05 Apr

Interview for Tech Pakistan with Mehr Shah

With over twelve years of experience in a wide range of local, regional and global development agendas, Mehr is currently leading Karandaaz Pakistan's Knowledge Management & Communications portfolio as Director. She has worked in notable organisations like the Pakistan Microfinance Network, Hagler Bailly (Pvt.) Ltd., and has been a consulted with The World Bank in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her key success areas include organizational strategy, primary and secondary research methodologies, organization and project management, team building and profiling for nascent and re-aligned organizations, and research and advocacy. Mehr is a Fulbright scholar and holds an MBA from Syracuse University's Martin J. Whitman School of Management (USA) and a BSc (Hons.) from LUMS. Mehr has a passionate interest in global and local politics and was awarded the Carnegie Fellowship by the New America Foundation in Washington DC, USA in 2013 where she researched the devolution of education in Pakistan.

1) Please tell us about your journey.

I have over fourteen years of experience in a range of local, regional and global development agendas. I am currently leading Karandaaz Pakistan's Knowledge Management & Communications portfolio as Director. Prior to this position I have led and worked in organizations like the South Asia Micro entrepreneurs Network, Pakistan Microfinance Network, both of which operate in the financial inclusion space, HaglerBailly (Pvt.) Ltd which is an environmental consulting firm and the Knowledge Platform a software company looking to enter Pakistan’s public sector education sector by developing technology-enabled, scalable solutions. I have also consulted with The World Bank in Pakistan and Afghanistan. My key areas of operation have included organizational strategy, primary and secondary research methodologies, organization and project management, team building and profiling for nascent and re-aligned organizations, and research and advocacy.

I am a Fulbright scholar and hold an MBA from Syracuse University's Martin J. Whitman School of Management (USA) with a major in Finance. My BSc (Hons.) degree is from LUMS, with a major in Economics. I have a passionate interest in global and local politics and enjoy travelling within Pakistan.

2) Tell us about Karandaaz Pakistan

Karandaaz Pakistan is a not-for-profit Pakistani company. It receives institutional and financial support from two primary donors—the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Karandaaz focuses on the chronic challenge of access to finance, with a focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and individuals.  With regards to the former segment, Karandaaz works with existing financial institutions to develop and strengthen their financial service offerings for SMEs. For the financial inclusion of individuals, technology-enabled solutions are leveraged across a range of institutions—Telco, banks, fin techs, startups, and public sector entities. Karandaaz is also committed to sharing findings from its programs and projects which are available on the company website: www.karandaaz.com.pk.

3) How can financial services / inclusion make an important role in the growth of Pakistan?

There is a large amount of data and research available on the benefits of financial inclusion, which are not only significant for individuals but for economies as well.  But before I delve into these benefits, I think it is important to settle on an understanding of this term, which is very often restricted to a one-dimensional measure—the number of active borrowers.  It is vital to understand that financial inclusion means ready access to and utilization of a variety of financial services. This includes deposit accounts, payment services, loans, and insurance. Simultaneous utilization of multiple financial services enables users to secure their savings from theft, smoothly conduct day-to-day business, and ensure against shocks. An efficient and inclusive financial system oils the wheels of commerce and Pakistan is no different in that way. An efficient business environment supported by an inclusive financial system promotes trust and fosters transparency. This in turn generates more jobs as economic activity picks up leading to greater welfare as incomes rise. It would not be incorrect to say that over time, robust financial systems and a vibrant economy yield a sense of economic wellbeing and confidence that encourage risk-taking and entrepreneurship.

4) Do you think Startup can make a vital role in change of eco-system?

Within Pakistan’s startup landscape we see a number of fintechs emerging. These fintechs are gaining momentum and have the potential to significantly impact not only Pakistan’s financial industry, but the economy as a whole. A multi-player movement, not exclusive of fintechs, is already underway to digitize payments and replace cash. The cost of handling cash to an economy is immense, including both overt (maintaining and staffing cash handling infrastructure) and covert costs (leakages). The covert costs are especially hard to identify but existing literature estimates leakages in Pakistan to be as high as USD 7 billion. As the effort to digitize matures beyond payments and the type of use cases increase, the uptake of digital financial services is also expected to increase. The financial industry thus offers an immense opportunity for innovation and to provide solutions to some of Pakistan’s most pressing problems.  However, to fully harness this opportunity and be inclusive of startups, Pakistan needs to strengthen the startup ecosystem, provide access to venture and growth capital and remove ambiguities and gaps in the regulatory environment. To support the startup ecosystem, Karandaaz conducts a FinTech Disrupt Challenge periodically. The aim of the challenge is to identify and select fintechs in a nation-wide competition and provide them with financial and organizational support.  A sector-agnostic competition is organized under its Innovation Challenge Fund with the latest challenge being structured to support women entrepreneurs and startups.

5) What potential do you see in Pakistan market?

The potential for financial inclusion in Pakistan is immense. Of the one hundred million unbanked people in Pakistan, 27.5 million, according to the World Bank study, cited distance as a barrier to accessing financial services. This is one of the many barriers that digital financial services can overcome. Technology provides a viable option to bridge this and a number of other gaps as it can extend services to all geographic regions at viable cost. With more than 125 million mobile phone and 13.5 million mobile broadband subscribers the opportunity is very real.