EP 240 – Mahnoor Farishta – Founder and CEO at Khair – Sometimes When You Are in It, You Don’t See

by | Nov 16, 2022

The Asia Tech Podcast recorded a substantial conversation with Mahnoor Farishta, Founder and CEO of Khair. Khair is a health-tech company that aims to digitalise healthcare for women from awareness to access. 

Some topics discussed by Mahnoor:

  • The change of mindset regarding work output
  • The origin of Mahnoor’s ‘I want to have impact’ mindset 
  • The importance of knowing and acknowledging your privilege
  • The impact of income statuses on the healthcare system in Pakistan
  • Hitting the right problems in Pakistan
  • How Covid-19 lockdown triggered the big idea spark
  • Khair’s sustainable innovations to help Pakistan’s period poverty

Some other titles we considered for this episode:

  1. Work With an Impact
  2. Our Time Was Gonna Come
  3. It’s About Time

This episode was produced by Stephanie Ng

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:03
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to the Asia Tech podcast. Don’t do that to me. Today we are joined by Mahnoor Farishta, the Founder and the CEO at Khair. I didn’t even ask you for I was pronouncing it correctly. Go ahead. Yeah.

Mahnoor Farishta 0:21
Okay. You have to roll your tongue a bit like that. Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 0:27
So I want to ask you this before so your name I really like a lot and tell me what it means. Does it have a meaning?

Mahnoor Farishta 0:32
Yeah, so Mahnoor were means moonlight and Farishta means Angel.

Michael Waitze 0:37
Right? So I lucky with that one. So this is really important to me that we didn’t talk about this a lot before we started to record but I like to try to not anglicised the names, right. And we talked about this, like I’ve lived in Asia for 30 years. A lot of people that come on the show, say, Oh, just call me you know, Billy, or whatever, even though that’s not their name. And my response is always like this, like your parents gave you a name. And they thought about it for a long time, probably while you were a foetus and then even after you were born, they’re like, What do we want to call this kid? So that’s why I tried to get it right. Because it’s out of respect for like the whole family. And I love the fact that your name means moonlight.

Mahnoor Farishta 1:13
So now why don’t you have a go at it? Let’s see if you see it correctly. Again. So

Michael Waitze 1:16
can I try the company first? Yeah, I think that’s probably easier for you that sort of guttural cage sound is easy. My North Irish.

Mahnoor Farishta 1:24
My new word first? That sounds bad. Yeah, I think I got the primary. Yeah, Manu. So people in MMA and then the nor MMA was up and then they were Yeah, mine were. So when I lived in England for 10 years or so I’m very anti anglicised in my name. So every time I met someone, I would, I would say, my new word, and then it would take them a while. And after a fair point, I got tired of it. And I said, I don’t know if this is worth it anymore. Way too long. But minute, yeah, but after point, you mean a random person. And they keep saying, mano a mano, and they can’t say it correctly. Mono works. Mono is short.

Michael Waitze 2:02
Yeah. Fair enough. Yeah. I mean, if it’s a random person, fair enough, but it’s somebody like if it’s somebody in your class or somebody that with whom you’re working, they should be able to pronounce your name. If they’re calling you from across the room, they should be able to say it anyway, can I get a little bit more of your background for some context, because as of right now, most people don’t even know where you’re from,

Mahnoor Farishta 2:18
oh, I am from Pakistan. So I live in Karachi, in Pakistan, and I was born here. I lived here till I was 16. And then I moved to the UK for 10 years. So I finished school there. I went to university there, I worked there. And then I moved back in 2018. Pakistan, so I had no intention of actually moving back to box. And I think my parents tricked me a bit. They were deciding to move back and they were like, Why don’t you go live with your grandparents for the summer, I hadn’t zero intention to stay. I had a flight booked two months later, and I was going to be back in England, I was going to go back into working at a tech startup there. Perhaps I used to work in Deloitte Consulting and advisory. Okay, so then what ended up happening was, well, I didn’t I mean, I didn’t really enjoy my job there. It was really fun. But I hated the work, especially when we do audits and to work on advisory work, it was just not for me got it. And then I just I left and then I was interactive and stuff. I honestly had a few interviews lined up in London and I just basically never went back just happen. And then as soon as I moved to Karachi, I moved to the intention that, okay, if I’m staying here that I want to work within impact some extent because I mean, I go on abroad and come back I want to do for me, it was very much do something that my work seeing it actually substantial eyes, you know, or anything or my contribution, that creating impact that was really important for me, because in Deloitte, I was it was a big machine and I was very tiny particles. So if I left, it made no difference, right? So that really was the reason why I decided to stay then I was here for a couple of months, and I started working at a telemedicine company, okay. And that telemedicine company was my first entry or my entry into healthcare in Pakistan. So I have no healthcare background or experience whatsoever. Never in a million years did I expect to be working in healthcare that also in Pakistan, and that also women’s healthcare, but it just happened?

Michael Waitze 4:17
So I want to ask you this, though. You said you left Pakistan when you were 16 years old? Did you leave with your family? Did you leave on your own? And the other thing is, you said I had no intention of going back. But my parents kind of tricked me. Does that mean they didn’t come back with you? They just sent you back and said Go live with grandma and grandpa for a little bit. But did they want you to stay? You know what I mean?

Mahnoor Farishta 4:35
Yes, yes, I explain that better. So I I moved with my whole family when I was 16. I’m the eldest. And so I have two younger siblings. So we all moved. My mom was there the whole time. And my dad was back and forth between here and the UK. And then so they didn’t move with me. And then I they were moving back that year. Okay. And they that’s how they’re going to check So I moved back and then a couple months later, they moved back. And this is, I guess it was just one. I always say you trick me into moving back. But I think it was a it was a good decision on my part to stay.

