We had a fantastic time with Fiza Farhan, talking about her life and journey through her perspective.
She is a name on the 30 under 30 list by the prestigious FORBES magazine for Social Entrepreneurs 2015 and appointed ‘Future Energy Leader’ at the World Energy Council. She is sweet and intelligent, the perfect concoction of beauty with brains would be an understatement for her.
Here’s a little something of the talks we had with her:
Q) Why don’t you tell us something about your background? How did you get into this field?
Well to be honest, I was not an energy or development expert by education as my undergraduate from LUMS was in Economics, followed by an MBA from Warwick Business School UK. It was a simply decision to tap untapped markets, and create unique “demand driven” business opportunities in sectors where not a lot of players were operating (at least back then). Even today 47% of Pakistan’s population remains off-grid with the remaining 53% still facing blackouts. On the poverty side, there are still abundant opportunities to enter the development sector, and create impact in the lives of the underprivileged population in multiple ways- through advocacy or action! Hence I would say the fields I am in evolved more from my passion rather than my education or background.
Q) You’ve done quite a lot of things (quite a lot) and your fav one so far?
Since July 2016, once I left behind the title of CEO Buksh Foundation and Director Buksh Energy, I went out as an independent advisor working with diverse stakeholders including the Governments, Private Sector, the UN, Civil Society and other Development Agencies amongst others on various development agendas including women empowerment, climate change, Sustainable Development Goals and inclusive growth! Indeed it has been challenging yet a tremendous leap in my learning curve as each project brings new perspectives, challenges and solutions. Out of all the work I do- my favorite part is to create “win-win” synergies, to bring like-minded stakeholders together and create unique partnerships that create mutual value addition for all partners without any money / funding being involved. Globally the world is realizing that going forward we need innovative collaborations, we need partnerships, we need synergies to come together and achieve our mutual agendas. Personally, it gives a lot of personal satisfaction to create the combined impact of 1+1=11 as compared to 2!
Q) From Lums to Harvard, what was the major aspect you felt needed to change here and there?
Nothing really! I feel truly blessed when I look back at my professional evolution and believe God was holding my hand throughout trying to “fast track” me through the normal career trajectory of growth. I wouldn’t say I would change anything when I look back, but I certainly do have a lot of more fun plans for the future now ?!
Q) How did you manage to change your temperament from a government field to an entrepreneurial one?
With my previous, near decade experience as CEO Buksh Foundation and Director Buksh Energy, I fortunately happened to interact with diverse clients ranging from development agencies, to government institutions to the private sector owing to the unique projects both companies were working on. With the same, the network I garnered and the friends I made were from diverse sectors across various fields, which help you largely understand the temperament, the language and the working nature of players from different sectors. I believe this notion of embracing diversity around me, has been able to not only grow me positively but also enable me to understand the expectations of diverse stakeholders and bring them together now in value added partnerships. The UN and the private sector, the Government and the private sector, the UN and the Government- all have their unique temperaments, expectations even the language they work with, I must say it is rather fun to bring them all together in multi-stakeholder partnerships where there is a value add for everyone on the table and the question “what is in it for me” is answered for all!
Q) Being an independent and a head strong woman do you think it’s harder for women to make a mark as prominent as men? Or is it as easy as it is for men to work in society?
Well- although I would not disagree with the fact that the society or culture that exists in Pakistan is challenging for women to professionally evolve on the same path as men, however we must understand it is not only Pakistan but an unfortunate reality around the world. Now the question is- do we succumb to this reality and hold back? OR do we leave our gender, age and impediments aside and move head strong as professionals achieving the professional success we deserve based on our competence and not on our gender, or cultural stereotypes or the biases of the society we live in. The road is indeed rocky, but the opportunities are plenty and rewards are huge. Plus for women and girls today, I feel a lot of glass ceilings have already been broken, a lot of barriers have already been removed, a lot of role models are already out there to inspire them- it has become much more easier now to make a mark in the world of work based on competence and commitment, however the women themselves need to be passionate, head strong and focused on their goals to stand strong in the face of adversity as they set on the path to achieve their goals.
Q) What are you currently working on, any intriguing projects that you can reveal to us?
Lots of exciting things that I am working on currently that are enabling me to connect the dots on multiple dimensions! From the interesting and unique partnerships being launched at the Benazir Income Support Program in collaboration with the private sector, to the launch of the Male Champions of Change success story from Australia in Pakistan, to executing MW’s of solar power projects in the industrial and commercial sector with Reon Energy Private Limited, to working on massive project with the EU and UN Women Regional Office on private sector collaborations within the MENA region- to name a few- there is a lot going on! Also I have recently launched my own development advisory firm ORA Global Development Advisors which will be another positive challenge to gear up towards in the coming months! Hence a lot happening and indeed a lot to look forward to- Alhumdulillah!!
Q) Tell me about a challenge you had to overcome and how you overcame it?
