Meet The Women
Sarwat Muzammil | Ecode
Sarwat is the founder and CEO of an industrial electronics consultancy firm, Ecode. Ecode specializes in “reverse engineering”, the process of extracting design information from electronic hardware without engineering drawings in order to study, duplicate, or enhance its functions. Ecode’s service offering includes Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design and development, product design, and the manufacture, assembly, repair, and maintenance of electronic items. Sarwat works out of a one-room office space adjacent to her brother’s laptop repair business, nestled in Sassi Arcade, Karachi’s buzzing electronics market and primary go-to place for electronics repair.
In the four years since she launched Ecode, Sarwat has hired 2 full-time, paid employees. She views her limited marketing and financial management skills, lack of financing, and small size of technical staff as the major constraints to growing her business. The WomenX program has helped her to identify additional paths for growth, such as creating awareness about reverse engineering and the solutions that Ecode offers, conducting market research to better understand the customer’s needs, and streamlining the firm’s accounting and finance practice.
The near-term goals she has identified through the course of the program include building a team of electronics experts, which she strongly prefers to be fresh female graduates from technical institutes; conducting workshops on reverse engineering in Karachi’s many engineering and technical institutes; networking with potential clients in the industry; and scoping out affordable tools to increase the efficiency and quality of reverse engineering work.
Yasmin Zaman | Yasmin Zaman
For the first 15 years of her career, Yasmin Zaman was an art teacher at her children’s primary school in Karachi. In 2010, she called it quits and followed her true calling: designing high-end ready-made outfits for the modern Pakistani woman. The thriving market for custom-made bridal couture and formal pret lines, coupled with Yasmin’s eye for elegant silhouettes ensured her overnight success. Yasmin’s designs were widely acclaimed after her signature east-meets-west bridal wear took to the runway in Pakistan’s Bridal Couture Week in 2013 and 2014. Her business grew from 1 tailor to 30 full-time production staff in just under five years. However, Yasmin found herself caught in the classic dilemma for many entrepreneurs experiencing fast growth: she was highly skilled in her line of work, but did not feel adequately equipped as a business manager.
Intrigued by the business skills education offered by WomenX, Yasmin enrolled in the program to learn about financial management, marketing, and human resource delegation. The program helped her to approach her business in a more structured way and develop concrete action items for the next 12 months: Yasmin plans to institute strict accounting controls by hiring an accountant, introducing a formal inventory, and conducting regular audits. Her additional near-term goals include increasing her brand familiarity— both locally and overseas— by better immersing herself in fashion networks such as the Pakistan Fashion Council and Trade Development Authority Pakistan (TDAP).
Mussarat Ishaq | Al-Karam Packages
Mussarat was a Karachi-based housewife pregnant with her third child, when she was divorced by her husband. With no work experience, little education, no money, and no plan, she found herself “on the streets”, armed only with the determination to feed and clothe her children. As she was seeking counsel of her family and friends on what to do, Mussarat was approached by a friend—and later, business partner—whose father was willing to offer some finance to re-open an old factory which had been shut-down after a major family dispute.
With no previous experience, Mussarat learned the ropes of the polythene production business from her friend and his father. By day, she would do odd jobs in offices, as a baby-sitter, and even cleaning homes – while in the evening she would quietly spend time on learning about the business. The business was to use machinery to weave thread into standard plastic bags. Mussarat and her partner started out small – purchasing the raw material from local markets, using outdated machinery to produce plastic bags, and supply them to small businesses in their area. When they started to make a bit of money and built a reputation, they purchased more up to date machinery, bought looms in greater bulk, and ran production for longer periods of time. As productivity increased, Mussarat started going after bigger clients. She researched companies which had a high requirement for plastic bags: fertilizer companies, the food industry, the sugar, textiles, agriculture, and packaging industries, airlines, and the biggest one yet – the government. When the Pakistan government issued a tender for provision of plastic bags, Mussarat’s firm won. Today, 90% of their production is for this client. Today, the firm’s business vision is to provide low-cost, high-quality, re-usable, and environment-friendly packaging materials.
Over the course of 8 years, Al Karam Packages grew to 250 employees. A vast majority work at the company’s major plant in Hub Balochistan, a heavily poverty-stricken area where it is easy to find labor. Mussarat’s primary business constraint is dealing with men in a business sector where few women work at— let alone lead— an enterprise of this size. Mussarat joined the WomenX program to learn accounting more formally and understand how to create a balance sheet and cash flow statement. She felt the program enabled her to approach business growth from a fresh perspective, in particular with few resources. With the support of the mentor she has been matched with for Phase 2 of the program, Mussarat plans to professionalize her firm’s accounting practices.
Nazish is a concept designer and creative writer who operates Gilding Gear. She has 12 years of experience in conducting creative writing workshops, kids’ productions, and writing plays for various leading schools and organisations.
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“There is no tool more effective than the empowerment of women and WomenX has come forward with that tool, by enabling women entrepreneurs like me to attain the success we seek. I never expected to learn so much in this short span of time, but was astonished when this training consistently exceeded my expectation on every level. It has been an exceptional experience and a perfect environment to harvest new ideas and friendships. I always thought I was at the top of my game and knew all that I needed to know to run my business but WomenX has helped me create a new level of excellence that I never knew I could achieve. I’d say that it has given me sense of direction – what to do, how, and where to go next. The inspiring trainers, or should I say “turners”, have changed my thinking about a lot of preconceived ideas and have helped me reflect on my own abilities and strengths.
The enthusiasm and professionalism has been contagious and has given me an innovative perspective on how to increase efficiency and knowledge in my business. I also learned that each entrepreneur has their own amazing business ideas unique ways of handling problems. This experience has been more educational than anything found in text books! I believe that behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back and celebrate her achievements. For me WomenX is that tribe and support system, which has helped me turn my can’ts into cans and my dreams into plans.”
Saba Gul Hasan
Saba is an entrepreneur and dietician who holds an MPhil degree in Food Sciences and Human Nutrition. She is the founder and director of SGH, a health and nutrition brand that provides client centered nutrition services, health products, training programs, and medical therapies. Her goal is to spread food awareness and nutrition education through her company, targeting all strata of the society. SGH has seen a lot of success with their multiple health workshops, products officially carried at large stores including Esajee’s, and the upcoming launch of their CRS initiative, the Health and Nutrition Union.
“Applying to WomenX has been one of the best decisions I made with regard to the growth of my business and building a network. The program offers everything that an aspiring business owner would hope for. From friendly organizers, to the topics covered in business education, to the relationships built & lessons learnt; everything was a fulfilling and well-rounded experience which one cannot afford to miss! I began to feel more at ease in my venture, knowing that I was learning the right formulas and acquired the skills needed to successfully sustain a business. By the end of the training I knew that my basics had been polished, and my goals & strategies had become easier to plan. WomenX offers the perfect environment to harvest new friendships and meet professionals from Pakistan and abroad”.