19 years old Jamaima Afridi is part of a virtual classroom that she shares with twenty other young women from Khyber, North Wazirstan and South Wazirstan Districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They’re all attending an online business incubation programme from their homes. Majority of them have temporally moved to other locations such as DI Khan, Islamabad, Bannue, Peshawar for better internet connectivity.
Operating since October 2019, UNDP’s Business Incubation programme aims to revitalise economic activities in the Merged Districts. The programme focuses on creating income generation opportunities for the youth, especially young women, of the Merged Districts. It accelerates unique business ideas by providing incubation trainings and grants.
After the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the Government of Pakistan initiated a lockdown, due to which education institutes and business entities closed down. As work and learning activities shifted to virtual platforms, UNDP decided to test this approach by taking its business incubation programme to an online platform.
“We can’t go out. Schools, colleges and universities are closed and there is a fear of contracting the deadly virus as well. In such a bleak time, being able to participate in this programme felt like a wonderful opportunity”, says Jamaima.
The business incubation programme accelerates unique business ideas of entrepreneurs by providing them technical assistance in the form of training and mentorship. They learn about essential components of business, such as marketing, finance and human resource.
“We started this training by learning how to generate business ideas and how to filter them through a five-question matrix and chose the most viable and incorporate the element of innovation. We have also studied the 7Ps of marketing, organizational structure, costing, cash flow, and financial plans”, said Ms. Maham, a participant from North Waziristan district.
The successful entrepreneurs who could present scalable and productive business ideas are also supported through small grants, followed with mentorship sessions with leading trainers, experts and professionals in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The online business incubation programme is not without challenges though. Some participants had to temporarily leave their homes in the merged district and shift to other districts for better internet connectivity. Some of the participants took on the challenge of learning how to use a computer. There have been electricity breakouts as well, so some of the participants have now purchased power banks and 4G WIFI devices. Despite these challenges, the active participation of women is very impressive.
“I feel this incubation programme has taught me how to think like an entrepreneur,” said Ms. Maham, North Waziristan district.
The online business incubation programme is jointly conducted by Bahria University and International Islamic University, Islamabad in partnership with UNDP. This one-month training is being offered to young men and women entrepreneurs from Khyber, North and South Waziristan districts.
The business incubation programme is part of USAID funded FATA Economic Revitalization Programme (FERP), which aims to reactivate the economy of the newly merged districts and ensure medium to long-term employment, income generation and reintegration focusing on residents of Khyber, North and South Waziristan districts. As of 14th July 2020, 121 young women entrepreneurs have received one-month business incubation training at various incubation centres at Islamabad and Peshawar.