The famed University Road in Sargodha is where the city’s major commercial activity happens. Being the city’s go-to place for everything – from car repairs to furniture and grocery shopping – the place attracts scores of people every day. This makes University Road a location where all local businesses of Sargodha want to exist.
Sitting quietly amidst other bustling businesses on this busy road is an unassuming building that houses a small-scale business establishment. Unlike any other shop or store in its vicinity, this particular one exemplifies true woman power and resilience. This is the place that has turned Sultana Aslam into a successful micro-entrepreneur in her own right.
The humble beginnings and everyday struggles, which would make the strongest of women lose all hope, made Sultana only stronger. “When you have hit rock bottom in your life, the only way left to go is up, and that’s exactly what my resolve was,” shares Sultana, who is lovingly called Faiza by her family and friends. That’s also the name she has picked for her business.
Faiza could easily have given in to her fate, only dreaming of better times. But, having lost her parents at a very young age and being the eldest of 4 young siblings, she knew she had to carve her own dream. She had to act and take charge of her own destiny for a better future for herself and her young dependents.
And that she did. “It all started with me working at a photo studio. That’s where I learned some basic photography, photo printing, and album-making skills. I also learned Adobe Photoshop which I used to edit photos. I must say it was quite unusual for a girl to be doing that, and me doing a job did not come without raised eyebrows from my own extended family and neighbors,” Sultana informs.
But she persevered because she knew it was only her who had to feed and educate young siblings, not the relatives or the neighbors. At the photo lab, she had gotten the right experience that she would need to start her own small-scale photo studio.
She set up a small space using all the savings she had from before, and then came to FINCA Microfinance Bank after about a year; that’s when she decided to expand her territory, one baby step at a time. She took her first micro-loan of PKR 20,000 in 2010. Albeit little, the money gave her the courage and support she needed to work independently.
“By the grace of God, my store started running well and I could easily manage by paying back installments to FINCA. This was when I realized I can and must do more. I would also like to appreciate the FINCA Relationship Officer who handled my case. He was excellent and explained every question I had. In addition to processing the loan, he also advised utilizing the experience FINCA has in lending to a wide range of businesses.”
FINCA is an international, micro-finance bank, which has been operational for 30 years and is active in 20 countries across the globe. FINCA Pakistan operates in 122 cities with 132 customer touchpoints, offering specifically designed loans for individuals running micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises.
The bank offers a wide variety of quick and easy loans, with minimal documentation enabling individuals such as Sultana Aslam to utilize their services with ease. ‘Niswan Karza’ is one of FINCA’s business loan offerings, designed especially for females where the terms and conditions of acquiring a loan are further eased which helps businesswomen expand their portfolios.
And Sultana decided to expand her portfolio too. With more people coming in for photography services, Sultana realized that a small stationery set-up on the side could also run well. So she decided to go for another FINCA loan, this time PKR 50,000, which she easily got. A while later, Sultana had her stationery business up and running alongside photography services.
After a few more loans, she also had a photostat machine running on the premises. A while later, a beauty salon also found its place on Sultana’s premises and received a great response. “It’s a mix of tiny businesses winning bread for me and my employees. I’ve gone through tough times myself so I know how valuable these jobs are for my employees.”
The financial independence enabled Sultana to feed, educate, and wed her siblings. And she embraced these tough responsibilities when the relatives offered to adopt her young brothers and sisters; a proposition she rejected without a second thought. By doing that, she had taken up the roles of both mother and father for her young siblings.
Sultana’s small businesses employ at least 5 people, for whom the job is the sole source of sustenance. “People who didn’t trust me with a meager 1,000 rupees now trust me with hundreds of thousands as I also run major saving committees in the community. I have earned this trust and success with hard work, FINCA’s support, and of course the blessings of Allah.”
Sultana is now a financially independent, empowered woman. At 34 years of age, she is a successful entrepreneur and a happily married woman with 3 beautiful kids and a loving and supporting husband. Faiza has borrowed a total of PKR 500,000 from FINCA, but looks to borrow more as she dreams of setting up a large-scale photo studio.
“Bigger machines need bigger investment and I’m confident I’ll get the support from FINCA again,” shares Sultana.
FINCA is encouraging women from all walks of life to join its family; from tailors expanding their stitching units to teachers growing their school businesses and tuition academies, to salon, stationery, and small shop owners. FINCA is ensuring their customers are well taken care of.
Even amidst the current Covid outbreak, FINCA has eased its loan repayment policies to support people in this crisis situation, realizing that businesses have been gravely affected and that people need more support now than they did before.