Popinjay produces luxury handbags while creating sustainable livelihoods for underprivileged women in Pakistan. Popinjay provides these women with above-market wages and offers practical training a path to self-sufficiency. Popinjay first started as the nonprofit BLISS, which provided a living wage to 40 Pakistani women. Eventually, founder Saba Gul '05, MEng '09 realized that transitioning to a for-profit model would attract capital to connect with higher-end suppliers and provide greater global market access. In late 2013 BLISS relaunched as Popinjay, and today Popinjay provides living wages to 150 women. Below are some of Saba's reflections from early 2013 while still managing BLISS.
What inspired you to get involved with this work?
My time in Sri Lanka as a PSC Fellow was instrumental in making me conscious of the challenges bottom-of-the-pyramid populations face, as well as seeing how resilient, talented and resourceful they are. It was my first up-close-and-personal encounter with underprivileged populations.
How did you get started, and how has your work evolved?
I got started with a grant through the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. Since then, our model has evolved to concentrate more on older women and livelihood support than on younger girls and education. We are also focusing a lot more on the product, market, and branding than we did in our first year.
What impact have you achieved on the communities you serve?
We've increased the income of women enrolled in our program by up to three times what it was before while offering them dignity, self-confidence and a path to self-sufficiency.
How did the PSC play a role in your work?
My first grant was through the PSC, and the PSC staff played a very vital advisory role in the pilot that we conducted to test our assumptions and launch a larger program.
How has this work had a personal impact on you?
My work has changed my life forever. I am not the person I was when I came to MIT as a freshman. I see the world through new eyes; I am motivated by something much bigger and more meaningful than profit.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The PSC rocks. But, no, seriously – I'd like to say that the PSC has inspired so many MIT students to use their skills for the greater good and made them aware that there is a way to live their lives where they are not only doing well for themselves but also creating positive impact for other people and for this planet while using their engineering and analytical skills in a way that helps them learn, grow and be constantly challenged.