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.
Uzma Tariq | Maheen Printing Services
Uzma’s husband, Tariq, has been running his own printing press for 20 years. While Uzma was not involved with the day-to-day management, Tariq would often seek her advice on strategic decisions. Tariq was comfortable with accepting standard, mass printing jobs and not interested in taking on relatively smaller orders from high-end and hard to please clientele. Seeing a market for the latter which she wanted to cash in on, Uzma – with the support and encouragement of Tariq – opened her own business, Maheen Printing Press, down the street from her husband’s in downtown Karachi.
Eight years on since she first began her enterprise, Uzma runs her printing business with 8 full-time employees and gets orders to print glossy fashion catalogues from several of Pakistan’s top clothing designers. Her other major print jobs include catalogues, calendars, and brochures for major textile and sugar mills, educational institutes, private banks, advertising agencies, and hospitals. Currently, Uzma is not marketing her business aggressively, as her customer base comes to her for repeat orders and her high-quality products attract new clients frequently.
The primary constraint Uzma currently faces is limited space for more machines, which is why she often resorts to outsourcing work. The WomenX program has helped Uzma gain clarity on her vision for Maheen Printing Press in the next 12 months: to move to a more spacious location and hence expand her capacity, to clarify her niche, rebrand and reposition her services, and create a robust marketing strategy targeting her client base. In particular, Uzma is keen to seek out those Karachi-based businesses that are currently sending their print work all the way to Lahore, as well as women-owned businesses.