Amidst gender disparity, these women are re-defining Pakistan’s entrepreneurial landscape

women-in-tech.jpgWomen in South Asia face societal constraints and discrimination based on deeply entrenched values and perceptions about women’s role in the society which in turn significantly impacts their entry into businesses. Women still own less than 10 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Asia. Unfortunately, Pakistan is no exception in this regard.

Study conducted by the United Nations indicates that one third of the over 30 million working aged women in Pakistan are deemed economically active. Out of them, almost 80 percent of working women in the region are in vulnerable employment. Owing to deep-rooted gender disparities pertaining to availability of opportunities and resources, only a small number of women in Pakistan are able to start and sustain an entrepreneurial venture.

The alarming state of affairs definitely calls for a strong and vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past few years, a significant increase in the entrepreneurial activity has been observed. The entrepreneurship ecosystem is thriving in Pakistan relatively, which could have been next to impossible without the contribution of women who comprise of a larger chunk of the country’s population. Gender inclusiveness without doubt influences the entrepreneurial landscape positively.

As we end 2015, we celebrate some of the most extraordinary, successful and inspiring women tech-entrepreneurs who, despite all odds, proved their mettle and continue to contribute to flourishing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan. They stand as inspiration and strong role models for every aspiring entrepreneur and constitute a healthy and innovative business community in Pakistan.

It is undeniably true that, without successful women entrepreneurs, vibrant ecosystems cannot exist and flourish. Here is a list of some of the most dynamic women entrepreneurs who rocked the tech scene in Pakistan in 2015.

1. Nighat Daad – Founder, Digital Rights Foundation

Nighat-Daad

Nighat Daad was always sensitive and heedful to the vulnerability of young girls and women in the online space. This is why Nighat founded the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) in Pakistan realizing the need to prevent the increasing instances of cyber violence against women.

Through her non-profit platform, she conducts awareness sessions for women to educate and train them about privacy and online security. Her endeavors to raise awareness about global rights and online privacy and thereby protecting women from online harassment have been widely appreciated and acknowledged.
For her remarkable work, she also received global recognition and thus was deservingly added to the list of Time’s Next Generation Leaders.

She is also very vocal against the laws that allow government to check the right to freedom of expression and privacy of an ordinary internet surfer. Not just that, she is simultaneously been partaking in extensive campaigns against the internet surveillance of intrusive nature and dissemination of personal information to state agencies and businesses without individual prior approval. She believes, “As a leader, you have to envision a future you believe in, and that is what I am doing.”

2. Hafsa Shorish – Program Manager, PlanX

Hafsa-Shorish

When it comes to entrepreneurship in Pakistan, the nation’s largest technology incubator Plan9 can never be overlooked since it has been contributing immensely to fostering the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.

Plan9’s offshoot accelerator program PlanX that was established to support the mid-stage startups is another landmark in flourishing the entrepreneurial culture. When we talk about the Plan9 and/or PlanX, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the brains behind its success. When Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) launched the Plan9, Hafsa Shorish was one of its first hire and thus one of its founding members. Since then, she has been playing a crucial role in grooming job creators instead of job seekers initially at Plan9 in capacity of Marketing and PR Manager and afterwards by leading the PlanX as Program Manager.

Coming from a background in media studies, the multi-talented Hafsa Shorish is changing the lives of thousands of techies despite being a non-techie herself. With her exceptional communication skills, she has visited all over Punjab speaking about the mission of her accelerator and incubator while also creating awareness about the importance of entrepreneurship. She believes, “It takes the right mindset and the right team to lead a startup to matchless success.”

3. Meenah Tariq – Accelerator lead at Invest2Innovate

Meenah-Tariq

A Fullbright scholar boasting a degree in strategy and entrepreneurship from Babson College, Meenah Tariq is contributing to building a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan as Accelerator Lead at Pakistan’s business startups accelerator Invest2Innovate.

