Monday, November 10, 2014

Pakistani-American Women Excel in Variety of Fields

Shama Zehra, Shaan Kandawalla, Shahzia Sikandar and Fatima Ali are among the many Pakistani-American women making their mark in America.

Shama Zehra is in finance, Shaan Kandawalla in technology, Shazia Sikandar in the Arts and Fatima Ali in fine cuisine.

Shama Zehra
Shama Zehra is the CEO of Wall Street firm Aligned Independent Advisors. She began her career as an entrepreneur in the apparel industry in Pakistan in 1991 with a women apparel firm co-founded with her mother and sister. Later, she moved in to financial services industry in 1995 where she has worked in Investment Banking, Consumer Credit Products and Private Wealth Management. Prior to forming Aligned, Shama worked with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered Bank and MCB Bank, the largest private sector bank in Pakistan in early nineties.

Shaan Kandawalla
Shaan is the CEO of PlayDate Digital which makes educational applications for kids. She started it in 2012 after many years of experience working at Nickelodeon and Hasbro. Apps produced by PlayDate feature Hasbro brands like Play-Doh, My Little Pony and Transformers. She is a rare female in a male-dominated world. A study by the mobile-tech company Appcelerator reported that 96 percent of all mobile-app developers are male, most between the ages of 20 and 29. Yet market research indicates that women are the app stores’ biggest customers. Women install 40 percent more apps than men, have 17 percent more paid apps and pay 87 percent more for those paid apps, according to data from Apsalar, a mobile-analytics company.

Shahzia Sikandar
Shazia Sikandar is best known for her Indo-Persian miniatures. Trained as a miniaturist at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, Sikander pursues this centuries-old tradition by challenging notions about the division of art and craft. Her work has been displayed at numerous solo and group exhibits at such national and international venues as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery of Canada, the Venice Biennale 2005, and the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Fatima Ali, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), may be the only non-American female chef in any of 70 top New York City restaurants, according to a survey done by Voice of America. Her  unique blend of Pakistani spices and Western cuisines won her the top award of $10,000 on the popular Food Network TV show "Chopped".

Fatima Ali

Pakistani women in Pakistan are also increasingly joining the work force to contribute to nation's development. "More of them(women) than ever are finding employment, doing everything from pumping gasoline and serving burgers at McDonald’s to running major corporations", says a report in Businessweek magazine.

Beyond company or government employment, there are a number of NGOs focused on encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship among Pakistani women by offering skills training and microfinancing. Kashf Foundation led by a woman CEO and BRAC are among such NGOs. They all report that the success and repayment rate among female borrowers is significantly higher than among male borrowers.

In rural Sindh, the PPP-led government is empowering women by granting over 212,864 acres of government-owned agriculture land to landless peasants in the province. Over half of the farm land being given is prime nehri (land irrigated by canals) farm land, and the rest being barani or rain-dependent. About 70 percent of the5,800 beneficiaries of this gift are women. Other provincial governments, especially the Punjab government have also announced land allotment for women, for which initial surveys are underway, according to ActionAid Pakistan.

Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan's workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc.

Here are some statistics and data that confirm the growth and promotion of women in Pakistan's labor pool:

1. A number of women have moved up into the executive positions, among them Unilever Foods CEO Fariyha Subhani, Engro Fertilizer CFO Naz Khan, Maheen Rahman CEO of IGI Funds and Roshaneh Zafar Founder and CEO of Kashf Foundation.

2. Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms.

3. Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years, according to a report in the NY Times.

4. The number of women working at McDonald’s restaurants and the supermarket behemoth Makro has quadrupled since 2006.

5. There are now women taxi drivers in Pakistan. Best known among them is Zahida Kazmi described by the BBC as "clearly a respected presence on the streets of Islamabad".

6. Several women fly helicopters and fighter jets in the military and commercial airliners in the state-owned and private airlines in Pakistan.

Here are a few excerpts from the recent Businessweek story written by Naween Mangi:

About 22 percent of Pakistani females over the age of 10 now work, up from 14 percent a decade ago, government statistics show. Women now hold 78 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, and in July, Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, became Pakistan’s first female Foreign Minister. “The cultural norms regarding women in the workplace have changed,” says Maheen Rahman, 34, chief executive officer at IGI Funds, which manages some $400 million in assets. Rahman says she plans to keep recruiting more women for her company.

