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Social Enterprise in Pakistan

Social Enterprise in Pakistan

By definition, a social enterprise is a company which applies market-based principles to further a particular social cause. Because of the fact that these companies’ missions are linked to social, environmental and financial gains they are often referred to as having a ‘triple bottom line’. With all the focus on issues like climate change and inequality, social enterprises do seem to be the most practical and efficient companies to promote, particularly in the developing world. In a country like Pakistan, although it has not been one of the main culprits in fuelling rising pollution that has caused a depletion of the ozone layer, it will be one of the countries that is most affected by climate change. It is for this reason, that we have an even greater interest in ensuring that any new businesses do have environmental and social concerns at the forefront of their business model. In Pakistan the main industries range from production of textiles to soccer ball manufacturing to surgical goods. There is a vast potential for using social enterprise models in these industries to encourage better working environments and better quality products, with higher prices, as a result. The Pakistani corporate sector is realizing the importance of social development and its direct correlation with their own growth and it is for this reason that most companies do have projects related to ‘corporate social responsibility.’

In terms of social development, social enterprises offer good opportunities to provide employment and skills training to workers across the handicrafts and cottage industries in Pakistan. Currently, these industries are plagued by lack of access to markets, limited skills training, negligible quality control and a lack of innovation, which has caused a lot of traditional crafts to dwindle over the course of time. Most of the time, villagers working in the production of handicrafts have had to rely on middlemen to transport their products to big urban centers like Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore or Peshawar. Locally, these products do not fetch high prices which means that the money trickling down to the actual artisan is even less. Many of the workers in this industry are women who work from their homes in an effort to supplement the family income. Unfortunately, in the current market, this industry does not offer itself as a viable full-time profession for artisans and simply attracts seasonal or home-based workers.

Considering how closely linked handicrafts are to cultural heritage, it is a shame to see this potential wasted due to market forces which work against the artisan. On the other hand, social enterprises who work to promote the work of artisans or organizations who train workers to produce crafts, do have a vast potential at growth since their motivation is less on their own personal financial gains and more towards the preservation of local indigenous traditions and providing artisans with a viable profession. Social enterprises need to bring artisans into the industry by getting them involved in decisions related to marketing strategies, quality control as well as market demand. It is with further collaboration at the grassroots level that markets will become more accessible to individual artisan groups.

In order to spur economic growth and social development, public and private sectors, along with civil society, need to join hands to recognize the potential of social enterprises and encourage their formation in a variety of sectors. Linking social, environmental and economic gains will prove to be sustainable and profitable in the long run.

by Najia A. Siddiqui