Thinking Big: Sadaf Naz

In honor of Women’s Health Month, The NewsRun interviewed Pakistani healthcare entrepreneur, Sadaf Naz. Sadaf has a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy studies and three years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. She is the Founder and CEO of Her Ground, an online women’s health platform that delivers feminine hygiene products to people’s doorsteps.

In Pakistani society, where talking about menstruation is a deeply rooted taboo, Her Ground is making it easier for women to shop for hygiene products. The platform aims to remove the stigma associated with female menstruation. Her Ground also conducts sessions in Pakistan’s rural areas in order to educate young girls about health, hygiene, and nutrition. Her Ground has already been featured in various publications, including Dawn and Crunchbase.

Interview

1) What inspired you to launch Her Ground?

Growing up in a middle-class family in Okara, it was taboo to discuss menstruation. When I got my first period, my mother gave me a piece of cloth and told me not to wash it in front of others because it was kind of a ‘sin.’ Buying sanitary napkins directly from a shop was the worst experience, because it felt like I was buying illegal drugs. Many women in Pakistan go through a similar or worse experience when it comes to their period, even though it is a natural part of a woman’s life. This inequality really shook me. My biggest motivator is the size of the problem. I want to help women live a healthier and more confident life so they can go on to do amazing things.

2) What steps did you take to set up the foundation of your business? 

Launching the startup was the easier part. Building it turned out to be harder. I left my job at a pharmaceutical company. Without a background in technology or online commerce, I set out to launch our website. When I could not find a good developer, I learned how to build the website, add products, and write content to promote it myself. I reached out to a few online communities, watched a YouTube tutorial, and learned how to use Adobe Photoshop as well.

3) What milestones has the company achieved so far?

In 2018, we won Third Place in the GIST Tech-I Competition, along with the Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur Award. Currently, we have launched our services in all metropolitan cities in Pakistan. We have also expanded our product offering to include vitamins, birth control pills, and other feminine care items.

4) Have you faced any challenges while trying to grow your business? 

Growing up I was the brightest student among my siblings. I was always praised for getting good grades and doing what was expected of me. I didn’t know what it was like to do something that other people around me might not be comfortable with. I had a decent amount of friends and colleagues while working at my previous job. When they learned about my decision to leave and start a menstrual pads company, some of them tried to talk me out of it. I felt a different kind of threat to my identity and got disheartened at times.

Secondly, I was sustaining myself in Lahore and supporting my two siblings in our rented apartment. Thankfully, help came in more than one form. My mother and older sister supported my idea and plan. I also invested time in reading origin stories about successful founders and watched documentaries. I began preparing myself for a new life as a female startup founder in Pakistan. I still have this fear of failure inside me, but I have learned to dance with it and live with it. I use it as a source of motivation and don’t let it pull me down.

5) What makes Her Ground unique?

Her Ground focuses on experience, which is a huge factor when it comes to building trust with our customers. We ship ‘Her box’ on their desired time and date. We are also cutting down costs and selling feminine hygiene products at a better price by directly buying from manufacturers. We have made the ordering process very simple as well. Women can order through mobile text messages, our website, and WhatsApp.

6) In your opinion, what are some taboos associated with female health and hygiene products in Pakistan?

There are many taboos associated with female health, especially female reproductive health. Some people claim that women are at risk of becoming infertile if they take a bath during menstruation. There is also a common belief that women cannot participate in normal activities during menstruation because they are impure and weak. 7) If you had one piece of advice for an entrepreneur just starting out, what would it be? Nothing can stop you from flying high. Just focus on your dreams and work hard. You can indeed achieve everything.

8) Life motto?

To build a platform where every woman can easily discuss her health-related problems rather than feel ashamed.  

Thinking Big: Alex Reynolds

We recently interviewed U.S. born travel blogger Alex Reynolds of Lost with Purpose. Alex is a solo backpacker who has traveled to over 60 countries since quitting her desk job. She is currently in Pakistan. In a recent video, she called Pakistan “an incredible country.” While praising Pakistan’s hospitality, history, and scenery, she also pointed out that Pakistan is “not an easy country to travel in.” In this exclusive interview, we ask Alex about her travel experience in Pakistan, and get her point of view on what Pakistan can do better to promote tourism.

Interview

1) When did you decide that you wanted to visit Pakistan, and why?

When I began my life of full-time travel in 2016, I was traveling strictly overland. Iran was a certainty, but after Iran I wasn’t sure where to go next. Turkmenistan? Difficult to travel independently. Afghanistan? Uh. Pakistan? Maybe. The internet wasn’t very positive about the possibility, but I found a few forum posts from people who said Pakistan was amazing to travel in. That was all the motivation I needed; I figured I’d find out for myself!

2) What’s your funniest travel story in Pakistan?