Much of the progress has come because women stay in school longer. More than 42 percent of Pakistan’s 2.6 million high school students last year were girls, up from 30 percent 18 years ago. Women made up about 22 percent of the 68,000 students in Pakistani universities in 1993; today, 47 percent of Pakistan’s 1.1 million university students are women, according to the Higher Education Commission. Half of all MBA graduates hired by Habib Bank, Pakistan’s largest lender, are now women. “Parents are realizing how much better a lifestyle a family can have if girls work,” says Sima Kamil, 54, who oversees 1,400 branches as head of retail banking at Habib. “Every branch I visit has one or two girls from conservative backgrounds,” she says.

Some companies believe hiring women gives them a competitive advantage. Habib Bank says adding female tellers has helped improve customer service at the formerly state-owned lender because the men on staff don’t want to appear rude in front of women. And makers of household products say female staffers help them better understand the needs of their customers. “The buyers for almost all our product ranges are women,” says Fariyha Subhani, 46, CEO of Unilever Pakistan Foods, where 106 of the 872 employees are women. “Having women selling those products makes sense because they themselves are the consumers,” she says.

To attract more women, Unilever last year offered some employees the option to work from home, and the company has run an on-site day-care center since 2003. Engro, which has 100 women in management positions, last year introduced flexible working hours, a day-care center, and a support group where female employees can discuss challenges they encounter. “Today there is more of a focus at companies on diversity,” says Engro Fertilizer CFO Khan, 42. The next step, she says, is ensuring that “more women can reach senior management levels.”

The gender gap in South Asia remains wide, and women in Pakistan still face significant obstacles. But there is now a critical mass of working women at all levels showing the way to other Pakistani women.

I strongly believe that working women have a very positive and transformational impact on society by having fewer children, and by investing more time, money and energies for better nutrition, education and health care of their children. They spend 97 percent of their income and savings on their families, more than twice as much as men who spend only 40 percent on their families, according to Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women for Women International, who appeared on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria.

Here's an interesting video titled "Redefining Identity" about Pakistan's young technologists, including women, posted by Lahore-based 5 Rivers Technologies:

Redefining Identity- How Young Technologists... by faizanmaqsood1010
Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistani Woman Engineer Wins Grace Hopper Award

Working Women Bring About Silent Revolution in Pakistan

Status of Women in Pakistan

Microfinancing in Pakistan

Gender Gap Worst in South Asia

Status of Women in India

Female Literacy Lags in South Asia

Land For Landless Women

Are Women Better Off in Pakistan Today?

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror

Mukhtaran Mai-The Movie

World Economic Forum Survey of Gender Gap


Marghoob said...

Riaz! this is a welcome article highlighting the achievements and contribution of Pakistani women, among the gloom and doom of the Taliban led propaganda against them.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how current the data regarding % of women on boards is. The newer ones show Indonesia as having 6% instead of the 4.1% you're showing and India as having 4.7% and 5.0% in 2 different reports. Why do you think that is? Offices/Japan/PDF/Women_Matter_An_Asian_perspective

Mayraj said...

There are loads more. One of the earlier ones was my cousin who rose quite high in pharmaceutical industry. After she retired from Novartis, she worked with him. She was head of Quaity control for Sandoz pakistan, then went international and revoved their problem subsidiaries, then moved to US, for a time led Midwest-wen Sandoz was run by regional heads, then retired and joined him. He is also a Sandoz alum.
Being Fred Hassan

Anonymous said...

and here is a bad news about Pakistani women.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "and here is a bad news about Pakistani women"

Pakistani women have been and continue to make progress with or without Malala.

As to Malala, people on both the right and left are suspicious of West's motivation in promoting her given the Europeans' own history of brutal colonization and continuing neo-imperialist wars to dominate the world.

South Asia's liberal left represented by the likes of Arundhati Roy and Farzana Versey have joined in this criticism. ............."Arundhati Roy’s charm and lucidity have iconized her in the world of left-wing politics. But, asked by Laura Flanders what she made of the 2014 Nobel Prize, she appeared to be swallowing a live frog: “Well, look, it is a difficult thing to talk about because Malala is a brave girl and I think she has even recently started speaking out against the US invasions and bombings…but she’s only a kid you know and she cannot be faulted for what she did….the great game is going on…they pick out people [for the Nobel Prize].” For one who has championed peoples causes everywhere so wonderfully well these shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing"

"Farzana Versey, Mumbai based left-wing author and activist, was still less generous. Describing Malala as “a cocooned marionette” hoisted upon the well-meaning but unwary, Versey lashes out at her for, among other things, raising the problem of child labor at her speech at the United Nations: “it did not strike her that she is now even more a victim of it, albeit in the sanitized environs of an acceptable intellectual striptease.”

