Fiza Farhan, Co-Founder and CEO Buksh Foundation and Director Buksh Energy, was named and listed on the prestigious Forbes 30under 30 list of social entrepreneurs for 2015. Indeed at 28, Fiza Farhanis one of Pakistan’s youngest CEO’s within the field of social entrepreneurship and was the only Pakistani to appear on the coveted list for 2015. Through the Buksh Foundation, Fiza Farhan works to bring clean energy projects to poor, rural, areas of Pakistan. In the 4 years since its inception, the foundation has trained 135 women as energy entrepreneurs and has brought solar-powered lights to 6,750 households. Under Fiza Farhan’s leadership, the foundation has extended business and clean energy loans to 12,000 entrepreneurs.

Fiza Farhan has led her teams to pioneer and introduce innovative business models in the development sector along with establishing a new model of "green economy" in Pakistan with multiple projects launched within the macro, meso and micro renewable energy space. Most recently, she was appointed ‘Future Energy Leader’ at the World Energy Council, received the 11th annual Environmental Excellence Award for the ‘Best Performance in Renewable Energy’ and was appointed co-chairperson of the Italian Development Committee, Lahore chapter. She has consistently represented Pakistan’s development sector at the regional and global stage as a speaker across multiple conferences and forums including the UN Foundation’s SE4ALL forum and the Annual Global CSR Summit to name a few. She also continues to represents her company and country at the World Energy Council, UN Foundation Practitioners Network, ADB-Asia Clean Energy Forum, Gender and Energy Network et al. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Plus, she talks about her ventures and future plans. Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: How are you feeling after being listed on the prestigious Forbes 30 under30 list of social entrepreneurs for 2015?

I am ecstatic to be selected on this prestigious Forbes 30 under 30 list- the fact that I have been acknowledged for my efforts towards women empowerment and scaling up access to renewable energy in the under privileged rural communities of Pakistan has set my vision more profound for future developments.

My ultimate goal is to become a beacon of hope and inspiration for many young talented Pakistani girls who want to achieve their dreams and achieve immense professional success despite societal and cultural barriers typically experienced in countries like Pakistan. Even a fraction of inspiration through me would change my world. The Forbes platform would certainly provide me and Buksh Foundation to reach out to the masses and share our success story attracting investors and partners from around the world. It is a great honour for me, my family, my organisation and in fact the entire nation- and I am very thankful for this amazing opportunity. The LUMS, Warwick Business School and Harvard Business School alumni fraternity is also proud of this achievement and are sharing it as an inspiring story for its fellow graduates.

Q: In what way you are innovative player in social microfinance?

Buksh Foundation is an impact lead microfinance institution operating in Pakistan since 2009 working for the economic empowerment of micro entrepreneurs in peri-urban and rural communities of Pakistan. Buksh Foundation has created immense impact at the ground level through its revolutionary innovations in the MF Industry in Pakistan supporting the underprivileged and creating a positive socio-economic change by financially helping the impoverished become active economic agents. Its distinguishing feature is its keen focus on “impact investment” instead of a mere charity based approach. It takes a more holistic view of “microfinance” by transforming the myopic view of “micro credit” so as to bring about a marked difference in the lives of targeted clients. We at Buksh Foundation aspire to be an innovative player in the microfinance industry by bringing a focus on women, rural markets and impact investment for enhancing scale and efficiency.

Buksh Foundation considers Microfinance as an opportunity to generate real impact investment by empowering the underprivileged, making them productive and creating equity in the society; to achieve scale sustainably, to be innovative in our approach and to create measurable impact on the global economy as a whole.

Q: Is providing funds or loans are enough or your organization also provide technical support to people?

Buksh Foundation takes several measures to make its microfinance initiatives a success- by indulging into activities like community mobilization, door to door service, creating awareness in densely populated areas, reach out to more women and encourage them to become micro entrepreneurs by availing these loan facilities. Further, Foundations team is involved in evaluating the business models of these micro entrepreneurs thereby, they are able to assist in the supply chain by creating linkages and provide requisite trainings for capacity building; reducing overall risk for the clients and helping in make it sustainable.

Q: What are main targets of Buksh Foundation?

The main targets of Buksh Foundation are:

  • Impart more trainings- step towards vocational training specifically for Pakistani women
  • Expansion of LAML project in Sindh- light one million lives by 2017
  • Expansion of clean energy loans
  • Consistently innovate with adopting best global practices
  • Strengthen micro credit portfolio by achieving 100% OSS resulting in positive equity and enhancing OLP
  • Seek more funds and partnerships (nationally and internationally)
  • Bring sustainable energy platforms in Pakistan

Q: What is the criteria of selecting people to whom you provide loan?

Buksh Foundation is a not for profit organization focusing on triple bottom line approach by bringing the financially secluded population into the mainstream. For this reason its focus is three tiered impacting social, environment and financial sectors of the society. Therefore, the selection criteria is based on poverty score card through which it is determined to whom loan should be disbursed as the idea is to create micro entrepreneurs  who will eventually become self sufficient-special preference is given to women.

Q: In the field of micro financing have you involved banks or some other financial institution?

Buksh Foundation initially was involved with Deutsche Bank New York for lending money to its clients and currently it is working with Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund to disburse money to its peri urban clients. Moreover, Foundation has collaborated with KIVA (US based NGO) for its clean energy loans.

Q: What was the inspiration to bring clean energy projects to poor rural areas of Pakistan?