Starting her first entrepreneurial venture, at the tender age of eight, of selling hand-made bracelets door-to-door, the young women knew no bounds and went on to claim a diverse portfolio of multiple startups to her name. Meenah Tariq has a vast experience of businesses and startups as a serial entrepreneur. In addition to that, she has also engaged in consultancy, financial analysis and project management.

At invest2innovate, Meenah Tariq has been leading the accelerator and consulting entrepreneurs and not-for-profit startups. With her impressive expertise in the areas of business plan development, she renders consultancy on managerial and strategic skills to young entrepreneurs. Her past experience includes design and execution of the marketing research campaigns for various products and services. Through her work, she has been successfully partaking in the social and economic uplift of the country with special focus on youth empowerment and capacity-building. In addition to that, she is also teaching Entrepreneurship at NUST, Islamabad.

4. Maryam Mohiuddin – Director, Social Innovation Lab

Maryam-Mohiuddin

The strong headed and comfortably selfless, Maryam Mohiyuddin is the founder and director of Social Innovation Lab (SIL) which is a social enterprise incubator housed at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

A lawyer with as prestigious alma mater as University of Berkeley, she is of the opinion that she finds more fun and meaning in contributing to social justice and prosperity through working at SIL than she would at a 9 to 5 job that she had to forgo in order to come back to serve Pakistan. The SIL, that houses the social enterprise incubator called ‘The Hatchery’, is a centre for social innovation in Pakistan which has different wings including the Community Engagement Wing in addition to the Consultancy and Research Wing.

Maryam was also the co-founder of a magazine called ‘Literaty Pakistan’ which had a whole section devoted to social entrepreneurship that explored redress of social dilemmas through innovative solutions. Through SIL, Maryam Mohiyuddin provides the socially driven entrepreneurial startups not only mentorship and investment opportunities but also ideas with a testing platform, building connections and a nurturing environment.

5. Sarah Tariq Gillani – Program Manager, Tech Hub Connect

Sarah-Tariq-Gillani

Super passionate about making things happen and the women with the motto, “hard work is never wasted but compensated in ways one cannot even fathom”, Sara Tariq Gillani is the Program Manager of the Tech Hub Connect which is Pakistan’s first ever co-working space designated for freelancers.

Tech Hub Connect is a government of Punjab supported initiative. The platform is continuation of initiatives for boosting up the entrepreneurial culture and supporting the technology ecosystem developed at the Arfa Software Technology. It brings together people from the academia and the IT industry. Sara Tariq Gillani is putting in her endeavors to formulating a mechanism to create successful IT startups in Pakistan.

Before working with the Tech Hub Connect, Sara was responsible for designing and implementing Plan9 Tech Incubator’s core incubation program where she was able to produce almost 85 technology startups through a tailor-made six-month program.

6. Farieha Aziz – BoloBhi

Farieha-Aziz

One of the most staunch advocates and highly vocal about the right to freedom of expression, Farieha Aziz is Co-Founder and Director of Bolo Bhi (Speak up) and a Karachi-based journalist who writes for one of the leading daily newspapers of Pakistan.

Bolo Bhi is a not-for-profit organization engaging in advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy. Before working with Bolo Bhi, she worked at the Newsline as the Assistant Editor from 2007 to 2012. During that period, she also received the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008.

Fareiha Aziz is a petitioner in a case filed in Islamabad High Court on behalf of the Bolo Bhi against what she believes as the Government’s censorship of Internet and Internet regulation. In past, she has also served as amicus curiae in a case filed in the Lahore High Court that challenged the Youtube ban.

7. Sheba Najmi – Code for Pakistan

Sheba-Najmi

Running Pakistan’s chapter of Code for America. A good chunk of startups have come out of Code for Pakistan hackathons in Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Karachi.

