Akhtar Zaman owned a general store at the road side of his remote village, Enzar Kalay, in South Waziristan district. The store was not only the sole income source for his family, but was also the only store in the entire area; established by his father in 1950.
In 2008, Zaman and his family, due to insecurity in the area, fled from South Waziristan to Karachi. “It was the darkest day of my life. My family and I had to cross the mountains during the night to flee the area. My brother and father stayed in the village to look after our belongings,” said Zaman. “With a heavy heart, we left our fully furnished house and a successfully running shop, with stocks worth more than two hundred thousand rupees. After a few days, my father also joined us in Karachi.”
Zaman started his new life in Karachi, working as a labourer and started making some money to meet his daily expenses and save a little. After clearance operations by the security forces in South Waziristan and return of peace in the region, Zaman and his family decided to go back to their native village in 2012. “When I reached back to my village, I found my house intact except two rooms that were full of luggage. These rooms, along with all belongings, were burnt by the miscreants. With a heavy heart, I went towards my general store, and its condition shocked me. The roof had collapsed and there was nothing left except a non-functional fridge that was lying in the debris of the shop.”
To add to the agony, record books of the shop were also lost. These books contained details of clients who had purchased items on credit. He estimated that stocks crossing nearly PKR 200,000 were borrowed from the shop at that time. While some people returned the money, many denied owing him anything.
“I was very depressed to see the situation of my store. After a difficult emotional struggle, I gathered myself and decided to start from scratch, and purchased stock items from the PKR 12,000 savings money. Thereafter, I began shop operations and started by selling items such as candies, biscuits and snacks for children. Though income from the shop was less, however, I had no other option for income generation. My shop was devoid of most daily items and several clients had to return empty handed from the shop. If I had a good stock of things to sell, my daily return would have been encouraging,” said Zaman.
After a few months, the Pakistan Army constructed two new shops for Zaman at the road side. “Though the shops were reconstructed, the biggest challenge I faced was that the sales were very low, and I did not have enough capital to restock my shop,” stated Zaman.
During May 2016, UNDP’s FATA Transition and Recovery Programme supported by generous funding from the Department for International Development – UKAiD, initiated Community Resilience and Recovery Support to FATA’s Returning TDPs project in the district. Through this project, vulnerable and eligible individuals were provided business management skills trainings and grants to support them in reviving their livelihood sources. The project identified Akhtar Zaman as a potential candidate for this humanitarian assistance.
Zaman narrated, “After a few weeks, the project team invited us to a business development training in the nearby area. During the training, we learnt basics of business management, record keeping and communication with customers. One of the best lessons I learnt from the training was that empathy and effective communication are key to a successful business.”
Zaman continued, “UNDP provided a business grant of PKR 22,000 to me in June 2016. I used this grant to restock my shop.” He further mentioned that this grant also helped him build goodwill in business with dealers to buy more stocks on credit in the future.
“I am thankful to these trainings. I am still practicing the skills I learnt during the training that has helped me in expanding my clientele. A customer from a neighboring village came back with a complaint about a purchase he did a few days ago. Thanks to the business management lesson, I patiently listened to his complaint and replaced his item. After this incident, many new people from his village started visiting my shop and become my regular customers,” beams a happy Zaman.
Zaman is planning to fully furbish his shop. “Thanks to the small grant, my business is prospering day by day. Nearly two and half years after receiving the grant, I have stocks of around PKR 80 to 90,000 at my shop. I have also expanded the shop and am now selling new items such as slippers, fruit, vegetables, sugar, cooking oil, flour, cold drinks and chicken, to name a few. I aim and look towards a day where my shop will house all that is needed to meet the requirements of every client.”
Story by: Shahzad Ahmad, Communications Officer, Stabilisation and Development Programme, UNDP Pakistan