Interview: Founder of Women’s Digital League

Name: Maria Umar

Business Name: The Digital League


Designation: Founder and President

Location: Pakistan

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Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.

A: I have a Master’s in English Literature. Before starting my online business, I taught for three years at a private school. Been married for ten years and have two kids under ten.

I run a company called The Digital League. It started off as Women’s Digital League trying to bring economic empowerment to Pakistani women who for various reasons are discouraged from working outside their homes; or face a glass-ceiling at the work place with less salaries and harsher work conditions. Workforce was divided into Urban and Rural areas who could handle both complex tasks (writing, graphics etc) and simple tasks (MTurk, Internet Research). We worked with an NGO based in Karimabad, Hunza Valley where about 25 women worked on small micro tasks.

Recently, we decided to pivot and include men in the company. We are now The Digital League with WDL an offshoot working in other areas for women such as workshops on business plans etc.


Q: What inspired you to start your work from home business?

A: A very small, short, common story. A woman with a Master’s In English Literature doing what any ‘respectable’ woman with that degree would do in Pakistan – teaching at a primary school. Left my teaching job as I was expecting a 2nd child. Necessity became not only the mother of invention but of inspiration as well. Turned to, moved on to oDesk and there was no looking back.


Q: In your early days, did you enjoy support and favors from your family or friend or was it all opposite?

A: Oh yes. Without help from family I couldn’t have done it at all. They had to support me otherwise it’s not easy to stay up all night working with US-based clients and sleeping during the day.


Q: What do you enjoy the most about working from home?

A: Watching my kids. I hate leaving them to servants every day to go to work. Even during my teaching days I would sometimes have to leave my kid at home and it was very strenuous.
I can spend the day in my PJs. Stay all day in bed. Watch all my fav TV shows. All this while working fulltime. It’s awesome.


Q: How do you juggle family and your online business?

A: It’s hard and taken me a long time to get myself organized. But now I


Q: Where and how do you advertise and promote your work at home business?

A: Most of my business comes through LinkedIn. I believe in forming relationships. Networking with sincerity always bears fruit though it may take a while. I attend mixers related to my work, meet people, genuinely try and get to know them and help in whatever way I can. This leads to a bond of trust and they either work with me directly when they need my services, or make sure to refer me to others who might use my assistance.


QWhat are the advantages and disadvantages of working from home for women?


A: Ah – Pakistan is a tough country for men and women alike. Power failures, unscheduled holidays, crippling strikes, lack of employment opportunities all count towards making things difficult. Working from home is great for women especially. No objection from family. You can work flexible hours. There are no security issues.
Disadvantages: No one takes your work seriously and takes time for them to realize this is actual, real, money-making career and not a hobby. Had many a  hard times explaining why I can’t leave my computer when I was in an interview with a client or receiving training for something.


Q: What has been your biggest obstacle with your business so far and how did you overcome it?

A: Being taken seriously! If you are a woman without any fancy/related degree, to make place in the IT industry can be very hard. Getting people to understand you are serious about it and are willing to work very hard to make it succeed. Also, with all the fake work-from-home ads one sees in the paper and online people are sceptical. Finding the right workforce has been tough but slowly people are becoming more open to working with us.


Q: Was there any work from home venture that you started but didn’t work out and if so why? 

A: Not really. The only one I tried was Women’s Digital League and it’s been going well. The only hiccup was finding good service providers but having opened it up to men now as The Digital League has helped a lot in terms of fields where women aren’t so active like CRM-development and coding.


Q: What resources do you recommend to women who want to start their own business?

A: It really depends on what they want to do. But no matter what no one can deny the importance of social media. I mean from cupcakes to clutches to scrapbooking, all kinds of home-based businesses are using it to gain a clientele. So, you have to invest in it.

Also, it helps immensely to have some sort of a business plan. Just knowing what you want to do and how. Where do you wanna be in the next 6 months to a year to 3 years. It keeps your focused and helps you grow.


Q: What are your biggest challenges at present?

A: It’s two-fold. Finding clients and finding good service providers. As hard as it is to find work, its equally difficult to find a good person to do the task well. There is no lack of talent in our country. The challenge is to reach these people and then make them realize how this can be a very lucrative career but one where they need to be very disciplined as working from home can make you slack off at times.


Q: What are your goals for the future of your business?

A: Our long term goal is to create a team in rural areas trained in microtasks and working fulltime on platforms such as MTurk and Crowdflower or on projects such as Guttenburg. Mobilizing our workforce at the grassroots is imperative to bringing about a real, conscientious change to Pakistan.


Q: What advice would you give to women new to this field?

A: Don’t get discouraged easily. It’s always hard in the beginning but if you persevere enough and are passionate about what you are doing there is no reason why you shouldn’t succeed.


Q: Are you seeking more women to feature on your business? If yes, what demographic and equipment she needs to have to work for your company?

A: Always. Since we work with remote freelancers, they can be anywhere in Pakistan. Any age works. Important thing is to be willing to work hard and with a passion to succeed. A strict adherence to timelines, attention to detail, and being receptive to learning is imperative to succeeding at home-based careers.

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