One of the most vibrant strategists and mentors, Sheba Najmi is the founder of Code for Pakistan which is non-profit initiative building a non-partisan civic innovation ecosystem to improve quality of life across Pakistan with a vision to increase civic engagement by encouraging the opening of government data, and supporting innovation in the public domain. Starting off her career as a TV Anchor in Pakistan to her eventful journey to the Silicon Valley, the dynamic Sheba Najmi has worked for Code for America as a 2012 fellow and Yahoo as the Lead Designer. She studied Symbolic Systems while investigating Humans and Computer interaction at the University of Stanford.

Sheba Najmi has also the privilege of being in the Board of Advisors of Go-Fig Solutions and a User Experience Design Instructor. In addition to providing consultancy services to the World Bank, she has remained part of several notable projects like “Honolulu Answers” and “Social Media handbook for Cities”.

Under her leadership, a good number of Startups have come out of the Code for Pakistan. A series of events under its ambit called Civic Hackathons have also been arranged in the capital cities including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. The Hackathon is a gathering of a cross-functional group of people who come together to brainstorm about city-related problems and try to find tech-based solutions for them.

8. Jehan Ara – The NEST I/O & P@SHA

Jehan-Ara

Jehan Ara is President of all Pakistan Software Houses Association and heading NESTiO an incubator in Karachi.

A seasoned information and communication technology expert, motivator, entrepreneur and a social activist, Jehan Ara is one of the most prominent and widely known names in the tech industry of Pakistan. Starting her career as a journalist over 30 years ago, she holds a diverse experience of working in advertising, marketing, PR and communications before becoming involved in multimedia and interactive media. Since 2001, Jahan Ara is the President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), the representative trade body of IT and ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services) businesses in Pakistan.

Under her leadership, PASHA’s own technology incubator, The Nest I/O was established with Google and Samsung as its funding partners. The incubator supports in creating a networking, mentorship and investment opportunities for young entrepreneurs by providing an enabling and conducive environment. She is a prominent speaker, writer and a staunch advocate of legislation against cyber crimes, right to privacy and data protection. She is also collaborating with socially cohesive projects like Take Back the Tech and Women’s Virtual Network which are striving to eliminate all forms of violence against women and ensure women empowerment respectively.

This blog originally appeared on here.

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An Embrace That Lasts Not

Just like the waves embrace the sea-shore or river-bank but still embrace not. Some people share a similar bond. With its futile attempts, every single wave gets back to where it belongs, in vain. United in one moment and apart… in another.

The waves however never exhaust, or get bored. That’s some real stamina. Or absurd commitment.

In the form of tender and gentle ripples, they extend their arms for the company. Unwelcome always. And the river-bank as usual unmoved, adamant, heedless and callous.

The same waves however have the potential to build a current and with one splash crack riverbank open, and seep deeper into its existence.

The damage that the phenomenon inflicts is unparalleled. The self-inflicted annihilation lets waves lose identity and end up nowhere. And  the bank, cracked and shattered, never becomes the same.

Nobody does nobody any good. The whole fuss and craving and curiosity about everything is insane. Nonsensical.


Majestic Moon: Hide & Seek

The twilight, blue skies, densely dramatic woods, the mysteriously attractive and fascinating moon accompanied by a solitary star – an apparently insignificant and tiny, barely visible but unfailing, lifelong partner.

In short, when the day meets night, outcome is an absolute beauty.

A little later, there was this moment outdoors; the mortal sight could relish the eternal sight of the full moon reliving its grandiose ephemeral existence for yet another time.

The full moon at its zenith, leading itself to yet another anti-climax and eventually hiding.

A cloud-let, oblivious of the moon’s hide and seek penchant, had been trying to take it over nearby. Silly wasn’t it?

Though making it look even more stunning and immensely craved for, did nothing but added to her vanity a little more!


An Eventful Start to the ELP 2015 US Visit

NYTWA

New York- A City Full of Diversity and Colors

New York – a city full of diversity and colors is home to innumerable cultures and a variety of restaurants. In a very short span, you get an opportunity to experience so much life and activity that going anywhere else may seem dull and boring. That is the one downside, if any, of experiencing New York City.

