Mehreen Aziz Khan
She is the associate director for business development, communication and talent management at Acumen, Pakistan – an NGO which invests in social impact – Mehreen Aziz has covered leaps and bounds in advancing philanthropy from the traditional approach generally seen in the society. “We empower the poorest of the poor and help them build a life for themselves, which has dignity, rather than dependency from choice, not charity,” explains Mehreen. She is empathetic, sensitive and self-aware which her Miracle Journey demonstrates.
Mehreen believes that while one is usually able to find resources and ways of tackling external challenges, it is the internal struggles women in our society face so commonly that are the more insidious ones. She explicitly points out that because traditional roles ascribed to women are of managing the household and appearing presentable at all times, that is what makes the work-life balance a tough call for working women in Pakistan, while the men continue to enjoy the liberty of focusing solely on their work at the expense of neglecting family obligations. “Yes, those internal struggles have been the most difficult. Unfortunately, there are still biases in society because of which women in workplace still have a hurdle to overcome. Things are changing very rapidly in Pakistan for the better, but it’s still largely a male dominated culture and that’s where the struggle is a bit harder for women in the workplace,” Mehreen sheds light on the dilemma of working women in Pakistan.
The most difficult life decision for Mehreen had been to choose between her career and looking after her ailing father who, sadly, passed away last year. She chose to tend to her father and is satisfied with the choice she made. “You’ll always get another job, other opportunities but you’ll only have one set of parents.”
Mehreen claims independence is an emotional rather than a monetary state. “If you’re not emotionally independent, then you’ll always be dependent. It won’t matter how much money you have in the bank. If you depend on another person for self-worth and esteem, then nothing is going to fill that hole,” she clarifies. She advises young girls that work is a part of one’s life and it shouldn’t take precedence over one’s health and relationships. “If you’re not healthy, nothing else will have meaning.” Mehreen reminiscences a story written by a nurse who spent a number of years caring for people who were dying, with the message of staying happy and forming lasting relationships. “If you’re a happy person, your energy will be different and that’s what you bring to work.”
Mehreen denounces the traditional theory of ‘work-life balance’, claiming that “life has to come first and work is the subset of that.” And in order to do that, she believes, one has to choose what they love to do, a mantra she’s a living example of. “My mission and passion for Acumen’s work is to create change in society and for me it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like giving my life meaning beyond my limited existence,” says an exuberant Mehreen, who also vouches for breathing exercises, a good night’s sleep and no-smoking as tricks for staying calm and refreshed throughout the day.
If there was something Mehreen could change, she’d like to go back and challenge her athletic streak a bit more. “I would’ve spent less time studying and more time outside. I think academic achievement is great, but we need to encourage young girls to be physically active.”
Mehreen’s absolute Miracle Moment was when she was chosen as the face of Pakistan for BBC World, when she anchored ‘Question Time, Pakistan’ and ‘Hard Talk, Pakistan’. “It was the first time BBC World had dedicated programming to Pakistan and I felt enormously privileged, honoured and proud to be highlighting across fifty-five countries how open, progressive and discerning a society Pakistanis were becoming.”
Mehreen leaves us with a note on the dearness of a mother-daughter relationship. “It’s so valuable, nothing can ever replace that in your life. If your mother is alive and well, then it’s the biggest wealth you have – the biggest treasure.”