Michael Waitze 5:10
Can I ask you this, though? Because you, apparently you moved back when you were 20? Something years old? I’ll give you 26 Maybe 27. Right. Yeah. What is it like? Because I moved around a lot as a kid as well. And I’m really curious, right, I moved from state to state moving from country to country, particularly from Pakistan to the UK, and then moving back is a very different experience. Yeah. Why didn’t you want to come back?

Mahnoor Farishta 5:29
Honestly, I just, I never when I moved in, and I just didn’t think I was gonna move back, at least in my 20s. I thought maybe when I’m slightly older. That possibility was there. But I was very happy living in the UK. And honestly, when like, COVID happened, but I had every intention of going back. All right, it’s just COVID happened. Every step in my career just guiding me or just like, led me here somehow or the other you know, so I do believe that was meant to be with being genuinely but yeah, and moving to England was also was a big culture shock. It must have not for me as in not a culture shock in the sense that I never been England before I’ve been. I’ve been I’ve been travelling to UK for a while. Sure. My dad used to work there. And we had a lot of family there as well. So that was an issue. The issue was when I moved to UK, the culture shock with the fact that people were shocked that I spoke well, that I knew English. I went this preppy, girl school. And I remember my first week in and like, this girl asked me, How long have you been here for us? I said, I moved like three weeks ago, said, Wow, you learn English so fast. And it’s so good. And I was like, we would call this by the British for years and years and years. So I mean, that’s in Pakistan and India. English is an official language even even in Bangladesh and across the subcontinent. for them. It was a bigger shock for them, right? Um, yeah, for me is what it was very different school in the UK versus school and bath. University wasn’t as much of a shock, because there’s lots of international students, but school was different. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 6:57
Did it change your perspective at all, like permanently on what it means to be like a global person? Do you know what I mean? In the sense that if you’re in Pakistan, you’re educated in English, you’re well educated, you obviously speak English perfectly, but then you go to a country and they’re like, now you live there permanently. So living somewhere, and visiting somewhere are two completely different things. And now you experience what it’s like to live in a different place, as opposed to either just be a tourist or just go visit your cousins. And then you think, oh, okay, now I’ve learned something about what it means to be in a place where I’m not familiar or things aren’t familiar to me, or I’m not familiar to somebody else. Does it change the way you think now? Does that make sense?

Mahnoor Farishta 7:35
Yeah, I mean, I always had my I never sounded like them. Right? No matter how well I spoke, my accent was very different. So that was one and girls to be like, Oh, your accent is so cute. In that in retrospect and thinking about I was like, that’s just a thought, like, nice, you know, you don’t think about it when you’re in and they mean it nicely. But clearly, it’s not that nice. My accent doesn’t need to be cute, just because it’s different to yours. So that was that was different. I don’t think it’s fair to call myself a global person. I’ve lived in Pakistan, and I’ve lived in London. Other than that, I haven’t lived anywhere else, I would understand it if in a competition countries, then I would have a better global perspective from that. But it has changed you so I think where like I remember when I moved to London. So then, um, first year of school, first couple months, and I was the only international Pakistani girl who had come that school for a long time international student and I joined in six fall. So that was different, because I did school with the same people my whole life. So when I moved to England, and that was the shock, I was much older. So I became friends with a lot of people but it was very cliquey. They everyone had their own groups, and everyone’s very nice and welcoming, no doubt, but I never like I’m in touch with a few of the girls I went to school with, but he never became my core group of friends. I always had friends at home so I never felt that needed. You know like, and I would come back to visit my grandparents come back and forth so I was it was two years that is an interesting experience no doubt is a very now in retrospect I think about it. It could have helped shaped me into who I am today. Yeah, sure. It was a very competitive very, very competitive, very strong female opinions girl school as far as I’m gonna go, it’s gonna my entire life. And it was and I enjoyed it. So that was the first experience that I had actually speaking in public in school, Pakistan, I was never one that participate in debates or anyone or anything like that. I always spoke a lot. But I never, I guess to good use, right. But then when I moved to the UK, I was the token Pakistani girl who and I’ve written everything in one of my applications about the charity work, I did a few communities outside Karachi. So then I was called by the headmistress to come and do assembly and talk about my cabinetry. And that was, I don’t know how to process that today and how I would have this is about this has been our 60s is about 14 feet. 14 years ago went out. But in retrospect, that was my first experience speaking out, and I had no idea what I had in store for me. I just walked into the assembly, and it was the entire school. And I was three, four weeks and just moved to UK had this like, cute accent. That yeah, it was quite a that was that was just, it was a big shock. But it went well. And I feel like that did shape my journey and are more vocal about certain elements. I want to talk about this. And I want to talk about this. That was, I guess, one of my earlier moments of public speaking. Yeah,

Michael Waitze 10:34
I don’t think you can get away from that. And look, we talked about this before we started recording, right like that is deeply embedded in who you are. Because this idea of as a 16 year old or a seven year old forced into a situation that was uncomfortable. And you came through it now you’re like, Okay, well, that was seemed like it was gonna be a lot harder than it was right? Yeah. But it also wasn’t that hard. No one It wasn’t hard. It never is. Right. But I’m curious why? Because you said earlier, right? Like, I wanted to do something that had impact. And I don’t feel like this is the first time you’ve had this thought, particularly if you were going outside of your hometown and participating in charity style events. Where does that come from this idea of I want to help people,

