23rd May 2022 by Lindsay Toone
Seema Aziz, Founder and MD of Sefam, a major Pakistan retail brand, talked about the challenges of being a woman running her own business and having to manage meetings with Pakistani government officials. Seema enthralled us with her passion for education, particularly for girls, and her belief that it’s fundamental to turning around poverty. She described how she set up a charity, called CARE, which is now responsible for overseeing 275,000 students across 716 schools in Pakistan as they aim to give the children of Pakistan the chance of a better future through education.
Tell us about your Women of the Year Alumnae talk
It was great having the chance to tell the stories about CARE and talk about the schools, the children and the larger picture. I sincerely believe that the world is a global village; that good in any part of the world affects the rest of it, and trouble in any part affects the rest, and that the children of the world are somehow connected to all of us. The millions of children who are out of school in developing countries and all around the world are children who are in trouble. If we want lasting peace and we want them to have better lives, we all have to focus on education. It’s not just about the children of Pakistan. The same problems exist in many parts of the world. We can help other countries with the same problems. So I talked about how we can all do more to help the education and empowerment of children all around the world.
What does community mean to you?
For me, community is the core and the heart of who we are as human beings. Truly the world is a community. Wherever I’ve gone and whoever I’ve met, the people have the same feelings, the same dreams, the same hopes, the same fears. It’s communities where the real-life happens. When there’s trouble you see everywhere how communities rally around. A community nurtures and cares for those who are in trouble, for the weaker ones, and for those in need. They don’t care whether people are white, or black, or brown, or what their religion is, people just come together as human beings. That is what will make us survive. I think that’s where the hope lies.
Who are the women who have most influenced you in your life?
My grandmother and her five sisters were the clan that was the bedrock of our family. They were all so fabulous. As was my great-grandmother who I remember a little – I was in my teens when she passed away. Everyone was so involved with the community. They brought us up in a system of traditions, with respect for older people, to be close and care for each other. Somehow I feel I’m just doing that same thing.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from another woman in your life?
The lesson I learned from the women in my family is to care for and love people, and to have a sense of responsibility and humility. My grandmother and her sisters were always helping others. I learnt from them to roll your sleeves up and just get out there and do what has to be done. That’s about looking after those less privileged and those in trouble, it’s what my family did without questioning. Now I think about it, in the face of great challenges and difficulties I never heard anyone in my family complain about it. They took on whatever was there and marched on in the face of many odds and did their best. It’s about trusting yourself to march on.
What advice would you give young women starting out in their lives and careers now?
Above all, believe in yourself. I don’t understand that there are things women apparently can’t do. I don’t understand it. I believe that we are absolutely equal and that you are as capable as you believe you are. It’s your opinion about yourself that the world looks at and that’s how the world treats you. So I would say believe in yourself, dream away and follow your dream and work hard and you will achieve your dreams. There is nothing to stop you.
Jo Fairley is one of the UK’s leading female entrepreneurs. She co-founded Green & Black’s chocolate, founded Judges Bakery, an organic and natural food store and bakery and The Wellington Cen...Read full article
Ann Cotton OBE
Ann Cotton founded CAMFED in 1993. She is the President of the international non-profit organisation, which tackles the cycle of poverty and inequality by supporting marginalised girls through educati...Read full article
Jayne Senior is the youth worker who blew the whistle on the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal. She ran Risky Business, an outreach programme for troubled youngsters in the tow...Read full article