In this latest series of articles, we are publishing interviews of women who are working as a professional or a student in the technology sector. The objective is to highlight their work and contribution to the industry as well as to the community.
In these interviews, you will find women working in technology to solve real-world problems, to break stereotypes and to create the next big impact on the tech industry. This series of interviews shows that even with the lowest rate of women participation in the labor market in Pakistan, there are still lots of smart women who are creating and using technology to work wonders.
Today, we are featuring Dr Iffat Zafar. Read on to know more about her work and get inspired.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.
I come from a broken family where my parents separated when I was 12. While this incident was tragic but it was also something which ultimately defined and changed me into who I am today, and I strongly owe a lot in terms of my ambitiousness, my success and my grit to my childhood. I am a medical doctor by profession, and I graduated from Ziauddin Medical University and after having worked in a few different sectors, which include Medical Oncology, the Pharma Sector, and MicroHealth insurance. Currently, I am pursuing my Masters in Global E-Health from the University of Edinburgh through a Commonwealth scholarship. I am also the Cofounder and COO of Sehat Kahani; a health tech social enterprise which Sara and I co-founded back in early 2017. I met Sara while working in one of our previous organisations where she was working on the concept of bringing female physicians back into the workforce – something which resonated with me. I was the mother of a little girl back then, and I had to quit my pharma career after losing a baby in premature birth, so I just fell in love with this concept, and I guess there has been no turning back since then.
What are your plans/aspirations? What impact will it have on the community/society/your team/your project?
Every country that lacks access to healthcare because the shortage of doctors or a country which suffers a similar situation like the “doctor bride phenomena”, where females are not allowed to work after marriage, can adopt this solution to improve their healthcare situation.
The phenomena of doctor brides might be limited to Pakistan, but female doctors not working after marriage can be an issue of so many countries. Surprisingly, 3.5 million people globally have minimal or no access to quality health care, the majority of them belonging to low-income communities.
Our main target in 10 years would be the MENA region, Bangladesh, Nepal and Latin America where there is a crisis of access to healthcare, and females can not work either.
Pakistan, right now, is in a medical healthcare emergency where we are not doing much in SDGS hence the future of Pakistan looks very unfortunate.
We at Sehat Kahani envision to make communities adapt to our system and ensure that every Pakistani has access to healthcare using our app or a clinic. We believe that health is everyone’s right, and they should be able to access quality healthcare at all times. It is the only way through a healthy Pakistan which can economically grow at the same time.
Please brag about your career accomplishments, what are the things you are really proud of?
I have been the winner of the Engage Transform Award by the IsDB Bank (2019), recipient of the GSMA Fund (2018); the British Asian Trust Fund (2018). I have also won Sandoz Hack Finalist (2017), SPRING Accelerator, i2i Accelerator, Engro I am Change Awards 2016, and Best in Healthcare Award for GIST Tech. Other than that, I am a Global Good Fund Fellow, Mentor for the GIST Tech – I, TEDx Speaker (2018), to name a few. I have spoken at some essential National as well as International Platforms such as the DICE Mobile World Congress Barcelona (2019), Gender Smart Invest Summit London (2018). Currently, I am pursuing my Masters in Global E-Health from the University of Edinburgh through a Commonwealth Scholarship.
What has been your best education/career decision, and why?
Two of my life decisions that I am very proud of. The first and foremost will always be co-founding Sehat Kahani. From learning accounts to learning operations, finance, to give pitches, to ensure there is water in your washroom (like literally :P) and be able to go through the day to day emotional roller coaster ride of a startup. From being a young doctor to meeting CEO’s of leading Multinational companies; this company has given me a lot. Apart from this; another unusual move I made was dropping out of an MBA in Healthcare Management from IoBM. From there, I landed up in an MSC from an International University and that too through a scholarship.
What’re the best lessons you’ve learned?
