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Birth of a Saleswoman

International Service 793: Supporting Female Entrepreneurship


Illustra­tion by
Maria Jackson

illustrated jar of strawberry preserves

You've never heard of Riffat Naim's strawberry preserves and tangerine chutney. But with a little help from 14 students in the School of International Service, her Ruffson's Home Products might just become a household name—at least in Pakistan.

Only 1 percent of Pakistani businesses are owned by women. According to a recent World Bank report on female entrepreneurship, the South Asian nation ranks 141st out of 142 countries surveyed.

This summer students in Professor Kim Cayce's online graduate practicum will work with three of those enterprising women as part of the Pakistan Women Entrepreneurship Program—a partnership between AU and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The collaboration is supported by grants from the US State Department and the US-Pakistan Women's Council.

"Women's entrepreneurship is critical to changing the direction of the country. Women have the power to create jobs and lift people out of poverty," says Cayce, president and COO of Adzi Agency, a marketing and digital PR firm in Alexandria, Virginia. "The great thing about these types of startups is that, unlike Fortune 500 companies, change and impact is almost immediate."

global network

Each of the three Pakistani businesswomen brings a different problem to challenge students in the virtual classroom:

Mahnaz Husain, a high-end furniture designer and owner of Design Dimensions, has supply chain and quality control issues. Faiza Khalid, founder of the entrepreneurial incubator LOOP, which offers boot camps in graphic design and computer programming, needs help developing a pilot program to attract investors. And Riffat Naim needs a website, sales support, and a marketing campaign (most Pakistanis, it seems, are unfamiliar with preserves).

The students will act as business consultants, culminating in presentations to the women at the end of the 15-week semester. Farrah Arif, a business professor at LUMS, will act as the liaison between the AU students and the Pakistani businesswomen. The course will also include video modules, case studies, and an 80-minute weekly meetup for class instruction.

Cayce says the online model mirrors the reality of working with a client on the other side of the world. "Having an international perspective and a support system outside their country is so important. These women don't have the resources to hire a high-priced consultant—and most consultants can't just hop on a plane to Lahore.

"Video conferencing will enable the students to connect with these women on a personal level and hopefully help them in a tangible way."