Salma Jafri’s first rejection from a multinational company resulted in a turning point for her career.
The CEO of the company knew Jafri’s family well and was aware of customs within the family that expected girls to marry early and become stay-at-home moms. That interview made Jafri realize that she was not going to be hired because she was a woman. Instead she set her sights to become an entrepreneur.
She eventually founded the company WordPl.net that facilitates in marketing content of young entrepreneurs and provides marketing solutions to small scale businesses in Pakistan.
Like Salma, many women in Pakistan have ventured into the previously impenetrable male space in business. Here’s a breakdown of some phenomenal women CEOs in the Pakistani business sector.
Sima Kamil, President of United Bank Limited (UBL):
In March 2017, United Bank Limited (UBL) announced the appointment of its first female CEO Ms. Sima Kamil. She promptly took charge of overseeing operations in over 1200 chains including the largest Islamic banking wing in Pakistan.
Her previous appointment as the head of another major banking network in Pakistan, HBL, had ensured her experience in managing operations in the bank’s Retail, SME and Rural Banking wing in over 1700 chains all over Pakistan.
Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director, Kashf Foundation:
Ms. Zafar hails from a family of philanthropists, so it comes as no surprise when she ventured into launching her own microfinance organization along with a team of four other women. She received her first start up loan in 1996 and has since supported over 500,000 women and their families through her organization.
The foundation facilitates women in providing them vocational and technical training and is the third largest microfinance association in Pakistan.
Ms. Zafar has also been awarded the ‘Tamgha-e-Imtiaz’ one of Pakistan’s highest civilian awards and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Maheen Rahman, Chief Executive of Alfalah GHP Investment Management:
Recognized by Bloomberg as ‘Pakistan’s Most Amazing Money Manager’, Maheen Rahman stands as the youngest and the only female CEO of an asset management company. Her appointment in 2015 guaranteed the overseeing of $180 million worth of assets in stocks and bonds, according to Bloomberg.
Following her appointment, Rahman has been able to double the assets since taking charge and has singlehandedly increased Alfalah Investments’ growth by 45% earning her a place in Forbes’ ‘Top 40 under 40’ list of Female Executives.
Sheba Najmi, founder ‘Tech for Change’:
Ms. Najmi launched her own non-profit organization ‘Tech for Change’ to help entrepreneurs, developers and designers combat Pakistan’s civic problems.
She has previously worked as a lead designer for Yahoo Mail and has since then launched a number of initiatives including Pakistan’s first civic ‘Hackathon’ in major cities and the Civic Innovation Labs that provide technology initiatives for women.
She was also a Code for America fellow and has since replicated the design in Pakistan providing fellowship opportunities to rural provinces of the country.
Kalsoom Lakhani, CEO Invest2Innovate (I2I):
Ms. Lakhani launched the startup in 2011 as a platform for training aspiring entrepreneurs in Pakistan. I2I trains entrepreneurs and facilitates them with potential investors in stabilizing their businesses.
Ms. Lakhani has since overseen network operations of I2I and is determined to expand the network globally. She has previously worked as a co-ambassador for SandBox, a tech services agency and is the founder of CHUP (Changing Up Pakistan) a forum for creating awareness on the issues faced by Pakistan.
Maria Umer, founder, Women’s Digital League:
After being laid off from work for demanding a maternity leave, Maria Umer set out to create her own career in a content creating business.
She used an online forum to generate clients and started connecting writers with potential clients.
She eventually founded ‘The Women’s Digital League’ that uses social media to provide digital solutions to corporate clients.
Saba Gul, CEO Popinjay:
With a Masters degree from MIT in Computer Sciences and Economics, Ms. Gul founded a non-profit organization, Popinjay to help girls from rural backgrounds acquire quality education.
Her organization provides them with linguistic development like English and Urdu along with skill development in Mathematics and entrepreneurial strategies. She has ventured into facilitating them with technical assistance in designing handbags and projects to be marketed to the masses.
Sultana Siddiqui, President, HUM Television Network:
Ms. Siddiqui is the first woman to own her own television network in Pakistan. She started her career in the 70s as a Television Producer for Pakistan Television Network and has since brought on prominent talent for the entertainment industry.
In 1996 she launched her own production house ‘Moomal Productions’ and in 2005 created a Eye Television Network which was later renamed to Hum Television Network in 2011.
The network currently operates three major channels airing primetime Soap Operas and cooking shows. The network also own three major publications distributed nationwide.
For her contribution, Ms. Siddiqui was awarded the Pride of Pakistan award in 2008.
Jehan Ara, President P@SHA:
Ms. Ara currently serves as the President for Pakistan Software Houses Association, an IT and software collective. She launched Enabling Technologies, a multimedia initiative to expand Pakistan’s IT sector.
She is a strong advocate for cyber Security, Privacy and data Protection. She is currently spearheading ‘take Back the Tech’ an awareness initiative to combat violence against women through technology.
Fareiha Altaf, Director Catwalk Event Management & Productions:
She launched Catwalk, a fashion Management Company in 1989 and organized events for clients she knew as friends. She later introduced the ‘Red Carpet’ culture in Pakistan and has since managed for various events and Entertainment Award Shows across the country. Today, Catwalk has hosted events for major clientele like Unilever, Cocoa-Cola etc.
Aleema Khanum, Cotcom Textiles:
While her brother Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, stirs up a social revolution, Ms. Khanum, an entrepreneur and philanthropist runs her own textile supplier’s industry with networks in Lahore and New York. Her textile buying house caters to global brands located all over the world.
With a Masters degree in Business Management, Ms. Khanum, in addition to managing her own brand, also served as a marketing director for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. The hospital is the brainchild of her brother that provides free treatment to cancer patients and hosts a research facility.
She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Imran Khan Foundation, Namal Education Foundation and the SAARC Association of Home-based Workers.