe in enhancing the capacity of the individual entrepreneur but the entire communities and hence exhaustive community awareness campaigns, social mobilisation, community trainings etc. form a critical part of every project launch that Buksh Foundation runs in the rural areas of Pakistan.
1w: Is your business vision aligned to your personal vision? In what way?
FF: Absolutely. Both my business and personal vision are aligned in the sense that both aim to creating positive impact in not just my own life, but the lives of those around me, the lives of entire communities and eventually the state of the country.
To create positive equity by taking small steps that lead to larger gains. To empowering human beings to achieve their true potential and live the life they deserve to live.
In my personal life, I push myself everyday towards my true potential and in my professional life I try to create similar motivating and inspiring environments for my teams and my clients especially the rural women.
1w: Do you take time out to relax? What do you do to ‘chill-out’?
FF: I am a complete believer in work-life balance, as I truly feel that our mind, body and soul is our most important asset and must truly be protected and taken care of.
I try to take out time often to relax and chill out, what I do for the same is to indulge in things that unwind me for example writing my thoughts (which are being published in an international book by the end of the year), enjoying quality time with friends and family, dining out and experiencing new cuisines, watching quality cinema, gardening and re-doing the plantations in my lawns and my most favourite way to ‘chill-out’ ; travelling to new and exotic locations.
1w: Who is the real Fiza when no one’s watching?
FF: The real Fiza is a fun loving, adventurous and joyous person who likes to be happy and spread happiness around.
1w: What are you most afraid of?
FF: Losing my loved ones.
1w: From the Many hats that you have is there an extra skill you would like to learn? and why?
FF: I would love to learn to dance professionally. I feel dancing is the best expression that connects the mind, body and soul. It is not only a great exercise but also an extremely effective way to release stress, tensions and lighten your mood.
I really enjoy dancing and do so often with music in my room, however I do wish to be able to learn dancing professionally and then practice it with all my heart!
1w: My Life Mantra is……
FF: “To LIVE Life”
1w: A Woman can have it all….Myth or Reality?
FF: Reality; but it takes a lot of courage, strength and commitment to the self. A woman has the innate strength to make the impossible, possible!