Mahnoor Farishta 11:10
my parents tell me, especially my dad, so my dad and I do a lot of this together, since we’ve presented since I was really young. So he’s always been very, I have to create impact, whatever I have, I have to give some of it away. My parents have a lot of faith and they’re religious. So for them, it’s very much the more you give, the more you get also, and the more it’s like our duty and obligation as human beings to give back to our economy, our community, the community at large. So that very much comes to my parents from a very young age. And school, we used to work on that a couple of foundations, we’re working on school. And then when I’m in the UK, I didn’t get to do a lot of that. Right. You know, one really interesting experience for me was to in Pakistan, and you grew up and you definitely should definitely visit, it’s you see poverty everywhere. Okay, no matter how privileged I am, as a being in an area where a very small percentage of people who are educated, like, you know, international schools, you go abroad, you come back, it’s very tiny percentage of people that you see, and you come across from Pakistan, where a population of 220 million people, so I have always one known and acknowledged my brother, when I was younger, I had a lot of privilege, okay, and that really was something that also drove me to, I guess, have that and my dad also has, this has always said that, you know, we always say Allah has given us so much. So we have to give back. That’s our duty and responsibility. So I think that was something that came from home. And then when I moved back, but as I said, impact working in impact, when I moved back, I always thought when I was younger, I always thought, Okay, I’m gonna grow up and run an NGO, and I’m gonna, like, have an NGO for children. And I’m going to have an education for children and street children. And I always had these thoughts that this is what I wanted to achieve, you know, at some point, maybe not in my 20s. But when I’m older, and I moved back to Pakistan, I always had this at some point, I look back and I say, my fair Jews. And then when we went, I went to uni, that was also very instrumental in my growth, because I was supposed to not end up at university I ended up at and then I started studying economics and economic development in the Middle East and South Asia. And that really shaped my journey on from the development perspective, right. Like, I wanted to work in the development field for a long time. But that shaped my perspective. And then I started realising, well, NGOs and that obsolete, we have to work towards sustainable business models. So that’s kind of starting from the UK ended up and in uni in London, and then yeah, moved back to Pakistan. And

Michael Waitze 13:33
before we dig into Khair, and I’m gonna keep trying to pronounce it properly, and if I get it wrong, please feel free to look aggressive.

Mahnoor Farishta 13:39
Good effort. I can I can correct you because I, myself, when I started the company, I kept saying, hey, like, I just moved back doubly at the urine. I kept seeing care care, and everyone thought it was called care. Right. Okay. And then I had to really make the effort to go Khair. Like, that’s how I pronounce in practice, she’ll

Michael Waitze 14:00
ask you this stuff. So yeah, is it a bit of a play on words?

Mahnoor Farishta 14:03
Hey, yeah, so it’s some might become my company’s incorporated as health Khair Private Limited. So we’d like healthcare. And then Khair and or do Khair, is whenever you are due, or do Arabic, it’s very commonly used word. Right? It can mean wellness to some extent, but it’s also colloquially used so for example, fair use of hair hair like it’s okay. Or you might because I forgot my airports before the whatever this recording and you can it doesn’t matter. Yeah, it doesn’t matter. You know, it’s very, very commonly used across Pakistan. Yeah, so for me, I wanted to really when I was trying to find a name for Khair, Khair, I went through like lists and lists of names and everything was taken and then I’ve came across Khair and it’s so easily used. It’s so easy to like play on words with it’s easy to use from a marketing perspective. So I loved it. And I said, Okay, I’m doing this has been a And then I’m using going forward and I wanted it to be short, sweet, nothing too complicated.

Michael Waitze 15:05
So yeah, and probably easy to buy the URL as well. Before we dig deeper into that. I’m very curious about just like the status of the health care. I’m now I’m struggling to pronounce my own language, this the status of the health care system in Pakistan. Like when you step back and look at it, what does it look like to you? And then where do you fit in? If that makes sense? Do you know what I mean? Yeah. 100%.

Mahnoor Farishta 15:27
So the status of the healthcare system embarks on. I don’t know how to explain this. It’s harder. It’s horrible. We are the government spends I’m not mistaken. less than 3% of revenue of GDP on health care for a population of 220 million people. Health care is so it’s private healthcare, predominantly. And then there’s public health care, which is highly oversubscribed. So there are public hospitals that are charging hospitals, but there isn’t enough supply for the population that we have. Now, when it comes to private health care. Another problem is healthcare is and it’s very sad in this country. But if you’re rich, you can receive medical assistance, health care quite easily. But if you’re not rich people in this country die every day because one, they can’t access healthcare facilities and do what they can afford, when they do access them. And then the hospital they can’t afford them. But sign is one of the lowest rates of insurance in the world as well. So it’s not like we’re covering Yeah, we’re not covering anybody, like it’s less than one, one or 2%. If that, and it’s usually corporate health insurance. So if you have a corporate job, if you’re if you’re a salaried employee, you have insurance, and that’s also a very few very small percentage. So the healthcare system in Pakistan is really, really sad and preventive healthcare, which is another problem. So one, there is a tertiary care. So there’s your facilities of hospitals and labs and tertiary from the from the IPD side, right. So when you need treatment, that is very, very, you know, IPDS, no, so basically, your OPD would be your primary care if you go to a GP or you go to someone for a gynaecologist and you speak to a doc like a consultant. So that’s your primary care level. Now, if you’re admitted to a hospital, then that will be that would come under IPD. So ensure

Michael Waitze 17:12
patient versus inpatient care. Yeah, yes.

