PPSE co-creating solutions for gender responsiveness in clean energy financing


The USAID-funded Pakistan Private Sector Energy Project (PPSE), implemented by PFAN and UNIDO organized a consultative dialogue workshop on the gender and clean energy financing nexus on 14th September at the Marriott Islamabad. The workshop brought together professionals from banks, investment and financial institutions, as well as gender specialists, government institutions and energy/circularity companies, to discuss the gender gaps faced by the country in the clean energy transition.

PFAN Global’s Value Proposition was shared that caters to the “Missing Middle” between clean energy entrepreneurs and investment and PPSE’s role in working towards filling the gender inclusion gap in Pakistan’s clean energy, circularity and EV sectors, was discussed.

The consultation was led by Fiza Farhan, member of the UN Secretary-General’s panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Chairperson to Chief Minister Punjab’s Task Force on Women’s Empowerment, the First Future Energy Leader from Pakistan on the World Economic Forum in addition to being on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of social entrepreneurs twice.

Fiza is currently consulting with PFAN PPSE to formulate a gender action plan for the project alongside Mavra Bari, PPSE Communications and M&E Expert/Gender Focal Point. This consultation was an initiation to connect with industry leaders, finance experts, gender specialists and government representatives to develop a collective ecosystem towards gender responsive commitment in various sectors; while also gathering insights in to sectoral gaps.

Government and Policy Gaps As Bedrock for Change

A glaring gap identified was on policy level that does not comprehensively tackle systemic barriers to women’s access in to the workforce, particularly in the power sector. “It is a good initiative of the government to have business incubation centres and has made universities more gender inclusive but the same needs to be done for the workforce. Nobody can be gender blind nowadays, especially not when it comes to our policies,” said Maria Umer, Project Lead One Load Women Empowerment Project.

Pakistan’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) is the apex authority regulating the electricity supply in the country. Its Chairman, Tauseef H. Farooqi noted that gender inclusion at policy and practical level is a big challenge but one that he is confident can be resolved if all “parties” work together. He cited greater gender inclusion in NEPRA sharing that they have hired 43 women in 25 years, and that under their initiative “Powering Prosperity,” 6000 jobs have been created for women.  “All power companies have linked gender inclusion as a KPI for their evaluation and companies doing good on this metric will be rewarded and awareness spread,” said Mr. Farooqi.

Leading climate finance expert, Kashmala Kakakhel, judiciously pointed out that stakeholders i clean energy do not need to wait for policy to meet action necessarily as the work is happening regardless. “There has been no social media policy but still it has grown in Pakistan so much. We should not think that first we need policy. Sometimes action can lead to making a policy when it reaches a tipping point. Sometimes things have to go in parallel and this is how we need to see this ecosystem,” noted Kakakhel.

Private Power Sector Leading By Example

One of the recurrent challenge raised during the consultation was regarding lack of safety, security and facilities for female engineers, climate scientists and energy workers that deter their entrance and sustained work in the field. Participants acknowledged that while women graduate with engineering degrees, they are lost to the supply change to such structural challenges and cultural norms/expectations, such as marriage and child-rearing.

However, participants noted that more women can be brought in to (clean) energy if due facilities and support are given to women as their male counterparts. Ayesha Khan, Country Director at Hashoo Foundation noted that in energy head offices and field offices there is a lack of even washroom facilities which is a bare minimum necessity.

Reon Energy Limited is one of the leading energy companies in Pakistan. CEO of Reon Energy, Mujtaba Khan stated, “We have an ingrained gender bias by our culture. We need to instigate and consciously address this by actively encouraging women to participate because they have more barriers than men in this sector, every sector”.

Khan further shared that Reon’s marketing, project management, human resources, delivery and engineering team are led by women and that they’ve achieved this by becoming more sensitive about women’s requirements in the workforce such as transport and flexible work hours etc. Male and female have different requirements. The energy giant has accomplished this by holding leadership accountable for making equitable recruitment decisions and  committing to investment in polishing and retaining top talent, male or female.

Another leading power company, K-Electric, doubled women’s representation over the past two years, including inducting two women leaders in KE’s seven member C-Suite. During the PPSE consultation Sadia Dada, K-Electric Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, noted that there needs to be a shift in corporate culture where investment in a more gender diverse team, management and leadership included, is seen as an asset and not a cost. “Hiring more women is actually more cost effective. The biggest barrier for women is corporate laziness. You have to go and find the women, I assure you they are out there. Creating opportunities is not the only solution. We have to provide safety, mobility and infrastructure to address barriers,” added Dada.