Buksh Foundation has pioneered clean energy lending in Pakistan and the reason for this initiation was largely due to the underdeveloped state of Pakistan’s commercial energy sector and the absence of viable energy products and suppliers. Also Pakistan is currently in the midst of an escalating energy crisis resulting from inadequate power generation and distribution capacity relative to its rapidly growing demand.

  • Less than 1% of the electric demand is currently supplied through renewable energy resources.
  • Currently, 70% of the population living in 50,000 villages are detached from the national grid and have no access to electricity.
  • With a large population of 190 million (2014) and a rapidly developing economy, Pakistan's energy needs have increased to 7000 MW. There is a prevalent gap between the demand and supply for electricity
  • 49% of the population lives in multi-dimensional poverty
  • Cottage and small-scale industries are providing employment to 80 percent of the industrial labour force
  • Even in grid-connected areas of Pakistan, a growing energy crisis leaves rural commu­nities without power for up to 20 hours per day (8-14 hours of daily blackouts). Leading to production and efficiency loss and 30% to 35% income utilized on alternate fuel costs. This resulted in:
  • Productive working days reduced to 3 in a week
  • 400,000 workers lost jobs in 2013
  • Power outrages imposed 6% ($12.72 M) cost to the economy in 2012-13

Such conditions have caused slump in the overall economy whereby, resulting in unemployment, high crime rate, instability, political disparities, unhealthy environment and culture of violence for the youth of Pakistan.

Q: For how long have you been working on this project and how much success have you come up with?

Buksh Foundation initiated Clean Energy Loans in 2011 and since then it has been able to disburse 770 clients in total impacting 3,850 people directly and indirectly: 7,700 people. The impact that has been created is the eventual success for us and that is:

  • Increased Standard of Living - Reduced poverty rate
  • Economic prosperity- expansion of cottage industry of Pakistan
  • Reduced vulnerability to become a victim of violent behaviour
  • Created business enterprise
  • Sustainable, reliable and clean Energy Alternate
  • Promoted ownership of the project within local community
  • United the community- to help themselves for a better future
  • Healthier Lifestyle-Help prevent serious accidents which are caused due to use of kerosene lamps and fire which is a common occurring in these areas
  • Generation Mechanism: According to the Pakistan Journal of Life and Sciences a 1% investment in electrical infrastructure, increases the total factor of productivity (TFP) by 0.24%. This will help create greater economic stability.
  • Increase in Literacy Rate: According to the ESMAP 2003 study, children in electrified households have higher education levels than those without electricity, with the median years of education increasing from 6.7 years to 8.5 years.
  • Increases night travel and reduced crime rate and violence
  • Mobile Communication: Providing 24 hour convenient communication also, promote branchless banking and create linkages for the local community
  • Reduced noise pollution

The latest collaboration with KIVA for Clean Energy Loans is going to scale this further and allow us to increase the scale.

Q: Tell us something about green energy practices followed by Buksh Foundation in Pakistan?

Buksh Foundation came into existence as a MFI in 2009 - the organization has successfully completed more than 5 years of operations, testing some ground breaking modifications in the development industry by incorporating both innovation and best global practices to generate a direct meaningful impact within the society. It aims to play a vital role in providing sustainable alternate energy solutions to individuals who have no resources of their own to access. In this pursuit rolled out its Clean Energy Initiatives (green energy practices) in 2011:

  • With 8-14 hours of daily blackouts in peri-urban areas, micro-entrepreneurs faced severe challenges in line with unproductive hours and expense of fuel costs for unreliable alternate power backup sources. BF revolutionized this with ‘Clean Energy Lending’ providing portable solar powered generators, LED lights, Fans, mobile charging facility offered on 6 to 9 month payment packages.
  • To cater to the 63.8 % population living in absolute darkness; pioneered “Lighting a Million Lives” (LAML) 2012. In partnership with The Energy Resource Institute TERI, LAML brought access to energy to off-grid communities struck with absolute poverty in an innovative turnkey approach- establishing Solar charging stations (SCS) with 50 Solar lanterns creating a social enterprise led by a female entrepreneur (Light Lady).
  • 5% of the population has access to mobile phones despite residing in off-grid rural areas which led to the launch of ‘solar mobile charging station’ in 2012.
  • With clean drinking water available to only 44% population of Pakistan, BF promoted access to clean drinking water through solar water filtration plants (reverse osmosis technology) providing 6,000 litres daily; under the project “Drop of Sun” launched in 2013.

Q: What are the main challenges to tapping Pakistan’s natural resources?

The main challenges in tapping Pakistan’s natural resources especially solar are:

  • Lack of infrastructure,
  • Political instability,
  • Lack of capacity building and awareness
  • Lack of knowledge on environmental and financial benefits

In this pursuit, Buksh Foundations sister concern Buksh Energy Private Limited has been working as a large scale energy provider which is creating financial and profitable power plants- leading to innovations like Solar ATM’s, Solar Power Plants, Bio mass, Bio gas etc.

Q: What are your future aims?

The future aim is to create immense impact in 2015 by scaling existing projects in renewable energy by increasing access for our population residing below the poverty line. We aim to undertake such activities and achievements that can recognize our country on global arena and make every Pakistani proud.

Q: Any message for the readers…

I believe every successful businessman, every inspiring woman, every committed entrepreneur becomes an influence for me. The most important message for every Pakistani is to believe in them self - nothing is impossible if you set your focus and strive for it. Also, being a woman is more of strength than a weakness only if you believe in yourself and know how to use it.