Mahnoor Farishta 17:14
Yeah, I should have. Yeah, that would make sense. Okay, outpatient versus inpatient, the differences from an insurance perspective, you only cover for inpatient care, right. So any deaths, invalid inpatient care? So what ends up happening is even if you are insured, which is very, very few people in this country, that’s only when you’re hospitalised most people in this country can’t afford the outpatient care once expensive. There’s no cover for it either. Right. And so that’s one of the biggest issues. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 17:42
Okay. So how do you build this company, right, that’s focused on female care inside of a system where like, the basics, aren’t there yet? Do you know what I mean? Because it almost feels like you’ve got to build sort of the base infrastructure first, and then plug the female care into it, if I understand. That’s why I want to know what the overall care was like. Because if the overall care was killer, like, if it was just so good, well, then you just plug into an existing thing. But it feels like you have to build this from the, from the beginning. Is that right? Yeah.

Mahnoor Farishta 18:09
100%. So that’s exactly what I was trying to do. So since last year, I’ve been working on digital health infrastructure model. Okay, so what that means it’s exactly what you said, to be able to create a back within healthcare in Pakistan, you have to first fix the problem from the ground up, right. So when I when I say ground up, I literally mean, in Pakistan, the continuity of care rate is only 15%. What does that mean? follow up consultation follow, that means that like a follow up consultation, or if you go to one doctor, your entire care journey until you’re home, and you’re fine, that 15%. So people will go to a doctor will go on antibiotics, and they feel better. So there’s no country, they never got to go back again. So we have insane antibiotic resistance in the country. And that’s the problem with most emerging markets, right? Big problem in their logic, you’re looking at affordability, going back to doctor is gonna cost you Right, right. So you might as well take the medicine, you’re feeling better, and you’re fine. But in a couple of years, that has a lot of impact on your health care. Right, exactly. So you’re 100% right in Pakistan. So first, I acknowledge the main problem in Pakistan, which was when I say Continue your cares 15%. It’s because there is no digital health infrastructure in Pakistan. We do not have a centralised, electronic medical record system. We don’t even have centralised health data or cancer registry. So what ends up happening is a lot of time like when me and my team had to conduct research on healthcare and Docs and specifically women’s healthcare. We didn’t have much to base it on we had to, we had to actually calculate a lot of rates that we had to go find different elements of where we could find and calculate them to ourselves because we are benchmarked to Indian healthcare data that person doesn’t have any. So imagine we are the fifth largest population in the world of 220. million people. And there’s no health data. It’s insane. It’s insane to me, it just doesn’t make any sense. And then when you go to let’s say you have a couple of hospitals that are large hospital systems, they have digitalization, to some extent, right? majority of them don’t I’m talking about the biggest and the largest hospital networks. They have data within their own infrastructure. That centralised right. So if I go to same hospital and same clinic, I can probably have continued care because I’m using the same system. But if I go to another system or another hospital, I don’t have any transferability of data. So a doctor has to actually ask me all over again, what My Health Record is what my background is. And same thing on the other side from the tertiary lab perspective, I don’t have any data. So I don’t know what happened to me three years ago, and what’s happening to me. It’s really shocking. So that’s a big problem data in Pakistan, and this lack of visualisation. So now, if I go to a normal clinic, even if I go to fancy clinics now, it shocked me when I go to fancy hospitals and OPDs and not digitalize. Everything is on paper, even the receipt that they give you. The prescription is on paper. It is written and it’s on paper. So for example, if I lose that prescription I don’t have if I go the next time I don’t have any prescription to like show my next doctor and the problem in Pakistan is we are very we’re not in like a educated tech savvy, population education rates are still very low. So people who are actually going to doctors, the it’s very likely for them to one on understand what they can make from a prescription perspective, what they’re taking what the dosages are, and do very likely that they lose our housekeeper came to us like two years ago and she got robbed. And all their health data, all of that. I mean, from everything was for me, she was telling us about the money and your ID cards and stuff. And I kept thinking she is chronically she’s, she’s diabetic. Her husband has blood pressure issues, their life’s worth of data, it’s just gone. Right. And that would shocks me. So that’s your right to build health or build on healthcare in Pakistan. You start off with big plans, digitising healthcare. So that is what I was saying. And then the market turned,

Michael Waitze 22:13
what does that mean the market?

Mahnoor Farishta 22:15
I mean, we’re in a global recession right now. So okay, that’s

Michael Waitze 22:19
because yeah, yeah,

Mahnoor Farishta 22:21
yeah. So what that means is to last year, in the last from 2020, and 2021, specifically, Pakistan had highest amount of money for startups ever. I’m not mistaken. It was about $300 million. And it was exponential for Pakistan. But same stars a booming, a year and a half growth. But it said the world woke up and realised that this is a country that untapped and completely untapped. We have 64% youth population, fifth largest population in the world, and 189 million 3g, 4g, like phone subscribers and 3g, 4g subscribers. So there is very high opportunity, right, people started coming to opportunity. And

Michael Waitze 23:03
do you think it’s weird that when the world finally realises like it, because Pakistan is in the news all the time, it’s like a new country that just came out of nowhere? And then they realised, wait a second, 220 million people 189 or 190 million subs, and no one’s investing any money in here. And if we dropped 300 million bucks, it could turn into $300 billion, like overnight, in a way is it weird being there when that’s happening?

Mahnoor Farishta 23:24
It’s not really that weird for us, because we grew up in an era where especially I did I’m a millennial, right, so I just turned 30 this year. For me, we grew up in our bath, and went through the post 911 Then you had Afghanistan Dermoid all of that box that was in the news always for nothing great. You know, it was always like this happening in Pakistan. This is dangerous, dangerous, dangerous, then. And we did when I lived in Ghana actually for 10 years. During that time, it was very much like you say the last year especially in Karachi, so Islam and horror, definitely safer. Karachi is went through political turmoil, and it was very unsafe, we felt as citizens we felt unsafe, then that changed when the military came and the Ranger scheme and they and then the political situation became better that change gradually became very different. It’s a different reality today, right? But it is living through that we didn’t think it was that we didn’t realise that somewhere along the way our time was gonna come right yeah. So it’s always about the black countries always associated with the publicity they have in news channels right? Like we’re turning 20 million people that’s what you read like Pakistan on CNN or BBC isn’t really isn’t always the case for everybody. Right?

