Roshaneh Zafar, Founder and Managing Director of the Kashf Foundation, founded the first microfinance organization in Pakistan focusing on low-income women after a chance meeting with Professor Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank. Inspired by the success of Grameen Bank, Zafar initially established the Kashf Foundation, meaning “a process of self-discovery,” as a research program to uncover the key factors leading to poor women’s need for microfinance services. The organization then grew into Pakistan’s first financially sustainable microfinance institution, and in 1999 the Kashf Foundation introduced the first pro-women consumption loan in the entire microfinance sector. Today, Zafar’s organization has grown from a mere fifteen female clients in 1996 to having over 301,000 clients in 2009, making it the third largest microfinance institution in Pakistan.
Prior to the Kashf Foundation’s inception, Zafar worked with the World Bank in Islamabad in the Water and Sanitation department for several years. An economist by training, Zafar travelled across Pakistan teaching women proper hygiene practices, and was continuously struck by the idea that these women would never be able to have their basic needs met if they were not provided the economic opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty. She recalls being inspired by the many women who were running their own businesses despite all the odds, realizing that “there are thousands of women out there who are struggling to eke out an income and fighting all sorts of social norms.” Zafar was determined to begin her own microfinance institution aimed directly at poor women, and the idea for the Kashf foundation was born.
Since she created the Kashf Foundation, Zafar has been the recipient of many accolades and awards, including being one of the first Ashoka Fellows in Pakistan. She has been a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur since 2004, and has also been awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan’s highest civilian awards, by the President of Pakistan for her work in the field of development and women’s empowerment. Zafar was also awarded the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2007. Zafar is a graduate of the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, and she also holds a Masters degree in Development Economics from Yale University.