The CEO and founder of Tekmindz, Secretary of DBWRF (Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom), an engineer, a scientist, an IT professional, an entrepreneur, a mother, a contributor to community service. Samina Kanchwala’s life is a kaleidoscope of colorful roles, functions and responsibilities, to each of which she gives her 100% commitment.
A brilliant student and first rank holder since childhood, Samina ben (I am going to refer her as ‘ben’ out of sheer respect) was not the stereotypical nerd. She loved playing sports and was an all around in her activities at the Badriya High School, Pune. But her love towards the sciences and mathematics was what helped shape her career graph. Ask her was she always scientifically inclined and she says, ‘I think my focus towards maths was because of my father who was into business. I am very fond of my dad and have always tried to emulate him.’ This innocent adoration perhaps reflects a part of the child- like hues of enthusiasm and eagerness which Samina ben continues to carry with her.
But her practical approach coupled with vivid dedication and perseverance is the reasons for her illustrious career. She is a computer science engineer and an eMBA degree holder. She was a scientist with the DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization) and went on to work for different companies in the field of computer networking and programming. Her skill and acumen saw her succeed at all the various roles, whether it was in the capacity of a Technical Head to oversee operations in the US or Center Head in Noida or even getting three promotions in a single year. She moved across cities and countries for her work until something struck her too strongly to ignore. With the blessings of the community head Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (RA) she decided to start up her own business and that is how Tekmindz was born.
The ‘so called’ challenges
Today as CEO of Tekmindz she manages over 200 employees. Yet, how easy or difficult was it?
Says Samina ben, ‘When I started business I didn’t know how to sell. I was a techie but I knew that I had the knowledge and something out there would meet my knowledge. Sometimes it might take time but perseverance is important, you can’t give up. Perseverance is like the grip and it has to be very strong because the world out there is not easy. For example, COVID put a different angle in my life. With business hit, I had to ensure that everyone was working productively from home and ensuring the client was getting what he wanted. There were tremendous challenges. You have to meet the challenge and cross the bar every day. You can’t afford to continue at the same place, you have to raise your bar every day.’
And that perhaps sums up in a nutshell the hue of a focused purpose. For Samina ben it has always been about finding the purpose of life. As she says, ‘Find the purpose of your life that’s most important. There has to be a goal, that one guiding star!’
DBWRF and the meaning of being ‘modern’
Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom was started in 2017 and Samina ben is the secretary of the religious trust. For the uninitiated, there is a PIL in the Supreme Court of India that seeks to ban the practice of female circumcision on the pretext of it amounting to FGM or female genital mutilation. The DBWRF along with its 75000 plus members have intervened to oppose the PIL. All of us who have joined the movement strongly stand by our right and understanding that khafz is a completely harmless religious ritual for centuries. FGM is however, condemnable and cannot be used synonymously with khafz. As Samina ben points out, ‘The objective is very clear – we should be preserving our religious freedom, a right given to us by the constitution of India. We also seek to debunk all the myths that people have generated around khafz.’
Hence on similar lines, how does one define modernity when juxtaposed with religion? The perception that usually prevails is that anyone who believes in traditions, faith and community practices is not modern enough. What does Samina ben have to say to this? ‘It is again coming back to what others perceive and what you perceive. My definition of modern and progress is entirely different and it is not about what you wear. We are a highly progressive community because we are devout followers of our faith. Our community that has almost 100% literacy rate in India. We have the maximum highly educated women in our community. I don’t get affected by what others think. They are leading their life and I am leading mine. You live let us live – let life be simple.’
Now, for a man to have achieved what Samina ben has, it would be commendable. But being a woman, with a family and home to manage, her professional and personal stature merits kudos.
However, the greatest surprise is that she doesn’t measure her achievements on the scale of gender. ‘I somehow don’t like thinking that because I am a lady I face certain problems. I think that it is a restricted view. You should look at yourself as a professional who wants to do something in life. Problems do come but one shouldn’t use them as women specific problems. Everybody has barriers and issues and you should be able to overcome those barriers because that is what defines you as an individual and that’s what will define you as a professional too. If you think you are capable, then you have it in you.
