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Islamabad

June 19, 2017

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Exhibition of BISP beneficiaries’ work opens at Lok Virsa today

Exhibition of BISP beneficiaries’ work opens at Lok Virsa today

Islamabad

Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) is set to take a big first step towards the implementation of its graduation policy with an exhibition of exclusive hand embroidered shawls made by 120 BISP beneficiaries, an initiative envisioned as a giant leap towards poverty alleviation.

As a part of BISP e-commerce initiative, the exhibition of these shawls from 20 poorest districts of the country is not only a mean to preserve the tradition but is a unique way of promoting the hard work of 120 rural women who, despite their long working hours in field and home, were able to deliver such extraordinary work within a short period of three weeks. The exhibition will be inaugurated by Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastagir today (Monday) at Lok Virsa. 

In an exclusive interview with ‘The News’, Chairperson BISP Marvi Memon talked in detail about the vision behind the graduation policy. “It wasn’t easy for BISP women to find time to do embroidery for Pakistan. They have taken out time to do this for you in order to earn some extra money. Kindly give them the respect they deserve by buying their products. They have done that out of need and as an effort to exit poverty,” she said.

Highlighting the background, Marvi said that aim of any social safety network is to support the poorest of the poor. “While doing that, we are also mandated to do poverty alleviation at the same time. As we spent a large portion of our budget in order to support the poorest, we are also trying to come up with the graduation strategies which are most relevant, economical and productive in Pakistan’s context,” she said.  

For BISP, definition of graduation out of poverty is graduation out of BISP stipend. “Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is extremely interested in the graduation of beneficiaries. Therefore, in order to cater to his vision, the Finance Minister has kept within the budget of 121 billion of BISP, a portion of Rs 50,000 loan size for 250 thousand BISP beneficiaries. That makes Rs 12.5 billion out of Rs 121 billion for BISP graduation program. And with that amount, we can graduate 250 thousand people out of BISP stipend.”

Marvi said that BISP is under a process of evaluating different graduation strategies which have been working within the country and world successfully. “We have been very careful in evaluating different strategies. We realize that what works in European or Latin America would not necessarily work in Pakistan, so we are not going to blindly follow any graduation model. We have our own target market that is very specific and BISP is well aware of the local needs.”

She said there are certain programs which have shown success in Pakistan which BISP is evaluating. “One such program is the Community Investment Fund Model launched by Shoaib Sultan which President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain wants us to evaluate. This model has worked not only in Pakistan but has been replicated in a large way in our neighboring country India and has developed a good credibility in the region because of that. Closer to home is PM Interest Free Loan program. However, BISP is going to come up with its own taking inspiration from all national and international success stories.”

Whilst BISP is doing the homework on models, the program is experimenting with something unique for BISP which is its e-commerce initiative. “E-commerce is part of our graduation strategy and we believe it is a good strategy because first and foremost we are leveraging existing networks and assets in order to reduce the administrative cost. We are not going to accept graduation programs with high administration cost because at the end of the day that affects how much is spent directly on the poor. Since we are taking care of chronically poor, it is our moral responsibility to ensure that the admin cost is the lowest possible.”

Marvi said that BISP graduation strategy is to leverage existing network of 400 BISP offices and 2500 staff in the entire country. “Second leverage is the fact that we don’t have to spend much on skill training because we have chosen a product in which women have the skill already transferred through their mothers and grandmothers.” She challenged all expensive graduation programs being sold to organizations like BISP to come up with a graduation program with such minimum training cost.  

Marvi is confident about her unique initiative. “In entire country, not one organization under one roof can claim that they have access to every single embroidery of every single district of Pakistan because they are not present at all parts of the country. We can claim that and we can get that done in a very short period of time,” she said with pride adding that the motive behind choosing shawls as BISP brand is the fact that Chaddar is a symbol of respect in our traditional society.

BISP Chairperson shared that the pilot phase started only three weeks back. “It all started at the end of May by inviting 20 Assistant Directors of Tehsil offices of 20 districts to the head office. The task given to each district was to find five women in their areas who are good at embroidery and who wish to earn from this skill.

“We gave them guidelines on size, colors, local hand embroidery, material and packing specifications. The design element was left to their creativity while taking gamble on their creativity. That gamble paid off after three weeks. After three weeks, we received amazing work from all districts. Results were much bigger then my expectations,” said Marvi.   

She expressed hope that Islamabad Eid shoppers will join the exhibition and buy the embroidery from the entire country. Through this, they would be doing Eid shopping besides contributing in helping the poor and contributing in poverty alleviation. “Once the exhibition is taken off, it will go on line soon on TCS yayvo.com so that the entire country and entire world can order on line.”

The entire amount of shawls, priced between Rs 3000 to Rs 5000, will go directly to the beneficiaries through a system of Ahan, which is a Ministry of Industries organization, and TCS yayvo, who is the partner organization of Ahan. “We created a model bonanza of 120 designs from the entire country and we expect the people of Pakistan to support the poverty alleviation program. If they order through BISP, the BISP beneficiary will be able to earn in one go as much as she gets in the form of three months of stipend that is Rs 4834.”

Marvi said that once these women start getting repeat orders, the second phase will start. “The second phase will produce Chaddars with training but that training would not have massive training cost. We are going to invite art students of the art schools to do social entrepreneurship and volunteerism. We believe that spirit of volunteerism in Pakistan is high like Himalayas and deep like the oceans so we are leveraging of this already existing spirit.”

She expected youth, not limited to Indus Vally, National College of Arts but all arts schools all around the country, to come forward and buddy one BISP beneficiary. “The second phase will start immediately after the exhibition where we will encourage art students, nifty with the computer and good at research, design and fusion, to come forward and chose their buddy online. We will then select the right art designer for the right beneficiary. We will be putting the profile of the beneficiary on website so when you buy a product; you know exactly who made that product.”

She said that in the first phase, Sonia Batla has come forward and she is going to be the master judge at the exhibition today. “She is going to chose six designs, one from each province keeping in mind the interprovincial harmony, and she is going give these women a chance to work with her designer outlet. So we are taking six top shawls to designer level immediately in the first phase.”

Marvi believed that when women will start getting orders for more than one shawls, it will be physically impossible for them to meet the deadlines and therefore we are expecting that they would expand her network involving other family members and friends leading to community graduation.

“Eventually we hope that BISP brand of shawls and BISP women will make Pakistan famous worldwide. And I am saying that with full confidence as I believe that Pakistan’s embroidery is very exclusive and intricate and it has a complete bonanza but it has not been projected to the world that adequately. Through this we believe that the best of embroidery would be able to reach the international market. This would be an industry created by BISP women and for BISP women.”

“It wasn’t easy for BISP women to find time to do embroidery for Pakistan. They have taken out time to do this for you in order to earn some extra money. Kindly give them the respect they deserve by buying their products. They have done that out of need and as an effort to exit poverty,” she said encouraging people to visit Lok Virsa on the exhibition day.

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