woman @ work
Arusha Imtiaz is the Chief Commercial Officer of Daraz, Pakistan’s largest e-commerce platform. She has over a decade’s experience of working in the tech space of Pakistan, ranging from industries such as edtech, ride-hailing, e-commerce and cyber security. Prior to joining Daraz, she was the Chief Operating Officer at Rewterz (a specialised cybersecurity company), before which she was heading partnerships for Careem in the North Region. In 2014, she co-founded ‘Edjunction’, which was an edtech startup that connected parents, teachers, students and school administration on different topics related to kids’ education and life in schools. They successfully raised a round of investment at a stage where startups were not a mainstream concept in the country, and Pakistan was not ranked among popular emerging markets for VCs. Arusha graduated from the Lahore University of Management Sciences with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, where she also served as a Teaching Assistant and Research Associate. She resides in Pakistan with her family, and is the mother of a 4-year-old. In an exclusive interview with You! Arusha shares her journey with our readers...
You! What do you like most about your work?
Arusha Imtiaz: The nature of my work and how impactful it is. Most roles within the company are extremely impactful, and the outcome is visible very soon regardless of whether it is in the form of success or learning. Whatever efforts are put in, you can see the results immediately and makes you realise what value you add to the organisation.
You! Can you tell us briefly about ‘Edjunction’, the startup you founded?
AI: Edjunction was a mobile app that connected all the relevant stakeholders who are linked to the education ecosystem. The idea was that we need to have a platform that connects your parents, teachers, students, school administration, and even the government when it comes to public schools. We wanted them to be able to connect on multiple fronts from things such as attendance, applying for leaves, homework, online submissions, and incorporating business intelligence to bring more efficiency and help people make informed decisions. We then entered into a partnership with Telenor to white-label the product and sell it as their own product on a profit-sharing basis under the name of Telenor E-cademics.
You! What made you interested in starting ‘Edjunction’?
AI: The inspiration for Edjunction came through interactions with kids in our own family, and the thought process behind the product was that today the world is so interconnected; you know what your friends and family are doing no matter where in the world they are, thanks to technology. When it comes to the education system, despite spending 30-40 per cent of their income on their kids’ education, parents are unaware of what their children are studying in schools and how they are performing. The product was initially designed to create a communication mode that allows parents to become more involved and have information readily available.
You! What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken as a professional?
AI: Undoubtedly, it was doing my own startup. It is never easy being an entrepreneur; to leave a comfortable job and start your own concept is a scary prospect especially when you realise that the global rate of failure is very high (approximately 90 per cent). I firmly believe that to become an entrepreneur, you need to have a crazy amount of passion for the problem you are solving and optimism. Everyone is aware of the failure risk being too high, but you still need to have unwavering faith and passion. You never start a company thinking it would fail. Pessimists can never be entrepreneurs.
You! What has been the most career-defining moment so far for you?
AI: I personally think you don’t always have one career-defining moment, it is a culmination of several milestones. However, for me, doing my own startup changed my career progression manifolds and not only fast-paced my professional growth but honestly, it changed me as a person too.
You! What has it been like to be a woman in a leadership position?
AI: I think being a female leader is no different than being a leader. I generally think, I have been lucky enough to not face any resistance while being a working woman or even a mother. I have tried to keep my focus strictly on performing, and I have seen value in my hard work. As a good leader, you need to have really good decision-making skills, agility, and adaptability, especially in a market like Pakistan where business realities are changing very rapidly. My learning as a female leader is that in Pakistan, we need to create far more opportunities to support women and allow them to come to the forefront.
You! Does your organisation promote gender equality?
AI: Yes, we do. When we talk about gender equality, we actually practice it with our actions too. Every department has at least 20 per cent female representation within the organisation, and these are roles across all levels of seniority and functions. Especially if you look at the leadership team, you will find a lot of women in core leadership positions across the group.
You! Do you think our women are tech-savvy?
AI: Women in Pakistan are tech-savvy because that’s where the world is heading and if you don’t know how to use technology, you get left behind. However, the sad part is that a lot of women in Pakistan don’t feel safe revealing themselves on social media platforms. When you move beyond urban areas, women’s digital participation would decrease due to a lack of exposure and opportunities. A lot of women in rural areas don’t even have smart phones for instance.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?
AI: As women, at times we tend to limit ourselves too much due to self-doubt. My advice would be that when you want something in life, just go for it. If it fails, it fails. Letting go of that self-doubt is very important. I am where I am because I have always had this confidence instilled in me since my childhood. Thanks to my parents, their encouragement allowed me to manage large teams and make business decisions that involve a lot of money. Believing in yourself is the key to unlocking opportunities for yourself.
You! What are the main issues, in your eyes, being faced by Pakistani women today?
AI: Trying to kill their voice and shaming women. You will see this happening in every industry - politics, workplaces, entertainment, or even at home. All of these things are so instilled in our culture, which indirectly tells women to think 100 times before voicing their opinion. We need to fundamentally fix this problem. Women can do great things, and it all starts with allowing them to express themselves.
You! What are the positive points of being economically independent?
AI: You contribute to the economy. When you are financially independent, your finances play a very important role in your independence overall - any decisions you take in life. The reason men are more authoritative globally is because of financial independence.
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
AI: Drop off my daughter at school at 8:30 am in the morning. Come to work and check my emails. Spend the entire day till 6 pm talking to teams and in different meetings. Leave for home around 6:30 pm, then spend time with family till we go to bed.
You! What is your biggest indulgence at home?
AI: Quality sleep, good food, and listening to stories from my daughter about her school.
You! What is your most treasured possession?
AI: My daughter! She is everything to me.
You! How do you keep a balance between family life and work?
AI: I am still trying to figure this one out. But if it wasn’t for my husband and his constant support, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.