A successful entrepreneur is the one who learns to swim against the current of conventional ideas and shows how to defy the odds and make the most out of the minimum resources at hand. Creating an idea into a reality with the strength of their will and a vision to guide them is what makes them stand out from the rest of the people.
The will to keep moving forward and to create an impact in the lives of other people is what drove Saad Hamid, a technology entrepreneur, and digital ecosystem builder, towards building a platform where others can learn the skills to realize their own dreams.
In Pakistan, the academia mostly bounds the students in learning what only the books have to offer and mostly neglects the necessary skills one would need to get a dream job or to successfully build their own career. Saad Hamid, the founder of School of Skills, believes that many graduates in Pakistan are not aware of the skills that they require to get their dream job and thus settle for something else.
While talking to MORE he described that School of Skills is developed on the idea of teaching the youngsters the skills of the future, that will help them with their life goals and securing a good future. They pitch School of Skills as a school of the future.
Many young learners go to a certain academy and can learn how to make a mobile application etc. but what they don’t learn is the skill that they would need to sell that application to the clients. The idea that there are different other components required than simply learning the primary skill is the foundation of Schools of Skills.
Among various programs that School of Skills offers, there is a special course SheSkills designed for empowering women through computing. Women in Pakistan can be seen working alongside men equally in the industry, contributing towards a prosperous nation, but still many lack the skills to make their own identity in the society and nation.
The idea of SheSkills originated from the fact that there are a number of conferences for women about developing new skills, but there aren’t any programs where women can come together to discuss an idea.
SheSkills brings the like-minded women together to discuss their ideas
SheSkills provides an opportunity to women to come together, learn new skills and discuss their ideas to further build strong relations that can empower them in their career. Saad relayed that the sole credit for this program doesn’t lie with him as many people inspired him towards working for women empowerment.
Saad once did a storytelling workshop in Islamabad, and the feedback from women was tremendous who asked for more of that program. So the end product was the development of SheSkills, wherein the time of 6 weeks women can learn a vast array of skills including coding, social media, storytelling, etc.
SheSkills has some dedicated local and global sponsors that can help women who belong to a family that cannot afford the course who can assist them financially by paying their fees. They haven’t had they haven’t had organizational sponsors so far, but Saad is trying to find people who will sponsor this program in the future. Till now there have been around ten individual sponsors, who helped by paying the fees of the women who cannot afford the program.
With School of Skills, Saad wants to move towards digital empowerment, but for that, they need to teach people the importance of acquiring the right and relevant skills. The biggest challenge Saad faced and still encounters today in his journey is to convince people that some skills, apart from academia are to be learned for securing a good future. Rational thinking, emotional intelligence, both are part of many skills that a person need to progress in his life and career.
The biggest challenge for SheSkills program was to change the perception of women that computer coding is not something that they won’t be able to understand. Saad observed that many women were women were excited about one-day training but struggled with the idea of six weeks boot camp, as it was a relatively new concept for many women who didn’t know what to expect from the course.
SheSkills tackled this challenge by breaking the concepts down into certain building blocks. For example, they separate web designing, digital marketing, etc. and give individual workshops of these courses in their program, as to create a comfortable learning environment.
Through their six weeks boot camp, they try to provide different flavors of the computing world and in the end hope that the women in the program would pick one and excel in their career using that tool.
The conversation about empowering women sometimes leaves behind the one’s belonging to remote areas
Many programs including SheSkills targets women who have some basic computing skills that need to be polished. Saad realizes these problems and is working towards creating a digital inclusion program which will target those people who have little or no knowledge about computers. He plans to teach these people how to access the digital world using mobile phones and believes that the concept of digital inclusion needs to spread from urban to rural areas.
In Pakistan, the startup eco-system is cultivating in the country, but many of our entrepreneurial leaders have failed to evolve the business models suitable for the society and haven’t focused on the long-term expansion plans for the said businesses.
Saad acts as an active mentor to the startups at Plan9 Tech Incubator, WeCreate, Nest I/O, Invest2Innovate and Startup Weekend Islamabad and has observed that the missing component components in the Pakistan’s incubators and accelerators programs is that they don’t focus on skill building
Almost all of the incubation and acceleration programs in the country offer mentorship, but teaching skills are very different from offering a mentor to the startups. Even though teaching skills isn’t the job of incubators and accelerators but when they ask startups to digitally market themselves, how do they expect them to accomplish this task without having any knowledge of effective digital marketing techniques?
Pakistani society is still unfortunately defined by patriarchal norms and structural inequalities which still today hinders the participation of women in many spheres. Looking at the challenges women face in the industry, Saad believes that majority of the problems arise due to the gender-defined roles and lack of equity in our society.
Saying that women are free to work is not enough, men of the society need to take charge of many things and distribute the load of a woman because otherwise, a professional life will just put further work on a woman’s shoulders. There is no dedicated community to work towards bringing women together and talk about the prevailing challenges in the society.
The society expects so much from women, for instance, she is supposed to look after the family and children while at the same time make an identity for her own self in the world. Accomplishing all these tasks alone is not fair to her as compared to the man who is only supposed to earn the bread and not help in any other way. It is Saad’s firm belief that as long as these barriers prevail, no matter how much you try to empower women, you only end up adding to their burden.
The interview was originally published in February edition 2017 of MORE magazine.