The real entrepreneurs of Pakistan

Published: October 29, 2010

Children who hawk items on the street in the hope of making a sale are true entrepreneurs.

Shakeel operates a DVD rental shop in the building across the street from where I live.

It’s nothing too fancy, just a couple of shelves in a six-by-four feet space, in a market dominated by tailors and kapra walas.

He comes in at about 4 pm every day, and takes the 10 pm bus back home.

All day, he rents out pirated copies of the latest Hollywood and Bollywood flicks to clients at his little shop.

Shakeel’s a young guy, maybe 24, with glasses that look remarkably similar to mine. His mother doesn’t let him go to his shop if the situation in the city gets a little uneasy. In a lot of ways, Shakeel is just like me, only with two differences:

  1. Shakeel belongs to what economists would call the lower-middle or lower class.
  2. Shakeel is a micro-entrepreneur.

Ever since I had a little talk with Shakeel, I’ve been noticing these two characteristics pop up in tandem more and more. Wherever I look, I see people that line the bottom of the middle class and those below them, crafting their little businesses and running little shops.

• There is the guy that parks your car on II Chundrigar road

• The man peddling car window shades (and Rubiks cubes) on the road

• The little girl that offers to clean your window

• The hawker who brings you your daily dose of news and magazines

• Te rairy-wala who asks you for your dabbay

•XXThe pint-sized child who sells chewing gum and Chinese tissues outside McDonald’s

All of them have their own little businesses. They probably didn’t get (or won’t ever get) a college degree, but they won’t let it be a handicap.

They bought whatever they could with whatever little money they had, added their mark-up and left their houses one morning on a mission to sell. They did the same thing the next day and the day after and continue to do this every single day.

The really fascinating bit is none of these people meet what we believe to be the conditions for being entrepreneurs. They don’t have access to any significant amount of capital, they certainly are not Masters in Business Administration, and they don’t have their father’s business connections. All they have is a spirit to fight the odds every waking moment.

This spirit is what is called the entrepreneurial spark.

Sadly, four years at the country’s best business school only made this spark weaker for me and many other “Idon’thave the resources to start my own thing right now” types.

For this, I envy the Shakeels of the world.


Umair Kazi

A strategist who blogs at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hammad Abdul Mateen

    A well-written piece Umair.
    I guess it’s about the old saying at times that ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’
    If you know what I mean.Recommend

  • ‏محسن حجازی

    Wonderful! Recommend

  • ‏محسن حجازی

    Two more interesting things that I noticed:

    With the advent of mobiles, there is literally a charging business in. They take 20 rupee and they have almost any brand of charger. You name it and they have it.
    Secondly, I noticed people standing just at the boundaries of Lahore. They will sit in the driver cabin of any incoming truck and will lead him into the city shortest and hassle free path. They will charge 200 rupees for the trip.

  • Shahbaz

    Nicely written though you depicted the rough & tough labour life paid tribute to the blue-collar job and brought out real facts into lime light,Admirable keep writingRecommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    a nice portrait of some the lives of blue collar workers in Pakistan…..yes they are self made entrepreneurs…..without any degree.or any Daddy;s network….and still tough life…….with lot of struggle………..I certainly call such people as sons of nation…….Recommend

  • Umair Kazi

    Thank you for the kind words!
    Wow, I’m amazed to find out about these direction-givers and chargers!
    Can anybody else share their unlikely entrepreneur sightings with us?Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    @SadafFayyaz: Agreed!Recommend

  • Tanzeel

    Such an encouraging article for 9-5 employees. I really liked it.Recommend

  • Shumaila

    How cute. So this is how economists are when they’re being sentimental? :P But pokes aside, this was very true. These guys really are true entrepreneurs and they should be encouraged immensely.Recommend

  • Murtaza Ali Jafri

    Great Piece. These individuals really do fight the odds and keep that entrepreneurial spark burning, and best of all, still live with hope in terms of the future.

    I just wish that there was a way for them to prosper even more than they are, whether it’s providing them access to Capital or expertise, I feel that these are Pakistan’s great hopes for the future. Given the opportunity, they could help make Pakistan great. Recommend

  • Aftab Hussain Malik

    I can see this country on the rails of development very soon….Jeo EntrepreneursRecommend

  • Syed Raheel Aijaz

    Very nice. You have very smartly expressed the idea of the much-sought street smartness.Recommend

  • Sulaiman Dawood

    You have correctly highlighted such praise worthy people who are though around us and we don’t even recognize them or don’t give them any lift! I suggest that we should start giving them respect from today!

    If my car stops at signal, someone selling something comes to me and offers a product or service, I buy it even if I don’t need it, e.g. tissue paper/pen,etc. Because it might be useful after sometime and the person selling it is not extending his hand for help but he should be recognized as a strong and responsible citizen. Although he might be selling at an expensive price than the market, it would be appreciable if u even buy it at the cost he/she offers… because its the only income source for them.

    This is what I do. I would love to have more suggestion from others as well.Recommend