We talked to Sadaffe Abid on championing women empowerment and how “She Loves Tech” have been playing an important role in achieving that in Pakistan and here is what she had to say.
Given your working experience, how would you say it enables you in spearheading a large-scale competition like ‘She Loves Tech’?
CIRCLE’s vision is about empowering women. I believe investing in women is the smartest economic venture of today. When women grow, families prosper and nations move forward. Women are the most untapped potential of our country and we cannot progress as a nation without the inclusion of women in all aspects of the economy and society. Prior to setting up CIRCLE, I was part of the founding team of Kashf Foundation, one of Pakistan’s leading microfinance organizations. I joined Kashf when it was in two rooms on Ferozepur Road, I was the 7th team member. I remember those days so clearly. I started overseeing operations and research, and then grew to be the COO, later to CEO.
We expanded from two rooms to serve 300,000 women clients disbursing $200 million through a network of 140 branches and 2000 team members spread across the country. It was a privileged to be part of Kashf’s entrepreneurial journey. It gave me valuable insights on how to scale from an idea, build systems and processes, develop a team, culture, values, manage risks and most importantly create impact. I brought these lessons to CIRCLE. She Loves Tech Pakistan started with just an idea. I met the founder Virginia Tan in Malaysia where I was a keynote speaker at a Lean In Conference. I loved the idea of a competition for encouraging women entrepreneurs and women in tech. It was exciting and I wanted contribute to women in Pakistan. I had no funds but I believed in its potential.
What were few of the things you learned about the ecosystem and entrepreneurship in Pakistan during that time?
The ecosystem and the concept of entrepreneurship was new. Pakistan is a huge country with 200+ people, a growing middle class and 60% of the population is under 30 years of age. We face many challenges, but Pakistan is also full of possibilities. All over the world, there are more women setting up businesses – that needs to happen in greater numbers in Pakistan. The female economy is estimated at $18 trillion and the value of Asia’s She Economy in 2020 is expected to be $8 trillion. We need to see this opportunity.
How do you think the entrepreneurial landscape has changed when it comes to supporting women?
We need diversity both in terms of gender, but also in terms of age, ethnicity, and thoughts. To foster a culture of innovation, we all need to encourage diversity. There is a growing recognition, which is a good start, but we still have manels in 2019, a panel with only men and important committees are formulated with no woman or just one. This results in perspectives being missed of half the population and we do not leverage their ideas, experiences and talents. There is greater access to mentors, the incubators throughout the country are playing a role, and investors are coming in. Conferences and competitions like 021Disrupt, Momentum, She Loves Tech, Startup Cup, Startup Weekend are efforts by ecosystem builders to enable connections, get visibility for startups, bring international investors, inspirational speakers. We need to create more opportunities for women startups to experiment, learn, and take risks. I would also like to see more women investing in Pakistani startups.
You can read the complete feature here in our 8th issue