The fast-paced life of Manhattan, where everybody seems to be on the constant move, appears quite an attraction. The incessant stir and pace gives off a clear message to keep up, to build and work towards the next big thing, otherwise you will be destined to fall behind.

The First Formal Meeting

Preparation for the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan (ELP) fellowship’s formal meetings proceeded with many expectations and preconceived notions.

The very first meeting of the fellowship creates an excitement and curiosity that touches the sky. Out of utter inquisitiveness, you start visualizing the characters you are expected to meet. You picture individuals dressed in tuxedos, with a classic look straight from the 1920s, flaunting neat hair and an elegant persona, and possessing a capitalist and domineering attitude. To ones utter surprise, however, the reality of ELP’s New York City visit is the complete opposite.

For the first meeting, we were greeted by a grey-haired man, flaunting a ponytail, neck imbued with huge pendants, fingers assorted with a variety of gemstone rings, and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt that read, “JUSTICE.  RIGHTS.  RESPECT.  DIGNITY.”

NYTWA2

Shattering all our preconceived notions, this very man is one of the most prominent rights activists in New York City. With a solid and assertive voice, he talks not about Adam Smith or Milton Friedman but about Marxism and Lenin as his mentors and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara his inspiration.

This man is Mr. Tariq Javaid, the Co-Founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA). His story is indeed inspirational, overwhelming, and a result of many years of untiring and dedicated efforts. His struggle is quite exemplary. However, his life before being a taxi driver is quite eventful.

From being a political party worker in Pakistan to working as a DJ in Germany, Mr. Javaid then worked as a photo journalist in New York City before he started driving a taxi.He forewent all his ambitions and aspirations for the cause and thus, has uplifted the lives of New York City’s 50,000+ taxi drivers through his non-profit union.

NYTWA’s latest tremendous achievement was the passage of legislation  safeguarding the rights of taxi workers. Through Mr. Javaid’s efforts, the taxi drivers have been heard from the JFK Lot to the Mayor’s Office!

Despite all odds including acts of harassment, robbery, and assaults on NYTWA and its members, Mr. Javaid is determined. He stands tall and firm to ensure and protect the rights of taxi drivers in the future.We learned from his example, it takes courage, patience, and perseverance to achieve what you believe.

The inspiring story of the NYTWA Co-Founder’s struggle rejuvenated the spirits of the ELP fellows and sent out a strong message to continue working for the respective causes, against all odds, with renewed commitment, zeal, and vigor. The meeting help hugely in setting the stage for the upcoming meetings, since it shattered some of the stereotypes linked to social and economic penchant of American people. It also helped us feel comfortable at the rest of our meetings. Most importantly, the meeting consolidated the idea that people in the United States are open to difference of opinion and diversity of thought.

The Article originally appeared Here on ELPAK.ORG


Pain ― a pesky part of being human

“Pain is a pesky part of being human.” ―  C. JoyBell C.

When you are in pain and you got no control over. Bear it! Live it! Sustain it!

Let everything out there disfigure you badly, torment you tremendously and scar you exceedingly. You got no control, and giving as well as you get is never an option. Some people are too prized to be paid back in the same coin. Since you are only because they are!

Left with any choice to overcome the ordeal? Nay! Bear it. Live it. Sustain it.

Let everybody out there take turns my love! One at a time!

Piercing through the wounds, pricking deeper into injuries, stabbing the hell out of every opening inside your mortal existence!

Let everything and everyone around crush you into nothingness.

For how humanly long can you numb your pain after all; for a while, a minute, a day, a week or more? The earlier the better! The longer you try and numb, the severer it does feel once you let go.

There is no delaying more.

Insensitivity has limits. You cannot pretend any longer that you don’t care. Imaginary anesthesia of pretentiousness ceases to act any effectively.

Pain takes over. Intense, acute and excruciatingly maddening.

The entities that cause hurt and inflict ghastly pain could quite possibly be the same ones who rendered happiness. A lot of exultation, ecstasy and jubilation.

