New Frontiers – New Age Flour Mill
Rooida Amjad is a pioneer in her field. In 1998, a year after the death of her husband, she took over his beloved flour and general mill located on Warsak Road in Peshawar. It was a dream of her husband to run this business successfully, and in his absence, Rooida pledged to fulfill the dream, regardless of the challenges.
“It was sudden, but I believe that women can do anything they set their mind to,” Rooida says, talking about the initial days of her business. “My family supported me and Pashtun culture of respecting women played a major part in me assuming this leadership role with ease. I was also blessed with a good team working with me at the mill, so despite unending issues with our finances, quality control and supplier issues, we were able to weather the storm.”
Rooida recounts that she was also blessed because her own father played the role of her mentor to her and used to accompany her to the mill in those initial years when she was still learning the ropes of the business. “I had to learn about everything, starting from the machinery to wheat inspection, to human resource management and finances,” she adds. “We were blessed to also have the cooperation from government organizations.”
In their more than twenty years of operations, Rooida remembers that her husband once took a loan worth 6 million rupees from Regional Development Finance Cooperation, which was slowly paid off, and another that Rooida took for the mill’s operations in 2002-2003, which was also promptly paid off.
“We have come very far from our struggles of initial days,” she says. “In a factory spanning 7 units over 8 kanals of land, we have a permanent staff of 30 individuals. We also employ many daily wage labourers who help with loading, unloading, weighing and packing of materials. All in all around 60 to 65 families rely on our factory to provide them with a livelihood.”
Rooida’s three elder daughters studied banking and finance and human resource management while the youngest is a dentist. They serve as directors of the mill and have helped streamline processes and organizational structure. However, there is much more that Rooida wanted to do in terms of modernizing the business. Some of the innovations she wanted to introduce are accounting and finance system digitization and streamlining, security camera installation on the mill premises, more mechanized production systems, address quality control issues and have more efficient packaging design.
“Over the last few years, I have also realized that there is a huge potential for expansion and additional production,” she says. “There is Khyber Agency and Mohmand Agency close by. They do not have their own flour mills and we can double our earnings, perhaps even more, if we tap into supplying to those markets. Presently our mill operates six hours a day. If we take it up to twenty hours of work in shifts, we can expand our business remarkably.”
Expansion demands funds, and having already dealt with banks, Rooida wasn’t too keen on paying the high markups again.
“We had the collateral that banks demand as one of the terms of loans, but I wasn’t entirely convinced this justified the markup when paying back the loan. It was around this time that I was visiting Islamabad and saw billboards advertising Karandaaz Women Entrepreneurship Challenge 2018 (WEC18)”. She noted down the details and pursued the website to get more details.
Karandaaz Pakistan, established in August 2014, funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation promotes access to finance for micro, small and medium – sized businesses through a commercially directed investment platform, and financial inclusion for individuals by employing technology-enabled solutions. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Challenge is a flagship initiative of the organization, funded by DFID, through which women-led businesses across Pakistan can apply for business advisory and financial support.
With input from her daughters and other trusted employees, Rooida corresponded with the Karandaaz team and applied to take part in the challenge. Her application was selected and to Rooida’s delight, a journey of support began. Karandaaz started by providing business development support services to the selected businesses from across Pakistan and then after a competitive pitch round, eight businesses were selected to receive growth capital from Karandaaz. New Age Flour Mills was also able to convince the judges that they deserved financial support from Karandaaz to implement their growth plans.
The initial business advisory support and trainings from Karandaaz were very eye opening and helpful. I have already implemented many of the lessons I learned in our mill. And now that our funding has been approved, we will further ensure that we extend working hours, hire more workers and streamline work processes for maximum output.
Out of all the mechanical, operational, financial and logistical changes that Rooida wants to introduce in her business to truly modernize it, one of her chief ambition is to encourage women to work for her. As perhaps the only woman running a flourmill in Pakistan, Rooida realizes the immense value of women in the workforce and how women’s work outside of their homes is just as valuable as inside them.
I want to hire local women to work on weighing and packaging, and in any other departments they want to work in,” she says. “I want them to realize their own worth and to make men understand that women’s hard work is a pillar of a thriving society