Well there’s the time I jumped into Swaik Lake in salwar kameez (because, you know, modesty), but then my very cheap salwar ripped all the way down from crotch to ankle! All the men selling snacks and chai by the lake were already staring at the weird swimming girl, and then I had to take my salwar off…Luckily the water was very muddy and opaque that day, and a male friend of mine had swimming shorts he wasn’t using. I had to pull on the shorts while treading water. The men were still very delighted to see me climb out in shorts, but better that than emerging pants-less!

3) What’s your most unnerving travel experience in Pakistan?

There have been a few contenders, but most would take too long to explain. An easy one: a friend and I were left at a “bus station” by our novice escort in Chilas, a notable area of unrest along the Karakoram Highway. After waiting for an hour or two for a bus we weren’t sure was coming, a group of men come into the room where we’re waiting and demand that we give them our IDs and get into their unmarked pickup truck. They refused to tell us who they were, and were very forceful.

Forgive me for stereotyping, but when a bunch of aggressive bearded men try to force you into a truck in a dangerous part of Pakistan, you get a little nervous, ya know? I was stubborn and forceful in return, and refused to put more than one leg in the truck until they gave me THEIR ID cards. After a while, they coughed them up: turns out they were plainclothes policemen. Why wouldn’t they just say so from the start? Sigh.

4) You’ve travelled through numerous countries by now. What keeps bringing you back to Pakistan?

Every time I come to Pakistan, I learn of more places, people, events I’d never heard of but would love to see, meet, visit. It’s a country that never ceases to amaze, and at this point I feel very at home here, I have friends here. There’s always more reasons to come back… so I do!

5) While exploring Pakistan, did you come across any underdeveloped locations or landmarks that have the potential to become huge tourist attractions?

Of course. The Sufi shrines of interior Sindh. Jain temples in Tharparkar. Buddhist monuments throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I haven’t been to the mountains of what was once FATA or the beaches and canyons of Balochistan, but from what I’ve seen of them in photos ,they absolutely have potential. But I must say, I’m hesitant to talk about specific places as huge tourist attractions in Pakistan are usually depressing and to be avoided because they’re poorly managed, overcrowded, and always filthy with trash.

6) As a solo female backpacker, what advice do you have for other females exploring Pakistan on their own?

Be bold, but trust your instincts. Not all men are evil, but many of them do want something more than just a friendly chat. Don’t be afraid to walk away if someone is making you uncomfortable—you owe them nothing, especially if they’re harassing you—and don’t be afraid to hit people who touch you. They deserve it. For more advice, you can check out my post on female travel in Pakistan.

7) What are your thoughts on Pakistan’s current tourism strategy? Please give us two examples of what Pakistan is doing right, and where it’s falling short.

Pakistan’s current strategy is to attract more tourists to Pakistan from overseas and build up new tourist locations, but the issue I have is that they’re not fixing existing locations and infrastructure. The tourism industry is already overtaxed by the vast number of local tourists in the country, and more tourists will only exacerbate things. The country needs to figure out where these tourists will sleep, how they will reach their destinations. These future tourists need to be better educated about both culture and the sights they’re visiting, about the hard and soft requirements of traveling to Pakistan. Most importantly, someone has to figure out what the heck will be done with all the waste tourists generate.

On the up side, I do think the country is doing well in regards to relaxing visa policies and making efforts to reduce travel restrictions within the country. eVisas and visas on arrival exist now (at least, you can now apply for a visa on arrival, though I’m not sure if the system actually works), and NOC requirements have been relaxed in Gilgit Baltistan I know. Times, they are a-changin’, and at least the government has shown it’s willing to get something done.

Thinking Big: Sarah K. Muggo

As a part of our Thinking Big interview series, we spoke with Pakistani writer, Sarah Kamal Muggo, who recently wrote her first book, Fitness Fun, Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pakistan! This book is a great resource for people who want to improve their health and lifestyle choices. It is a compilation of carefully vetted exercise tips, fitness goals, and nutrition advice. It also includes interviews with personal trainers in Pakistan who talk about their fitness and health routines. Sarah Muggo pretty much wrote the first of its kind book about Pakistan’s fitness landscape. The book’s official release date is April 19th!

Where to get the book:

• DM @fitfoodlifestyle1 on Instagram

• Email [email protected] 

• Purchase the book online using this link (includes international delivery).

• If you’re in Lahore, you can swing by Anees Book Corner.

Interview

1) What inspired you to write a book about fitness and healthy lifestyles?

I was always searching for an optimal combination of exercise and diet that would enhance my health and happiness, not make me miserable. After a lot of trial and error, I stumbled upon my own personal formula for weight change. When I say weight change, I mean weight loss, weight gain (yes, some people need to gain), or weight maintenance. I want to share my knowledge, research and experience with Pakistani females struggling to achieve their own unique goals. Professionals have also backed these insights and suggestions.