Isn’t it quite harder when it comes to remembering happiness?

The pain lasts. It is highly harder to forget in contrast to happiness. The latter is very hard to remember, unfortunately.

Chiefly because pain leaves scars, happiness doesn’t leave any mark.

The scars stay forever; keep torturing and reminding and refreshing the painful experience and the person behind the agony.

You forgive but you can never forget.


I self-center you more than ever

“Missing someone, they say, is self-centered. I self-center you more than ever.” ― Saša Stanišić

Is there a remedy to attain immunity from missing someone? Do they even prescribe something of the sort? Find me that goddamn chemist, would you? Because I’d gladly take notes, start that darn drug right away.

Listening to every single advice and open to all words of wisdom of how to rid of someone you can’t stop thinking about and walk away from someone you just can’t stop loving.

I have got an idea. Why not let’s just tear each other apart, limb by limb? Haven’t we been doing this already? Then, how about stitching our scars later on and gaps and breeches together and ending up making everything into something that is awful to ever fix or mend or bring back to original?

And I would never be upset about it ever again. Aren’t we already done with getting excessively down and out every now and again?

How I keep telling myself that I have crossed the bridge and keep reminding myself that I have left nothing intact by burning everything behind.

The ashes however fly with the wind and blow back into where they belong. Right back to their home, and I always anticipate you showing up, in vain.

It’s so quiet without you around. And I hate you. Yes I hate you. For, I have decided to befriend the calm and composure of even the noisy environs. And I have opted to embrace the chaos and mayhem within.

I choose not to symbolize the definition of false hope. Hope, the whole world seems confused about whether to categorize it as life or the ultimate treacherous illusion. Ironic, right?

And I still keep pretending that everything will be alright. I will be alright. I don’t care. I hate you. And I don’t care, my love!

– Regretfully yours.

Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. I swear. *wink wink*


I can’t rhyme anymore

“You’re the reason I can’t rhyme anymore.”

I always keep repeating to myself that I shall not write about you, not any more. But the moment I stop writing – I have realized – I stop writing at all, once and for all and I write none.

I write about you. I write about it every now and again, and keep it deep secretly under the closet.

I can’t understand whether I am too afraid to say this all in your face. And I can’t fathom, if that insinuates my cowardice or my excellence in keeping secrets.

I have started loving similes since I created them in bulk, unheard and unsaid; and a million metaphors that end up nowhere – unseen and unread.

Similes and metaphors describing your smoggy eyes and wavy hair, memories and distance – distant memories to be precise, delusional hopes and everything else cherished and regretted.

Certain tales are better off unspoken, and unheard. Or at least our parable is the one.

You always said it out rightly from the very outset. And you jazzed around your point of view straightforwardly. And you danced around the truth so convincingly so you never have to break anything – or anyone.

But even then – you’re definitely not the one to blame – my parts and pieces feel bent and broken, at the mercy of 24/7 harsh weather in my mind, and scattered to whatever the rains and storms happen to pass. I feel like a building standing without the firm base ready to fall apart without anything holding it up.

Missing someone, they say, is self-centered. I self-center you every single second of every single day.

Every single piece of fiction is a reminder of thee and I want you to read; every second note of poetry – merry or melancholy – makes me crave to read it aloud to you, out rightly ignoring the very fact that it could pretty much be a nuisance on thy part.

So what am I left with? Build a sand castle along the shore, transcribe everything I wish over the sand, graffiti my thoughts in invisible ink on every wall around, build the virtual bridge and forget what I left underneath.

Even if it means, I am the one drowning under there in waters which are dry and lifeless enough not even capable of an absolute kill.

Anyway, all that is happening is for your good. You don’t have to watch me fall apart, and I don’t have to let you hold me together. And I am not falling apart either. So you don’t have to hold us together.

But I wish you would. Though, it’s a lot better that you aren’t. And it’s a lot better that you won’t, and very importantly for your own good.