Amna Raja – The Non-Profit Niche
“As a woman, I believe that we have an inherent responsibility to change a little bit of the world around us.” – Amna Raja.
Today, in conversation with Amna Raja, Programme Manager at the Center for Technology in Education, we attempt to dig deeper and discover what it takes to lead the life that she does.
She has been working at the Information Technology University ever since her return from the United States. ITU is a leading organization in research in information, communication and technology for development. She has also worked on the GIZ funded project on dilating employment opportunities using Speech Technology, the World Bank Project on Data Plug. Currently, Amna is in the forefront of “eLearn Initiative”, an education project funded by the Department for International Development.
Her company creates animations and gamified content for eighth grade Science and Math for public school children in Punjab. These materials are then used by trained teachers who implement them in classrooms using installed LED screens and tablets.
She shares her enthusiasm and excitement on the momentum that the project has gained this early into its creation. Raja describes herself as a non-profit project manager. She believes that she has envisioned a wider purpose that will ultimately catalyze social change. Raja also tells us that her work in speech technology is being spearheaded by her lead researcher to reach the blind community.
However, with every goal met there is an obstacle to be overcome. These inhibitions can only be eradicated with the reminder of a legacy and the part that must be played, the contribution that must be made.
Fueled by the hope that her work inspires others to dedicate themselves to the education sector she says,
“It’s visible when I see an eLearn teacher with her hand on her heart as we shared the vision of improving student learning outcomes for millions.”
When asked about the deterrents of being a working woman in the patriarchal landscape of the Pakistani workforce, she responds,
“I wouldn’t say that what I perceive are barriers so much as minor speed bumps. They are always there…”
Often times, she has been mistaken for a secretary rather than the manager. The tales of quick cigarette breaks where decisions would be made in her absence. The tally marks in her notebook where she keeps track of every time she has been interrupted by a man.
She does acknowledge the men who have mentored her and supported her cause, Dr. Saif and University Registrar Mr. Zaheer Sarwar in particular. She discusses the stereotypes she has attempted to break about career-oriented women being cold, arrogant, emotional and perpetually single. She urges young women to pursue their passions, negating the need to hide behind a veneer to be successful.
She comes from a family of military doctors. Her passion for perfection as well as her fierce work ethic are clearly exhibited as elements of a cohesive and well-rounded upbringing.
She tells us further about her past aspirations to study Psychology and the career path she had chosen for herself was guidance counseling in the education sector. She took up the major at Kinnaird College for her bachelors on a quest for knowledge.
With that determination, she applied for a Fulbright Masters in Non-Profit Leadership and pursued her degree at the University of Pennsylvania. It was the best decision she had made.
Amna was involved in grass root non-profit work while at Kinnaird. An A Level peer helped found the online guidance counseling platform, Possibilities Pakistan, and invited her to join the team. They assisted students with their college applications by connecting them with experienced mentors. Although she started off as a volunteer, she was offered the Executive Director position to take PossPak to a whole new level by creating an on-ground presence in Lahore.
“It was my first experience of how a small number of people can impact change. I learnt a lot about management from it and it was mostly the reason I went into non-profit work.”
An empowered, confident and unapologetic women in pursuit of perfection.
Interview by Hammad Anwar | Written by Manal Mohsin