Bottom line for me is not what the West's motivations are and how how much praise and how many prizes are heaped on Malala but whether or not such adulation helps inspire and accelerate higher enrollment of girls in schools in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.

Anonymous said...

Mr Haq is US the right place to move to if now.... I am 22 years old and about to qualify as a chartered accountant.... I want to move to a country where through hard work I can build up a REAL fortune.... Is US the right place.... I mean we are always hearing stories about the doomsday scenario of American economy, how the dollar is about to collapse and that US is about to disintegrate into 50 states.... What kind of future do u see for US and which country would u recommend for a person like me to move to at this point of my life... I read ur blogs regularly and I think you are the person who can best answer this... I will be really grateful

Ali M. said...

Dear Haq Sahib

Salam. Thank you for posting this wonderful piece. As the father of two daughters, and someone very interested in the empowerment of women in every domain, I really appreciate this. Shared it on FB as well.

Riaz Haq said...

Ali M. "As the father of two daughters, and someone very interested in the empowerment of women in every domain, I really appreciate this"

You are welcome.

I am also a father of two daughters. It makes me very happy to see Pakistani women doing well.

Anonymous said...

A very pertinent and needed analysis.Most of the examples given are of highly EDUCATED AND TALENTED WOMEN.
It would be equally important to focus on the under privileged families and give examples of girls and women who either acquired education despite difficult circumstances .Alternately,did well in life without education.
Doing well in life would include making sacrifices to educate their children despite poverty and then ,
as a result the children, did extremely well in life.I know many such examples.
Those who were born with a silver spoon and did well deserve credit ,but those 'who notwithstanding adverse circumstances made substantive contributions are the ones' who can really serve as role models 'for a society where literacy is one of the lowest in the world.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "It would be equally important to focus on the under privileged families and give examples of girls and women who either acquired education despite difficult circumstances"

Please read my post on Anum Fatima from a Karachi slum who attended Harvard University.

Mayraj said...

We need to find more examples

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj: "We need to find more examples"

GeoTV ran a whole series "Zara Sochiry" on this topic. I have featured some of the underprivileged men and women in the following post titled "Upwardly Mobile Pakistan":

Mayraj said...

There’s a story here — not of “the first Pakistani woman to get her PhD in Astrophysics” — but of a human being who followed her passions to achieve her goals, the struggles she faced, the help and support she had along her way, and… a window into the unique life of a real person.

My entire education is of Karachi. I have been associated with two universities for my higher education. First being University of Karachi and second Federal Urdu University. In University of Karachi almost 70% of enrolled students are female and 30% are male. In this kind of a situation being a female always brings a positive edge. In University of Karachi, females are dominating and they sometimes even become sarcastic about it.

Because of lack of experts in Astrophysics, I am the first Pakistani women in this field. Moreover, men who have completed their PhD in this field are settled in foreign countries. This fact leads to the reason that this subject is taught in very few universities at Masters Level. We don’t even have a Department of Astronomy or Astrophysics in Federal Urdu University (I am Assistant Professor in Department of Mathematics there).
The First Pakistani Woman PhD in Astrophysics: Exclusive Interview with Mariam Sultana!

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj: "There’s a story here — not of “the first Pakistani woman to get her PhD in Astrophysics” — but of a human being who followed her passions to achieve her goals, the struggles she faced, the help and support she had along her way, and… a window into the unique life of a real person."

Great story.

Thanks for sharing.

Mayraj said...

Maybe in the newer post you should have also mentioned this. People critizie because they only see a focus on one angle.

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj: "Maybe in the newer post you should have also mentioned this. People critizie because they only see a focus on one angle."

That's what blogging is all about. It generates interaction and discussion.

Riaz Haq said...

Womenomics from Financial Times on

The first convert to Islam was a businesswoman. She was a wealthy trader who inherited her father’s business and later expanded it into an even more impressive enterprise. At one point, she offered a job to a man. He accepted and conducted a trading mission from Mecca to Syria under the tutelage of his female boss.
Her name was Khadija. He was the Prophet Muhammad, and the two later married. Khadija’s personal loyalty to the Prophet and her financial independence were essential pillars of support in the early days spreading the message of Islam.