2) What steps did you take to gather research and information for your book?

I initially planned to pursue a career in medicine, but ended up with a Masters in English. Since I wanted to stay connected to medicine and biology, I decided to get an ICS Diploma in Fitness and Nutrition. My own background in fitness and nutrition, coupled with guidance from health and fitness professionals, helped me gather research for my book. Professional trainers from Kenya who work in Lahore, and Pakistani nutritionist, Dr. Kanwal Saba, edited the book. A lot of research is built on the western experience. However, since Pakistan’s food and lifestyle are very different, I’ve made sure the research also caters to a Pakistani-Asian audience.

3) What are some current health and fitness trends you’ve observed in Pakistan?

Pakistan has a fast developing fitness industry. International level fitness classes like HIIT, Cardio-Kickboxing, Yoga, Pilates and Boot Camps (e.g. the 42DAYCHALLENGE) are all the rage. Qualified trainers in major cities are offering post and prenatal classes. Organic food has also planted itself in a big way.

4) What purpose do you want the book to serve for your readers?

The purpose is simple: highlight the correct and practical way to achieve a healthy lifestyle while keeping Pakistani conditions in mind. People can do effective workouts and eat well without depriving themselves.

5) What are your top three health and nutrition tips?

• Drink enough water and stay hydrated, at least 2 litres daily. Water helps boost your metabolism, keeps your skin soft and detoxifies your body.

• Cardio and weightlifting are one of the best things you can do to strengthen your body and improve metabolic health.

• Make fruit and vegetables an essential part of your diet. They contain hidden antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

6) Life motto?

If you work hard at anything you want to achieve, some result is bound to show up. 

Thinking Big: Kanwal Ahmed

We spoke with the Founder of Soul Sisters Pakistan, and Facebook Community Leadership Fellow, Kanwal Ahmed!

Interview

1) What inspired you to launch Soul Sisters Pakistan?

The circumstances of many women around me. I was abroad at the time and running a beauty/makeup group. People had conversations about wedding makeup, which would often deflect to broader discussions about issues after marriage. I began to notice the many problems women faced in our society, and how badly we needed other people to talk to and relate to.

2) What are the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur?

I love being an entrepreneur, and always have been. From real estate, to make up artistry, to social media – I’ve been the kind of person who has dabbled in many things. I have been able to do that solely because I’m a free bird as an entrepreneur. The kind of freedom entrepreneurship brings is unmatched. I’m not driven by money – and I’m not going to lie, entrepreneurship brings a lot of financial challenges – but because I’m driven by purpose and not money, I find that it is something that hardly comes in the way.

3) Describe the most exciting part of your entrepreneurial journey so far. 

Acknowledgement, funding, and support from Facebook. Five years of tireless work resulted in being part of the first ever Facebook Community Leadership Program, something I never imagined in my wildest dreams.

4) What are your top three growth marketing tips?

I just have one. Be authentic. If you are true to yourself and your audience, you’ll grow. People can see right through fake, and honestly, it’s not a pretty sight.

5) What is your definition of success?

Being someone who can empathize with other people, and being someone other people can relate to. Even as a community leader, being a manager/authority figure has never been the mission. Being someone who can inspire and be loved has.

6) Life motto?

To spread love and kindness in times that need it most.

Thinking Big: Maryam Arslan

We spoke with Pakistan’s rising visual artist, Maryam Arslan, as a part of our Thinking Big interview series! Maryam specializes in creating bright and bold contemporary paintings. Her energetic, loose style gives her work a striking effect. If you head over to Maryam’s Instagram page, you’ll see that her paintings are literally popping out of the canvas! Even though she is based in Karachi, she has displayed her art in both local and international exhibitions. You should definitely check out her eye-catching work! 

Interview

1) How did you start making art?

The day I realized painting is a medium that helps me produce my ideas eloquently. I was a shy girl until I had a brush in my hand. A brush gave me power to express myself, be courageous, and pour my heart out.

2) What themes do you mostly work with?

As it is classically the ‘fate’ of an artist to work alone, I use the most readily available subject to produce paintings that represent me/myself. I make semi-autobiographical works that encompass my observations, explorations, and speculations.

3) Which artists have influenced you and your technique the most?

I am infinitely influenced by my colleagues and mentors, as well as other leading artists who create art I find challenging.

4) How did you turn your art into a business?

Visibility is the key to run any business. Thanks to social media, I did not have to completely rely on others to promote me. I attend art exhibitions, upload images of my work on social media platforms (e.g. Instagram), and refuse to shy away from daunting opportunities.

5) What advice do you have for artists who want to turn their passion into a business?

Read! Read the news, do anything that could enhance your art. Read to feed your research, read to stay in the loop about the art market. Investment in reading has been, and always will be, the prime way to run and grow any business.

