Fellow Since 2008
This profile was prepared when Arif Khan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Arif is seeking to improve the social and economic status of households living in rural and tribal regions of Pakistan. He has opened avenues for tribal women to be gainfully and stably employed and to contribute towards the education of their children and improvements in family health and hygiene. By establishing design and quality control to traditional handiwork, Arif is modernizing the handicraft industry and mainstreaming its products into the designers’ fashion world as exclusive items. Arif creates master craftswomen and helps them organize other women into groups which are trained in producing new designs and sturdier products. His organization, Mashal, provides women them with raw materials they need and then helps market their products under the label Zarlasht. Women who work with Mashal go through an initial training period after which point they are encouraged to venture on their own or in small groups of entrepreneurs. With improved skills, sturdier products, better knowledge of the demand for their products, and an ability to market them effectively, rural women artisans are empowered to grow their mini businesses in ways that provide more income—and more stable income—over the long term. Such improvements subsequently lead to a variety of other improvements within families and rural communities, including better access to education and basic family health needs. With the support of citizen organizations, government, and private entrepreneurs, Arif has begun expanding his work to other tribes and areas in Pakistan’s mountain regions. To facilitate replication, craftswomen at Mashal spend time in new regions to train and establish quality standards over a six-month period. Only after that point can products be sold under the “Zarlasht” label. Participation in national and international exhibitions helps secure contracts with designers and increases the overall visibility and marketability of artisan products from tribal Pakistan.