Pantera Energy CEO Furqan Ali Akhtar, echoed these comments, noting that, “The lack of women in energy is not really a supply side issue as 50% university graduates are women. Women should be in both technical and non-technical fields, which will help break barriers and make these workplaces and fields more safe and attractive to more women by default.”

Climate Finance and Regulation: Untapped Potential for Removing Barriers

In order to bolster climate finance and women’s participation in the private sector, for large corporations, SMEs and startups, PPSE is committed to building meaningful connections with financial institutions, such as the State Bank of Pakistan, that is the Central Bank of Pakistan and regulator.

SBP has developed a Gender Mainstreaming Policy, “Banking on Equality” aiming to reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion. Faiqa Naseem, Deputy Director at State Bank of Pakistan, explained at the gender consultation, the details of the initiative and how women entrepreneurs in energy and as consumers of clean energy, such as solar panels, can avail concessional financing.

Fatima Arshad, Sustainable Business and Communications Manager at Unilever Pakistan, shared that Unilever is a beneficiary of SBP’s green energy policy and commended the effort.  “Women think that the concessional banking process is very complicated because their past experiences have been tough but SBP has some very helpful schemes for women but women are simply not aware of them. There needs to be more awareness around this!” added Arshad.

The need for more strategic partnerships and awareness around SBP’s women-centric financing facilities was a key takeaway from this consultation and one that PPSE will be including in its gender action plan, to support in strengthening the current ecosystem to be more gender responsive.

Stronger Together: The Power of Networks and Platforms

Sadaffe Abid, CEO of Circle, aptly stated that, “Frameworks are essential but are only effective when implemented,” in order to help implement and raise awareness working together with existing women-led incubators, accelerators and relevant networks is essential and was also one of the actionable insights from the workshop.

Women in Energy (WIE) is the leading network of female professionals in Pakistan and is helping build a critical mass of women towards a more equitable clean energy transition on policy and implementation. Co-chair of WIE commented that by bringing such diverse yet relevant voices and representation from the clean energy, finance and innovation ecosystem, PPSE is helping frame issues in a tangible way and our project will surely be working more closely with WIE going forward!

It was also suggested that to fill knowledge gaps a consolidated platform for clean energy could be initiated by various stakeholders at the consultation. “People should be able to access this platform all information shall be available on one platform. And it should be centralized. It’s a big scale idea so multiple organizations should be coming together. This is a sustainability and accessible option,” said Shaista Ayesha, CEO Seed Ventures.

The need for robust gender assessments was also identified to tackle complex biases and barriers. “Sometimes actions that we come up might be too sophisticated for the problem or too complicated. We don’t always have the exact knowledge. We need to have a clear idea of problem before going for a solutions,” added Kashmala Kakakhel.

We at PPSE, believe in bottom-up and co-created solutions as the wisdom for problem-solving is often with end-users and communities, which is why our project’s first gender mainstreaming step was a consultative one with an eclectic mix of problem solvers in their own right from all over Pakistan.

‘Glocal’ Solutions for a Global Challenge and Local Reality

PFAN of course, though is a global network and platform and we also believe in the power of cross-pollination and the innovative solutions that come from learning across contexts and continents. This is why PFAN Global has initiated its Gender Focal Points regionally to build more climate resilience technologies and solutions across the gender spectrum within regions and countries.

Hira Mumtaz is a PPSE advisor and the gender focal point for South Asia and the PPSE team will be working closely with her to ensure sharing support and best practices across countries.

The percentage of women in the workforce in Pakistan is 25%, much lower to its South Asian counterparts such as Bangladesh and India, who have 31% and 36%, respectively. The connecting thread however, is that all countries have exceptionally low numbers of women in energy and even lower in clean energy.

Changing systemic and cultural gender biases in society and the energy sector means including more women in management and decision-making roles, and encouraging women to pursue technical clean energy skills by removing barriers from field work. It is our collective duty to ensure that the clean energy transition is not business as usual but is more inclusive, diverse, equitable and equal for all.

Women who are in the power sector will inadvertently have power and power shared is power multiplied, literally and figuratively. We at PFAN PPSE are big believers in empowering women and we look forward to helping move the needle through our upcoming gender action plan, developed through co-creation.

Keep watching this space for updates and please drop us a line if you are interested to share your insights and experiences: Mavra.Bari@pfan.net

Mavra Bari – PPSE Communications and M&E Expert/Gender Focal Point