1) never to give up – from someone who used to say I can’t do this to Can I do this too I HAVE to do this I have changed a lot 2) That human mind and intellect is capable of a lot and that we can tap into the complete potential of our mind and intelligence only if we want to explore it 3) Each day is and should be bigger better and busier than the previous day 4) Sky’s the limit, and you built that what you imagine 5) Resilience in the face of adversity
I have also learned that as women, our most prominent critic and hurdle sometimes is ourselves – and only we can change it and embrace ourselves, develop ourselves so that we can attain success.
Which woman inspires you and why?
All women who have gone through adversary, fallen and stood up even stronger always inspire me. Women such as Malala Yousuf, Muneeba Mazari, Lisa Nichols, Oprah Winfrey etc. who fought against the norms in their respective lives and stood up higher always inspire me.
Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society, in terms of accepting career-oriented women? What needs to change to help more women come forward?
While there is some change; however, I still feel the difference is very slow and gradual, and a lot needs to be done in this arena of accepting, promoting and bringing women back into the workforce. More organisations need to build women-friendly spaces giving them prayer rooms, child care rooms. We need to facilitate working mothers who want to pursue a career but are not able to because of their children, but most importantly, we need women to also stand up for themselves more and more.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
A major social hindrance is that women in our country are not permitted by their families or their spouses to go out and work. In other cases, they are not allowed to leave their households and are expected to stay at home to take care of the children and do household chores.
Since it is considered a social taboo in Pakistan, these women are unable to step out and work at workplaces or different work environments.
The other social hindrance is that the women in Pakistan are looked down upon if they leave their kids to babysitters and nannies at home. There are no formal daycares or child protection systems, and the opportunities to work are not that flexible to be able to cater to the needs of kids as well as work in one go.
The ideal solution to combat this will be to increase job opportunities for females with flexible hours as well as a provider of the nursery if need be. Hence at Sehat Kahani, have developed a system to accommodate our female staff with these facilities. We do this to create a safe and comfortable environment to work in, whether in-house or from the comfort of their homes.
How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?
WomeninTechPK has been a fantastic platform allowing professional women techs to express themselves, provide a platform for sharing employment opportunities as well as experience sharing. WoenInTech can also create linkages and liaison with the various leading Incubators and start building a Network where budding female entrepreneurs can be provided with opportunities to be showcased nationally as well as Internationally. WemenInTech should also start a mentoring platform for women where other women leaders can become a source of inspiration and encouragement. Here we both would love to volunteer and mentor budding young talent whenever needed. Perhaps WomenInTechPK can also support in connecting them with respective investors and other sources of Funding.
You can follow Dr Iffat Zafar using her profiles below, and please do not hesitate in hiring her for your next project.
ProWomen Profile: https://www.prowomen.pk/dr-iffat-zafar-aga
About Sehat Kahani:
Pakistan is a country with a population of 200 Million people were more than 75 % lack access to a qualified physician. While on the other hand, we have a large number of females who graduate as female physicians, yet due to social and cultural norms are unable to practise medicine because of social and cultural barriers. According to the statistics; out of 85,000 licenced female physicians, only 23% are registered with the PMDC let alone the ones who are practising.
Circumventing social and cultural barriers, Sehat Kahani uses virtual telemedicine and video consultation platform that allows female doctors to resume work from the comfort of their homes and provide health consultations, treatment and counselling to patients in far off and unseen communities.These female health experts can be approached via two platforms.
Establishment of affordable E-Health Clinics in low-income areas where frontline female intermediaries such as local nurses and health workers facilitate the online consultation and support mass health education drives within these communities. This e- clinics also give access to lab, ultrasound, medicines and tertiary care referral. Via its vertical of E- clinics, Sehat Kahani has established 26 E-Health clinics in three provinces in Pakistan and directly impacted 120,000 patients till date.
E-Health Mobile Application catered to middle and high-income groups who can access female health experts in just three clicks. This application, in its first phase, is provided to formal economy workers who often neglect their health care due to lack of time or income. We have piloted our services with leading corporates and 15,000 + employees with more than 300,000 employee base locked for this year which include organisations such as HBL, Bank Alfalah, Galiyat Development Authority to name a few. We are also piloting with Meezan Bank, Karachi Electric and are also looking at scaling in other Provinces as well.