Michael Waitze 24:35
So this is the only the reason why they exist is because of that, because I don’t believe that what we see on CNN or on the BBC is actually a reality at all. And that’s why I wanted to do this. No, that right, so anyway, go ahead. Yeah,

Mahnoor Farishta 24:48
no, no. 100% and I appreciate it because honestly, I only know the stories of people I always think I was the world is all about stories of people. We live through stories we share our experiences through stories, your friendships or relationships. Everything is built around stories and experiences. So it’s a refreshing when people want to come and talk to us and talk to Pakistani founders and talk to what’s actually happening on the ground. And it was a long time coming. But yes, for sure, in the last year and a half, we also within the Star space realised, wow, we’re getting recognised for the work we’re doing. Right. And also, you’re looking at yesterday on a million becoming 300 billion. We are the best shot at that right now. Because all the other foreign markets that are populations, there’s the US, there’s China, there’s India, all these different parts of Indonesia, they’re all tapped markets, they’re all partners, at least 50 I think we have 15 or 20 years behind Indian Health Tech or Indian FinTech or any of that we are presuming today, you know, sort of global opportunity, and we will really appreciate the fact that you recognised finally, okay, it’s about time. And then about dying. And then yeah, it is about and then what happens. So then I was working on this digital health infrastructure play, and the market turns when I actually started decided, Okay, I’m gonna raise up to now within two weeks, it was like, boom, not only is global recession, startup money is drying out, and people are born me. But I’m also a hardcore perfectionist. So I was not happy with, I was still working on the product. I said, I’m not going to launch and I’m not going to raise capital until I’m satisfied with what I’m doing. Right. Right. And until it makes sense to me. So then I did and then the market turned and I was trying to raise capital for my digital health infrastructure module. And a lot of people said, You’re right, you hit the right problem set in Pakistan, which stems from, like you said, the ground up. If we start creating digital and FISA digitising our clinics, and we started digitising our processes, we get a lot of data, there’s continuity of care, and people can actually have patients can have access to their own data empowers them, you know, what’s wrong with you, you know, your health issues and concerns you then data analysis is a whole other world class, you know, it’d be great, but it was very volume focused, critical mass model requiring a lot of funding. And it wasn’t the market for it, and then kind of went back to the drawing board. And that was actually very useful for me, because I had and I have had help from a top I had a couple of advisors, I have a good team and this very small team, but everyone’s very intuitive and very focused and very, let’s do something different. So I talked to my team went back and forth, and we realised, okay, this is not working somewhere along the way. And also no one is willing to invest right now. And then one of the best things that actually has actually I’ve been reading about and hearing is that a lot of people said this to me that the best businesses are made, like come out of like, you know, economic downturns are really difficult market always

Michael Waitze 27:44
because so much smarter the way you build, right? In other words, if I gave you 25 million bucks today, you’d build a terrible business, because you’d have too many resources. Yeah, just would. But if I gave you a million that could probably build something great.

Mahnoor Farishta 27:55
That’s 100% that 100% That’s exactly what’s happening. In fact that last 10 bucks on the market is booming, people are getting like I should make jokes, like every other person is raising capital left, right and centre. And then all of those companies came crashing down. I always say this much women, female entrepreneurs, I hate saying female entrepreneurs, but in this case, I’ll say I always say about female entrepreneurs, they’re very, we’re very frugal. And we have a lot to prove not only to everybody else, but to ourselves as well. So if you give me a million dollars, I don’t want 3 million. That’s scary for me to have to deploy that much money into these many resources right away. I want that million and use that very efficient, right. And that’s what happened and because the market don’t and I wasn’t getting everyone said great idea that they should have infrastructure, we can back it but we need at least six to eight months to a year. Like not today. It’s too much you know, and economics don’t make as much sense. It’s a very long term. It’s a long game.

Michael Waitze 28:51
Yeah. And in the long game, sorry, go ahead. To prolong Yeah,

