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My Story and Lessons Learned by Samina Rizwan



“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you deal with it,” said a wise man. My life happened while I was busy making plans, so this resonates well.


This is not a career chronology; rather, it is a series of milestones where I learned life lessons which may serve the readers well.


In 2002, I joined Oracle Corporation as MD Pakistan. At the time, there were a handful of women in the IT sector, all brilliant professionals in an industry which did not accept their presence easily. We carried the daunting task of making the country aware of software vs. mere hardware; users would invest millions in hardware and would populate it with platforms and solutions copied on Rs. 60/- CDs. I recall the time and compare it with today; it has been a long but fulfilling journey.


Our promising performance brought SAARC countries (other than India) under my care. Little SAGE (South Asia Growth Economies) would never be a giant, but it was the mouse that roared. We achieved many firsts, registered exponential growth and gained recognition at the global level.


I did not know then that the mother of all tests awaited around the corner.


In 2003, my world crashed. My husband lost his life in the line of duty. Reality loomed large; I was alone and my children were orphaned. It was a gut wrenching time for us and I applied the only antidote readily available; work. My work became my painkiller and companion. We delivered the best results ever for SAGE, received approval for expansion, and Oracle Pakistan (Pvt.) Limited was born. During Oracle’s awards ceremony, a new category was introduced - Against all Odds - and I became its first recipient.


Throughout this personally challenging period, professionally the women of Oracle became my strongest allies; Adaire Fox-Martin, Patricia Nance and Manjit Kaur visited Pakistan several times simply to register support of my strategies, and to meet my customers, including the President of Pakistan. Bronwyn Hastings guided me through the process of growing our partner network, which too boasted women of substance, such as Jehan Ara who led P@SHA. The sisterhood came through.


Lesson Learned: Work has healing powers, so keep it close like you would a friend. Heal through rebuilding; pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.


There were new products and services we pursued. We introduced Big Data into the GCC market, developed enterprise architecture blueprints for businesses, and helped them align IT goals with business goals. My team had a 50:50 ratio of men vs women, something I did not notice until reminded. We had a stringent evaluation process and women invariably came out on top. My Turkish team was a most incredible lot; gurus of analytics, masters of data management, and some of the most effective presenters (despite a language barrier) I had ever worked with. Yet, invariably an odd comment would be made to deflate enthusiasm. A colleague with zero empathy once declared: “You are a “collection of wrongs”; nationality, religion, gender, color - all wrong, and soon wrong age. Take the promotion, it may never come your way again.” It was a hurtful, but truthful, commentary on me. I was accustomed to being overlooked for growth, but I never registered such bias, although I sometimes wonder where I would be if I were a “collection of rights”.


Lesson Learned: You are perfect for whatever task you undertake, whenever you take it. The rest is bigoted commentary, so Ignore. Walk the path you choose, alone if you must.


In 2021, feeling the Covid low, I decided it was time to return home. I dropped a prestigious career and arrived home where no CxO role awaited me, the startup crowd was an alien being, and digitization seemed like an impossible dream. Until I ran into a search for a leader at Code for Pakistan, a not-for-profit civic tech “movement”. I was fascinated. Emotionally, it was immensely satisfying to serve the masses; professionally, championing open source and making digital solutions available to all was refreshing.


For a country like Pakistan, the cost of adopting an “intellectual property” secured, off the shelf solution was prohibitive. I had sold such solutions for 20 years, acutely aware that the capacity to purchase was starkly different from one economy to the other. For Pakistan, a subscription model works best, with an open source platform and tools.


Lesson Learned: Hard work is painful when life is devoid of purpose. Choose a purpose that is greater than yourself, nurture it to become a living being, a labor of love.


Now, at 60 years of age, I am an entrepreneur, and this is “my last hurrah”. Being my own boss is a novel experience. The burden of risk, sharing of knowledge, responsibility for others’ wellbeing, and concern about customer experience and revenue generation are challenges I have tackled successfully, but as a consolidated stack this is a sobering burden to carry. Nevertheless, we have an excellent gender ratio and we intend to maintain it for all operations.


Lesson Learned: Entrepreneurs are courageous. They embrace risk and celebrate failure. Nothing can beat the experience of decades, so 60 is as good an age as any to boldly go where no timid soul has ever gone before.


I hunker down and get to work; the rest will follow.


Originally written for Diversity4Tech, GSMA Asia Pacific


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