Forum on World Economic Order Sparks India-Pakistan Understanding
The importance of female entrepreneurship goes beyond making a profit for and empowering women. Participating in the Forum on World Economic Order held in Chicago and Washington D.C., we found that it is also the key to peace-building. This was our foremost learning - amongst numerous others. This forum is an initiative by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) to foster multi-lateral discussion and policy consensus on global economic issues. We were selected by FNF to participate in the study tour titled “A Seat at the Table: Female Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment” from March 23-30.
Let us begin with our respective personal notes detailing why this seminar was so impactful and how we formed a close bond. Our friendship is symbolic of the cross-border linkages promised by a female-led entrepreneurial revolution.
I, Pawani Khandelwal, am an entrepreneur and the director of Aatm Nirbhar Learning (OPC) Pvt. Ltd. I found myself to be the youngest amongst the most ambitious cohort of 10 women from 10 different countries, I was in awe during most of my trip watching and learning from them how they wear so many hats at the same time while being equally passionate about each one of them. I have always believed that irrespective of the rocky political and military relationship between Pakistan and India, there are common people on both sides of the border who want peace and have nothing but love and respect for each other as humans. By fate, the FNF conference happened at a very crucial time for both the countries and meeting with Dr Rakhshinda and knowing about her work only reinforced my existing belief. I was highly impressed by what she has been doing through her co-working space to empower socially and culturally disabled women, a disability that is very prominent in India as well.
I, Rakshinda Perveen, am a feminist social entrepreneur. I come from a twice migrated family, was raised in Pakistan with a nationalist heart that refuses to see patriotism and peace advocacy with the neighbor (not enemy) country as mutually exclusive. Meeting an energetic and open-minded Pawani was indeed an emotional experience. This young feminist entrepreneur is doing a powerful work and even more powerful is her message regarding freedom of women. I saw my younger version in her and that too a very updated one. I am so thankful to FNF for giving me this unique opportunity.
Our Takeaways Regarding Cross-Border Dialogues, Challenges, and Opportunities for Female Entrepreneurs
Our speedy and focused program was divided between D.C. and Chicago. We attended 17 meetings with organizations involved in promoting women and minority driven business and women led entrepreneurial ventures. The informative presentations, candid dialogues and heartwarming ambience at the meetings added to the value of our hurried and excited conversations and reflections during meals and to occasional sightseeing. The political friction that exists between India and Pakistan never for a single moment disallowed us to represent our respective countries, talk about our individual journeys, discuss new ideas, and see common grounds to collaborate to empower women and disadvantaged communities. However, we did wonder why issues related to structural patriarchy, gender based violence, poverty, social injustice and discrimination do not keep our politicians engaged and excited.
This study tour reenergized us and re-convinced us that if truly feminist women in social entrepreneurship are brought to the power tables, social transformation in our countries will no longer be a political slogan.
We, as disrupters and change-makers, dream that before we become 100 years old, some young enterprising women while attending any such program in US or Germany would begin their presentation by saying that once upon a time India and Pakistan were fighting over petty issue but due to foot prints of women in social entrepreneurship especially by women we now fight for achieving higher ranks in human development and gender equality. We have realized that as South Asians we need healing and get over with our traumatic past.
Every interaction with the various stakeholders for women entrepreneurship in the US unfolded with almost the same conclusion - How women all around the world were subject to similar challenges in entrepreneurship. As the discussions and days paced by, we brought to our own notice how for most Indian and Pakistani women, entrepreneurship was still a dream as both the male dominated countries fail to provide a safe ecosystem to women to become entrepreneurs. Over the span of the week, the entire group explored more such cross border entrepreneurship opportunities that could enable more women entrepreneurs.
Dr. Rakshinda Perveen
Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen is a physician turned Serial Social Entrepreneur, gender expert, author, activist, former TV anchor & producer. She tweets @dr_rakhshinda & can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pawani Khandelwal is a 24 year old, self-motivated entrepreneur aiming to create an impact at the grassroots level in the Indian Society. A radical thinker, adventure seeker, traveller and feminist, she truly believe there is nothing a woman can't achieve. She is the director of Aatm Nirbhar Learning (OPC) Pvt Ltd, an all women run social venture that’s empowering women through mobility and the founder of Aatm Nirbhar Women’s Association that is aiming to create a positive ecosystem for women entrepreneurs in semi urban areas. She can be reached out at email@example.com.