Mahnoor Farishta 28:55
yeah, no, no, you to prolong game and then to move even industry in the market. I started realise that okay, one actually one advisor of mine, he said this to me, I like loved it. He said it. He said, Look, you follow my journey for a while. And I switched into digital infrastructure. He was right. He said, This is the model that you have to focus on. But then two, three months later, I wasn’t getting traction for it. He said, Look, now it’s time that started you have to move fast. If something’s not working, you have to find the next thing quickly, efficiently. And a lot of them and the money that I had put into hair was mine. So what really made a big difference was like, basically on my life savings and then a loan from my parents. So what really happened was that I’m running out of cash, what do I do? So what he said to me, Janine, what he said to me said was, you know, you’re and you’ve read the alchemist, and I said, Yeah. And he said, you know, you’re sitting on gold, which you’ve gone across the whole world to find it. And I said, really? And he said, Yeah, and sometimes when you’re in it, you don’t see me said for the last two years because I had no money. What I did two years ago, COVID happened I started this a project called kronor ration project and will be dealt with as soon as COVID happened. The Pakistan government announced lock downs, and the lockdown impacted your daily wage workers predominantly right. So those are all your factories, they are daily wage, they’re not salaried, suddenly their work is gone. They lost all their money. My housekeeper came up to us and said she you know that people keep telling us to buy a ration in bulk. But we don’t have enough savings to buy rationing that. And that really hit me. And I was sitting at home and COVID and locked down and nothing to do. So I started gonna ration project and it went by. And what I did was I put a post on a broad my story of her visa, she said, you know, this is happening, and I need Russian. And I just wrote this on Facebook and Instagram. And I said, Look, I made a page that I’m collecting ration donations for those people who do not have access to savings. Because we take it for granted you and I can go and buy for three weeks or four weeks of food stock. But people live day to day lives quite literally in this. Yeah, so we did it. And then it was wild. I use that word because it was I raised over $500,000 in Pakistan in two months, not even my first week I raised $100,000. And then people from across the world started sending me money. And what I started doing was and then I realised the impact of that. And that really was also bread shaped me and my journey and being you know, individual founder, it took me a long time to come to own it. Because in the last year, year and a half, a lot of people told me you’re too risky to invest in alone. You’re single Pakistani girl might get married, and I don’t want to offend you. I don’t want to offend you. Yeah, but it was honest feedback. He said, but every investor looks at risks, right? That’s why they look at co founders, they look at De risking themselves. And I did I really tried to go and find myself a co founder. And to some extent it worked. And then it didn’t work. I was back to being me. And now almost two years later, two and a half years later, I’ve owned it that this is if I could do Corona Russian alone, that gave me the confidence to now run this alone. Yeah. And it’s always a journey you end up with, right? You always you have to go through that journey and experiences and the battle scars and all of it to end up where you are today. So Crona Russian with that, what I was telling you is that and also I can definitely go on tangents you can bring me back to. But with Corona Russian, what happened was I suddenly started doing ration work, I started providing all of those communities, specifically women with health information on COVID. Like how, and but also for women’s health care. So awareness. Right? You

Michael Waitze 32:39
see the way this works, though? Can I just go back a little bit to your mind? Yes,

Mahnoor Farishta 32:43
yes, please do?

Michael Waitze 32:44
No, because he’s I love this story, right? Because, you know, you said before you move to the UK as a 16 year old, you were involved in all these charity things where you just went outside and help people part as part of your upbringing, your parents imbued you with this idea of like, you have to give back and you said you had this what was the word you used like entitlement guilt, I can’t remember the exact word. Excuse, privilege, guilt. That’s why I couldn’t think of the word. And that this is something that’s like a really, it’s like an endemic part of you. And even more than we’re getting all this, I’ll call it negative feedback. But feedback around like, well, these are your words, not mine, right? Like you’re a Pakistani girl, you could get married all this feedback. And again, it’s honest feedback. It’s not great feedback, but it’s honest, you’re still thinking, how can I help? And then as you get out into the community and raise this money 100,000 at first 500,000 In total, you’re still thinking, in a way, it’s almost like I’m here anyway, here’s the money for the ration. But how about this other stuff that you need to care about? Because in the back of your head, you know, your housekeepers thinking, and I love this idea to like, I’ve lost all of my ID, and I’ve lost all this stuff. And all you’re thinking of is Yeah, but like you have diabetes. And you know, what, if you can’t explain this to the doctor, it’s a bigger problem than not having money. Right? People always think about, like, if I lose my banking, like, if I lose my banking records, that’s fatal, because I don’t know how much money I have. But in the same sense, like if I lose my medical records, that’s in a way more important, because now I don’t have any of my health info. And no one knows what to do with me. But you’re always thinking about this. I don’t know. In a way, I think that’s kind of cool. I also

Mahnoor Farishta 34:12
did that when Janine said to me that you’re sitting on gold, and you haven’t acknowledged it, or you haven’t seen it. That was quite a realisation for me. And I really went back and realised that this is my what I’m really passionate about, is health awareness. Because I genuinely believe that awareness is the first step in a country where we see health literacy is so low, and what health literacy really is in Pakistan, when there’s lack of literacy, and there’s a lot that women is, I think it’s about 45. I should I should really know this. But 50%, let’s say, literacy in females about less than that all of these metrics make it very difficult for people to know what’s happening to them. And this is my housekeeper. That’s just one story. Yeah, there’s so many when I was younger, my housekeeper, she was diabetic. We didn’t know for a long time I was diabetic. Suddenly, one day she just died. The same thing happened to me two years ago, which was probably worse than I was very young than we used to call her Bula. Then two years ago, my driver, I was I remember I was in Islamabad, I was on a flight back. So I called him for work. And I said, God nearby whose name was God, thereby I said, I’m gonna come reach at this time, can you please pick up the airport, and he was my friend. Like, you know, my driver is like, that’s what I brought up. He was my friend for years, like everywhere I went was with my friends, you know, like, he was there. And two years ago, and as soon as I landed in Karachi, the two hour flight, someone else picked me up on the airport, and I was really disturbed. Yeah. And I was like, what happened? So I called my dad and I said, what happened? And I knew I had a feeling I was like, I just spoke to him, something is off, right? And my dad told me that, you know, he’s had a device had a really bad stroke. Okay. Really bad stroke. He was 48 years old. I rush to be rushed to hospital. The state that I saw him in was probably are the most difficult things I’ve ever seen. He became a vegetable. Okay, like from 48 years old, from one stroke, severely high blood pressure. And trivial Yep. And we did anything. If he had been to a doctor recently. It’s just think he was like he went to church. Before that. He had told my dad that someone had to pay off his rent, like he had some debts. And he was very stressed about them. So my dad paid that off. And he said, Why don’t just let me know when it’s fine. Don’t take that stress. He had a lot going on, I’d never know what’s happening in someone’s life. That’s the scary, that’s the sad part. And sometimes I’m like, maybe I should have asked him more. Maybe I should have known more. But Michael, within a week, the doctors had called him they said this is he cannot go back to healthy functioning human beings. The insistence they recommended no surgery, but his family members really wanted them him to go to surgery for lost hope. So that also happened. There was no doctor that called it and then we sent him after like a week or two of recovery, we will be sent him to his village with his family. And as soon as he got to his village village, the next day he passed away. And yeah, and it was a shock. Like, it was shocking to me, it he was 48 years old, he had blood pressure now in this country in Pakistan, four of the top six reasons for death, from preventable diseases. That is sad. It is sad that one in 28 babies in this country die in their first month of birth. And maternal mortality is crazy high. That’s the problem is, for me, it was the awareness. And it was preventative medicine that went in medicine that really made a difference is because if people know from a young age, these are the problems that I have, right? Genuinely, they can start, you can see you don’t have to be rushed to a hospital, which is what ends up happening. You can take medication, and you can like eat better, and you can take your nutrition and vitamins and work on that from a young age. So that is something that was really codified that really shocked me, I know that a lot of the other elements of health awareness. And he also the other thing is with him, it was really sentimental because when I showed the Russian work, he’s come with me, we used to go to communities together needs to go drop the ration bags, and he was my friend, especially during that, and he was a big support system. So that was a big shock to me. And that really made me I mean, I was really angry also for a while and I just thought it was unfair. And that made me realise Okay, then, I mean, if he can die for the if he knew he had blood pressure, he could have lifted at and lived a good life. You know, it that was a real factor for me. And then yeah, so that was basically the journey from the Russian side and health awareness for COVID. And also women’s health awareness was very important for me. So she’s lower income population. Sorry.

