Model of Success – Polly and Other Stories
“When we work with small businesses we give them channels to come to market. But our impact is a fraction of what we would like it to be,” says Amneh. “We have the infrastructure, it is ripe to grow and just needs the green light.”
And Karandaaz has given their growth plan the green light, by offering funding to support the first brick and mortar store. Karandaaz promotes access to finance for small businesses, to help generate broad-based employment in Pakistan, and fosters economic participation of women with the help of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge (WEC), launched in 2017, aims to support women-led businesses by providing business development support as well as risk capital and grants so the enterprises can grow. In the first WEC round, Karandaaz partnered with three business incubators for the capacity building of women entrepreneurs. They are LUMS in Lahore, the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEM) in Quetta and Invest2Innovate (i2i).
Businesses that have successfully graduated from the incubation programs compete to receive funding from Karandaaz. Polly and Other Stories was a participant in the first WEC round. “We gained a better understanding of the start-up economy through the i2i program,” says Amneh.
“Networking was a major benefit and we learnt where the opportunities lie.” Growing up, Amneh saw how the lives of the less privileged were lived. “Nobody sees these people,” she says. “They don’t have a voice, they’re invisible. I told myself I would be their voice if I could be. My mother always said your life only has meaning as much as it imparts meaning to others.” 70percent of the businesses on the platform are women-owned while 55 percent employ women artisans.
Products range from the crochet and threadwork of Chitral to the beading of the Kalash, from the ajrak block-print and applique work of Bhitshah in Sindh to the blue pottery of Multan, woodwork in Chiniot, Balochi tanka in Quetta, and leather bags in Karachi and Lahore.
The women engaged in these ventures find them life-changing. 21year-old Nausheen is one of them. She was living in Azad Kashmir when a devastating earthquake struck.
Nausheen was seriously injured and lost both her legs. She went through a period of depression until she moved to the Ehsas Foundation, where she learned to make paper beads. The beads are made for Paper Miracles, one of the brands Polly and Other Stories represents.
Making the beads has not only given her an activity she enjoys but a regular income as well. “Paper Miracles changed my life,” she says. “It gave me back my confidence and hope for a better future.”
Many other artisans and small manufacturers across the country have found a pathway to the market through the online platform.
It currently reaches 3000 artisans and there’s a growth plan in place, to take the platform to scale. With funding, Amneh and her partner Angela hope to reach 10000 over the next three years. Fed by the vision and passion that the partners have in abundance, Polly and Other Stories will soon have more stories to tell.