‘I may have put in 200% more work than men do but it’s ok, I don’t even count it because that was what was required of me to grow. It’s a different mindset and that’s what determines how things turn out for you. A limited mindset will always give limited possibilities. You will have to look beyond.’
But aren’t women often either scared or skeptical to leave their comfort zone and concentrate on their professional or personal dreams. The social norms and cultural landscapes usually bear upon the woman who is expected to behave and conduct herself in a certain way. What advice does Samina ben have for them?
‘I personally think that when you do something you have a 50% chance of winning and 50% chance of losing. If you don’t do it you have a 100% loss. And that’s what I tell even my managers and team members that you just have to do it and get out of a self limiting behavior.’
But I persist and ask her what practical suggestions can she give women to help them manage their household and also pursue their passions. Or better do most women even realize what their dreams are?
To this she says poignantly, ‘Everybody should get in the habit of writing it down. Whatever is in your mind write it down. Most people just pass their life without even thinking. And that’s why I think it’s important to put everything in your mind on paper and make a mind map of sorts. Where are you going, what are your barriers, what do you need to cross? Even if it’s the fear of the world outside how are you going to get over that fear?
‘I personally believe that if you are afraid of the dark just sit in the dark for a while and your fright will be gone. Take that leap of faith and just go for it. If you are going to carry anxieties you are never going to get your potential out. What will happen? You might fail! Trying and failing is better than not even trying and every failure will give you a learning where you will become more experienced. It’s important to have a great mindset and ignore small talk. What is small talk? If you are dieting and you tell yourself it’s ok to eat just one piece of cake or if you want to sell something and you think who will buy my product – that’s small talk.’
Purpose, perseverance and discipline – The 100% league
Negating the small talks, Samina ben kept charting her own path towards success. But of course, it wasn’t easy. There was a time in her career that Samina ben had not taken a single weekend off during a span of two years. It was only when a colleague pointed it out that she even realized the same. Even at the age of 50 plus she happily works for 18 hours a day. How is this manageable? ‘You have to enjoy your work. You have to be tremendously passionate about it and only then can you find a purpose. For me my purpose kept driving me and when you are driven naturally other things don’t bother you.’
Well, I am sure most of us are guilty of wasting the day’s most productive time of day sleeping it off. But for someone who has been a 5 o’clock person all her life, Samina ben laments amusingly that it is difficult for anyone to achieve their true potential if they let go off the peak hours of the day in lieu of staying awake during the absolute below average hours of the night!
Yes she is a morning person who places great value on discipline and putting her 100% in whatever she does. ‘Give your 100% commitment in whatever you do. Let me give you my example. If you ask my son I am a real good cook. If I invite somebody, I take care of the minutest details, to make sure they are happy and comfortable. I put myself aside and give the total commitment. Also, discipline in everything is important. How and what you eat, dress up or every smallest core of your life how do you run it? If there is the ‘chalta hain’ attitude then life becomes like that.’
A lot of people achieve much in life. But true success is often defined by how much one can give back to the community. Samina ben values community service and her clear headed way of thinking also opens doors of understanding, especially for the younger generation. ‘I believe in the 12 life goal categories of smart life. They are your health, education, character, the intellectual aspect, spiritual aspect, emotional aspect, family, friends etc. Everything has to be balanced in life. For us the Dawoodi Bohra’s we believe in a community living set up. Why is community important? It is the nurturing environment that the community provides you that enables you to grow, be confident and be able to think that you are taken care. This gives you confidence to take risks.’
Finally, to sum it all up, Samina ben’s life is an inspiration at many levels. There are many things to learn and admire in her – Be it her luminous career, her disciplinarian look out or her passion towards giving it her all in no matter what she does. It could be her practical problem solving mechanisms or a ‘drama free’ approach to life. It could also be her understanding of her rights, as a professional, as a woman and most importantly as a free thinking individual. In fact, it could be all of this and yet I am sure there will be always be a bit more to grasp and acquire from her.