The Buksh Foundation launched in 2009 by the Pakistani retail giant Buksh Group, is an up and coming MFI, seeking to increase financial inclusion for rural and peri-urban population and has pioneered the concept of clean energy lending the country.
Fiza Farhan leads Buksh Foundation as its Chief Executive Officer and her dedicated efforts have helped the organisation grow leaps and bounds in the short time since its conception. She holds a Masters degree in Management from Warwick Business School and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Following is a brief excerpt from a conversation she had with BR Research in Lahore.
On Buksh Foundation
Buksh Foundation was set up in 2009, specifically with a vision of making impact investments in the social sector, says Fiza, who reiterates that the foundation wanted to move beyond the typical NGO mentality and create a self-sufficient working model that is scale-able and sustainable.
"We are working in tandem with our energy company, Buksh Energy Pvt Ltd to promote our green practices at the micro, meso and macro levels", she states. At the micro-level, Buksh Foundation, the NGO is working to provide clean energy loans to the community it serves.
The organisation provides clean energy solutions in the form of micro-finance, micro-lease clean energy solution, small solar home solutions, solar fans for domestic use, and solar water pumps for farmers with flexible repayment schedules.
Additionally, the foundation, in tandem with their sister concern, Buksh Energy has also set up solar power water filtration plants and solar-powered tube-wells in rural areas of Punjab.
Lighting a million lives
As part of a pilot project to increase the use of solar power, the Lahore-based microfinance institute Buksh Foundation and the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in India- with the aid of national and international partners- have been in the process of electrifying 80 off-grid villages in Pakistan's Punjab province.
"About 43 percent of the population of Pakistan lives without access to electricity, of which 70 percent live in rural areas in some 50,000 villages which are completely detached from the national electricity grid" says Fiza, and with the state of the energy deficit in the country, as things stand the figures are only going to go up, she continues.
Hence our aim has been to emulate the Grameen Shakti model in the Pakistani rural landscape, showing that solar energy applications can be scaled up massively and rapidly to provide an affordable and climate-friendly energy option for the rural poor.
The project, called "Lighting a million lives" is particularly close to Fiza's heart. The initiative seeks to empower females in rural communities by providing them the necessary training and then putting them in charge of photovoltaic charging stations, which are used to power donor-funded re-chargeable lanterns during the day.
The women then either sell or rent the lanterns to villages for Rs2 per day, hence providing a much cheaper alternative to high-priced kerosene oil traditionally used in these small settlements, where electrification is little but a distant dream on the hazy horizon.
LaML: Impact investment at its best
"This is exactly the kind of out of the box thinking required to take us out of the rut that we're in", says Fiza, who expounds on the project's various facets.
Besides lightening their house and providing villagers the facility to continue their household work with an ease at night, mobile charging units have also been installed and sustainable employment opportunities have been created for over 40 needy women of these villages.
These women are now known as "Roshna bibi" or "light lady" in the village. Each light lady charges her clients Rs2 to charge (or rent out) the lantern with the solar system every time and out of this amount she deposits Re1 to a bank's account for repair works, while the rest is her earning.
Needy women - mostly widows - have been selected to make themselves reliant under this micro-credit project, launched with the help of various donors who have donated the villagers the re-chargeable lanterns that are let out.
"Each solar lantern replaces about 500-600 liters of kerosene during its 10-year lifespan, mitigating the use of about 1.5 tons of Carbon dioxide", relates Faiza who believes that the initiative is about more than just bringing light to previously un-electrified localities.
"Not only are we creating a positive impact on the environment, the LaML is a unique blend of social empowerment and rural development and is a tool helping these communities develop a sense of ownership in the technology and the project itself", she says.
Lighting a million lives has already impacted some 25,000 people and the Buksh Foundation is planning to light a total of 4,000 Pakistani villages, directly helping a million individuals within the next three years. The recently-scheduled projects include electrifying the villages in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in alliance with the provincial government- talks with the latter are currently under way, according to Fiza.