The Business of Sustainability in Pakistan

Fiza Farhan, Energy

Fiza Farhan tells us more about her career path in the field of sustainability in Pakistan and how the developments in the industry do indeed open up new possibilities.

Fiza Farhan is a Pakistan based women entrepreneur and development expert, featured in the US Magazine Forbes “30 Under 30 List of Social Entrepreneurs” for 2015 and again in Forbes Asia List of “30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs in 2016”. She represents Pakistan on the United Nation’s Secretary General’s first ever High Level Panel on Women Economic Empowerment along with global leadership in addition to being the Chairperson of Chief Minister Punjab’s Task Force on Women Empowerment and member of the National Steering Committee on Climate Change for Pakistan. Previously, Fiza co-founded and was the CEO of Buksh Foundation and Director of Buksh Energy Private Limited, both companies pioneering unique and demand based multi-stakeholder solutions in the domains of gender equality, inclusive growth, digital finance, renewable energy and impact investment.

Apart from her important roles of advocacy, Fiza continues to wear multiple hats to instigate action through her diverse consultancy engagements with government bodies, private sector companies, the UN agencies and other development institutions in Pakistan and internationally.

The Choice

Fiza, you have a great experience in the energy industry, why did you decide to work in the field of sustainability?

The decision to work in the field of sustainability came naturally owing to my desire to work on demand driven development solutions. To be able to identify the “real problems” communities in Pakistan are facing and provide them with solutions accordingly. When we assess developmental needs of the underprivileged, we underestimate the impact that access to energy or no access thereof has on the lives of the deserving. When communities live in the dark, all socio-economic indicators are adversely affected be it health, education, livelihood generation, safety or mobility. In South Asia alone, four deaths per minute occur owing to the burning of fossil fuels and kerosene oil in the off-grid communities, 80 percent of these victims are women and children. In Pakistan, alone 43 percent of the population of 122 million people live in completely off-grid areas. Simply with these two statistics, the decision to work in the field of sustainability or sustainable energy becomes an obvious development choice.

Creation of a Unique Nexus

Which challenges did you believe social enterprises have in Pakistan?

In Pakistan, like in any other part of the world, the main challenge any social enterprise faces is the complicated balance between the social mission and commercial viability. The nexus between the two makes a successful social enterprise especially in the business of sustainability. For me, a sustainable business model for a social enterprise is one that delivers value along with social and commercial benefits to all stakeholders involved from investors to employees, to communities, to clients and eventually to the country. This complicated nexus is certainly unique but not impossible and requires out of the box thinking and an innovative drive. The flagship project “Lightening a Million Lives” that I launched in my previous professional capacity was an absolute embodiment of the same; a simple project that creates a unique nexus between access to energy and women economic empowerment yet directly impacts health, education, economic livelihoods, social gains for the community in addition to branding and social positioning for the sponsors.

“More and more innovative models of sustainable social enterprises need to be churned out to become successful demonstrations and inspire others, I feel we are now in the age where we will see many such successful innovations and sustainable business models come to reality!”

The Impact of Sustainability in Pakistan

Which impact does climate change have on Pakistan?

renewable energyUnlike many of the developed countries like US and China, Pakistan has a very low impact on the global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), less than 1 percent which is scored to be one of the lowest in the world. However, it still remains a country vulnerable to climate change and the effects have become more visible in recent years. In addition, I feel at this point Pakistan does not have the technical and financial capacity to cope up and adapt with the adverse effects of climate change, hence for us a more important focus point would be mitigation and shifting the focus on renewable generation. While Pakistan is a country with a significant energy deficit, it is also a country abundant with natural resources that can help create a sustainable renewable eco-system for energy. The solution to the climate change problem for Pakistan is more within the acceptance and widespread application of renewable technologies under regulated and subsidised frameworks to make it a sustainable reality for the country.

Gender Bias as a Global Issue

As one of the Pakistan’s youngest female CEOs which difficulties and opportunities did you have as a social entrepreneur?

Well, I would not say it was always easy being a young female CEO in Pakistan, a country dominated by male leadership with less than 2 percent representation of women in senior positions, management and boards. Furthermore, in my previous professional capacities as CEO Buksh Foundation and Director Buksh Energy Private Limited, I was one of the youngest and only female working in the highly male dominated energy sector of the country. I must say, it was quite overwhelming first especially when I would usually be the only woman in a room of 500 men at conferences or always the only woman on the decision making table. However, when I went with Danida on a delegation to Denmark, represented by both Pakistani and Danish energy companies, and found myself to be the only woman amongst 20 companies from both sides participating in the delegation; I realised that this gender bias is a global issue and not just limited to Pakistan. With the same, I feel over the years I learned to keep my age and gender aside and instead focus on my professional abilities and competence emerging as a strong professional within my fields of work.

Female Strength

With the same, post my tenure at both companies, I ended up being the youngest member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Women Economic Empowerment along with global development leadership including President of World Bank, Managing Director IMF & ILO, UN Secretary General, UN Women Executive Director amongst others. Today, I feel that what ought to be my weakness i.e. my age or my gender have actually now transformed into my greatest strengths and give me the courage and energy to do so much more with the multiple hats I wear as a Global Advisor working with sub-national and national governments, private sector and the global development sector at large.

Potential of Renewable Energy in Pakistan

What potential does renewable energy have for Pakistan and how are you contributing to the same?

Simply establishing the fact that only the solar potential of the country stands at 2.9 million MW while the national deficit stands at 7000 MW can state the potential of renewable energy in Pakistan like many other countries around the world. The potential is enormous and all kinds of models, technologies, stakeholders, institutions need to come together to make renewable energy not just a one-time success but a lasting reality. We need to learn from Europe, whereby Denmark and many other countries are on the road to self-sufficiency with renewable energy along with evolving to exporting the excess energy to neighboring countries. The good news for Pakistan is that however the momentum for renewable energy has finally picked up especially with solar energy whereby the entire eco-system is now working towards scale. One of the hats I wear as a Global RE advisor is to one of Pakistan’s largest solar energy company, Reon Energy Private Limited who are actively undertaking MW’s of solar transformation in the industrial and commercial sector facilitated by “green financing” schemes offered by State Bank of Pakistan to provide a financial cushion covering the initial cost of such large-scale solar projects.

Green Energy

In addition, millions of dollars are being invested in the off-grid space to launch sustainable models of access to energy in partnership with the private sector in order to build on the momentum and achieve national scale through commercially viable models for the off-grid or semi-off grid communities in Pakistan.

There is a lot more that needs to be done however I do feel that Pakistan has evolved tremendously over the last few years in the uptake of renewable energy and the development of a regulated eco-system that can absorb the uptake and incentivize the private sector to engage effectively in sustainable energy models by targeting the triple bottom line.

We are happy to continue this disscusion with Fiza Farhan in the Executive Panel Discussion “Energy Solutions & The Future of Mobility in a Smart and Connected World – Can Innovation Reverse the Effects of Climate Change?” at the Global Female Leaders 2018.

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