Women empowerment is key to the success of the real world. The United Nations Populations Fund tells us that women empowerment is essential for the success of both men, women, and society. In other words, the more empowered women there are, the better the world is.
Roshni Rides is a startup that recognizes this truth. Their mission is to empower women in Pakistan through transportation, and their business savvy won the team a million dollars at the 2017 Hult Prize Competition. Co-founders Gia Farooqi, Hanaa Lakhani, and their team pitched their idea for increased mobility for lower class women in Pakistan, and the prize propelled the start of their company, which has grown considerably since inception. Working as a carpooling system, Roshni Rides matches women on their daily commute based on their geographical locations. The company tells us that according to studies, women in Pakistan are 4 times less mobile than men. Through Roshni Rides, they hope to empower women to be more independent and more likely to participate in the job market.
“For many women, a lack of safe and affordable transport services means educational and employment aspirations remain unfulfilled,” explains Gia Farooqi, CEO. “Cultural barriers combined with inadequate transport services, unfortunately, lead to women not being in the workforce. Current services are inconvenient and expensive.”
Roshni Rides aims to solve this problem.
Meet the CEO
As CEO, Farooqi’s job is a combination of strategy, management, and outreach.
“I do a little bit of everything,” she explains. “I have led my team through several pivots in our business. With each pivot, we get closer to our end goal of sustainable impact.”
Farooqi has always been passionate about women’s issues. Not only did she study women’s issues in emerging markets, but she was a scholar under the Institute of Women’s Leadership during her undergraduate studies. She’s always wanted to take a step beyond the theoretical solutions and discussions and be a part of real change — that was the inspiration for Roshni Rides.
When Roshni Rides won the Hult Prize Competition in 2017, Farooqi was shocked. CEO at 23 was never a phrase she thought would be used to describe herself — but that’s exactly where she finds herself today. Like most new CEOs, Farooqi quickly realized that the prestige and glamour that came with the title was fleeting. “Although a nice way to boost my followers on Instagram,” she explains, “that’s nowhere close to the full story. Building a startup is hard — especially as a woman.”
Overcoming Hurdles as a Minority in Business
Although being minority women working in the business world is not always glamorous, Farooqi and her co-founder and CMO Hanaa Lakhani continue to beat all odds.
Lakhani explains that the hardest part of being a minority woman in the business world is simply trying to be heard. Being women who have their own business, especially in Pakistan, means many people simply refuse to listen.
“Sometimes people don’t take you as seriously,” Farooqi explains. “They see this young brown girl and think, ‘Yeah, OK. Let’s see how long your company lasts.’ In terms of statistics we have the odds stacked against us. But that’s never stopped us before!”
“There have been countless instances during business meetings where my male business partners are being addressed, while Gia and I are ignored,” Lakhani adds. “Often times, we aren’t taken seriously or given the space or opportunity to voice our own opinions.”
When asked about how they cope with this negativity, they explain confidence and humility is key. Being open to feedback and constructive criticism is a must, while constantly adapting and learning from everything around you.
They are also quick to point out that success is not just about the bottom line revenue, or direct customer service; it’s also about the network built, the employees hired, and the lessons passed on to others around them. Often times the biggest and scariest step is the first one, but if you believe in what you’re doing, the pair insists, then you’re the perfect person to do it.
“If I learned anything through this process, it’s that everything happens for a reason,” says Lakhani. “Trust yourself and trust the process. It’s okay, and actually good, to make mistakes. This is how we grow as individuals and leaders in business.”
Love What You Do
Living halfway across the world from their family and friends is anything but easy for these passionate co-founders. After all, Karachi, Pakistan is a difficult city to live in — but the team has discovered that when the job has value and meaning, it evolves into something irreplaceable. They find themselves extremely happy with where they are today, regardless of the daily difficulties. The thousands of hours of work are made easier by the greater cause and mission in mind: to help women, and provide the transportation they deserve.