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She Loves Tech; Empowering Women in Pakistan

Getting Women into STEM areas is a challenge worldwide, but particularly for Pakistan where only around 20 percent women are in labour force. While, the recent National security policy released by the government has highlighted the important role that technology and women can play in the country’s economic growth, the question is how to support them. Private sector initiatives are playing a key role in bringing women into the sector such as that being promoted by CIRCLE, a non-profit promoting tech ecosystem, supported by HBL and UNDP.

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Pakistan has experienced a technological revolution in recent years, with its IT sector experiencing mass growth. According to a Google/P@sha supported Alphabeta report, ‘Unlocking Pakistan’s Digital Potential,’ the country has the potential to achieve $59.7 billion in annual revenue by 2030 from its technology services industry alone.

However, to reach its full potential, Pakistan first needs to develop infrastructure to support its local tech ecosystem. It involves encouraging more women, since they make up half of the population, to join a sector that is typically male-dominated.

To empower women to contribute to the country’s tech sector, CIRCLE, a non-profit promoting tech ecosystem founded by Sadaffe Abid, introduced She Loves Tech (SLT) to Pakistan in 2017, supported by HBL and UNDP.

She Loves Tech is the world’s largest startup competition that gives female entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their startups, get access to mentors and take their startup to the next level. SLT works with some of the notable names in the IT industry to provide strategic resources to the best entrepreneurs. Facebook, Microsoft, and ByteDance are some of the leading tech giants that it collaborates with.

Read more: Ehsaas to establish a Women Empowerment Center in South Waziristan

The competition currently operates in 40 different locations worldwide, including Canada, Singapore, and Germany. It aims to unlock over $1 billion in capital by 2030 for women-led businesses. According to SLT’s official website, starts up have raised more than $ 250 million after joining the competition. Not missing out on the opportunity, CIRCLE has hosted SLT for the last five years in Pakistan.

SLT: Reaching thousands of women across Pakistan

Since its launch in 2017, SLT has changed the lives of more than 25,000 women across Pakistan by inspiring them towards tech entrepreneurship. In its first year, SLT Pakistan received more than 80 entries, which has risen since then.

Throughout its years, over 400 women-led startups applied for the competition. SLT has covered 15 locations in Pakistan with regional rounds in various cities, including Karachi, Sukkur, Islamabad, Lahore, Abbottabad, and Peshawar.

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Over 250 women startups using technology have pitched their innovative, tech-related business ideas at SLT Pakistan in front of a highly qualified judge’s panel. Over 100 plus women have been provided customized access to workshops and a network of over 100 mentors.

The competition winners then go on to represent Pakistan in the global round of SLT in Beijing, China, with more than 40 countries participating. The winners also receive coverage in Pakistan’s leading media outlets.

 

Habib Bank Limited (HBL) is one of the key supporters of this initiative in Pakistan and played a critical role in enabling the CIRCLE’s all-women team to travel across Pakistan (2025 km) in trains, buses, and public transport to inspire and em – power women.

HBL’s important role in supporting women

HBL, Pakistan’s largest commercial bank, has been stead – fast in its commitment to building an inclusive ecosystem for all Pakistani women. In 2016, it launched the revolutionary Women’s Market program, HBL Nisa. The program is a unique initiative dedicated to the financial needs of women.

HBL Nisa offers women financial freedom and increased opportunities. Today, HBL is home to over 3 million women customers, with growing numbers of women enrolling in the Nisa Program to gain financial independence. Additionally, HBL shows a solid dedication to improving Pakistan’s financial landscape. In December 2021, it launched the country’s first and largest fintech summit.

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Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, delivered a special pre-recorded message at the summit, and Dr. Reza Baqir, Governor State Bank of Pakistan, was Chief guest. The virtual summit was the first of its kind in Pakistan. Some of the biggest names from global fintech giants attended the event.

She Loves Tech winners making it big!

Participation in SLT Pakistan has certainly put startups on the map. 2017’s first winner was Anusha Fatima’s Trashit, a tech startup working towards eradicating the problem of trash disposal by turning household waste into fertilizer.

In 2018, Saba Khalid of Aurat Raaj emerged as the winner due to its educational artificial intelligence chatbot Raaji, answering queries regarding taboo female subjects. Since then, Raaji has been featured in the Guardian and won the World Summit Award.

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Similarly, 2019’s winner Dot – Mind Unlocked by Yishel Khan completely revolutionized dealing with mental health. The CEO of Dot – Mind Unlocked created a headset that analyzed the wearer’s brainwave activity and their level of mental well-being.

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The company has received international funding for its unique creation. Hira Arshad, CEO of APRUS Technology, became the winner in 2020 due to her noble aim of establishing Pakistan’s first medical equipment manufacturing company. SLT Pakistan’s latest winner was Out-Class Learning Services by Aiman Bashir, which won the competition in 2021.

The digital platform provides easy access to affordable and high-quality online educational services. Other notable participants of SLT Pakistan that are making waves include Marham, ScaryAmmi, and MedIQ.

Read more: HBL boosts financial inclusion in Pakistan with first Fintech Summit

Marham is an online doctor consultation application that has raised $1M. It has a successful website and an application that easily connects patients with doctors. It has more than 20,000 verified doctors and has served over 10 million patients. MedIQ is also a virtual hospital with an application that boasts more than 50,000 App downloads.

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