Roshaneh Zafar was born into a middle upper class family in Lahore, Pakistan in 1967. A graduate Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, USA and with a Master’s degree in Development Economics from Yale University, USA, she set out to become an investment banker which at the time seemed to be her dream career but she soon realized that she had no intention of making wealthy people wealthier.
Inspired by the good that people have and the potentials which she perceived the women in her society had, she resolved to create a different Pakistan for the future.
This did not come without challenges as she was plagued by the inequity of resources while she pondered why so much poverty was borne by women. She tried her hand on development work at the World Bank in the early 1990s, but was disillusioned when she saw that too often large, expensive projects did not affect the plight of poor women.
Roshaneh Zafar trained under Mohammad Yunus, Founder of the Grameen Bank, father of microfinance, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, after which she returned to Pakistan and established the KASHF Foundation in 1996. Back in Bangladesh with Mohammad Yunus, she witnessed what she calls the miracle that small loan works for a poor woman with an entrepreneurial mind. This became her vision to become a “one-stop financial service provider” for low –income women and their families. However, in Pakistan 80 percent of the population survives on less than $2 USD a day and approximately one-third live at or below the poverty line.
Roshaneh was faced with discouraging remarks which tried to prove that starting a microfinance programme focused on women would not work in Pakistan but she ignored all the remarks and worked towards pursuing her dream. It felt like a miracle when she finally established KASHF foundation. This explains the name of the foundation which means “miracle” in Urdu.
She started with a workforce of five women who she moved with to distant villages to start up microfinance centers. KASHF is devoted to the economic empowerment of women and is the first specialized microfinance programme in Pakistan to specifically target women from low income communities; it is also the first wealth management company that supports women from low income households.
In less than five years from inception, KASHF became an amazing success with ground breaking results on the level of improvement in the lives of the women. The women built entrepreneurship and financial management skills, gaining access to business loans, and obtaining micro-insurance services to reduce exposure to financial risk. The lives of the women changed as they were able to take care of their family and constantly lived above poverty line.
In the past two decades, KASHF has had phenomenal success in loan repayment, with an overdue rate of only 0.5 percent. She expanded to Punjab Province and part of Sindh Province with about 15,000 depositors, one fourth of whom, are women. It also aspires to increase the number of its depositors to 1 million and aims for two-thirds of them to be women.
In addition to the bank, Roshaneh plans to create KASHF insurance company, a KASHF financial education company and a KASHF business incubator. The business incubator is intended to help micro-borrowers expand to become small businesses that employ others.
With a commendable achievement on KASHF foundation, Roshaneh Zafar is said to be one of the female trailblazers in Pakistan, a woman who stood up for her dreams with passion and compassion for women in her society. In 2007, Forbes magazines ranked Kashf Foundation 34th on its list of the world’s top 50 microfinance institution. The kashf foundation is currently operating over 150 branches in Pakistan with more than one million individual partnerships.
Kashf has become one of the premier microfinance institutions and is ranked top quartile of the local and regional microfinance sector.