“I need to be the one to show these children that they can achieve what they want to achieve.”

I happened to meet a dynamic lecturer from Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, amidst a group of young girls who had set up a stall at an entrepreneurial set-up in Islamabad. Its all in selfish gain that I go and meet with such groups as youth attracts me, their stories inspire me, guiding them makes me feel fulfilled.

20180311_164434.jpgThe event was the Women in Business Festival in Islamabad, an exhibition encouraging start-ups to come and showcase their products and services. So whilst I saw some renowned brands there, mostly there were enterprise owners who had just started off on this whirlwind journey of being their own bosses.


Skimming through the 100 plus stalls I saw this beautiful young girl, clad in her veil, her eyes twinkling and welcoming the guests to her stalls. It was a simplistic display of handicrafts she was sourcing from Southern Punjab and also some veils that she had on display.

I asked Sara why is she here. “I am pursuing my bachelors degree and have a year to go but I want to explore the avenues of setting up my own business.” She responded, not a worry in her mind, not with the slightest of vagueness.

This is a young girl from Mardan, rising from the rocks, pushing away the thorns and carving her way out. Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) is considered to be an orthodox province of Pakistan, but that does not mean that it is rigid.

“We have set up our incubation center at Abdul Wali Khan University (AKWU) about a year back and we are in the process of letting our students embark on the entrepreneurial journey. Sarah is the first startup we are incubating and we have one more in the pipeline with the boys. The University attracts students from Swabi, Charsadda, Nowsehra, Mardan, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, Northern Punjab, Kohat, Southern parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the extensive Tribal region along the boundaries of the Province. Most of the young students of these areas who have the intellectual capability of receiving higher education can not avail this opportunity due to extreme poverty and this is exactly who the university is catering to.” Detailed Shah Hussain Awan, a management sciences lecturer at the AWKU.

As soon as he made these remarks I wondered, about more than a decade ago when I passed out from one of the leading business schools in the country, our minds were not so broadened to explore opportunities beyond the corporate sphere. What intrigued me was, imagining this young girl Sarah from KP in her 20’s today and then thinking about how she will go places with this support system behind her.

“We suffered a lot this last year but this is not the end. I wanted to bring these young girls here so that they can take this message back and tell others about the world of opportunities that exist for them back home.” Remarked Shah.

Sarah plans on setting up an ecommerce model of her business that she has named Hashtag by S&A. (Business link). Shah continues to strive and support these youngsters however he can.

Sky is the limit. The thought puts a smile on my face. Does it do the same for you?


The writer is a social entrepreneur by profession and runs her own organisation Mind Works International20180311_154154IMG-20180311-WA0032. She can be reached on ceo@mindworksinternational.com


My ‘wonder women’ mind map

The story within.
Inspired by the fable, Huma, a mythical bird of Iranian legends and fables, and continuing as a common motif in Sufi and Diwan poetry. Although there are many legends of the creature, common to all is that the bird is said never to alight on the ground, and instead to live its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth.

Often I wonder if what i do with life is enough. Whether its the perfect house or a perfect workplace or the perfect car or the perfect vacation or raising the perfect child or being the perfect child or the perfect wife.

Do we really have it all sorted?

Not really. Perfection is very subjective and while we are at that… overrated.


For me each day is women’s day as I go back to the drawing board in search of my perfection.

I have to my benefit the company of many WONDER woman who pop in my wonder women mind map… let me show you.

This brave woman who is a young widow with 2 adorable girls to raise; who just a year back had a perfect home and a perfect husband only to loose him to a deadly cancer.

This resilient woman who got married early and resumed studies at 45 only to specialise and go on to become a psychologist. oh and she is also a grandma.

This talented woman who has not studied but is skilled as a beautician and is an entrepreneur of sorts and who runs her household amidst a nonchalant husband.

This outlier of a woman who broke barriers and not only studied but also worked in a claustrophobic city where women are mere home commodities, in addition to running a house and raising very able kids.

This strong woman who too is a middle aged widow who took care of her husband like a baby when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and lived only 5 years after that.

This Herculean woman who at 70 does not ever say no to help anyone, be it her husband, her children or her grandchildren.

The list does not end here. But to each woman above, I cannot tell you all enough how much you have impacted my life and made me who I am today. And for you who are reading this… Happy Women’s Day to you and to all the Wonder women in your life.


The writer is a social entrepreneur focused on the areas of financial inclusion, enterprise development and diversity. She can be reached at noorulain.zafer@gmail.com


Blending diversity into how we operate

“Diversity comes from maintaining a mindset, not by ticking a box on a rule book.”

pexels-photo-103127.jpegEPISODE ONE:

As a professional working in the corporate sphere for over ten years, there has been one thing that has always been on my mind. How do women make a mark for themselves? We do know that we cannot have it all, but we-can if we-want-to.

There is often this big question that females ask: how will i carry on working after marriage? My independence will not be the same; I will not have the support I need to make a mark; I have kids to look after… the list is endless. This coming from an educated girl who has already in some way fought with the ‘desi’ mindset and gotten on-board the corporate wagon, makes me wonder… “Are we teaching our girls to actually think and act diverse?”

The rhetoric is simple: WE ARE NOT.

So how do we change that? How do we make our girls more independent and how do we not paint a gloomy post-marriage-keep-working picture for them?

The answer: share, share and share some more.

We are a nation that supports stories of abuse, rape, murder, molestation you name the negative and we have made a drama, written an article and published stories on it. How many times have we seen a successful female professional’s story circulate the media sphere?


So whilst we have hundreds of women doing phenomenally well in the country, we do have a lack of sharing and getting their stories out to the masses. Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo eludes about having a process-flow. Yes you are a daughter, a wife and a mother but you are also a mentor, a co-worker, a CEO, a manager and once you are all that, you have all the diverse skills to be a person worth their salt. When i saw one of those candid videos of her circulating the internet, it made me wonder where I was headed and that really made me lament that is if she can, I can.

So start sharing… not only with women but with the men around you who need to be your support structure. Diversity is in accepting women as a lead force and letting them rise and shine. This does not mean making the matters easy for them but on the contrary it means not making it hard for them to carry on working and making a mark for themselves.

More to follow.