Tell us about your venture into the field of social work. How did it begin for you?In 1994, I was in grade 8 and I started attending meetings organised by the Idara-e-Khidmat-e-Khalq Talash (IKKT) – the organisation for public service. IKKT was formed in 1970 as a welfare organisation by my late uncle Dr Dost Muhammad. It was registered with the government in 1979. My uncle, also my father-in-law, was educated and had a public service spirit. Unfortunately, he died in a road accident in 1987. My father had to carry forward his social work after his premature death. The role of IKKT was to bridge the gap between common and disadvantaged people and government departments. Initially, IKKT was approached by the men of that area for receiving services from government departments, but later women in the area started pouring in. However, IKKT had no female staff to communicate with the women. Cultural barriers prevented women from approaching IKKT, which was run by men only. To address this problem, my father and other members of IKKT engaged their wives, sisters and daughters to enable local women to communicate with men and redress their problems. I think it was leading by an example to engage women directly in social welfare and paved the way for other women to get involved in public service. I got involved in the IKKT activities as a volunteer. My business experience and co-education background enabled me to confidently communicate with men, including men that were my senior. My mother also worked as a volunteer, but I was more active than all the other female volunteers. With the passage of time, the number of other active women increased to almost 20, and we felt the need to have our own organisation. We registered Anjuman Behbood-e-Khawateen Talash (ABKT) in 1994. We opened an office of ABKT on the first floor of our Hujra, and I worked as the general secretary of ABKT, which was later, renamed the Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation. With the passage of time, ABKT has been growing and expending its outreach from villages to districts, districts to divisions and division to provinces. We have been actively working in social, economic and political empowerment of marginalised communities especially women and youth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We have successfully completed a large number of projects and have served thousands of individuals during our interventions. Alongside the development interventions, our organisation have been actively involved in providing humanitarian assistance both to man made and natural disasters affected communities.Hailing from Lower Dir, was it hard for a woman to be working and being actively involved in philanthropy? What challenges did you have to face initially and how did you overcome them? It is very hard for women in our culture to work in any sector or field, as our society is still not very supportive and conducive for workingwomen. We have still many stereotypes, like women should not work do social work, or stand up for human rights etc. Our society may accept a woman to become a teacher or a doctor but not a professional social worker or a leader. Having said that, yes, it was very hard for me to become a social worker and to get involved in philanthropy. People have been propagating negatively against me to prove me unacceptable and wrong. They have been targeting my family for being supportive towards me. I don’t think that we shouldn’t listen to criticism as listening to criticism helps us analyse ourselves. Though I have been listening to criticism, which wasn’t based on positivity, it was more based on that being a woman I should not ask for equality and empowerment, instead I should keep quite and should not resist. I have been critical to all those who stood against women’s rights and empowerment. Initially, there was more resistance but with the passage of time because of the work I have been doing for my communities, the acceptance for my work and me has been increasing. People from different areas now invite me to work with them and to help them in resolving their issues. The change that makes me happy is that now people are approaching me to help their women in resolving their various issues.‘There are challenges at every step you take, in every sector you choose to work. This doesn’t make any difference. What makes a difference is how you choose to respond to those challenges’Your social work campaigning must take you far and wide throughout Pakistan. What has been the most memorable experience you’ve had in your career? Yes, my work has been giving me various opportunities to travel, interact and work with different communities not only within Pakistan but around 18 countries all over the world. I have many memorable experiences throughout my career. However, I must say that I have been witnessing resistance, potentials and courage among women and youth throughout my journey in every corner of Pakistan. The only thing we need both individually and collectively is that we need to support each other and must recognise and honour all those people who stood for helping and empowering others.What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you?My vision for Pakistan is an equal, democratic, prosperous and peaceful society that guarantees equal opportunities for all citizens of Pakistan.How supportive and encouraging has your family been throughout all your ventures?Since the beginning, my immediate family has been very supportive. My father, brothers and husband have been giving me the courage and strength to continue my struggle. They have always been criticised for being supportive towards me as our society generally do not like men giving freedom and equality to women. They like men who are controlling towards women. My family has always stood by me and supported me in my views. I am aware of the fact that there are many women and girls still struggling for their empowerment where they may not necessarily have the support from their families. I believe families must support their girls to explore their full potentials, because family support is instrumental for anyone.Has the government been instrumental in aiding your social work in any way?We have been working for the last 20 years in remote, underdeveloped and conflict affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for social, economic and political empowerment of local communities with a special focus on women, youth and children. Our working approach is based on collaboration and partnership with the relevant stakeholders especially government institutions. We have successfully implemented and completed various projects in collaboration with different local and provincial government institutions in various sectors ie health, education, municipal services, drinking water supply, community infrastructure, humanitarian assistance, agriculture, livestock, elected councillors’ capacity building, voter registration, awareness about CNICs etc. Government support has been very instrumental in almost every situation for us, and this is why we have been engaged with government institutions at various levels. Because we do believe that government institutions are the ones who could help us in making the projects sustainable and more successful for the best interest of local communities.You are the first university-educated female in your family. How important a role does education play in the field of social work?Education is important in almost every aspect of life. In my social work career, of course my education has been playing a vital role. I believe that education helps us widen our mental horizons to learn and replicate skills and knowledge. My thrust of further education has been always alive and I have the affirm determination to opt for a PhD in the near future.What according to you has been your biggest achievement so far?Being a Pashtun woman, I have been challenging various stereotypes since the age of 19 when I started my career as a social worker. Though, due to the deep-rooted patriarchy, it is still very critical for a woman to raise her voice and fight for her rights and equality, my struggle has been instrumental for voicing women’s and girls’ rights in our region. When I was given an international award in 2012 for my struggle for women’s political rights, I was happy for putting forward a milestone for women and girls in my country and giving the message about never giving up and believing in one’s self.What motivates you to excel, no matter what?I believe that I have had a very challenging life because of the nature of my work. Struggling for equality and women empowerment is yet crucial despite living in the 21st century. However, confronting challenges have made me more resistant and motivated to continue my struggle. I believe that there are challenges at every step you take, in every sector you choose to work. This doesn’t make any difference. What makes the difference is how you choose to respond to those challenges; either give up or explore your potentials and find your path towards achieving your goals. I have always strongly believed in myself and have always thought that I can do it.We, at Daily Times, consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours?Pakistan is always very fertile for leadership, although most of our leaders do not find recognition for being heroes or heroines. We as a nation must always respect and honour them. My heroes include my father Dr Noor Muhammad, Quid-e-Azam, Bacha Khan, Ghani Khan, Abdul Satar Edhi and Allama Iqbal. My heroines are Malala Yousafzai, Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir, Maryam Bibi and Rakhshanda Naz. Achievement A GO-GETTERSocial worker Shad Begum has always been ambitious and driven even as a child. She grew up in a province where workingwomen were criticised and not supported at all. However, she broke the norms and became what she sought to be – an award-winning female social worker from KP.A ROLE MODEL FOR ALLShad Begum is now hailed a hero in her home country. She is the voice and a true representative of suppressed girls and women and a strong advocate of their rights.TOP OF HER GAMEIgnoring all the criticisms that came her way and the struggles she had to undertake, Shad only believed in herself and so today, she is the executive director of the Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation, a dream she had as a child.GLOBAL ICONShad has been recognised internationally for her social work in KP. She has been the prestigious Ashoka Fellow, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at NED as well as the Acumen Pakistan Fellow. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama and the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton awarded her with the International Women of Courage Award in 2012. Published in Daily Times, August 3rd 2017.