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KARACHI: One by one the 36 candidates presented their business plans before the jury. Someone spoke about buying a running barbershop business, someone wanted to upgrade her boutique. All were sure about making a profit and confidently answered various queries put their way regarding their competition, how many employees they would have to hire, their training, paying utility bills, etc, from the jury members.

They were all gathered at the Institute of Business Administration’s Karachi City Campus here as part of the Network of Organisations Working with People with Disabilities Pakistan (NOWPDP) on Saturday. Sharing their business plans marked the finale of Project Khud Mukhtar, a business idea competition for persons with disabilities, initiated to economically empower special persons.

The 36 people with disabilities were shortlisted from an initial pool of over a 100. Over the last three months, men and women with physical, visual and hearing impairments underwent various stages of training to reach this point. Programme associate Ali Khan Tareen told Dawn that their focus had always been on education and employment. “Then we thought that why not also go towards self-employment. The individuals taking part in the programme were all encouraged to come up with business ideas. Of them we selected 36 who then received mentoring from entrepreneurs to refine their business ideas,” he said. Amjad Bhai, who is physically disabled and walks with the help of crutches, drives a Qingqi rickshaw around the Landhi area in which he picks and drops schoolchildren.

Now he wants to get into business with his wife who is a good cook. Together they want to prepare and deliver lunchboxes from his Qingqi. “We can deliver lunches with a different menu every day for factory workers and office staff. It will be a moving dhaba,” said Amjad. “But to buy disposable boxes, upgrading the Qingqi, etc, we will be needing some seed money to help us get started,” he explained.

Afshan Bibi, who needs help when walking, runs a beauty parlour and a boutique from a room in her small apartment in Nazimabad. She said that currently she buys make-up stuff from Meena Bazaar but wanted to get more sophisticated and expensive brands. “I also don’t have proper equipment for my parlour at the moment such as hair-dryers and manicure and pedicure machines,” she said. “If I can buy those and upgrade the parlour I can beat my competition like all those other beauty parlours in the same building where I live,” she said, adding that she also had a boutique business running on the side where if she can get better material and sewing machines she can make a bigger profit.

Danish Hussain, a teacher in a wheelchair, who runs a small tuition centre in Korangi, wanted to open a stationary shop where he could also keep a photocopier with scanner. He needed funding to buy a good quality photocopier.

Mohammad Ali, who was also in a wheelchair, works with his brother in a shop where they repair electrical appliances such as juicers, blenders, washing machines, etc. “I want to branch out now and start my own business where I will also buy old appliances, repair them and resell them along with a three-month warranty.

More such business idea pitches included Irfan Jan’s furniture supply to offices business, Zeeshan’s event management company idea, Kamran Ali’s mini-grocery market, Allah Bux’s barbershop. After reviewing all ideas, some 10 from the 36 would be selected for funding of around Rs100,000 each.

President of NOWPDP Amin Hash­wani, who was also among the jury, said that independence relied on opportunities created, availed and the subsequent drive to capitalise on them. “With high rates of unemployment and low levels of literacy preventing the disenfranchised from truly becoming contributing members of society, there is a need to encourage grass-root innovation through entrepreneurship. We hope that Khud Mukh­tar would be the first of many steps to create an ecosystem that encourages persons with disabilities to think outside the realm of conventional job opportunities and to instil a sense of self-belief that they too can thrive,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2017