By Syed Faizan Akbar and Mahnoor Yousuf
Sadaffe Abid is a dreamer. The dream is to equip young women, especially from underprivileged communities, with practical skills that make them employable. Abid is the brains behind CIRCLE, a social enterprise focused on women’s economic empowerment and leadership development through advocacy, research, technology and innovative entrepreneurship labs.
She is the former CEO and COO of the Kashf Foundation, which was among Forbes’ Top 50 microfinance institutions. A Harvard Kennedy graduate, she boasts of many achievements as a social entrepreneur with concrete results.
CIRCLE’s most recent project is Tech Karo, which started in 2018. The programme aims to attract more and more women towards technology and take advantage of a booming industry in Pakistan. It teaches coding and life skills designed especially for young girls from underprivileged communities. The web development course is free, which is what made the programme an instant hit.
The programme advisors include leading technology experts such as Jehan Ara, former president P@SHA, Tania Aidrus from Google Singapore and Mashhood Rastgar, who is the CTO Sastaticket.pk. The list also includes Dr. Waqar Saleem, Head of Computer Science, Habib University and Faisal Kapadia, founder Mindmap Communications.
Sarah Ahmed, one of the instructors and an NED graduate, has been working as a software engineer since the past four years. She teaches programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and Java to students. Experts from renowned software houses are also invited to train students and help them polish their skills. Mentors from big names like IBM, Systems Ltd., Recurship and 10 Pearls meet the first cohort every month to give students advice on the tech industry.
More importantly, she also holds weekly life skills class, that includes communication and presentation skills along with CV writing.
According to Sarah, website development is one of the skills that can help you earn from home. Also, you can find projects abroad that pay in dollars.
This also comes in handy in a country where mobility is restricted for women. Somia Sohail Ansari is a Masters student, but an interest in tech led her to sign up for the Tech Karo programme. A resident of Orangi Town, she has no background in technology. Somia says she enrolled because she realises the importance of learning dynamic skills, especially in an economy like Pakistan.
She lives far from her university, and so she believes a skill like this would help her earn good money from home.
Somia believes in not only studying for the sake of it, but to actually learn something and utilise her abilities for the country’s progress.
Another student, Sofia Choudhary got to know about the programme through her school, one of the many managed by the non-profit, The Citizens Foundation. Being a resident of Landhi, she didn’t know much about the course itself, but was luckily selected after a basic test. Sofia says she is very excited about acquiring new skills. “I always wanted to be independent and do something different,” she says with conviction.“I want to see myself in a good place.”
Sofia belongs to a family where women cannot work outside their homes, which is why this course works in her favour. She also encourages her friends and other girls to take up such courses. “I tell them that you need to have the courage to take responsibility for yourself and others if and when such a time comes.”
She also believes women who use tech, like computers and android phones, should try to know more about how they work too.
The Tech Karo program believes in providing a complete package to its students. Some interesting and important skills being offered here include financial literacy, self-defence, debate and dialogue, compassionate training (mindfulness, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, integrity, altruism, and compassion).
Up till now, over 30 participants have been placed in internships at leading tech companies, earning Rs10,000 and above. Tech Karo's latest cohort is offering coding, digital marketing, and graphic designing courses.
Such programs that empower women is exactly what the country needs to offer: giving Pakistani women the chance to excel in the fast-growing world of technology.