There’s a lot of debate about the disproportionate representation of women in tech and what needs to be done for a more diverse workplace. You know there’s a problem when only 5 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women and it’s an issue constantly highlighted by the Western press.
While Pakistan is by no means a vanguard for women’s rights across the world, it has to be said that the country has a long tradition of women leading from the front. Pakistan was the first Muslim nation to have a democratically-elected female head of state (eat your heart out, America!).
Its constitution guarantees a fixed number of seats for women in parliament, and many important ambassadorial positions are currently staffed by women. Women are active in corporate circles, advocacy and rights groups, and increasingly, tech start-ups.
In no particular order, here are four women who are building innovative companies in Pakistan.
1. Madeeha Hassan
Madeeha is co-founder of Savaree, a ride-sharing and taxi app start-up that was borne out of a civic hackathon. At the time Madeeha was employed as a graphic designer, but quit her job to work full-time on the idea.
Savaree has had its ups and downs, but it’s solving a glaring problem – traffic in Pakistan is notoriously bad, and public transport lags behind. Savaree has been through various stages of incubation and acceleration. As mainstream Pakistani consumers warm up to the idea of transacting online, it seems poised to take off.
2. Sidra Qasim
Sidra is co-founder of Markhor, the first Pakistani start-up to be accepted into Y Combinator. Markhor, which makes luxury handcrafted shoes, burst on to the scene when it flew past its Kickstarter funding target by US$92,000, attracting backers from 32 different countries.
The start-up’s value proposition lies in its ethical commitment to empower the craftsmen it employs – wages are much higher than existing market rates and they’re treated as part of the team. Still a long way to go for the company, but all signs paint a positive picture.
3. Arusha Imtiaz
Arusha is the co-founder of MySmacEd, a communication platform which enables real-time sharing between parents, teachers, students, and administrators. The edtech start-up raised seed funding earlier this year, valuing the company at US$2 million.
Arusha says they work on a freemium model – and have already expanded into the Middle Eastern market, where they have a few schools running a pilot program.
4. Sahr Said
Sahr is the founder and CEO of BeautyHooked, a marketplace for beauty services and professionals. The potential in this space is huge – the market is highly fragmented and ripe for disruption. Women in Pakistan are no different from others across the world – they like to take care of themselves.
Sahr, a former banker and Cornell business school graduate, plans to eventually move away from the marketplace model and also introduce a white-label ecommerce platform, selling beauty and fashion products.
This article originally appeared on Tech In Asia here.