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Mahnoor Ali

Mahanoor Ali is a Public Relations Officer at the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and is a civil servant from 49th Common Training Program (CTP). Email:[email protected]

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Hilal Her

SIFC Broadens Women-led Tech Horizons

June 2024

In the global economic landscape, where foreign direct investment (FDI) is significant for economic advancement, several obstacles exist that hinder the nations of the Global South from realizing their full economic potential. Likewise, Pakistan is facing multiple obstacles, ranging from bureaucratic and systematic hurdles to regulatory barriers and legislative complexities, resulting in a smaller influx of FDI into the country. Realizing the country’s investment potential, the Pakistani government established the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) to reinvigorate economic growth by attracting investments from local and foreign investors and facilitating the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The SIFC, born out of the ‘Economic Revival Plan’, emphasizes Pakistan’s commitment to fostering an investment- and business-friendly ecosystem and catalyzes the spirit of entrepreneurship to attract investments.



For economic revival, SIFC has set up priority sectors for investment such as agriculture and livestock, IT and telecommunication, mines and minerals, energy, industry, privatization, and tourism, among others on the horizon. Entrepreneurial spirit is the driving force behind innovation and progress, but it is more obvious in the IT and telecommunications sector in Pakistan. These ventures not only attract investments but also break conventional business models, pushing digital transformation to unprecedented heights.
Acting as an engine of economic growth, through its initiatives, SIFC is improving the ease of doing business by overcoming systematic and bureaucratic obstacles. While optimizing horizontal and vertical synergy and facilitating coordination between the federal and provincial institutions, it is also helping in timely decision-making and fast-tracking implementation of projects.
Pakistan is experiencing a transformative evolution in the technology sector, and unlike other sectors, women are making a significant contribution towards this transformation. The women-founded and women-led startups in edtech, fintech, healthtech, agriculture, e-commerce, AI, and block chain are among the highest funded in the country, and female freelancers are equally contributing towards innovation and the influx of remittances in the country. This is merely not only about gender equality; it is also an economic necessity, contributing significantly to economic growth, innovation, and job creation. The Gender Employment Gap Index (GEGI) shows that had all men and women been given the same job opportunities in all countries, their economies could grow exponentially. In many middle-income countries, mitigating gender employment gaps could potentially increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita by 40–80%. The World Bank, for instance, stated that in Pakistan, GDP per capita could rise by 30% if gender employment gaps were reduced significantly.
According to Crunchbase statistics, the estimated funding amount for women-founded ventures in Pakistan so far is USD$ 256 million. Among these women-founded startups, Sehat Kahani offers a complete telemedicine system to cater to primary healthcare requirements. Metric is a fintech startup offering AI-powered business finance insights to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that were previously only accessible to enterprises. Marham, a cutting-edge health-tech app, makes it possible to find, book, and consult with doctors online, thus reducing the hassle of the whole process. A female CEO leads Bagallery, a renowned e-commerce platform. EduFi is overcoming hurdles in the field of education with its first-of-its-kind “Study Now, Pay Later” platform in Pakistan, which is a financial aid and planning instrument for students. These startups are the best demonstration of female-led innovation, giving way to fresh investments and transforming industries.
The SIFC initiatives are multifaceted, aiming to provide entrepreneurs with the resources and assistance needed for the success of their ventures. Securing funding from venture capital funds poses a significant challenge for entrepreneurs, impeding their ability to access the necessary capital for business scaling. Both venture-backed entrepreneurs and VCs heavily underrepresent women, while companies founded solely by women receive less than 3% of all venture capital investments.
To alleviate this problem, the Pakistan Startup Fund (PSF), an initiative of the SIFC with the Ministry of IT and Telecom, offers equity-free capital and grants to startups, including those led by female entrepreneurs. With a PKR 2 billion contribution, the PSF is now ready to deliver an estimated PKR 50 billion valuation to the Pakistani startup ecosystem. The SIFC platform has made another significant policy change, granting tech companies and freelancers the right to retain 50% of export proceeds, leading to a 32% increase in Pakistan’s IT exports.
Realizing the importance of networking and mentoring for business success, the council has been the leading actor in organizing various networking events, investment roadshows, and investment conferences. These events connected entrepreneurs with mentors, and industry experts globally and prioritized women-founded startups and businesses to network, thus giving them the chance to get the funding, the expertise, and the market opportunities. 
The collaboration between SIFC and USAID led to the success of the investment roadshows in Dubai and Riyadh, which then became the platforms for Pakistani ventures to present their businesses and attract investments from overseas venture capital funds. Besides, the two Pakistan-Saudia Arabia investment conferences held in the recent past created immense opportunities for private sector companies to network with the KSA market for partnerships and investment opportunities. Furthermore, the SIFC is looking into other regional and global markets to find investment opportunities in various sectors, including IT, which will boost the country’s startup landscape.
Besides the difficulties of funding and networking, women entrepreneurs have to overcome significant obstacles in business operations, space restrictions, and training. The establishment of IT parks, Special Technology Zones (STZs), and incubation centers offers a tech-enabled environment for the startup ecosystem to thrive, providing entrepreneurs with spaces with subsidized rates and state of the art facilities. As of now, National Incubation Centers (NICs) have empowered 2300 women entrepreneurs. Similarly, SIFC has introduced InnoVista, a program that creates co-working spaces in Pakistan to empower entrepreneurs, including women. SIFC is facilitating another initiative where the Ministry of IT and Telecom will establish 10,000 e-Rozgar centers. This initiative will not only simplify business operations but also provide women with the necessary resources and support services for their growth and success. Additionally, the international startup exchange program provides Pakistani startups with the chance to participate in the best international incubators and accelerators, facilitating cross-border cooperation and knowledge exchange.
As SIFC initiatives expand investment portfolios, we anticipate a surge in consultancy services, with a focus on feasibility studies to render sectoral projects financially viable for potential investors. These services will create more employment opportunities, allowing women to improve their skills and contribute to the country’s development. Despite the immense challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, their contributions are increasing significantly, propelling Pakistan to unprecedented heights in the global arena. Their role implies the importance of inclusive policies and initiatives to support their ventures from the beginning, that is, from the stage of ideation. The initiatives of SIFC empower the workforce by facilitating networking opportunities, reducing bureaucratic hurdles, easing regulatory procedures, and fostering global partnerships, thus creating a conducive environment for startups and businesses to grow. These initiatives represent a promising step towards realizing this vision and unlocking the full potential of entrepreneurs, especially the women founders in Pakistan.


Mahnoor Ali is a Public Relations Officer at the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and is a civil servant from 49th Common Training Program (CTP).
Email:[email protected]

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Mahnoor Ali

Mahanoor Ali is a Public Relations Officer at the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) and is a civil servant from 49th Common Training Program (CTP). Email:[email protected]

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