In this latest series of articles, we are publishing interviews of women who are working as a professional or a student in the technology sector. The objective is to highlight their work and contribution to the industry as well as to the community.
In these interviews, you will find women working in technology to solve real-world problems, to break stereotypes and to create the next big impact on the tech industry. This series of interviews shows that even with the lowest rate of women participation in the labor market in Pakistan, there are still lots of smart women who are creating and using technology to work wonders.
Today, we are featuring Jaya Rajwani. Read on to know more about her work and get inspired.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.
I am a computer engineer & and an advocate of technology for social good, I work at the intersection of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Data, and Social Impact to effect change in society.
Having multicultural & multi-faith experiences as a kid, I developed empathy towards people beyond their religion and socio-economic backgrounds early on in life. I wanted to lead change and improve the lives of people around me. At a very early age, I adopted the habit of reading and started obsessing over female fictional characters from sci-fi novels. One such character that resonated with me was Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek. Like Uhura, I was a minority in my country & like her, I was determined to carve a name out for myself in STEM fields. It stuck with me for a very long time.
Growing up with such relatable characters, I decided to pursue computer engineering as my majors and joined the NED University of Engineering and Technology to become the first female engineer in my family.
Throughout my university, I advocated for encouraging women in technology & worked with IEEE Women in Engineering to lead initiatives that celebrated & trained women in Engineering. Interested in using Data Science for social good, later I joined Aurat Raaj as their Technology Lead after my graduation. At Aurat Raaj, we use Data & AI to teach girls about their reproductive health and understand their learning gaps to help address their health needs. Through this platform, we also advocate for Femtech and the need in South Asia.
I am also currently working on developing a Covid Health Map that provides information about health facilities in Pakistan for Covid19.
What are your future plans/aspirations? What impact it will have on the community/society/your team/your project?
I am a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a Master’s in Artificial Intelligence from the USA. Using my education, experience, and exposure, I want to help Pakistan move closer to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals using Data & AI.
In the future, I want to work with Femtech startups like Aurat Raaj and create a community for women’s health innovation using technology. Collect data about the health needs of women and share with the right stakeholders for them to act.
I want to have a strong voice on technology for social good within Pakistan and become a better public speaker so I can inspire more Pakistani women to enter STEM fields and learn data science.
I want to create a community for Data Science for Social Impact in Pakistan where I can encourage youth to advocate for and work towards open data resources for social problems in Pakistan & use Data Science to address these problems.
Please brag about your career accomplishments, what are the things you are really proud of?
I believe I am at a very early stage in life to brag too much about my accomplishments.
Let’s start by saying that the choices I have made have led me to work with some of the best minds in Pakistan and internationally. And that is a great achievement for me at this stage in life.
With the skills gained throughout this journey, I have had the chance to be able to mentor others & speak about my work at webinars & conferences such as Google IO, AI Summit Pakistan, WOW Festival Karachi, & Tech Camp 2.0. Not only that, but I am also learning & getting mentored throughout to increase my skill set. And I believe it is also an accomplishment to be a part of programs like Swedish Institute Leader Lab and BeChangemakers Social Innovation Incubator among other incredible international participants.
Moreover, my work has helped me receive awards like the MIT Solve, Vodafone Innovation for Women Prize, and become a finalist for Microsoft HERE Mapathon & Commonwealth Youth Awards for Development work.
What has been your best education/career decision and why?
Let’s say for a starter pursuing computer science was one of the best decisions I made in my life despite I was subjected to backlash for not attending a medical school. Then, of course, I have been a constant believer in learning, therefore, taking online courses and being engaged in research to learn about advancements across the globe did not only benefit me academically but also encouraged me to apply for Masters. And I ended up receiving one of the most prestigious scholarships to study AI from one of the top universities in the world.
Additionally, after graduation, although I applied for jobs in various software houses, I still wanted to take some time to understand what I wanted from life. And the only thing I could think of using Artificial Intelligence for Social Impact.
At that time, I used to go to the British Council Library and one day I attended a session about how women are important in STEM fields. I was extremely inspired by one of the panelists Saba Khalid and her work. I reached her out, started getting mentorship from her, and ultimately joined Aurat Raaj to work on with Saba on their AI-chatbot Raaji that teaches women about reproductive health. This has been one of the best decisions for me professionally.
What are the best lessons you have learned?
