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In conversation with VEON CEO Ursula Burns, the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company

Ms Burns shared advice for women in tech & the need for systematic digitisation in Pakistan on her visit to Islamabad
Updated Jul 15, 2019 05:14pm

Ursula Burns, the CEO and Chairman of VEON, parent company of Jazz in Pakistan, recently visited Islamabad and shared her views on digitisation in Pakistan, as well as her own experience of heading a global telecommunications company.

"Women are still under-paid on average to a man, are under-utilised, and clearly under-valued, [not just] financially, but also in intellectual power and capacity," she says.

"If you think about the population in the world, the education rate, education attainment rates, and longevity, [women] are outpacing more men. However, we still under-value and under-utilise this valuable resource," she adds.

She says that though there has been a progress in the gender divide in the industry since she first started working, there is still a long way to go.

Partnerships between governments and businesses

"Governments still spend quite a bit of time trying to regulate around businesses, but I think that’s not the model for the future, says Ursula.

"One of the things that we found out in America is that a little bit of connection between businesses and the government; a little bit more discussion, understanding, and agreement about the steps to make a make a better future for the economy and for the country is worthwhile."


"I think that a little bit more trust and partnership [with governments] would do a lot for businesses. We are not going through the same mistakes that happened in the past."


Digitisation in Pakistan

According to Ursula, in a country like Pakistan where some of the biggest issues are in education and healthcare, digitisation and technology can play a huge role.

"In Pakistan, I think there are 23 million children, in general on any day that are not in school. We can keep saying that let’s build schools and get teachers trained; but you can also equip them with digital devices," she says.

"Similarly, think about the significant amount of unbanked or under-banked citizens. How do you increase their ability to do commerce, to actually not have to carry around cash, and participate in the society fully? You give them the ability to have smart phones and digital wallets, and sound, solid, trusted infrastructure underneath."


"Jazz is a company that can help with digitising. If you do not take advantage of these opportunities, you systematically leave out a large chunk of the population as they cannot participate to the fullest."


Bridging the gender divide in corporate circles

Ursula shared that the key thing women can themselves do to stand out in the corporate world is to start before they think they are 'ready'.

"Start before you are ready, literally. Make sure you have confidence. You are probably way better than you think, definitely more capable than you probably assess yourself, because us [women] are the hardest judge on ourselves," she shares.

Lastly she said that women should not stop being women to succeed.

"To fit in doesn’t mean we have to change or become like [men]. Women should bring their entire self, everything about them, to work. The system has to change to fit us in more because it is only then that we would be able to bring more value to the organisation."


This content is produced in paid partnership with Jazz and is not associated with or necessarily reflective of the views of Dawn.com and its editorial staff.