By Erum Fatima (YES 2014-2015, Pakistan, hosted by CIEE in St. Louis, MO)
My name is Erum Fatima from Hunza, in northern Pakistan. During high school, I participated in the YES program – a program that challenges its participants, encourages development, and provides the tools each student needs to become a global citizen. Through YES, I was given the opportunity to be a cultural ambassador and bear witness to a vibrant civil society in the United States. It was a great experience to celebrate and compare the differences between Pakistani culture and lifestyle and that of America. During this one-year exchange, and my life was drastically transformed. I developed my interpersonal skills and began to value and pursue quality education. I credit my YES experience for my journey towards excellence and for instilling in me the values of humility, tolerance, self-reliance, civic-responsibility, and honesty. Participating in the YES program sparked my desire to pay it forward in my community.
With many possible career paths and opportunities, the business sector has always been a dominant field in the global employment market. Students in Hunza have been increasingly interested in pursuing business. After graduating from university, many students successfully start their own businesses. However, the transitional phase for students between graduating and finding employment is often very long. Additionally, due to the lack of awareness and education about technology, students with remarkable potential often find themselves incompetent to compete in the global market.
To combat this problem, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant to hold Tech Camp for Girls. The camp encouraged youth entrepreneurship through the brainstorming of business ideas and training on business-related tech platforms. The project raised awareness about the role of technology in modern business and educated young women on how to generate business ideas, pitch ideas to donors, and professionally execute their business plan. During the event, students were taught about digital citizenship, how to efficiently use the internet and social media, and how to use these skills for digital marketing and profitable business activities.
Tech Camp for Girls is the first camp in Hunza that mapped the needs of young women and technology. The aim was to encourage young women to efficiently work in teams, come up with creative entrepreneurial ideas, and empower women in the business world. To inspire the students, we invited local entrepreneurs, such as the two young female owners of ChapterOne, a unique bookstore and coffee shop, and the CEO of CalibreOn, an emerging freelance company in Gilgit. Each speaker shared their individual journey of hard work and struggles they encountered while chasing their dream careers.
More than 150 female high school students from schools around Hunza and Gilgit benefited from this prestigious opportunity. By the end of the workshop, participants had brainstormed ideas in teams, collected data, created a unique business plan, and presented their work in front of an audience comprised of investors and staff from the local business center. The students learned that leadership and effective communication skills are important no matter which discipline one is practicing. The event concluded with much learning, enduring friendships, and lasting memories to take home.
In the post-project survey, 100% of participants reported satisfaction with the event, that they’d learned the process of starting a business in Pakistan, and that they were willing to participate in future events organized by YES Alumni. Eighty percent of participants said they were now interested in pitching business ideas to local investors because of this event. The survey also showed a 50% increase in participants that were interested in pursuing careers in the business sector. Social media engagement was also high, with 90% of participants sharing photos and positive reviews on various social media platforms.
With the success of this project, we are dedicated to organizing more events in the other areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. We plan to keep working with the local partners and investors we collaborated with on future projects. In the future, we hope to watch our participants serve the community in the best possible way. To maintain communication with participants, a Facebook group has been created where participants can share their ideas and network. Currently, this group is not only serving as a networking hub but an intellectual platform as well. Tech Camp for Girls not only benefited participants; it comprehensively strengthened my own leadership, management, and team work skills. It was an honor having a team with diverse educational and professional backgrounds.
First, we would like to thank Principal Zahra Alidad from Aga Khan Higher Secondary School in Hunza, Country Manager at Accelerate Prosperity Imran Shams, Director at Institute for Professional Development Aliyas Khan, and Karakoram International University Gilgit for fully supporting the event and making it a great success. We extend our appreciation to the team of local organizations who supported this project: iSTEM, Ghizer Culture and Social Forum, and Academia for working tirelessly throughout the camp. A big thank you to all the volunteers who showed their dedication and public support. Also, we want to thank the students who attended. Their participation ultimately made this project a huge success! Finally, a hearty thanks to the YES program, American Councils for International Education, and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring such an amazing project.