Michael Waitze 38:40
So what is the status of Khair right now, like mispronounce that again? I’m trying right

Mahnoor Farishta 38:45
now. You didn’t You didn’t? You’re fine. So yeah, when I started two years ago, I started doing COVID I started this mental health blog, technically, we started an Instagram page and Facebook page and a page for women. We have a space specifically on Facebook for women to discuss their health problems, right. So I started this because I didn’t have any money. And I was like, okay, join COVID I need to get some health awareness information out there. And you know, people were privileged, we can self isolate these people live a lot of people Pakistan is 678 people in one room in a tiny house

Michael Waitze 39:17
and multiple generations, isolate

Mahnoor Farishta 39:19
multiple generations, you can isolate and even self isolation in the privilege. I did a post about that during COVID. I said we can sit in a room and say okay, we’re isolating for five days and complain about it, and sit on Netflix all day. This is a privilege we need to acknowledge that so when that so when I started I started how long? Two years I ran it. Women’s Health and for me a year and a half Women’s Health Information health awareness we did. Sessions in lower income communities spoke about the feminine hygiene and gynaecological issues, specifically preventive side and I started realising Michael how he put it women in Pakistan who have had four or five children do not know anything about their anatomy or From a feminine hygiene perspective, any event shocked me. Yeah. So we did more information. We did more health awareness, we made more sessions. And then I this blog was free. And then one day, this guy basically said to me, I’ve been following your journey for a while. And you every time you talk about women’s health care, your eyes light up, and you’re really excited. So do that. And I said, What do you mean, go ahead. Yeah. And he said, he said, do that and said, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you mean, and I, he said, No, you know, you’ve been doing all this awareness, etc. And you make great content. When the Pakistani floods recently happened. Yeah, this is around that time, we basically went viral, because we did a post on theories don’t stop during calamities. And then we did, there are over 70,000 Women in Pakistan giving birth this month, they are displaced. This is just this month, there was there were millions of pregnant women, displaced individuals, they don’t have access to menstrual hygiene products, they don’t have access to basic delivery kits. So we started working with a couple of organisations and we went viral during that process, just our social media pages, that gave me more confidence that okay, this is something that I’m really passionate about. And I can go back in this as well. And it’s a better, easier model. I don’t want to say this, but easier to raise capital on right, because I can build a stronger business economically and only try being strong, even if I build a strong sustainable business gonna actually look good to grow in the long run. So I had to think about it from a broader point of view. I always wanted to women’s healthcare, but I always thought I’ll do everybody first and then women. And I just change that around. I love it. I said women in Pakistan, 58% of them do not have a say in their own health care decisions. Because because they have male family members or in laws or it’s just they’re not prioritised. Okay, women are. So that’s one big issue. Then second is when it comes to affordability, there’s a lot of issues and also women tax centre. If you look at the I don’t know, but abroad, I was thinking about a home in Pakistan, the woman is like the homemaker. Right? So she cares about the Father and on the mother in law and the husband and the kids, but her own health is never really prioritised. Okay, she doesn’t have time to focus on her own health care. Right. So that was one big issue, then 44% of women Paxson do not have access to menstrual hygiene products. The problem? 44%.

Michael Waitze 42:25
Okay. To hear it, make sure they heard it. Go ahead.

