Kashf Foundation is a name known and respected across Pakistan for the groundbreaking work done in the field of microfinance targeted especially towards women. Sadaffe Abid, first as the COO and then CEO, was the driving force behind converting Kashf from a pilot project operating from two rooms to now employing two thousand staff and disbursing US dollars, serving more than three hundred thousand women clients.
Currently Sadaffe runs an enterprise by the name of Circle. The aim of Circle is to resolve social issues in Pakistan by the use of technology. Circle aims to give leadership opportunities to women and the youth to come up with innovative ideas that provide technology based solutions. They are currently running a campaign by the name of ‘Elevate’ that brings together big companies, non-profits, and social enterprises to pledge to bring more women to the forefront and provide more visibility to women.
Sadaffe feels that women tend to doubt themselves much more than men. “I had an interesting observation when I got married that my husband would approach situations with a level of confidence that I knew was clearly lacking in me. I have noticed, and there is global research to support the fact, that women tend to underestimate themselves. Not only do we need to provide that confidence to women, it is up to us build strong support networks. We are good at social support networks like friends and families but allies at work are also important.”
Sadaffe comments on how women play several different roles in society and perform them well, but when it comes to giving time to themselves they are found lacking. “As women we need to start by investing in ourselves. If you are happy and fulfilled, if you are taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, you will be able to bring more joy to people around you.” For Sadaffe, that care comes in the form of music, travel and talking to friends. Of course it doesn’t hurt that her work doesn’t feel like work to her and she gets a lot of joy just from being able to do what she does every day. She continues by saying that women need to take more risks. “If I could go back ten years I would stretch myself more, and put myself in situations that are uncomfortable. Those are the times when you grow and move forward.”
On gender equality, Sadaffe has much to say to Pakistani organizations. “We have more than 50 percent women in population but those numbers are not represented in the workforce. There is ample research to suggest that it makes a good business case to employ more women in jobs. According to research done by Mckinsey, you improve significantly on your financial returns if there is more diversity in the workforce.” This is a topic which is obviously very close to Sadaffe’s heart. She goes on to say how companies need to develop ecosystems that enable women to thrive. Small things like daycares, flexible hours, women networks will go a long way in providing the right platform for women to grow.
She recalls her Miracle Moment as the time when she and her team launched ‘Elevate: The youth fellowship’. “To be in a room with more than one hundred young people, many still in their teens, bringing their ideas and creativity for social innovation was a real miracle moment. Pakistan’s only way forward is to invest in these young people.”
Lastly, Sadaffe talks about her mother who has been a teacher, a principal and a Bridge champion. She talks with a lot of pride about how her mother was able to cope up with all the roles to perfection along with building a great family and a solid social support network. But for anyone who talks to Sadaffe it is evident that she too is currently on a path where future generations will look back to her many achievements with great pride.