This is part of a limited, annual, series, “14 Days, 14 Stories”, about ordinary Pakistanis who are doing extraordinary things in order to give back to Pakistan.
Saba Gul, a Pakistani woman who graduated from MIT and left her six figures job to empower the rural woman in Pakistan, started a social enterprise by the name of Popinjay where she provides the rural women with employment opportunities by selling their hand embroidered stuff to the high end market.
Having heard about the plight of women back home, Saba left her comfortable job in the US to help women in Pakistan
Saba heard a story of an Afghani girl Azaada Khan who was raised under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. She was not allowed to go to a school but she was so desperate for education that she disguised herself into a boy and changed her name to Azaad so she could get what was her basic right all along. The story stuck with Saba throughout and she eventually left her six figure job in the USA to come back to Pakistan to do something worthwhile for the Pakistani women.
She knew how talented women in Pakistan are, yet they don’t get opportunities to showcase their craft to an audience that appreciates their work and help them earn a comfortable living
Saba started a Business and Life Skills School (BLISS) in Attock in 2009 that only had 30 women till 2011. They were taught education and empowerment, while they along with other rural women made hand embroidered handbags on the side the money from which was reinvested into the school
Today, Saba is working with more than 150 Pakistani women at Popinjay while their main female artisan group hails from Hafizabad, one of the oldest districts in Punjab
Saba started rebranding BLISS as Popinjay in 2013 and their production shifted from Attock to Hafizabad but the impetus behind the social enterprise stayed the same. While speaking with CNN Saba shared, “Popinjay officially launched with its first line in October 2013, and in seven weeks of sales, the company’s revenue was equal to an entire year as BLISS.”
Women from rural areas are given incentives for their extraordinary crafts through the fashionable venture
“I first went to the village (Hafizabad) and met the women through a friend and her family; this immediately established a relationship of trust between myself and the women. The women were/are extremely eager to work hard and earn their own living with dignity. Their husbands and other men in their family are also happy to see the women contributing to the household income, and having something productive to do. We did make sure their work environment was perceived as culturally/socially non-threatening by the men in their families by doing things like having their community center (where they embroider) be situated close to their homes, by keeping it an all-female environment etc. As far as their skills go, it’s a work in progress but it’s all about training and motivation. We work hard on training and quality control, establishing multiple levels of quality checks, breaking the women into groups and appointing trainers to manage each group, even establishing healthy competition between groups. I also feel that just like our own team, it’s important to keep the women motivated. I sometimes even discuss the day to day challenges of running Popinjay with the women; it keeps them connected to us and motivated to play a part in the growth of the company. We’ve also worked hard to communicate to them the quality we are aspiring to (by showing them samples, and telling them about the brands we compete with).”
Saba aims to make Popinjay an international brand in the future while she continues empowering the women.
For more stories from our series about extraordinary Pakistanis check out “14 Days, 14 Stories“.
Cover Image Via: indelust.com