While poverty is a multi-dimensional concept and the road to eradication for Pakistan is a long one, today, an increasing number of families belonging to the poorest strata of the society, are beginning to enjoy a sense of self-sufficiency in a venerable manner through the Chief Minister’s Self-Employment Scheme (CMSES) in Punjab. This innovative initiative has paved the way for more than 1.7 million families to invest in economically efficient ways of overcoming dependency and financial constraints.
Since its inception in 2011, a total of Rs.36.7 billion interest-free loans have been disbursed over 289 cities in 36 districts of Punjab, by the distributing authorities, Punjab Small Industries Corporation (PSIC) and Akhuwat Foundation. The Chief Minister, over the years, has appeared at several disbursement events, personally handing out loans to families. On one such occasion, January 5th, 2016, numerous families gathered at Badshahi Masjid in Lahore and more than 10,000 loans were handed out at the time. At this event, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif described the elimination of poverty as his vision and promised to continue the efforts to reduce unemployment, poverty and illiteracy in the country. Also present at the event was the Provincial Minister for Industries, Commerce & Investment, Sheikh Alauddin, who described the landmark initiative as a step towards bridging the gap between the rich and poor and lauded the collaborative efforts of the Chief Minister, PSIC and Akhuwat Foundation.
A note-worthy feature of the scheme is the non-discriminatory practice of providing beneficiaries with interest-free loans of up to Rs.50,000 at a time, irrespective of religion, political affiliation, sect and caste. Quite remarkably, the repayment rate of these loans has been recorded at approximately 100%. Moreover, the Chief Minister has also emphasized on how a significant feature of the scheme aims at providing women with equal opportunities and evidently, around 47% of the beneficiaries who have enrolled in the scheme have in fact been women. The program is being replicated through different measures such as the Chief Minister’s employment scheme in Gilgit Baltistan, the Prime Minister’s interest-free loan scheme, interest-free loan scheme for graduates of Technical and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) and the empowerment of Kissan through financial and digital inclusion, to name a few. These measures are indicative of the empowering nature of the program and its wide-ranging positive impact and are additionally setting the precedent for an overarching system of transparency and the proper utilization of national wealth.
The Chief Minister has set ambitious targets for 2018, hoping to disburse more than Rs.40 billion through a revolving fund of Rs.12 billion to approximately 2 million families. Given the success of the scheme so far, achieving the aforementioned targets will not be a difficult task. Further actions with regards to the scheme involve the hiring of a Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), public awareness campaigns and obtaining financial support for security measures.
With the mobilization of resources, there has been significant progress towards economic and social equality. Appealing to the masses has not only improved the well-being of families but has also attempted to reduce the demand and supply gap in terms of opportunities. The resolve and the collective efforts of everyone involved with the scheme depict a unified endeavor for the betterment of the society as well as the country at large.