“Financially independent is the key” – Shehnaz Akhter

16 min read

At work, a woman

It is my pleasure to introduce to you Shehnaz Akhter, a young student from Hunza in Gilgit-Baltistan, who is studying Anthropology at the University of Glasgow. In her mission, she is committed to empowering women, bringing change to operations and promoting gender equality across the board. Having worked in various organizations across Pakistan for over seven years, with a wealth of experience in the field of education, she has extensive experience in the field of education. Researcher, analyst, educationist, social worker and educationist are a few of her core capabilities. In her business ‘Halance Naturals’, she is committed to pesticide-free farming, which ensures that she can produce skin care products, hair oils, and essential products (soaps, scrubs, shampoos) which are close to nature. There is more to Halance Naturals than a brand; it is a connection to the untouched beauty of the Hunza Valley, as well as a way to support well-being, empower women, and promote environmental conservation. It is because of her experience and knowledge that she is able to work effectively with organizations and institutions such as USAID, Explorer Bees, Aga Khan University, AIT (Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok), and Bahria University, Islamabad. Her free time is devoted to the various philanthropic projects that she undertakes in her spare time. A special interview with you is coming up this week! I am going to talk about Shehnaz Akhter’s work in Gilgit-Baltistan and her mission of the empowerment of women there. Continue reading to find out more…

You! What was your start-up process?

Shehnaz Akhter: There is a memory from my childhood in Hunza that led to the creation of the project. It was my grandmother who nurtured and cared for me from a very young age, and she adored me to the core. Whenever I wake up in the morning, I am welcomed by the smell of freshly baked bread at home. In the mornings, my grandmother would always prepare an amazing breakfast for me, and then we would go out to sit in the sun while she oiled my hair (making sure it was homemade) and then we would talk about the day ahead. Having such a magical routine every morning was always something I looked forward to on a daily basis.

The loving ritual of my grandmother has been taken over by my mother after my grandmother passed away. As I reach that point in my life where I am able to pass on this legacy of love to my own daughter (Halance), I want to carry on this legacy of love. This company was created as a way to demonstrate my respect for loving family traditions and to show how much I value them. This project will be an opportunity for me and the women involved in this project to grow collectively.

You! What is the availability of your products in Pakistan?

Shehnaz Akhter: The Halance Naturals brand of organic natural products is made up of native raw materials from the Hunza valley, which are organic on their own. Our orchards produce natural fruit and oil that is harvested by us for use in our skin and hair care products that are free from harmful chemicals and are derived from their own orchards. In order to release our new range of products as early as next year, we are currently trying to develop a new range of products. The majority of our products are developed and packaged in Hunza, and we have a warehouse located in Islamabad from where we distribute everything through a logistic partner based in that city. Our products are being delivered all over the country by our company.

You! In setting up your business in Hunza Valley, how did you overcome challenges as a woman?

Shehnaz Akhter: To be honest, for me, the only thing that hindered my progress was my own criticism and the burgeoning of my own ideas. There was a nagging feeling inside of me that said, “How do I do this? “End of the world” really tore at my heart, but I was blessed with a family that helped me get through it. At every step along the way, I have been encouraged and supported by everyone. Having achieved what I have, I am now feeling like I can do anything I set my mind to!

That’s you! Which aspect of your job excites you the most?

Shehnaz Akhter: In terms of my work, the most exciting part is when the products I’m creating are used by people and they like them. It gives me the feeling of being able to distribute love to everyone everywhere that I have been blessed with in my childhood. As a result, I feel motivated to achieve my goals.

That’s you! Among the benefits of being economically independent, what do you think are the most important ones?

Shehnaz Akhter: It is my belief that independence is power, and that is why I am an independent person. Having achieved financial independence, there is nothing stopping you from succeeding in your aspirations as long as you have the determination. If you own your own home, you are able to make decisions on your own without having to rely on your family for every little thing.

That’s you! Do you have any advice for women that you would like to give?

Shehnaz Akhter: The best thing you can do for yourself is to strive for financial independence no matter what. In our society, it is difficult to get there, but once you get there, everything gets easier for you.

Thanks a lot! What is your most inspiring woman?

Shehnaz Akhter: It’s my mother! It is my honor to be able to call her my hero. Due to the fact that she lived in a difficult environment and had a difficult life, she never let us feel the traumas she had experienced. As a result of her, my two elder brothers and I were raised to be very honest and hardworking human beings (I have two elder brothers).

That’s you! Nominated for Shell Tameer Award in what category?

Shehnaz Akhter: The Women Empowerment Category is where I was nominated for a Silver Award. My brand and I are extremely grateful to Shell Tameer for giving me this opportunity and allowing my brand to grow. My personal learning experience was amazing, and I was able to learn a lot from the coaching lessons. Having the opportunity to meet and learn from some wonderful start-up companies made the experience an even more valuable one. I am in awe of how brilliant and amazing the minds of these amazing people are!

Thanks to you! How do you spend your day?

Shehnaz Akhter: It’s crazy. It’s tough juggling academics, professional life, family and social life. There is no denying the fact that Halance, my 4-year-old daughter, is quite the handful as well.

That’s you! In what ways do you feel satisfied on the inside?

Shehnaz Akhter: I am involved in charitable work as part of my job. The responsibility of almost 22- 25 students has been placed on my shoulders. It is also my responsibility to support a local school in Skardu in a remote area.

That’s you! Do you have a favorite home indulgence?

Shehnaz Akhter: I enjoy spending time with my family and spending time with my friends. My daughter and I spend most of our time together at home where we spend most of our time. Cooking is something I enjoy doing, but when I’m stressed out, I don’t cook at all.

That’s you! Is there anything you treasure most?

Shehnaz Akhter: The collection of books I have in my house. The idea of having a personal library is appealing to me as I am an avid reader. It has always been a passion of mine to read ever since I was a child. When I was a child, there did not seem to be many book shops in Hunza at that time, so my brother would bring me story books from Karachi in order to keep me entertained.

Thank you! When you were a child, what books did you enjoy reading the most?

Shehnaz Akhter: There is still something about me that makes me feel like a little girl at heart. My entire life, as far as I can recall, I have read everything I could get my hands on. Fiction, autobiographies, and now I am reading about Islam and feminism, which is something I am currently doing. The Harry Potter series is also a series that I have read numerous times over the years, I have an uncountable amount of copies lying around.

You! How have you learned the most about relationships?

Shehnaz Akhter: A family cannot be replaced by anyone or anything else.

That’s you! Family life and work – how do you balance them?

Shehnaz Akhter: There are a lot of factors to consider when juggling work, social, and family responsibilities. With a loving family by our side to support us, and good friends by our side to make sure that everything goes smoothly, we need to make compromises in order to live our lives happily.

Taking time out for myself and meditating is something I always make sure I do whenever possible. As far as mental peace and stability are concerned, I enjoy yoga and would recommend this practice to others.

That’s you! How do you plan to expand your business?

Shehnaz Akhter: As far as my brand is concerned, I am focusing on making it an international one. E-commerce has become a part of everyday life in this day and age. With just a click of the mouse, you can be anywhere in the world. As a co-founder of a wellness tourism venture, I have a great deal of expertise in this area. In the coming months, the team will expand its operations to all the provinces in the country. The field of education, tourism, and mental health are always areas in which I would be keen to collaborate on projects. 

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