MEET ENTERPRISING WOMEN - shaping Pakistan’s online food industry

By Erum Ahmed
Tue, 03, 23

What do cooking food, being a self-employed social media expert and developing a successful online business have in common? All three activities make the perfect recipe for what has come to be known as online food entrepreneurship - a newly emerging industry in Pakistan that is offering women from all walks of life the opportunity to create a better future with their own hands...

women’s day exclusive

Women were generally excluded from the first three global industrial revolutions, with men in the saddle of economic affairs throughout the world. However, with the invention of smart phone, the foundations for an equal fourth industrial revolution are being laid sturdier than ever.

Throughout the world, mobile has revolutionised people’s access to services and brought about an unprecedented level of economic potential to enrich the lives of users, especially women. It’s the most effective tool in addressing many of Pakistan’s wider gender inequalities; mobile is empowering women with improved access to essential services, like health, financial and other life-enhancing tools.

GSMA reported that despite Pakistan being a key driver of South Asia’s narrowing gender gap in recent years; it still has a long way to go. The study found that only about 50 per cent of women in Pakistan own a mobile phone, compared to 81 per cent of men. This translates to 22 million fewer women owning a mobile phone than men.

If women across the world were provided equal access to opportunities as men to achieve their full potential, global GDP would rise by over 25 per cent, and companies would be six times more innovative. The world would be less hungry with less diseases and endure a lower number of child deaths. There would also be more lasting peace across the board and the world would be a much better place for everyone.

Businesses like foodpanda understand the urgency of empowering women and designing strategies that leave no one behind. An increasing number of women entrepreneurs are quickly developing expertise in creative online pursuits to grow economically, using tools like foodpanda in Pakistan. More than 60 per cent of the home chefs currently working with the online food delivery service are women.

Six of these inspirational role models sat down with us for this Women’s Day exclusive, to discuss how their businesses are finding immense success through mobile phones. These six women, along with many more, are defeating the statistics through sheer determination and their unshakable will to thrive in a patriarchal environment. Let’s meet them!

Tahira Mirza - Relish
Tahira Mirza - Relish

Tahira Mirza is a successful home chef from Jhelum that has been running ‘Relish with Us’ for about two and a half years. Here, she tells us all about her journey as a home chef and future plans:

“Despite initially facing strong pressure from my family against the idea of working as a chef, I decided to give it a try. I soon understood that cooking is my true passion and the only profession that gives me full confidence in my own abilities. My children supported me at every step, empowering me to achieve my goals.”

“After hearing about the opportunity from foodpanda through my daughter, I gave the idea of being a full-time home chef serious consideration and decided to take a leap of faith. With a carefully developed menu that is filled with delicious foods, I have taken great pleasure in preparing up to 100 orders every day for customers around the city. This opportunity has given me a lot to be thankful for, and I feel more empowered than ever as I perfect my own recipe for success,” adds Tahira.

“On this Women’s Day, I would like to encourage women from all walks of life to follow their dream and become obsessed with it. With a little bit of belief in yourself and a lot of determination, you can achieve anything,” elucidates Tahira.

Asma Salman - Foodies World
Asma Salman - Foodies World

Another inspirational entrepreneur cooking up the perfect recipe for success is Asma Salman from ‘Foodies World’, who turned her home kitchen into a full-time delivery-based restaurant with foodpanda. She began her journey about a year ago, in Lahore.

“With support from my husband, I initially focused on perfecting the menu, while coming up with a fair pricing strategy for everyone involved. With guidance from the company at every step, I was able to find the perfect formula for a successful menu that people love ordering from. In just about a year, my business has earned a strong and loyal customer base that isn’t hesitant to spread the word. The business is consistently growing and the reviews are a treat to read,” shares Asma.

“Additionally, I have developed strong time-management skills, while also putting to work my business and marketing expertise. This Women’s Day, I would like to encourage women to discover what they truly love and start doing it. Whether it’s a business idea, or a dream trip to your favourite destination, have the confidence to follow your dream,” expresses Asma.

Sadaf Naeem - Mommy’s Kitchen
Sadaf Naeem - Mommy’s Kitchen

The home chef platform is increasingly becoming a means for women from all walks of life to find prosperity. It is increasingly breaking down barriers for women from all backgrounds. Sadaf Naeem, for example, holds a Master’s degree in Literature and has been a home chef for more than two years now. She runs ‘Mommy’s Kitchen’.

