Leading from the front at Pakistan Women’s Association

 17 Oct 2016 - 11:30

Leading from the front at Pakistan Women’s Association
Rahat Mansoor Ali at the Pakistan Fashion Week Doha.

By Irfan Bukhari | The Peninsula

Everything that made a difference in her life and the lives of hundreds of Pakistani expat women was the product of indifferent attitudes. Many moons ago on a sunny day of 2009, she met a painful-embarrassment when she was told by Qatar Charity officials that Pakistani expatriates in Qatar were the most infrequent visitors of the philanthropic organisation. Not due to close-fistedness, but on the grounds that no one was there to lead, guide and motivate them.

“I was sitting in the cozy office of Qatar Charity to make a pledge of making a specific monthly donation for the welfare of orphan children of Pakistan. The Charity at that moment had the profile of around 200 orphan children who needed immediate financial support in various parts of Pakistan,” says Rahat Mansoor Ali.

An irresistible inspiration: that was the moment when she reinvented herself and decided to take a ride on an apparently bumpy road as it has never been easy to lead or mobilise any community, cast in a routine life-living pattern for long, but she had taken the decision. 

This was the time when Pakistan Women’s Association (PWA) was born in 2009. “I did not belong to “Me-Generation” who only thinks for itself. Someone had to come forward to bear the burden. I got the PWA registered with the Pakistan embassy and started the journey with small get-togethers of Pakistani expat women at coffee houses of the town,” Rahat said.

PWA members and guests,

 

She was replying to The Peninsula when asked: “How did PWA journey start?” Though with reluctance, but she admitted that initially she had to face some obstacles. “See, they say traveler there is no path; paths are made by travelling and same happened to me. Soon, difficulties started evaporating and I succeeded in developing an association of women, dominantly from Pakistan.” 

She thinks that she is not a type of person who follows the crowd. “Within two months after forming PWA, we had found sponsors for all 200 orphan children whose profiles were resting with Qatar Charity. It was a transparent system. Donors would sign the pledge and every month the committed donation amount would be debited from their bank accounts to be credited in Qatar Charity’s account for the said philanthropic activity. No human involvement, no niggle of doubt about misappropriation of funds, etc.” 

When the journey started, there was no one to ‘foot the feast’ like the gatherings at the cafes ‘and all the women would share the bills’. Then, Rahat says, “Ladies Fun-Day” event was designed that made a mark on silent social spectrum of Pakistan expat families.

In 2010, when Pakistan was facing devastation due to flash floods, PWA organised a charity event “Eid Bazaar” at the embassy building. “Eid Bazaar pulled not only Pakistani crowds but also expat women from all other nationalities. On one hand, it was a fun and recreational activity and on the other had provided an opportunity to many entrepreneur Pakistani women to excel.” 

Gently pushing the lock of hair from her forehead, she said that PWA had collected donations amounting to QR35,000 for flood victims from that event. “We procured blankets with that amount and handed them over to Qatar Red Crescent Society.”

Receiving the shield from Ministry of Interior for best community event organizer.

 

For last many years, PWA has been organising multi-cultural activities with an aim of “empowering women”. She said that the success of charity Eid Bazaar had forced women to convince her to continue with such ideas and it had also increased her happiness, satisfaction quotient. “Dozens of similar exhibitions are on PWA track record now. PWA contributes with full enthusiasm in yearly Basant Mela and another feather in our cap is the organising of Cookery Contests. Two celebrity chefs from Pakistan, Zaakir and Gulzaar, have been judges of these contests.”

Having an MBA degree, Rahat started her career from Qatar Airways’ HR department some 16 years ago. Then switched to banking sector and after serving in a couple of leading banks, she also spent 8 months of her married life as a dedicated housewife. “Working in an esteemed organisation developed in me elements of tolerance and adaptability. There were as many as forty nationalities in Qatar Airlines,” she said responding to a question about what kinds of oppositions she had faced as a community worker and leader.

Plainspoken head of PWA thinks that good and bad people and intentions are found everywhere. “They say hard work spotlights the character of people; some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses and some do not turn up at all. You can never live in a state of analysis paralysis to avoid criticism on your work. My personal mission statement is to serve the people not only Pakistani expats but all and sundry.”

To a question about the generosity level of well-off Pakistani expat families, she said she never ever tried convincing people telling them sob stories. “It is an indisputable service. Anyone and everyone can become part of any good cause.” 

She said that PWA was set to mark “Think Pink” day in last week of October. “I personally from the platform of association have motivated Pakistani and other expat women to go through the screening processes.”

Fond of poetry and a firm believer in individuality, the lady from Karachi was raised in Abu Dhabi where his father was doing a job. “Since school days, my interests revolved around arts, acting, sport, etc. This proclivity took me to the fashion industry and I organised first-ever fashion show featuring Pakistani celebrity designers in Doha in 2013,” she said terming the fashion-cum-musical show “a big hit”. Later on, she also organised a fashion week. 

If any Pakistani expat woman, she says, faces any problem either domestic or work-related, we are always standing with her shoulder to shoulder. “A problem being faced by the Pakistani expat families here is as how to find a match for their grown-up children. PWA is all set to launch an online matrimonial service on its existing website to address the problem,” she said with a palpable sense of pride in her voice. 

Sadder but wiser: while she is quite confident that the online matrimonial service will be launched this month, she feels shy of sharing details of her projects-in-the-pipeline. “I have learnt some bitter lessons from imitators in the past, therefore, now believe in the fact that our safety in skating over thin ice lies in our speed and secrecy. The word “secrecy” I added in the immortal phrase.” 

An anxiety relating to “the tall poppy syndrome” was visible in her conversation. Chinese and Japanese define this complex social situation with the saying “the nail that stands out gets hammered down”. Her success also invites attacks of criticism on her which she does not like but also condemns not. 

Cookery Contest by Pakistan Women's Association Qatar

 

Her habit of keeping trade secrecies stamps her as professional-event-manager because she also runs a business of event management along with her spouse. When asked how she divided her time to perform her responsibilities wearing three hats; as a mother, an event manager and last but not least, the president of PWA, Rahat said: “Where there is a will there is a way. In the beginning it looked like an uphill task but now just as easy as five-fingers-exercise.”

She feels at home while talking on social, cultural or community related subjects but gets a bit uneasy on talking on hot-button political issues of Pakistan. But she lauded the recently passed honour killing bill saying: “The parliament of Pakistan did a great job and such a piece of legislation should have been passed long ago.”

Borrowing Maxwell’s words, one can say that she is the lady who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.