These facts highlight the unusual economic independence of the woman Muhammad married – and his approval of her sovereign existence. This history is often missing from the narrative within and about Islam – one of many reasons why women have not been a significant economic force in the Muslim world. But this is rapidly changing.
Today’s Muslim world is comprised of 1.6bn people. That is nearly a quarter of the global population, and they contribute about 16 per cent of global gross domestic product, growing at 6 per cent annually. It includes rich petro-states at the cusp of dramatic change such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, as well as members of what Goldman Sachs calls the “Next 11”: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and Iran.
Half of these people – 800m – are women. There is an untold, unfolding story hidden in their classrooms, in their careers, and in their purses. In just a generation or two, a widespread education movement has elevated the prospects of millions of women in these countries, from Tehran to Tunis.

Millions of ordinary women and men have made conscious, and often deeply personal and brave decisions to break tradition, sometimes shunning cultural pressures. These myriad individual decisions will add up to a new segment of the labour market – and an unprecedented consumer power.
A movement has started where economics trumps culture. Changes that took half a century in the US are being compressed into a decade in today’s Muslim world, where they are set to continue at a significantly faster pace. Imagine if the US, in just a few years, had transformed from the 1950s era of The Feminine Mystique to Lean In in the 2010s. That is the magnitude of the change sweeping the Muslim world.

Riaz Haq said...

MasterChef Pakistan, which took the country by storm and had everyone glued to their television screens, has been nominated for the prestigious 19th Asian Television Awards (ATA) and has become the first Pakistani reality show to be nominated for an international accolade.

The show has been nominated in the 'Best Adaptation of an Existing Format' category. Other nominees in the category include:

Asia's Next Top Model Cycle 2 (Hong Kong)
The Brain (China)
Junior MasterChef Swaad Ke Ustaad (India)
The Apprentice Asia (Asia)
The Voice of the Philippines (Philippines)
Trinny & Susannah's Makeover Mission India - Murphy and Kanika (Singapore)
The ATA aims to reward hard working individuals in the media industry all over the continent. According to the official ATA website, this year has seen 239 nominees, across 38 categories, sprawling over 13 countries – and MasterChef Pakistan is one of them.

The 2013 ATA was televised regionally on STAR World and Channel [V], FOX International Channels leading general entertainment channel and music channel, respectively, reaching to some 28 million households in over 10 countries, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Macau, Middle East and some other smaller Asian markets.

Chef and Executive Asst. Manager Khurram Awan of Movenpick Hotels Karachi and celebrity Chef Zakir Qureshi and Chef Mehboob Khan are the judges on MasterChef Pakistan. The show is an intense, competitive cooking reality television game show based on the original British MasterChef.

Riaz Haq said...

Her name is Humaira Bachal. At age 12, she began teaching friends after school in the slums of Karachi. At age 13, she made a formal classroom outside her home by installing a chalkboard to teach other children who could not attend school at the end of her own school day. By age 16, she founded a school with four younger female colleagues (her sister and three friends) in a run-down building with “dirt, water and mud all around [where] all we had was… two rooms with bare walls.” By age 21, in the same slums she now had a school with 1,200 students where her 18 year-old sister Tahira was school principal. Two documentary filmmakers and some reporters found her and documented her story. Then the second documentarist became an Academy and Emmy Award winner. The Academy Award winning filmaker later introduced Ms. Bachal to Madonna. At 25, Ms. Bachal was on stage with Madonna at a concert for women’s rights during which Madonna promoted raising money for Ms. Bachal’s Dream Foundation Trust to build her a better school. In late September this year, at age 27, Humaira Bachal opened the new building of her Dream Model Street School.

To put in context the challenge Ms. Bachal overcame simply to become educated in Pakistan’s slums (never mind becoming a leading education advocate), about 40% of girls and 20% of boys grow up illiterate in Pakistan today according to UNICEF. Consider further that according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Rankings Pakistan ranks 141st out of 142 countries ranked, only finishing ahead of Yemen while behind Nigeria (118th), Saudia Arabia (130th) and Iran (137th).

In multiple documentaries, Ms. Bachal’s mother Zainab has discussed how Ms. Bachal’s father physically beat her because she allowed young Humaira to continue going to school in 9th grade and hid the fact from him (the beating came when he found out). On film in her earlier days, one of Ms. Bachal’s own brothers has said that after seeing what was going on at Ms. Bachal’s school, he would not allow any of his own daughters to attend his sister’s or any non-religious school; he would only allow his daughters religious education, “I will never get my daughters into school except for some basic Islamic teaching. For my son’s education, I am willing to even beg in the streets.”

