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Ikhtiar Ahmed: Equipping Pakistan’s youth with entrepreneurial skills

Posted: 7 August 2019

Pakistan, Experience, Impact,

Australia Awards alumnus Ikhtiar Ahmed has been instrumental in improving the lives of thousands of unemployed young people in Pakistan by equipping them with entrepreneurial skills so that they can initiate their own micro start-ups in their communities. He has helped more than 2,600 youth since the launch of the Necessity Entrepreneurship Development Program (NEDP) in 2015.

In 2015, when Ikhtiar was Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Incubation (CEL&Inc.) at Sukkur IBA University, a study was conducted to identify the reasons for youth unemployment in Pakistan’s Sindh Province.

The study found that 50% of young people in the province were unemployed and only 8% were self-employed. There was a high degree of gender disparity: the female unemployment rate was 91.2%. The situation was even worse in some rural districts of Sindh Province, where there were low levels of literacy, education quality, relevant skills and income, and high levels of unemployment and gender inequality.

“We further found that despite completing their basic education, most of the youth in the Province were not employment-ready,” Ikhtiar says. “It was even more surprising to note that those who had received vocational training could not start work due to a lack of relevant skills. It was evident that although the youth had been trained in vocational skills, these skills were no longer required by the industries—and were not adaptable to new technology.”

Based on these findings, Vice Chancellor Professor Nisar Ahmed Siddiqui assigned CEL&Inc. to focus on community development specifically targeting youth. As a result, Ikhtiar’s team initiated NEDP with the aim of providing employment opportunities for young people.

Australia Awards alumnus Ikhtiar Ahmed conducting a boot camp for young entrepreneurs

NEDP implements its activities in three stages. The first stage is to offer short courses in modern and industry-oriented skills. The second stage is to develop their young clients’ basic English, mathematics and computer skills to fill the gaps in their education and make them fit to pass the tests of the public and private sectors for employment. The third stage is to equip participants with entrepreneurial skills at the end of the course so they can initiate their own micro start-ups in their communities, rather than depend on others or wait for jobs. The program also offers participants a stipend, free books, accommodation, transportation, toolkits to start micro start-ups and a free space for start-ups.

Some high-performing graduates have also taken the opportunity to further continue their studies at a formal level, increasing their opportunities to be employed by the public or private sectors with higher salaries. Other graduates have initiated their micro start-ups in their respective areas of expertise in their communities and at Sukkur IBA University’s business incubators.

Ikhtiar says the Australia Awards Business Incubation Management Short Course helped him enhance his management vision, and what he learnt in Queensland during the Short Course broadened his skills.

“Thanks to my visit to Australia through the Short Course, I was able to improve my knowledge of the incubation model, implement it at the University, and provide improved services for the community,” says Ikhtiar.

“Specific results of this were the design of the incubation centre and the hosting opportunity for skilled trainees of NEPD. Currently, two skilled trainees have begun their start-ups at our incubation centre after six months of training and are already earning a profit. If it wasn’t for our assistance, they would not have gained the required skills or opportunities for self-employment.”

Ikhtiar during his time in Australia

Under NEDP, Ikhtiar and his team have developed multiple proposals for youth development and engagement and passed these on to the Community Development Program, Government of Sindh, Higher Education Commission, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Youth Development Program, National Vocational and Technical Training Commission, Government of Pakistan and GiZ. Joint initiatives with these organisations have helped significantly in reducing the unemployment rate in the community.

Since 2015, NEDP has trained more than 2,600 candidates under different programs (18 different courses, ranging from 3 to 12 months). These candidates are selected based on their written skills and interview performance. Women make up 21% of selected candidates, which is nearly a 6% increase on the percentage of applications received from women.

More than 19% of those who complete the training at NEDP begin pursuing further studies. About 10% become self-employed through different micro start-ups. More than 16% gain employment at different public and private sector organisations.

“The most important thing to mention is that the program has generated PKR 46 million of annual income for the underprivileged youth of the Sindh,” says Ikhtiar. “The CEL&Inc. conducted a study of all employed and self-employed youth of the NEDP after completion of the three-month course. There is a considerable increase in their annual income just based on the data of the three-month course. If you take the other courses into account as well, the improvement is even more significant.”

Ikhtiar is proud of the progress made through NEDP.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know that you have been able to help revive the lives of underprivileged, unskilled and unemployed youth.”

“I feel proud when I receive calls from the trainees telling me, ‘Sir, come visit us to see how we have set up micro and small enterprises after the entrepreneurship training, which changed our lives’. Such messages show how the participants of the program are also improving the lives of other youth in the community” he says.

To expand the project’s impact, Ikhtiar plans to introduce NEDP in Sukkur IBA University’s community colleges, established in different rural and semi-urban areas. This expansion will focus on providing youth with the technical experience required for industries, with a long-term plan to add value to existing small and medium enterprises through including innovative rural entrepreneurs.