In February 2017 I was lucky enough to visit our microfinance partner in Pakistan, Akhuwat. Please read my series of blogs to share my experience and insights into this inspirational organisation.
Funding from Lendwithcare over the last 4 years has enabled Akhuwat to open the Badami Bagh and Kot Khawaja branches in Lahore, where almost all borrowers are funded by Lendwithcare lenders. To ensure costs are kept to a minimum Akhuwat branches are very simply furnished - staff sit on cushions at a very low table, and the offices comprise just one room plus a bathroom.
While I was visiting the branches I interviewed several entrepreneurs to find out how much impact the loan has had on their business and life:
Azra Bibi makes bridal sandals. Before the loans she just worked on commission from others, whereas now she has her own business. She and her husband established a relationship with the factories and wholesalers so that she buys basic sandals from the factories and embellishes them with jewels to make them into fancy sandals, suitable for weddings.
Before the loans her house was very dilapidated but she has now been able to make great improvements to it, so it is much more comfortable. One of their proudest achievements has been sending their daughter to a private school. Azra told me: "as I only have one daughter, I want her to have a really good education".
As we left, Azra's parting words were, "Before the loans, life was very tough. Now we are able to eat twice a day and have meat a couple of times a month".
Shazia Shafique is a seamstress and also sells ready-to-wear clothes. She buys the clothes in another town and sells them at 50% profit in Lahore.
Life was incredibly hard before she started her business. Her husband is a labourer with an irregular income and it was hard for them to eat two meals a day and take care of their five children.
The children's school attendance was irregular as they couldn't afford the tuition fees every month. Now life is much better. They can easily afford to eat twice a day and all the children are in regular education. Shazia feels very proud to contribute so significantly to the family income.
Samina is also a seamstress. From a Kashmiri family, she says sewing is in her blood - it is her hobby as well as her business. Since the Lendwithcare loan her income has gone up to 20,000 rupees (about £150 a month). Before, she was unable to meet her family's expenses, whereas now all her children are in school and she can manage all the costs for her family of four. She has also been able to employ her sister-in-law.
Muhammed Saleem is a traditional embroiderer. Before his Lendwithcare loan he was working alone, but now he can employ three others.
Often the piece they are embroidering is so big that they can sit side by side and work at the same time, so they finish it more quickly. They sell their work to retailers, who take a commission.
As the wedding season approaches he will hire even more workers to make the most of the demand. It only takes them three days to make an elaborate wedding outfit if three people work on it. Muhammed told me he makes around 20,000 rupees (£150) per month and his workesr earn 10,000 - 15,000 rupees (£78 - £117).
Muhammed is an enterprising man and also runs a side business selling sweets and biscuits outside his workshop. This business earns him around £50 a month. The increase in income has enabled him to send two of his three children to school on a regular basis. The third is too young for school yet, but Muhammed feels confident he will be able to educate his third child when the time comes.
I was also lucky enough to meet Rehana Kousar. I watched her and her two daughters and son working in their home, making jewellery. This is her third loan. She told me that they have enabled her to buy materials in bulk and sell the finished jewellery to retailers. Before the loans they worked on contract to wholesalers and made very little profit.
They work from their simple home, adding the jewels to necklace templates. Each finished necklace sells for between 300 and 100 rupees (about £2.50 - £8), depending on how fancy it is. The two daughters were working hard fixing jewels into the necklaces, which is painstaking work.
They let me have a go, but not for long as I made very slow work of it! I found it difficult to see the tiny jewels, which they pick up by wetting the end of a tiny stick.
Rehana told me that they loans had made a big difference to her family's life. They are living much more comfortably now and are able to support their children and grandchildren, who will be able to go to school when they are old enough.
Click here to watch a video of Rehana's daughter decorating jewellery by hand.
Head of Lendwithcare
Click here to read the next blog in the series: Day 3 - are Akhuwat really as good as they seem?