By Pragya Narang
“Education is the only way towards a better life,” says Faiza Yousuf, a multi-award-winning community leader and the founder of WomenInTechPK, the biggest tech community for women technologists in Pakistan.
“For women in South Asia especially, education is their ticket towards self-reliance and financial independence. I think everyone, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, and abilities, should get equal opportunities for getting an education as well as to be financially independent,” asserts the young Karachi-based changemaker.
Her organisation has been making waves in the local tech industry due to its programmes and activism. A postgraduate from NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, Faiza completed the World Bank-funded programme WomenXPakistan and currently leads the product development wing for software development company Genetech Solutions. Her project portfolio includes programmes with USAID, UNEquals, and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, amongst others.
Speaking with quiet, unassuming resolve, Faiza expresses her passion for education, seeing it as a ladder, even a magic wand that solves problems – not just the basic ones of livelihoods or for fulfilling basic survival necessities but also social issues.
“Pursuing the path of education has changed my life and lives of numerous other people that I know,” affirms Faiza, who will be speaking at eShe’s South Asia Union Summit Led by Women on a panel titled “Pathbreaking Education: Raising Global Citizens of a Digital World” to be broadcast live on October 3, 2021.
Faiza finds that the South Asian social culture or belief system has prevented many women from gravitating towards careers in technology despite having the aptitude, although a change is slowly creeping in to counter this mindset. “Women are usually encouraged to become teachers, nurses, doctors, and in most cases, homemakers. These professions are an extension of the roles women stereotypically play in societies and families as caregivers,” she says.
Her organisation is trying to change this limited mindset: “Getting a career in a field like technology has significant barriers, and one of the barriers that we are trying to break is not investing in girls’ technical education.”
Faiza’s community-funded coding and business skills boot-camp CodeGirls teaches coding skills to girls and women in Karachi who have never had the opportunity to get technical education and proper mentoring. “We have so far placed nearly 150 women in the local tech ecosystem,” she says.
For Faiza, her work at WomenInTechPK started quite organically with a Facebook community, four years ago. Since then, it has turned into a nonprofit organisation. “We do advocacy, collaboration, mentoring, content creation, and skill-based programmes focused on diversity and inclusion, mainly in the technology ecosystem in Pakistan. We have over 9000 women members, and the community is a happening place for both existing and aspiring women in tech.”
CodeGirls has received immense support from both local and international tech sectors in the form of sponsorships, outreach, and work opportunities. Their other popular programme is CryptoChicks Pakistan, which does blockchain and AI hackathons and runs online education programs for the CryptoChicks HQ in Canada.
Faiza sits on the table of the Pakistan Software House Association’s Diversity Committee and WomenInTechPK plays an important part in the national discourse on diversity and inclusion in tech.
The organisation has also hosted focus groups, roundtables, and produced a substantial amount of research and content with the sole purpose of improving gender parity in the tech ecosystem. “The tech industry has a better payscale and better facilities than many others, and the industry can definitely use some gender parity,” she quips.
Her vision of transforming education in Pakistan is practical, clear, and centers around teachers, whom she considers building blocks of the entire education system. “A good teacher has the potential to change lives,” says Faiza, who often dons the cap of a teacher, trainer, and visiting professor for various local universities.
She believes education should be geared towards creative and analytical thinking as well as towards play and learn methodologies. “The inclusion of coding skills would have been an excellent decision. I also believe that students should be taught in a blended way, both online and offline, as well as both in and outside the classroom,” she shares.
In a region like South Asia where parents assert tremendous control on their children’s lives especially decisions about education and career, Faiza believes there’s a lot to learn from the European education system, which can be localised and adopted to the regional context. “Focusing on low-hanging fruits such as replacing rote learning with creativity and also creating a culture of reading will bring about an immediate and positive impact,” she suggests.
A South Asian Union on the lines of the European Union will benefit the education system in the entire region too. Faiza has a wishlist of some common elements in education that she hopes to see introduced in all South Asian countries: “I hope there is increased mobility, especially for education and work so that we see more exchanges and learn from each other’s best practices. Another thing I wish for is free specialised or university-level education for all, since a large chunk of our population cannot afford private higher education. And I really hope we move from rote-learning to creativity and analytical thinking in the future. We must focus on learning productivity and self-learning too.”
The governments, she believes, must step in and take responsibility for changing the way people think by encouraging education and technology training for girls. “Active investment in women-focused initiatives and running awareness campaigns will not just change lives of individuals, especially women in South Asia, but also catapult our region to a prominent and powerful position in the globe,” she says.
Join Faiza Yousuf and 45 other eminent speakers at eShe’s South Asia Union Summit Led by Women (October 2 and 3, 2021), which will be broadcast live on eShe’s Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter. Participation welcome.
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