Muawin: Supporting Micro-entrepreneurs in Pakistan

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The School of Business at LUMS has a strong reputation for producing talent. From Bankers and Management Gurus to Consultants and dynamic Entrepreneurs, the School has produced a large number of movers and shakers spread across diverse industries across the world. 

Three such talented, enterprising graduates who set up Cashew Financial Services Ltd. in early 2019 are Syed Hashim Mahmood Ali, a BSc Accounting and Finance graduate of 2012; Moeed Qamar, a graduate of BSc Accounting and Finance 2016 and Naweed Sharif, an MBA 1988 graduate. They are joined by Ammar Afif, a US based entrepreneur. While Qamar and Afif were working in the MENA region’s Fintech space, Ali saw the huge opportunity of bringing it to Pakistan and convinced the team to go ahead with it by putting together the initial vision. Afif connected the team with Sharif, who was instrumental in getting Cashew’s management board up and running, using his years of banking experience to push the regulators for quick approval and helping the team set up solid strategy and risk assessments. Team Cashew’s motivation was to build a Fintech firm with a clear mission, and a team that had the drive to see the mission through. 

Muawin is a product by Cashew, established for the local market, it aims to help millions of micro-entrepreneurs realise the true worth of their businesses. This will be done by providing them easy, quick, and affordable access to credit. “As the name suggests the brand philosophy is to position ourselves as a facilitator/helper for our vast, untapped, new to credit market. Muawin is guided by the core philosophy that backing our hard-working micro-entrepreneurs financially will unlock the real potential of their ventures. Giving credit access where it does not exist, we create income opportunities and conditions for growth for millions of people, ultimately empowering our society,” shares Qamar.

Explaining the impact of Muawin on the market, Qamar added, “Our early pilots have been promising and we have seen a universal rise in profits for our customers! We want to keep this up and take it to a new level, ultimately expanding all over Pakistan so we can help as many people as possible. We are excited by the fact that we can positively impact a huge development indicator like financial inclusion with our company.”

Recalling how their product was created, Qamar explained that the first thought paper, which would drive the strategy behind the Muawin brand was put together by Ali. He had been intimately involved within the local financing ecosystem and had a clear understanding of the fundamental issues, which needed to be resolved. Ali had been working with Qamar and Afif for some time on their strategy for the MENA region. Cashew was able to grow organically from those sessions and the three founders committed to a journey focused on Pakistan. “The goal for Cashew and Muawin is to become the primary source for working capital financing for Pakistan’s micro-entrepreneur segment. This includes everything from retailers, on-demand service providers to freelancers. Our market is quickly evolving, however access to quick and purpose-driven credit is still a bottleneck which we aim to resolve,” adds Qamar.

Qamar also shared that launching Cashew had its own challenges. The primary challenge they faced was to carefully curate the initial founding team of local market professionals who could help establish and nurture the company. “Naweed Sharif played a crucial part in rounding out the Management Board which would oversee all strategic and risk-related concerns. Cashew was also able to bring Walid Ahmed on board as an Executive Director, whose years of experience working within the financial sector and with government projects helped it navigate the financial sector in Pakistan and build a solid foundation for a successful future. With the guidance of these two, the team was quickly able to lock down our go to market product and ease our regulatory journey.” 

Cashew’s team comprises dynamic individuals with diverse experiences and professional trajectories. Syed Hashim Mahmood Ali, after a Masters in Finance at George Washington University as a Fulbright scholar, joined the Fintech space as Head of Lending for Finja Pvt. Ltd., where he gained a clear understanding of the deficiencies within the local ecosystem and decided to focus on the Fintech realm. He also teaches a first of its kind Fintech focused finance course at the School of Business at LUMS. 

Moeed Qamar, joined Ammar Afif in Dubai to help build Monami Tech, a Fintech focused on digital lending solutions in 2017. Over the next three years, Qamar grew in his role and spearheaded strategy at C-level. He built an Innovation Hub out of Bangalore, India, ran multiple international teams, and helped raise investment for Monami Tech. In mid-2019, he joined Ali to co-found Muawin. 
 
A graduate of the inaugural MBA class of 1988, Naweed Sharif, Executive Director, Cashew, has held key positions in leading banks in Pakistan and abroad since his graduation from LUMS. In 2019, he decided to explore opportunities in the microfinance space in Pakistan and became a part of Cashew Financial Services.

Speaking about how LUMS was instrumental to the success of their venture, Qamar says that LUMS is where the story for most of their management board begins. “Sharif as part of the inaugural MBA batch has always been tightly integrated within the LUMS community. He and his wife both belong to the inaugural MBA batch and all four of his kids are proud Luminites. For Ali, returning to LUMS as an academic was a personal goal that he achieved a short while back and now intends to play a role in guiding the next batch of Fintech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Qamar’s batch of LUMS graduates have been trailblazers within the Pakistan start-up ecosystem with a significant amount of them either working for or founding new ventures.”  

Cashew is also committed to hiring LUMS graduates; a significant number of the founding team hails from different schools within LUMS such as the School of Science and Engineering, School of Humanities and Social Sciences and the School of Business. 

While Sharif advises aspiring entrepreneurs “to be advised”, Qamar says that if you’re willing to roll-up your sleeves, face your fears, and take risks, entrepreneurship is your game and you will succeed at it. “When I made a decision of leaving my safe job and diving into an unknown world – it was my strong self-belief that drove my growth exponentially and put me in a leadership position at a young age. I would also advise all young men and women, to try different things and make an effort to discover what they actually want to do. It may or may not be a popular choice – but it will definitely bring the best out of you.” 
 
 

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