Well, my professional journey has not been a bed of roses to say the least and hence there are many challenges that I had to overcome over the years- sharing a single particular one would be challenging itself ?. However, I think not a challenge but a mindset change rather was when in the beginning of my professional journey I would always find myself to be the only women in a room full of men double or triple my age (as the energy sector is largely male dominated). I must confess it was intimidating at first and I would find myself in situations where I would doubt my own standing and would want to step back! Then the turning point came when I went on a delegation to Denmark with 10 companies from Pakistan and 10 companies from Denmark, only to realize that amongst the 20 companies I was the still the only woman in the entire group! This came to me as a complete shock- as I realized that male domination is not only a phenomena in Pakistan but a global reality, I started leaving my self inhibitions behind and accepting myself as a professional first rather than a young girl trying to make her mark in a male dominated world. Believe me- when I changed my internal belief system, the entire external outlook around me changed. I would now walk in a room full of 300-500 men with my head held high, and only my professional competence speaking for myself. With this change of perspective, the same inhibitions turned into my core strengths. Now, being a young female professional actually became my strength!vv
Q) If you could give your younger self an advice what would it be?
To believe in the power of “The Universe”- and to focus on your goals and work towards them with undying commitment and passion, leave the rest to the Universe- it will take care of you!
Q) Do you have any strange phobias?
Well, I must confess I get psychotically obsessed with my goals and “things to do” list! It is like no one is watching and no one cares but what milestones and timelines I have set for myself, become a “do or die” situation for me and I simply cannot put my mind to rest until I have fulfilled all the weekly goals that only I had set for my own self. (I know it seems a little crazy- but yea that is a kind of obsession or phobia I guess…hahah)
Q) What is your greatest strength and biggest weakness?
Greatest strength would be my ability to focus on my goals and put in all my energy and passion into them- whether big or small. Also, I believe my people’s skill and the ability to judge or connect with people based on the “vibe” I get from them is one of my greatest strengths and has helped me tremendously in personal and professional relationships.
Weaknesses- my obsessive personality I believe, which does lead me to making emotional decisions at times which I end up regretting later. Never let logic conquer emotions!
Q) 3 things you would changes about the industry or profession you’re in?
To move from advocacy to action! I feel in the development sector around the world there is a lot of talk and very little walk! I would like to see more of the tangible and transformative actions happening to create real change and impact- the advocacy can always follow.
Q) What is success to you?
To live a fulfilled life and to know that you are doing justice to the potential that God has gifted you with!
Q) What makes you feel empowered?
To have my own identity, to be able to make my own decisions, to believe in myself and to follow that able and live my life according to it- to be free is to be empowered for me!
Q) Do you live to work or work to live?
Well I live to love, and I am blessed to love my work- so I guess I live to work (and love the fact too)
Q) How do you recharge?
Travel! That’s how I unwind, recharge and rejuvenate all my senses. Otherwise, spending quality time with loved ones is always a blessing to recharge on a daily basis.
Q) What is the thing you want to achieve most before you die?
To be able to say with a smile that I have lived my life to the FULLEST and have NO regrets!
Q) Something that offends you?
Backstabbing and dishonesty!
Q) PTI or N league?
I would say I am an A-political person and don’t hold any stringent political views. The work must get done, whoever can take the lead!
Q) What is more important: what you say or how you say it?
Definitely how you say it!
Q) Wish you could swap lives with?
Actually- no one! I love my life and cannot be thankful enough for everyone and everything that completes it.
Q) Your biggest fear?
Losing the few people I love with all my heart!
Q) What is the one thing that people misunderstand about you?
People might see me at times as an un-emotional, head strong woman- but I feel I have my days, when I need a hug, when I need to be told that I am loved, when I need some comforting and know that everything will be alright. I think only the people very close to me know the emotional side of my existence.
Q) 3 places you want to visit?
On the #travelgoals list- New Zealand, South Africa, Russia!
Q) 3 fictional crushes?
Never believed in crushes!
Q) You’re currently addicted to?
My “To-do” list!!
Q) Fav architects/artist?
I appreciate good work whenever I see it, no favorites as such!
Q) Your 3am people?
Friends whom I call “my core”- they know who they are ?
Q) 3 Fav actors?
Again- depends on the movie and the mood. No favorites again!
Q) Where do you see Pakistan in the next 5 to 10 years?
Not just saying it out of my patriotism- but I actually feel that Pakistan has a bright future in the next 5 to 10 years and will Inshallah reach the glory it deserves to! We have been the most resilient nation progressing (slowly but surely) in the face of adversities other nations in the world could never withstand. Inshallah- the future is promising, with this I also urge everyone in Pakistan and around the world to focus on the good rather than the bad. Positive perspectives attract positive happenings and Pakistan certainly needs this approach from its own citizens!
Q) Any advice to give to people like us? ?
You only have ONE LIFE to live- LIVE IT to the FULLEST!!!