With religious discrimination on the rise in Pakistan, a Christian organization has been working hard to support the minority’s community entrepreneurs.
More than 70 Christian companies and entrepreneurs displayed their products at the first national Christian Business Expo 2022 at United Christian Hospital, Lahore.
The nursing staff sang psalms on the colorful stage as visitors posed for photos at the entrepreneur wall. The stalls offered a variety of products from fashion, food and makeup to tattoos, tourism services, pet stores, clothes banks, crockery, beauty salons and bookshops.
Tattoo artist Arsalan Javed, who has been engaged in body art for five years, said he saw the expo advertisement on social media and decided to stop by.
“The sales were nominal but helped us in promoting our work and getting more coverage,” he told foreign media.
Father Michael Nazir-Ali, who served as bishop of Rochester, England, from 1994 to 2009, inaugurated the two-day event on April 2.
“Our people deserve equal rights. I hope both the government and the chambers of commerce will facilitate them,” he said.
Church leaders say discriminatory treatment is routinely meted out to Christians, who face a lack of employment opportunities and poor access to education despite their contributions to the nation’s defense and welfare. Government and army advertisements often offer only menial employment such as sanitation jobs to Christians — a stance that horrifies the minority community
According to the Pak Mission Society (PMS), which organized the event, the expo was aimed at encouraging innovative business ideas.
“Better resources can help our community to compete with the majority. Small and medium business enterprises can help pull them out of poverty. The stalls, erected after seven decades, prove the existing talent,” said Aleem Emmanuel, business alliances manager of PMS.
“Our so-called leaders need to change their mindset and expand their vision. They should bring the wandering youth towards business and make them independent. Our businessmen work in isolation and await support.”
Human rights organizations claim non-Muslim businessmen are forced to survive by hiding their identity. PMS, a national relief and development organization established in 2004, has urged Christian entrepreneurs to hire Muslim partners where needed.
“Amid the prevailing challenges, Christians must find new ideas to thrive and develop relations in our society,” PMS chairman Samson Griffin said.
Emmanuel said Christian businessmen are slowly emerging as market leaders in the Islamic republic.
“The age-old reluctance to eat or drink with Christians is fading away. This is especially apparent in Lahore where the fast food business is a growing trend among Christians. Interfaith business partnerships are more successful among small businessmen,” he said.
“Christians in Karachi in Sindh province are successful owners of petrol stations and event management, while those in Faisalabad are dealing with textile industries. The Christian Business Alliance of Sialkot is a major exporter of sports goods and apparel as well as medical equipment.”
In February 2021, PMS organized the first Christian Business Summit in Lahore where more than 200 entrepreneurs gathered to network. Also last year, 20 winners of the first-ever business competition for Christian entrepreneurs in Pakistan were given prize money and hands-on training on entrepreneurial skills.