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An agent of change

Umber Tanya Ansari is handling corporate communications for Engro Corporation and all of its group companies. She has studied Pre-Medical and then pursued Psychology from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, USA. She has been working in Pakistan for 12 years now. Before joining her present job, she was with UBL Fund Managers. Prior to UBL Funds, she was heading a number of departments at Crosby Asset Management. According to Ansari, “The corporate sector is home to me – I am pretty accustomed to the daily grind.” This week in a candid interview with You! Ansari talks about her work and ‘I Am The Change’ (IATC) Awards, initiated by Engro in 2012. Here are the excerpts:

You! How did the idea of launching ‘I Am The Change’ Awards come about?

Umber Tanya Ansari:  There are a number of committed people who have dedicated their entire lives to the social and economic development of Pakistan. These individuals have tried to address numerous problems that have affected Pakistan – poverty, hunger, health, sanitation, education, gender equality, and many more, but have not been acknowledged for their efforts and determination. The purpose of ‘I Am The Change’ Awards is to recognize and appreciate their efforts.

You! What are the aims and objectives of this initiative?

U.T.A: The aim of this initiative is to pay tribute to the local change agents who have worked tirelessly to improve the living standards for Pakistan’s poorest of the poor. Through IATC, we aim to extend help to these organizations.

Our aim is to bring to light two categories of social change: social development by not-for-profit organizations and social enterprises that work under a sustainable business model. These organizations are trying to solve society’s issues and IATC is a platform to celebrate, support, and recognize them so they may be scaled up across Pakistan and impact an increasing number of lives.

You! What is your criterion of selecting people or on what basis do you select individuals/ organisations?

U.T.A: The organisation can apply for either the award in social development or social enterprise and has to be registered for a certain number of years to participate. NGOs/ NPOs can pitch their high-impact work that meets the award criteria to be evaluated further.

The criteria of selecting people or organizations will be based on certain key factors which include the impact of the social problem they are trying to tackle and to what extent they are successful in tackling that problem. We want to recognize those individuals that are continuously working towards a cause which is close to their hearts and have found innovative ways to contribute to that cause. Moreover, we have a panel of judges that will make a final selection. They are highly notable names in the realm of philanthropy, but shall remain undisclosed till the end.

You! Does your organisation give financial award to the recipients too?

U.T.A: The winner of either of the awards: Impact Award in Social Development or Impact Award in Social Enterprise is going to be given a grant of PKR 2 million from Engro Foundation that they may invest in their projects/organizations. The winner will be announced by the end of November, 2017.

You! Does your organisation give equal opportunities to men and women?

U.T.A: Over the years, gender equality issues have been present in many workplaces. The good news is that women are being recognized as an integral part of the corporate world. Despite all the restrictions and challenges, we are determined to climb up the ladder and take over job roles that were previously considered male jobs.

Our company has always supported its vision to promote gender equality and has started to implement this idea at its workplace. As an organisation, we pride ourselves on the fact that we continue to retain and hire the best from Pakistan and beyond by providing them equal opportunities to grow and prove themselves.

You! Have you ever faced sexual harassment at workplace?

U.T.A: I haven’t faced overt sexual harassment, thankfully. Contrarily, I have been fortunate to earn the respect of many male colleagues. That, by no means, indicates that sexual harassment doesn’t exist – I have encountered it in a more subtle manner, but just from one senior person in the span of my career, and I believe my response, or lack thereof, set the record straight right away. Discrimination is another story, though!

You! Any lessons learnt the hard way?

U.T.A: All of them, I’d say! Few lessons are learned an easy way. Getting ignored in a board room, spoken over time and again, ideas being taken by colleagues as their own – the list can go on. Professional lessons are seldom learned painlessly. But the point is to learn – toughen up -stay respectful to everyone – improve yourself – keep going!

You! What’s your biggest accomplishment to-date?

U.T.A: I’d say adjusting in Pakistan after a lifetime in the US is an accomplishment. It has been interesting, to say the least. More than environmental factors, it’s an entirely different mindset to adjust to, across all social strata. But I also consider raising the ranks in an investments industry highly dominated by men to be an accomplishment!

You! What do you think are the main ingredients or traits essential to attain success?

U.T.A: The first is to maintain balance between your professional and personal life. The second is to have cheerleaders in life – surround yourself with people who will be truly excited about your successes and push you to avail every opportunity you get that seems like a good idea. Three, have a mentor. Four, work hard and stay confident. That brings me to five: keep learning. Never stop learning. It keeps you relevant, it keeps you sharp and on your toes, and, let’s face it, it keeps you interesting to others. Finally, six – don’t chase money. Chase success, chase passion, the money will come.

You! What are disadvantages of being in a corporate sector?

U.T.A: I think the only disadvantage is to be tied to a set hierarchy and growth model. It is frustrating, at times, that you can’t grow as quickly as you might want to or feel you deserve to simply because those before you took x-number of years. Also, timings – office timings. I’m not much of a morning person, so waking up early is a bit painful! But it’s part of the corporate life, so, can’t do much about that!

You! Your philosophy of life:

U.T.A: Everything is just a matter of time. That’s what I tell everyone who is going through a good or bad time – it won’t last, so stay steady.

You! What is a typical day in your life?

U.T.A: Aside from the 9-5 grind, I don’t keep other parts of my day static. That’s no fun!

You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?

U.T.A: Stay tough. Stay strong. Know that even your closest male friends are capable of making you feel like you did or did not achieve something perhaps because of your gender. Don’t let it get to you.

You! Do you think general mind set of our society is changing?

U.T.A: Slowly – yes. An increasing number of people are working towards a more positive society. They are more open to new ideas and concepts.

You! What are the challenges, in your eyes, being faced by Pakistani women today?

U.T.A: Women in Pakistan face a unique set of challenges and prejudices in a variety of domains. They are not promoted as their male counterparts, are paid less for the same amount of effort, they can fall victim to sexual harassment, and, even at home, can often face resentment if they are doing very well in their careers.

You! How do you unwind?

U.T.A: I usually step out with friends for a cup of coffee or tea. I love sitting outdoors. When I unwind alone, though, it’s often reading a book, while chatting with friends, while watching TV, and streaming videos online – isn’t that how everyone unwinds? We’re master-multitaskers.

You! What are the positive points of being economically independent?

U.T.A: Everything is a positive! You live a life where you aren’t having to rely on someone else to pay for your desires. You go to the mall, see something you like, and pick it up off the rack without a second thought – because no one will ask you ‘ye kahan se aaya?’ It’s a beautiful thing! You can get people all the gifts you want. You can go on vacation on your own dime, and stay in a 5-star or a hostel – your call entirely! Eat out as much as you want – buy yourself a car and afford the fuel to take you to the beach in Balochistan!

Nasreen, Gul. An agent of change. The News, September 26, 2017.

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