Riaz Haq said...

Antenatal and postnatal care for women in rural Pakistan has improved dramatically, thanks in part to the work of women like Shagufta Shahzadi, a skilled birth attendant trained under a UNICEF-supported programme.

KASUR DISTRICT, Pakistan, 3 December 2014 – “My biggest pleasure is to see that the mother and child are both healthy after the delivery,” says Shagufta Shahzadi, 30, a skilled birth attendant (SBA) who lives and works in Nandanpura village, Kasur district, in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

“There is a huge difference between services provided by a trained birth attendant and an untrained traditional midwife. A skilled person knows how to prevent and deal with complications during pregnancy, at the time of delivery and delivering postnatal care for mother and child.”

A day’s work for Shagufta could include delivering a baby, advising pregnant women on prenatal care, walking to the neighbouring village to provide postnatal care to a mother and the newborn. She takes a lot of pride in her work and feels a sense of achievement in the fact that due to her services, there hasn’t been a case of a pregnant mother or newborn death in her area over the last year.

Looking back at the struggle she had to make throughout her life, Shagufta recalls, “I was two months old when my father passed away. My mother raised me and my sister with the little money she earned by stitching cloths. Her resources were meagre, yet she made sure that we both completed our matriculation. Thereafter, we completed our respective trainings. My sister became a lady health worker, and I became a skilled birth attendant.”


“Due to the positive results of this programme, the Government of Pakistan has scaled up the initiative across the country,” says Dr, Tahir Manzoor, Health Specialist at UNICEF Pakistan. “In Punjab province, more than 5,000 women have been trained and are performing valuable services within their own communities. We can already see the positive impact of their services and are certain that it will improve the scenario of mortality and morbidity for mothers and new born children in Pakistan over the next few years.”

Shagufta believes that ensuring health and safety for mother and child is imperative.

“If mothers and children are healthy, the entire society will be healthy. The future generations will be healthy," she says. "We must try to save lives, as life is precious, and you only get it once.”

Riaz Haq said...

Twenty-eight-year-old Fiza Farhan, co-founder of Buksh Foundation, has made it to the list of American business magazine Forbes’ list of 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs for 2015.
Farhan runs Buksh Foundation, a microfinance institution that brings clean energy projects to poor and rural areas.
The foundation has trained 135 women as energy entrepreneurs and has brought solar-powered lights to 6,750 households.
In May 2014, Farhan was presented with the title of co-chairperson of the Italian Development Committee (IDC), a body working to promote bilateral trade and investment between Italy and Pakistan.
Last year, Shiza Shahid, co-founder of Malala Fund, was awarded the distinguished position.

Riaz Haq said...

Beyond the Dream: #Pakistani-#American Cardiologist Dr. Hina Chaudhry's research featured on Fox News TV #Pakistan …

Riaz Haq said...

Check out stories of Pakistani female executives Jehan Ara (P@SHA), Zeelaf Munir ( English Biscuits), Tahira Raza (First Women Bank), Madiha Khalid (Shell Pakistan), Shafaq Omar (Unilever) and Atiqa Lateef (Byco).

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistani-American Iba Masood's Gradberry is launching today out of Y Combinator to connect US companies with vetted technical talent. Candidates quickly build a talent profile, connecting their GitHub, online portfolios and projects, and LinkedIn account. The talent profile is then vetted by the Gradberry team and approved candidates are passed along to specific employers.

The Gradberry of today is a result of three years of work, across several continents, multiple product iterations, two failed applications to Y Combinator and one very passionate founding team.
(Karachi-born) Iba Masood, co-founder and CEO says Gradberry works with graduates and employers. The site has jobs listings and courses, so students can take courses to fill in the gaps in order to land a position, or they can be hired and their employer will sponsor them to take a course to learn a required skill for the job. Masood says the majority of its revenue today comes from the latter. The way it works is that a company hires a recent graduate who looks promising, but lacks a requisite skill. For example, a marketing graduate could lack training in social media marketing. They take the online course, get a certificate and they should be better prepared for the job at hand.

Masood says she and co-founder, CTO Syed Ahmed started the company in 2012. Their original idea was a LinkedIn for students where recent graduates could have a place to apply for jobs, but by earlier this year they realized providing job listings wasn’t enough and they had to address this skills gap, and shifted their focus.