“Despite having a completely different qualification than my current profession, I have always been known to have a special talent for cooking. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I saw an advertisement by foodpanda for its home chef programme and decided to become a part of it. We will soon enter our third year of working with the company and it has truly changed my life for the better. After dedicating myself to learning the operational side of things, I have developed strong kitchen management skills, even on busy days. The harder you work, the better the results. I love reading positive reviews from my customers,” tells Sadaf.

“Now, I am a full-time home chef and my cooking brings home the major share of income. I have developed strong skills in photography, marketing, food handling, and multi-tasking, ever since my journey as a home chef began,” defines Sadaf.

“On this Women’s Day, I would like to encourage women to face all the hurdles that come their way with great determination, and walk their chosen path with complete confidence in their own abilities. Be consistent and earn small victories every day, so that you can make measurable progress towards your greatest goals,” stresses Sadaf.

Amynah -
Amynah -

Amynah’s ‘’ from Lahore is another brilliant example of a successful cross-over between two completely different professions. She is a qualified accountant and a gold medal winner at the Pakistan Culinary Championship 2016-17. She loves being a home chef.

“Despite my accolades, I initially had trouble convincing my family of my professional career path. However, after persisting with great determination and refusing to give up, I developed useful skills in not only running a professional kitchen, but also efficiently marketing my menu to customers online,” says Amynah.

“My business is close to a year old now, and I’m pleased to receive positive feedback from the community every day. It has allowed me to understand my market really well, so that I can plan my expansion strategically and be sure to find success in future. My greatest focus, at the moment, is to let the quality speak for itself and focus on growing,” she vows.

“My advice to women on this special occasion is to follow your true passion without ever giving up, and life will have no choice but to present you with the results you want. Polish your skills and trust your own abilities,” comments Amynah.

Rakshanda Gull - Zeebees
Rakshanda Gull - Zeebees

The home chef platform has created a brand-new path for women to take control, even when all the cards are stacked up against them. Rakshanda Gull from Lahore is a shining example of endless resilience. A former coordinator in college and a widow raising four children on her own, Rakshanda was never a stranger to hard work and determination. Here’s her heartening story:

“As a widow, it is my responsibility to create a prosperous future for my children, and thanks to the opportunity to work as a home chef, I am able to provide for them as the only breadwinner for the family. With previous experience as a coordinator in college, I had to work hard to learn how a food business operates and grows. It took a lot of time and effort to get a hang of it, and I’m still learning. But in this time, I have learnt to rely on my own abilities to manage the relentless stress of running a professional kitchen all alone. I have only been a home chef for about two months now, and the entire team at foodpanda are eager to help make my business an immediate success. They are highly supportive at every step. It’s an indescribable feeling to read positive reviews for my food, from loyal customers in the area and motivates me to do even better.”

“On this Women’s Day, I would like to offer words of encouragement to all those women who aim to become successful and create a better future for themselves. If they put their hearts and minds to it, they can truly find great success in anything they do,” emphasises Rakshanada.

Malaika Ramzan - Mekees
Malaika Ramzan - Mekees

Finally, Malaika Ramzan, may be the youngest professional home chef, carving her culinary career path at only 17 years of age. She accompanies her pursuit of BS English with a blooming career as a home chef, which began just before the start of her current college semester. “Initially, it was difficult to manage work with studies as both require an enormous amount of discipline and effort for good results. However, I have learnt to push myself beyond my fears and now I feel confident in my abilities to manage both responsibilities with great attention to detail. In just over a year, my business has grown considerably with more orders coming in every day, especially from loyal customers around town,” explains Malaika.

“The most satisfying aspect of being a home chef is the positive response from people on recipes that I have perfected with great care. While working with foodpanda as a home chef, I have also developed strong marketing skills that allow me to target my customers effectively and it has paid off,” she says proudly.

“Going forward, I hope to inspire women of all ages to also pursue their passion without worrying too much about not having the experience needed to cook professionally. Sometimes, all you have to do is take one step after the other, and before you know it, you have already arrived at your destination,” advices Malaika.

Today’s progress in digital entrepreneurship, as we have seen in the cases of the above-mentioned business-women, is largely based on three advantages - it’s the cheapest, most flexible way to launch a business towards success, with the only requirements being access to the internet and a great idea.

This is why digital entrepreneurship is of particular interest to women in Pakistan, who are likely to be the main caretakers for children and elders and have no shortage of creativity or talent. An increasing number of women in Pakistan also happen to be more interested in seeking flexible working solutions that suit their needs.

The opportunity for women home chefs around the country is unparalleled and exactly the kind of bold action that the world needs to progress faster towards gender parity.