Sadaffe Abid is the founder of Circle Women, a Pakistani organization she founded to develop leadership in Pakistani women. Currently, Sadaffe is on a journey to five cities — Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Islamabad, Abbotabad and by train, where she is organizing She Loves Tech Pakistan. This is a competition to find the best women-led startups in Pakistan and send them to Beijing for the She Loves Tech worldwide competition.
I’ve always found Sadaffe to be an inspirational figure and a great motivator for Pakistani girls and women. Here, a guest post by her where she outlines the biggest thing Pakistani women and girls need to become successful.
As I began planning for She Loves Tech, the world’s largest startup competition for women, now in its third year, I asked myself: why am I doing this? What message was I really trying to convey?
Of course, I wanted to find startups run by women who are solving Pakistan’s challenges — wanted to watch them go from strength to strength: raising investments, scaling, creating impact.
But the truth is that something much simpler needs to happen first.
Girls and women in Pakistan need to believe in themselves.
They need to realize the potential of their dreams: dreams that have the power not just to transform individual lives but the fate of our nation.
I want girls to believe in themselves enough to say: “I can do this” whatever it is that “this” may be. I want them to chase and embrace opportunities. I want them never to underestimate themselves. I want them to be willing to fail, and I want them to rise afterward, with the resilience and stamina not only to stay in the game — but to thrive.
Self-belief is not just important — it’s critical.
Research shows that women around the world: underestimate themselves to the point where they feel they are not ready for a promotion. So they don’t apply for promotions.
Research also shows that women are over-mentored but under-sponsored. For all the advice they receive, they are still under-promoted, and ultimately kept back from high-profile assignments and opportunities. Globally, women receive under 5% of investments. That’s a staggeringly low number!
So, how do we change the status quo? How can we start seeing more women thriving in the spotlight? The responsibility of not holding back shouldn’t fall on girls alone: as a society, we need to work together to encourage girls and to give them the resources they need to succeed.
Here’s a little story: just yesterday, while riding the Karakoram Express to Lahore from Karachi, my team and I stopped for chai at the station in Faisalabad. “Aap foreign say hain?” he asked me.
“Hum sab Pakistan say hain,” I replied. He proceeded to tell me that his daughter had passed her Matric exams, and he wanted her to progress further. And then, he asked if she could call me — if I could offer her guidance, suggest opportunities. I gave him my number instantly.
And I received a call from his daughter today. That made my day!
It’s a story that reminds me of my own father, who passed away last winter. How supportive he was of everything I sought to achieve, how proud — no matter what the outcome was. He was proud of me for trying, always cheering me on. He was a passionate supporter of women.
Our country can’t progress without leveraging half its talent. We have one of the lowest rates of female participation in the formal economy in the region. Sixty-two percent of female graduates do not join the workforce. This has got to change. Technology offers unprecedented opportunities for women to learn new skills and leverage them for financial gain. It also offers unprecedented opportunities to create groundbreaking new businesses.
One competition may not change the course, may not single-handedly pull us out of where we find ourselves stranded. But it can begin a discourse, and it can inspire. And this is not an avenue just for girls — it’s a call, too, for boys and men to celebrate the women in their lives and to encourage their sisters, wives, and daughters to take charge and reinvent the wheel.