Elevating Women In Tech: IDG In Conversation with Sadaffe Abid, CIRCLE

IDG in a candid conversation with Founder & CEO at CIRCLE: Sadaffe Abid 

With a mission to advance women’s economic participation and empower them through innovative entrepreneurship and leadership labs, advocacy campaigns and research, Sadaffe Abid’s CIRCLE Pakistan is developing and supporting the entrepreneurial and leadership capacity of women and youth in Pakistan to bring about economic growth and social change.

Speaking to IDG Pakistan is Sadaffe Abid who leads CIRCLE Pakistan in achieving these objectives.

CIRCLE really builds on my experience in Microfinance with Kashf Foundation where I joined as an Analyst, part of a small team of seven. I grew to be the Chief Operating Officer and later CEO. After my undergrad, I was eager to work in the development sector and be part of creating change but what I realized from my work travels to Balochistan, Frontier, Sindh and places I had never seen before, there was limited impact of big development agencies, that’s when I decided I wanted to be part of something where I could influence and create change. I joined Kashf and it was my life for twelve years”.

Talking about how the idea of CIRCLE emerged, she reflects on her stay in Dubai, one of the most glamorous cities, where the concept of microlending did not exist, but it was more about the big bucks and the tallest building,. She added, “I had to think about how I can be relevant in this region and that is how the idea of CIRCLE emerged. Focusing on women’s voice, building confidence, creating networks for women startups, women in the workforce, and how we can increase the number of women on boards because we know that diversity boosts the bottom line. So that is the belief that CIRCLE is founded that investing in women is the smartest economic venture of today.”

Read: GBG Peshawar Brings Womenwill Pilot Event To Pakistan

There have been many challenges according to Sadaffe, as they are a startup and being a lean team every team member really counts and it is very important that each and every person is aligned to the mission, vision and the values. She adds:

I feel very blessed that I have talented people who have joined our mission and contribute.We get regular interns and research fellows, we have had them come from Columbia University, Tufts and Harvard Kennedy School and worked remotely with international students. Last year a Chinese student from the SIPA program at Columbia came for 3 months and she did research on women startups”.

She Loves Tech

According to Sadaffe, it is very critical for women to step in to a field such as STEM, because it is important to create role models. Speaking about it she said, “It is important to bring all our nation’s talent to the table that is why we have brought a global startup competition: She Loves Tech; which is about technology, to Pakistan. It takes place in 8 different locations and spotlighting women using technology to address challenges and find solutions”

CIRCLE is the Pakistani partner for She Loves Tech; whereas the rest of the participating countries include Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Germany, Canada, and China. The winning team, which was Trashit, is currently in China for the finale!

Read: Government of Queensland, Australia Grants AUD$100,000 to Pakistani Startup Micropower Labs

Besides boot camps that CIRCLE ran with Zindagi Trust in their schools, it has been actively engaging with women regarding STEM through social media, “We have been orchestrating twitter chats on different topics to encourage women on social media to participate and we have been talking about women in STEM as a theme throughout and now with She Loves Tech, we are very excited as we have been doing these meet ups with women startups that are using technology for change, for empowerment, for progress and also men who are using technology to solve problems that women face.”

She Loves Tech itself is based on the idea of inclusivity. With industry support, the She Loves Tech sessions were hosted by parties in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, including the National Incubation Center, Plan9- PITB’s Incubator, NED, The Nest I/O, IBA CED, and the local finale at IBA City Campus. IBA CED and The Nest I/O in Karachi and other key incubators throughout the country are also working and partnering with CIRCLE.

Pakistan only has 25% formal female labor force participation which is one of the lowest in the region. Sadaffe adds,

“I believe that females are the most under-utilized potential of our country and if we unleash this potential Pakistan can progress greatly and prosper”

Stating facts and figures she said that McKinsey has calculated that global gender parity would add 28 trillion dollars to the economy. There are huge gains for Pakistan, a country of 200 million people. Therefore, Sadaffe believes that partnerships, collaboration, experimentations and innovation are key and that is what Circle is looking to bring to the table.

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Speaking about Circle’s campaign Elevate, Sadaffe said “We launched the Elevate campaign last year and we’ve got a thousand plus pledges and the idea behind that is that when panels, conferences, and seminars happen women must be included. Their perspectives must be included. Why is this importan? Women have different experiences and insights and it is important to reflect these so that the solutions are more robust, innovative and sustainable.”

Circle is looking forward to take Elevate forward this year by working with 3-5 leading corporates of Pakistan. They will be working with them on one year collaboration according to Sadaffe, and they hope that this longer term collaboration will enable them to grow women leaders. Speaking about it she said, “it has a component around mentorship, CEO seminars, creating visibility and helping women build tools so they can enhance their leadership capacity. Furthermore, we will be mapping metrics for impact and progress.

For Elevate, Circle has several CEOs supporting the mission of advancing women along with the leading incubators throughout the country such as Nest I/O, Plan9, WECREATE, Peshawar 2.0, and Tech Valley etc. Recently Open Karachi , I am Karachi , i2i have also joined them for She Loves Tech. Others who believe in the importance of inclusion of women are also invited to join Circle in their mission, said Sadaffe.

Read: IBM STEM For Girls: Celebrating Women’s Day the Tech Way

Women in Tech

Circle has been working on a women in tech project that is focused on increasing opportunities for livelihood for women and how they can use the power of technology for women to become the part of the workforce whether it is joining into entry level tech roles and also into freelancing.

“We have run two boot camps where we partnered with Zindagi Trust. We did these boot camps in their schools, and about 40 women have gone through it and it’s been super exciting to see these young women learn. The teacher shared with me that in the break when she came in and talked to the girls and the young women, she could see a spark in their eyes. This is exciting. if we can get Pakistani women and girls introduced to technology at the right time, so they pursue that as careers and also as something with which they can be creative with and earn from, it will transform their families and communities along with growing our economy,” she said while talking about the tech4empowerment program.

One message that Sadaffe would like to give to both the men and women is that,

be comfortable with being uncomfortable, men and women. Particularly women to step out of their comfort zone, this is important and when you step out you create space not just for yourself but for many others who also need that encouragement and confidence. So let’s do that together and bring our voice to the table and secondly let’s celebrate women and let’s support each other. That is an important message I believe circle is trying to bring from our platform. Men and women need to come together to bring together a more equitable and progressed Pakistan.” – see quote given by Hira