She reports they currently have approximately 38,000 registered users (representing 650+ universities globally), with 1,500 employers using the Beta. Among the first to sign on was IBM, which used the platform in developing economies in the Middle East and Asia.

The company uses a freemium model for employer job ads offering the first three ads free, after which they start paying for ads and training for employees as needed.

They have approximately 30 courses today ranging from languages like Arabic to social media marketing to learning HTML5 and they hope to crank that up to 120 courses by October. Masood says they began by producing the courses themselves, but they don’t want to be in the content creation business long-term. “What we’ve realized with content creation, it’s a capital-intensive, heavy model. It’s also intensive on the side of creation. To have high quality courses in terms of production value we would need a studio, the right lighting and video,” she explained. Moving forward they will oversee content creation, but won’t be creating it themselves.

Instead they are working on partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Adobe to produce the content for them. The software companies gain access to a highly valuable 18-24 market who will be trained in their product sets and there is value in that for these companies, which Gradberry hopes to take advantage of.

Gradberry has 6 employees and up until now they have been bootstrapped through revenue generated from the site and small prizes totaling $40,000 they have won in startup competitions. Currently they are part of MassChallenge, a Boston-based startup incubator, which Masood says has offered invaluable assistance in the development of her company.

“MassChallenge has connected us to stellar mentors and innovators in the Boston community, who have helped us refine our operational strategy, to scale on both sides of the equation –that is, course content and career opportunities,” she said. She added that they also have great connections to multinational organizations, who will be partnering with them to provide employer-led courses and job opportunities for fresh talent.

Riaz Haq said...

Mariam Adil, a young entrepreneur, is making waves in the Pakistani gaming industry.

According to recent data, Pakistan's software industry employs more than 24,000 people, including many startups like Mindstorm Studios by Ahmed, We R Play by Mohsin Ali Afzal and Waqar Azim, and the now famous Caramel Tech Studios in Lahore. Pakistan's developers have achieved new renown thanks to games like “Whacksy Taxi”, which has become one of the most downloaded App Store games in 25 different countries, and other projects like “Stick Cricket”. Firms hold regular “game jams” in Lahore to attract innovators with competitions between young would-be game developers. Jobs at these companies are highly coveted by young people: the workday ends around 4pm, and employees often hang out together afterwards, literally playing games!

Mariam Adil is one of the dynamic women leading this new era of entrepreneurialism in Pakistan, perhaps the country's best-kept secret. While most of the world probably thinks of all Pakistani women as oppressed and chained down by society, there are dozens of bright women entrepreneurs managing incubators and programs in Pakistan today.

Adil is the founder of the Gaming Revolution for International Development (“GRID”), a game development startup that designs low-cost video games to simulate common issues in development fieldwork and teach development skills. Its game “Randomania” serves up scenarios that any development-sector professional can relate to and encourages policy decisions, showing the results of those decisions. Stereowiped, on the other hand, is a boundary-breaker when it comes to race and barriers of prejudice and is a great example of what social impact games can achieve.

Faisal Kapadia recently spoke to Adil about her work and much more.

Faisal Kapadia (FK): Why did you think of forming a company like the grid to solve issues when there is plenty of opportunity available for game developers commercially?

Mariam Adil (MA): Born out of pure inspiration, GRID hits at a niche market and gives me the flexibility to think creatively about pushing the boundaries of technology innovations for creating development solutions. It was less driven by a need to earn money and more by my passion for the idea.
FK: While developing Randomania did you do a lot of research on different situations faced by professionals in the development sector?

MA: My day job at the World Bank allows me to have my hand on the pulse. Having designed and implemented several Impact Evaluations, I am familiar with the challenges that practitioners face while designing randomized control trials. This perspective, put together with feedback from some very supportive colleagues at the World Bank allowed us to make sure Randomania could do justice to the challenges of rigorously evaluating development projects.
FK: What kind of impact do you think a game like Randomania can have? Does it lead to as a test case more cohesive thought or efficiency?

MA: In my opinion, there is a gap between the science of International Development taught to students and development practitioners, and the art of development practiced by professionals in the field. Until now, there have been few tools to bridge that gap – to provide the experiential learning required to practice complex decision-making, at a scale well beyond one to one interaction.

Games like Randomania offer a safe environment to simulate the effects of policies and understand the trade-offs involved in the decision-making process. With a push towards innovative use of technology in international development, and the effectiveness of games as learning tools, the stage is set for development games to be introduced as learning tools for development practitioners and students.

Riaz Haq said...

