LAHORE - SALMAN ABDUHU - The Punjab government has disbursed interest-free loans of around Rs 600 million under self-employment scheme among 30,000 people with the assistance of Akhuwat during the period of six months.Dr Amjad Saqib, the founder of Akhuwat while talking to The Nation, said that the self-employment programme was launched in Nov last year and the govt allocated Rs1 billion fund for this purpose while another Rs1 billion will be provided in the next fiscal year to Akhuwat to provide interest-free loans to unemployed people to start their own business.Keeping in view the management experience and volunteer services of Akhuwat for poverty alleviation, the government of the Punjab has requested it to lead the self-employment scheme, he said. He added that Akhuwat is already running two of its flagship programmes i.e. Punjab Educational Endowment Fund and Punjab Welfare Trust for the Disabled. He said that most of borrowers are small vendors.He said that the self-employment scheme is launched on the pattern of our Family Enterprise loans, which are issued for establishing a new business or expanding an existing one with the aim of enabling the borrower to secure a sustainable livelihood. The loan ranges from 10,000 rupees to 50,000 rupees however keeping in view the rapid inflation in the country, the average disbursement is about 30,000 rupees. To be eligible for the loan, the individual has to come up with a viable business plan which he may construct with the guidance and support of the Akhuwat staff. The loan process starts with the submission of applications by persons interested in getting financial assistance. The Unit Manager (Loan Officer) then evaluates that whether the applicant deserves the loan or not i.e. lives below the poverty line, has a reliable social capital, is not involved in any illegal business and possesses entrepreneurial abilities. Disbursement takes place 2-3 times a month and 100-150 loans are disbursed at one event usually held at branch office/mosque or church. Every borrower has to be accompanied by one of the guarantors. Other people present at the time of disbursement include community members, Akhuwat staff, from the branch and Head office. Social guidance events are also held simultaneously.The loan is intended for the entire family and not restricted to either male or female members of the household. Even though the entire family is involved during the loan process, the business is undertaken by one member of the family who has the required expertise. The loan is designed to strengthen the social fabric by involving the whole family in the loan process such that the enterprise becomes a family venture instead of an individual effort. He said that the loan was launched jointly by govt and Akhuwat to support the expansion of existing businesses also. Introducing Akuwat, he said that it is first-ever interest free microfinance programme. This programme operates from mosques and churches and has opened new vistas in the domain of social mobilization and poverty alleviation. This is the largest individual based lending programme in the country and is referred to in many international universities as a unique and innovative model in microfinance. He said that Akuwat’s aim is to alleviate poverty by empowering socially and economically marginalized families through interest free microfinance and by harnessing entrepreneurial potential, capacity building and social guidance.