6) Life motto? 

I want to inspire others to paint.

Thinking Big: Abeera & Nida

We talked to the founders of Pakistan’s up-and-coming skincare brand, Primary Skincare. You can check out their products here.

1) What inspired you to make your own skincare products?

The complete lack of options for good quality skincare in the local market! Imported products are often available at ridiculously high prices, from dubious sellers, and often sold close to expiry. With regards to the local market, we found that most brands focused on completely natural products. People were not making hybrid products like ours, which combine natural ingredients with skin-loving active ingredients. Also, local laws don’t require cosmetics companies to list their ingredients, which means most local brands are not transparent. We wanted to create a brand that our consumers can trust. 

2) What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?

Lots and lots and lots of research. Researching the market, the competition, possible suppliers, possible retail avenues. You have to know your business before you even get into it. Then we tested our formulations on friends and family, and finally once everyone was happy with the results, we started the business. 

3) What makes Primary Skincare unique and special compared to other skincare products in Pakistan?

Our “clean beauty” motto sets us apart. We ensure that the ingredients we use are non-toxic, safe, and backed by the latest scientific research. We also have a holistic approach to beauty, which focuses on feeling and looking good from the inside out. 

4) What are the benefits and challenges of running your own business?

Running your own business allows for a lot of independence (financially and with your time), and a wonderful creative outlet. It’s also incredibly rewarding when things go right. The challenge is, when things go wrong, you have nobody to blame but yourself. 

5) What are your top three skincare tips?

Hydrate, get enough sleep, and wear sunscreen.  

6) Life motto?

It’s not happy people who are grateful, it’s grateful people who are happy.

Thinking Big: Hira Fatima Rizvi

We talked to the founder and creative behind Zair Zabr Play, a company that strives to produce fun and innovative products to teach young kids about Islam. Hira is a Smith College graduate. She is a trained stem cell scientist and worked at a hospital before launching her own business. You can find her products, along with tips and tons of freebies, at www.zairzabrplay.com!

Interview

1) What inspired you to start Zair Zabr Play?

Growing up I learned about Islam in a passive way, through my parents, culture, and community. I assumed I’d pass it on to my daughter the same way. When I moved to Napa, CA, I lost that strong community to rely on. What’s worse is when I looked online for products to teach kids Islam, most were outdated or developmentally inappropriate. So Zair Zabr Play was born. 

2) What do you enjoy most about your work?

Seeing the change. When you push the industry standard you will see the change. I have seen amazing and innovative products pop up in the Islamic books and toys field in the last couple of years!

3) How did you handle the transition from working at a hospital to working from home? 

Horribly. I had no intention of ever wanting to be at home. I have always craved social settings and thrive in competition. But it’s made me gain some essential skills in self control and time management. 

4) What are your top three work-life balance tips? 

• Before closing up work for the day, make your to-do list for tomorrow. It helps you dive into work focused.

• Have a designated place to work. 

• Treat home chores as a job. Schedule them in. 

5) What is your definition of success?

Success = happiness, and happiness is being satisfied with your efforts. 

6) Life motto?

“Learn while you play, and play while you learn.”

Thinking Big: Momina Sibtain

We talked to fashion and lifestyle journalist, Momina Sibtain, about her new YouTube show, Momina’s Mixed Plate. Momina is the former Managing Editor of T-Edit Magazine. She recently launched her own fashion, lifestyle, and entertainment YouTube channel. In just a few months, Momina’s Mixed Plate has gained 14,000+ subscribers. She also scored interviews with mega-actress, Mahira Khan, music sensation, Jimmy Khan, and Brazilian football legend, Ricardo Kaka!

Interview

1) What inspired you to launch Momina’s Mixed Plate?

I felt that there was a major gap in good original content. YouTube was a fairly untapped market, especially for fashion, lifestyle, and entertainment. I started developing a show for television and soon realized that our mainstream networks weren’t ready for what I wanted to do. My now business partner suggested that we take the show digital, so we decided to take it to YouTube and didn’t look back.

2) How did you come up with the name for your show?

The name was the trickiest part. I wanted something quirky that was very eastern, and yet, wouldn’t be lost in translation to those not from the sub-continent area. It took us 6 months, but Momina’s Mixed Plate stuck! ‘Mixed Plate’ is a super popular street snack, and a staple for everyone growing up here. It became the perfect blend between the east and west!

3) What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Constantly meeting new people, engaging in conversation, and having fun all day long. It has been exciting setting up my own company and tackling new challenges that come with it.

4) What piece of advice would you give to people who want to become entrepreneurs? 

Follow your instincts and be true to yourself. If you emulate or copy others, you will only go so far, but If you bring your individuality and spunk to any project, no one can take it away from you. 

5) Life motto?

Be yourself, be yourself and then be yourself some more!