It all started with this email. The top crème de la crème from 20 countries of 100 women were matched with professional mentor/mentors from a Silicon Valley based company. Together with them, we, the emerging leaders designed a project for ourselves that we were to deliver in the next 5 weeks. Alongside, delegates from every country had to work together and design an impact project for which numerous ideation workshops took place. It was to be implemented on our return to our home country.
I was matched at Juniper Networks, a company that excels in routing, switching, and security. Two mentors were assigned together with whom I identified 4 key focus areas of my internship there; Cyber Security, Project Management, Client Dealings and Entrepreneurship. My mentors were more than just “professional” mentors to me. They not only taught me professional skills but ensured that they took care of me like a family. Taking me to halal restaurants, shopping, bike rides and often dropping me home so I don’t have to take the public transport were just a few gestures of care.
As part of the program, besides the host company, I had the privilege to visit and interact with the C-level management of several other companies namely, Symantec, Synopsis, Yahoo/Oath, Autodesk, Singularity University, NASA Ames Research Institute, Linkedin, Tesla, Salesforce, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. We were hosted at most of these campuses for ideation workshops for our impact project and in the process, there were networking events in which we met with their VPs and discussed possible synergies.
In all these visits, these were the key takeaways:
Of all these places, my favorite visit was to Autodesk. It would be no surprise if you hear every Emerging Leader say that because of the personalized experience they gave us. On entering their office, we saw an innovative gallery and a big maker space where we could plug and play with their equipment. Then we got Autodesk branded diaries, each one of which had a personalized note. We had lunch meetings with their VPs with whom we shared our work back home. We also met with their CEO who made a guest appearance during our meetings. However, the most valuable takeaway of these was the Autodesk Innovation genome, taught to us by Bill O’Connor, the founder himself. We implemented the tool in groups and came up with a solution for a cause that we mutually felt the most strongly about.
Our 5 weeks of the program ended in Washington where we met with people from the World Bank Group such as Caren Grown, Senior Director for Gender, Komal Mohindra, Senior Private Sector Specialist, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Elizabeth Vazquez, President, CEO, and Co-Founder of WEConnect and member of UN High-Level in a panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. We had breakout sessions at the US State Department and a goodbye session from there.
Where all the above looks fancy, the journey that led me to win a spot in the program did not happen overnight. As the name of the program suggests, only Emerging Leaders in STEM were chosen for this.
I do believe that my decision to choose a life and job that has an impact has benefitted me alot and has given me peace of mind.
As I reflect, graduating as an electrical engineer from FAST- NU, job opportunities came easy. However, it was only when I chose to lead a life of impact that I started falling in love with my work and started exceeding my own expectations. This Techwomen program has not been the only milestone in my life ever since.
In 2015 when I found an opportunity at Punjab Information Technology Board as the Assistant Manager of TechHub Connect- a space working to develop the freelancing community of Pakistan, it felt like a true calling. 1 June 2015, I still remember my first meeting with the Director of the Entrepreneurship and Enterprise, Nabeel Qadeer, who explained the Chairman of the organization, Dr. Saif’s vision of the space to me. He has ever since been a real inspiration to me who has been an epitome of leadership. Working with him, I have learned every step of the way. It was his inspiration and motivation that led me to dream big and push myself to limits to impact lives.
It was just a matter of months when along with my program manager, we started a new initiative of Freelancing workshops. In the program, we motivated high-end freelancers residing in TechHub Connect to teach online monetization skills to others. This pilot became such a huge success that we started getting requests from all over the country to run the program in their cities.
Down into 2016, the program’s demand kept on increasing which led me to take the next leap. I started discussing with my manager how we can use freelancing to address a major issue in Pakistan i.e. unemployment. Before we even knew it, Nabeel helped me convert this idea into reality.
After months of research and program design, Chief Minister’s eRozgaar Program was launched in 2017. A capacity building program to train 10,000 freelancers by setting up 40 training centers across Punjab. So far 21 centers have been opened across the province.
My entire journey, however, has been thrilling and satisfying due to one thing i.e. extreme reflection to understand what is it that I truly want to pursue to improve my country. Where eRozgaar feeds to my passion of making youngsters of my country self-sustainable, all through my Techwomen program, there was one question that my mind asked me every time I found something fantastic; how can we bring this to Pakistan? And that is what made me realize where my heart truly belonged.