I recently noticed a new producer's name while watching the top-rated CBS 60 Minutes show: Habiba Nosheen. She's a Pakistani-Canadian. Here's more on her:

Emmy award-winning filmmaker and New York-based journalist Habiba Nosheen can be best described as a storyteller.

The Pakistani-Canadian mom and professor, who signed on with “60 Minutes” earlier this year, has an impressive portfolio of emotionally complex and hard-hitting stories. Each story is representative of her knack for combining investigative journalism with the ability to humanize a headline.

The subject of her Emmy-winning documentary, “Outlawed in Pakistan,” follows one Pakistani woman’s struggle to seek justice for allegedly being victim to a gang rape at 13-years-old. She was later subsequently ostracized by the community because she was “tainted” by it.

Difficult for anyone to watch, it’s almost hard to imagine how someone like Pakistan–born Nosheen was able to maintain neutrality, the hallmark of a journalist’s work ethic, while making the film.

It’s a question she’s posed with often, Nosheen said, sometimes even laced with accusations for being a disloyal expat. But Pakistani or not, woman or not, Nosheen’s dedication to responsible storytelling calls for a standard that goes beyond bias or personal opinion.

“People always ask how you stay neutral especially when I have reported on rape cases and interviewed murderers and alleged terrorists.” Nosheen said. “My answer is your job as a journalist is to sit in for your audience and to ask the questions the audience wants answers to.”

Nosheen added: “And if I ever report on a story from Pakistan that’s hard-hitting, there are always plenty of critics who say, ‘Oh, that story is making Pakistan look bad.’ And my answer to them is: I never shy away from doing an investigative story in the United States because I think it would make Americans look bad. My obligation as a journalist is to give a voice to stories that are underreported and to expose wrongdoings.”

Riaz Haq said...

Story of Pakistani-American Komal Ahmad of Feeding Forward feeding the hungry in San Francisco Bay Area:

It was 2011. She had just come back from Navy summer training and was attending the University of California at Berkeley to start work on her undergraduate degree.

While she was walking near campus one fall day, a homeless man approached her, asking for money to buy food because he was hungry. Instead of giving him cash, Ahmad invited the man to lunch. As they ate, he told her his story. He was a soldier recently returned from Iraq and had a bad turn of luck.

"He'd already gone on two deployments and now he's come back, he's 26 and on the side of the road begging for food," Ahmad said. "It just blew my mind."

It bothered her so much that she decided to do something about it. Within a few months, Ahmad set up a program at UC Berkeley called Bare Abundance that allowed the school's dining halls to donate excess food to local homeless shelters. With that program, she then joined forces with a nationwide group called Food Recovery Network, which currently has food recovery projects on more than 140 college campuses across the US.

Ahmad, now 25 years old and CEO of a nonprofit service called Feeding Forward, is looking to expand even more into what she calls on-demand food recovery.

Through a website and mobile app, Feeding Forward matches businesses that have surplus food with nearby homeless shelters. Here's how it works: when companies or event planners have surplus food, they tap the Feeding Forward app and provide details of their donation. A driver is dispatched to quickly pick up the leftovers and deliver them to food banks.

"Imagine a football stadium filled to its brim," Ahmad said. "That's how much food goes wasted every single day in America."

Excess food is a serious issue in the US. After paper, food scraps are the nation's second largest source of waste, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Leftovers fill 18 percent of landfills and make up over 30 million tons of what is sent to dumps each year. When cut off from oxygen, the organic matter creates methane gas and contributes to global warming.


Another problem is that leftovers are perishable, so they need to be distributed or refrigerated quickly. Matching donors with recipients on a fast timeline can be tricky. Ahmad said Feeding Forward's biggest bottleneck is figuring out which food banks can take large quantities of leftovers immediately.

Berkenkamp, from the NRDC, believes on-demand apps like Feeding Forward can help solve this distribution problem, because they systematize the process of matching donors with recipients.

"These mobile apps can connect the dots in our food system," Berkenkamp said. "To have technology that connects in real-time is critical. It's a real advance."

While the amount of food being recovered with on-demand apps isn't much compared with what's being tossed, the technology is starting to make a dent in food waste and in feeding people in need. Moving ahead, Ahmad said she hopes to expand Feeding Forward to cities outside the Bay Area, including Seattle and Boston.

"These are huge cities that have absurd amounts of food thrown away every day," Ahmad said. "We are trying to make the Bay Area a case study to say 'Hey, if it works here, it can work anywhere.'"

