KARACHI: For Kanwal Ahmed, Soul Sisters Pakistan (SSP) — a Facebook group she started five years ago — was just an idea she developed for herself and the women around her.
However, around two months ago, things changed when Facebook got in touch with her with two opportunities — the first, a fellowship in the first global Facebook community leadership programme; and second, the social media giant’s initiative for entrepreneurs in collaboration with ‘Idea Croron Ka’— which is a reality show on Neo TV that gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas to potential investors.
Joining Ms Ahmed on the reality show segment are five other women from Pakistan — Binish Umair and Ishroon Nazish who run the Karachi Schools Guide group on Facebook, Saba Mohsin Shaikh of Karachi Chefs at Home, Marham’s Asma Omer, Rabia Aziz-Rizvi of Special Needs Pakistan and Nadia Patel Gangjee of Sheops.
Ms Gangjee will also be participating with the SSP’s founder in the Facebook leadership programme.
“As per the Facebook leadership programme, I will be working with Facebook on developing my leadership skills and vision for SSP that will be backed with some funding from Facebook,” Ms Ahmed said.
Discussing the ‘Idea Croron Ka’, Ms Ahmed (who has more than 83,000 women on her group) explained that the social media giant had handpicked a few online community groups from Pakistan and asked the group admins what they would do with the funding. In the latest season, these women would have the opportunity to share their vision and each of them would receive a grant of up to $20,000.
“We’ve been inspired by the many positive stories of what happens when people come together to support each other – from women entrepreneurs and school teachers to families with special needs. That’s why we’re committed to helping Pakistanis build community and are delighted to be announcing this partnership with Idea Croron Ka,” said Clair Deevy, APAC Director of Community Affairs at Facebook.
Talking to Dawn about SSP, Ms Ahmed said: “I wanted us to be able to express ourselves freely without the fear of being judged in a society that often silences our voices. Growth was never the aim. But amplifying our voices always was. So for me, the fact that SSP is finally getting the opportunity to develop this way is both exciting and motivating.”
For Ms Aziz-Rizvi of the Special Needs Pakistan community, her group reaches out to people from all over the world.
“We have members who have differently abled children, siblings, parents, members who want to learn more about syndromes, diseases and special education even members who just want to learn how to be compassionate, tolerant and kind,” she said.
“The group started in 2013 after I gave birth to my daughter Aaliya, who was born with Apert Syndrome. There was no guidance, no support group and no one to understand my anguish. I realised how many mothers and families must be struggling just to keep themselves sane from the chaos of the medical dilemmas. So I started to blog about my daughter, her experiences, hospital traumas, her journey and how people treated her. My Apert Rose started a movement of followers on Facebook and ever since I’ve been writing,” she added.
Binish Umair’s random idea led her and her friend Ishroon Nazish to start Karachi School Guide about four years ago when Ms Umair was looking for a school for her child.
“In the first year we had about 200 new members every month but now we have 97,000 members. We don’t just look at schools but also parenting issues, teachers share their problems with us and we also have school managements on board. The group acts as a bridge between parents, students, schools and tutors,” she said on Tuesday.
Talking about Sheops — which started out as a small Whatsapp group but now has 150,000 members — Ms Gangjee said: “When I started Sheops I never thought it would go this far, go international and partner with companies like Facebook.
“Sheops is Pakistan’s first online women’s marketplace and community facilitating women entrepreneurs and women-oriented businesses, to start and scale their businesses leveraging technology; via a safe, bespoke platform. We also train and assist stay-at-home women to monetise their talents, turning them into a business, in effect increasing digital and financial inclusion of women,” she added.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2018