- One person cannot do it all. Teams that believe in the same vision and have similar values can conquer the world.
- Technology is the future. And innovating in different fields using interdisciplinary technological solutions can help the world become a better place.
- Believing in yourself and your work is very important. There will always be one person who understands ideas & believes in you, and that’s enough.
- The pandemic and changing world order have taught me that one can’t always feel positive. Slowing down is okay and self-care is necessary.
- Finding the right mentors is very important.
- If you have the knowledge, pass it on.
Which woman inspires you and why?
There are many “women” who inspire me. Two women who have mentored me throughout my journey are Saba Khalid & Asra Rizwan.
Asra, and I have known each other since NED University. We worked at her campus company called Openmic which has now turned into a social startup. I always admired her leadership qualities at NED on how she would encourage her team to take initiatives and created a sense of ownership among them. I also had the opportunity to work with her at the Karachi Civic Innovation Lab where she saw my enthusiasm for Data Science and Civic Innovation. And she introduced me to Data Science for Social Good and the work that is being done globally in this field.
Saba on the other hand has mentored me into being a social entrepreneur, a better speaker, a femtech advocate & understanding the reproductive health & rights of women. Working at Aurat Raaj, I have learned collaboration, resilience, getting out of my comfort zone, and dreaming big. Saba being a mentor has inspired me to stand up for what I feel right despite the world goes against you. She has also taught me how it is very important to innovate for the future and learning should never stop!
Other than the women I got directly mentored from, I have been greatly inspired by women like Jehan Ara, Shamim Rajani, Faiza Yousuf, Anum Kamran, etc. I want to one day run incredible programs like them and be a face for strong Pakistani women in STEM.
Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society, in terms of accepting career-oriented women? What needs to change to help more women come forward?
Definitely. Although there is still much more to achieve for the technology industry to be completely accept women, however, there has been improvement in terms of opportunities for women in this industry.
With the pandemic, we have realized how some women have found it easier to work from home while some are overwhelmed with the burden of household chores increasing. In such cases, with or without the pandemic, companies should be inclusive to incorporate these issues and allow women to work flexibly. Although some companies are following this already, most still need to catch on to their late hour sitting policies & unsafe work environments to encourage women to join their workforce.
Moreover, diversifying panels to include women (instead of doing manels), female VCs & funding for female-led startups, not differentiating job roles based of gender, and incorporating their opinions are some changes that can help women to come forward & contribute.
Supporting programs like CodeGirls & Tech Karo and making them available to girls and women in all schools and colleges can help girls be more confident about their skills and mentor them into finding the right opportunities.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
While my generation still fights with problems like wage-gap, equal opportunities without discrimination based on gender, and the same growth potential, I believe this will not be eradicated for the generation behind me.
Practicing freedom so speech in the workplace will still be a gender-based issue for the generation of women that comes after me. Casual sexism, defining some job roles as ‘for-women’, fighting to be part of important conversations about advancements in the technology industry is still some of the things that I believe will persist for the generation hereafter.
Moreover, I feel entrepreneurial space especially social entrepreneurship using technology is going to be not so easy road for women in Pakistan.
If you could change one thing about the tech industry/business, what would it be?
Ever since I joined NED University and learned about the technology industry, I have seen it evolving laterally. Technology after technology we keep learning new skills and stand out in terms of tech stacks and robustness of our products.
What makes me sad is the lack of innovative thinking and interdisciplinary work in the social impact sector using the technology of the future such as Data & AI. Most such work is done by startups which are not then funded or supported by tech giants and government. There is also much lack of the spirit of working together for the betterment of society and encouraging ideas by the youth, rather most of the time everyone is running after similar ideas and brand them under their names. This also results in dying or drifting away from rich talent.
How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?
WomenInTechPK is one of my most favorite communities. The strength and the support it has provided to all its members and the efforts of Faiza Yousuf are truly commendable. I also really admire the CodeGirls initiative and how WomenInTechPK never holds back from supporting conferences & initiatives that celebrate women in this sector.
I believe, WomenInTechPK within its community can also take steps to start a conversation within how the skills they are learning on the go can be used to improve society through webinars and competitions. This can help create a network of mentoring and learning where women can support female-led initiatives & grow together.
You can follow Jaya Rajwani using her profiles below, and please do not hesitate in hiring her for your next project.