Riaz Haq said...

Meet Kulsoom Abdullah,

Pakistani-American, Kulsoom Abdullah, has been Weightlifting – at both the national and international level since 2010 – in addition to Crossfitting.
Born and bred in the US, Abdullah’s parents (born in Pakistan; her father from Tangi and her mother from Charsadda) immigrated to America years ago, before Abdullah’s birth. In 2005, Abdullah’s father passed away in Pakistan, leaving behind his wife and five children – of which Abdullah is the eldest. A Computer Engineer by profession, with a PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology, I first discovered Abdullah through a picture of hers that an acquaintance had shared over Facebook. In the picture Abdullah is featured Weightlifting – in hijab. Intrigued, I googled Abdullah and contacted her via her website in the hopes that she would agree to being interviewed over email. She agreed.
At the national level, Abdullah attended the ‘US National Competition’ in 2011, and in the same year she represented Pakistan (at the international level) at the ‘2011 World Weightlifting Championships’. For the latter, Abdullah was not only the first female to compete, but she was also the first female to compete in hijab. And this year, Abdullah represented Pakistan in South Korea, at the ‘2012 Asian Weightlifting Championships.’
However, in 2010 after qualifying to compete at the American Open, the USA Weightlifting Committee barred Abdullah from contending in the competition due to her clothing – clothing modifications were simply not allowed. Participants had to adhere to wearing a ‘singlet’ – particular clothing for athletes which sort of looks like a swimsuit with shorts.

Riaz Haq said...

Nergis Mavalvala: #Pakistani #American #MIT prof from #Karachi, only woman in #LIGO that detects #gravitationalwaves

Mavalvala did her BA at Wellesley College in Physics and Astronomy in 1990 and a Ph.D in physics in 1997 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Before that, she was a postdoctoral associate and then a research scientist at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), working on the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).

She has been involved with LIGO since her early years in graduate school at MIT and her primary research has been in instrument development for interferometric gravitational-wave detectors.

She also received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010.

Mavalvala received her early education from the Convent of Jesus and Mary school in Karachi, an administration official from the educational institute confirmed to

She later moved to the United States as a teenager to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she is said to have a natural gift for being comfortable in her own skin, according to an article published on the website.

“Even when Nergis was a freshman, she struck me as fearless, with a refreshing can-do attitude,” says Robert Berg, a professor of physics at Wellesley.

"I used to borrow tools and parts from the bike-repair man across the street to fix my bike,” Mavalvala says.
In an earlier report, Mavalvala's colleague observed that while many professors would like to treat students as colleagues, most students don’t respond as equals. From the first day, Mavalvala acted and worked like an equal. She helped Berg, who at the time was new to the faculty, set up a laser and transform an empty room into a lab. Before she graduated in 1990, Berg and Mavalvala had co-authored a paper in Physical Review B: Condensed Matter.

Her parents encouraged academic excellence. She was by temperament very hands-on. “I used to borrow tools and parts from the bike-repair man across the street to fix my bike,” she says. Her mother objected to the grease stains, “but my parents never said such skills were off-limits to me or my sister.”

So she grew up without stereotypical gender roles. Once in the United States, she did not feel bound by US social norms, she recalls.

Her practical skills stood her in good stead in 1991, when she was scouting for a research group to join after her first year as a graduate student at MIT. Her adviser was moving to Chicago and Mavalvala had decided not to follow him, so she needed a new adviser. She met Rainer Weiss, who worked down the hallway.

“What do you know?” Weiss asked her. She began to list the classes she had taken at the institute—but the renowned experimentalist interrupted with, “What do you know how to do?” Mavalvala ticked off her practical skills and accomplishments: machining, electronic circuitry, building a laser. Weiss took her on right away.

Mavalvala says that although it may not be immediately apparent, she is a product of good mentoring.

From the chemistry teacher in Pakistan who let her play with reagents in the lab after school to the head of the physics department at MIT, who supported her work when she joined the faculty in 2002, she has encountered several encouraging people on her journey.

Although the discovery of gravitational waves, that opens a new window for studying the cosmos, was made in September 2015, it took scientists months to confirm their data.

The researchers said they detected gravitational waves coming from two black holes - extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein - that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together. They said the waves were the product of a collision between two black holes 30 times as massive as the Sun, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

Riaz Haq said...

Nergis Mavalvala: #Pakistani #American #MIT prof from #Karachi, only woman in #LIGO that detects #gravitationalwaves