Mahnoor Farishta 42:28
44%. We have 80 million women who have a reproductive age in this country, okay. 80 million women to just do the math, above 30 to 35% of them do not have access to menstrual hygiene products. This leads to hygiene issues that leads to UTI is around. It’s a whole host of issues. Right. and lack of awareness. That’s one problem. And then in Pakistan, ironically, I don’t know if it’s ironic. It’s just sad that when girls get their period, a lot of public schools, they drop out of school, you know, Pakistan has one of the highest dropout rates in the world for girls, right from secondary school. It’s because a lot of them drop out of school as soon as they get that period. So that is your they’re more rural population, because one, they don’t have access to menstrual hygiene products. They can’t afford them. They don’t have the awareness. So then it’s just sitting home now they’re not prioritising their families from an educational point of view. Number two, if you go to a public health, so we do a lot of health, wellness, public school, if I went one day, I went to a public school and there was so many girls are not there. And I was going them quite often. So I asked the headmistress, I said, Why and one here today, like it’s like, 40%, attendance is down. And she said, Oh, they have their period. And I said, What do you mean? And she said, No, firstly, pheromones, so they’re all saying the cycle thing together. And then he said, she said, Because girls and other girls have issues that either don’t can afford the pads or they don’t have access to pads or they think that they’re going to have like, you know, like leakages and like their fear of like substance all of these issues. Yeah, embarrassed and shame. So they just they miss school for a week. Imagine every week if you miss a week of school. Imagine that impact on a girls learning and development over really? Yeah, it’s that’s a huge problem. No. So when I started working on small I started realising that and for fun, actually, six months ago for fun when I just hired my new developer, and we were building this product together and he took up I didn’t have no one in tech wanting to work with me. I hadn’t really scouted I just had this like dream that I want to do this. So when my developer for Hardy came on board and he said okay, I really young 24 year old guy, like then he was 23. He said, I always wanted to work in healthcare. So I will take a chance and I will join you. Let’s do this. Okay, so the sooner that was make jokes that Fahad knows more about the menstrual cycle than anyone with everything, so six months ago, he came on board and before we finalise the product I told them to add let’s build a period and pregnancy tracker for fun. Okay, we introduced it later after we digitise clinics, but as a women’s health product when let’s build it, when I started this journey, and I asked the team, I have two other girls, Dora who does all of these amazing anime, the graphics you see. And then hybrid chef who’s my head doctor, and we’re all done in house, we have four people who work really hard, and then have a couple of advisors. Okay, so we’ve built all of this in house. And now what I did was, so we did this process, and we started, so the slicing healthcare wasn’t working. So then I came back to the alchemist story, okay, the you’re sitting on gold, and I let all that you know, you’ve been your voice, you speak about women’s health care, you post about women’s health care, you have an audience, you have a following, and you’re in an advantageous position where what you can do with women’s health cannot do with no other people can do right and all the time. And that was also because I’ve been doing it for a couple years, but I never acknowledged and recognised what I was doing. I was just like, okay, for fun and providing health awareness, I didn’t think I could ever monetize off it or make it something that I really wanted to do. Or maybe I knew I was gonna do that. But I didn’t have that confidence in myself to do what I actually wanted. You know, sometimes you’re scared to do it, you really want to do and then yeah. And then honestly, it something just clicked when he said that to me. And then I spoke to my two other guys I work with and they said this is because you’re in it. You don’t see it. But he’s right. It’s what you really care about the most. And you can use obedience, we said, so I thought and Zara rimshot. And I said, Okay, we have three months, we’ve built the building blocks for the infrastructure. We’ve built, the beer tracker building block, building blocks of where we’ve built, now, let’s all of the content, all the awareness, everything we do, let’s make it into an application and do it for women. So that means not just your health awareness, you get your basic health, preventive health awareness, but you also track your period of pregnancy. In Pakistan, people do not know what ovulation is. So there’s unwanted pregnancies there’s the contraception is a issue. I see you nodding your head, I appreciate that. Because every time when I say learn more about women’s health care, I used to be so that

Michael Waitze 47:11
I want to tell the stories. I want people to hear about this, right? Because we take for granted the information that we’ve received in our lives, basically through osmosis without even asking for it. So we just presume in a lot of cases, I call it the fallacy of now right? In other words, we believe that it’s always been this way so that it’s always going to be that way for everybody. And yet, because we’re not in touch with this. And this is the reason why I like to tell these stories, right? Because there needs to be an understanding around like this idea of having an unwanted pregnancy because you don’t understand an ovulation cycle of the menstruation cycle is anathema to most people. And yet, it’s a reality every day. And that’s why I want to tell this story around here, right? Because it’s just the beginning to me of what’s a much larger story. Is that fair?

Mahnoor Farishta 47:58
Oh yeah. 100% it’s a much larger story. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So now let me talk about automation and your period cycle information. Now this is not just and I want to say this very, very clearly. This is not a problem that was just an issue in lower and middle income populations. Middle income, upper middle income educated women in Pakistan Do Not Track the cycle, okay? They do not visit a gynaecologist. We did a survey in Pakistan and like I lived in England, so when I moved I remember when I if I got told you have to get a pap smear that the NHS is also you know, we love it. But now when I moved back and I spoke to my friends, okay, it’s already within I what I call the social media population. So girls like me, over 60% of them had never visited a gynaecologist in their lives. Okay, because one, there is an affordability issue, but this is not this is not a population that can’t afford it. There’s a lot of shame associated. If you go to a gynaecologist. They’ll be like, Oh, it’s very old if you only want to go to college after you get married. So there’s these like stigma and shame associated women’s healthcare that are so deeply embedded that problems like PCOS or endometriosis will never come about because we just don’t talk about Pakistan has one in 10 Women in Pakistan are diagnosed with PCOS. And I always say I did a post recently on LinkedIn about this I said, since when you’re young, you get told we say by dashed colour, which is sent to like suffer in silence or deal with it. Women get told your ancestor they’ll all tell you this, but deal with the PAP and excessive excessive I personally had crazy beard pain as as a young adult, I had to miss a day of school. I used to think it was really bad, only to find out that I had me and my sister and my sister also had PCOS. But she had a completely different set of symptoms. Right. And we will never we didn’t realise until much later that it’s not normal to have excessive period pain or like you know, hormonal acne And like none of these things are normal that can be treated. But an island educated Pakistani privileged girls imagine everybody else. And that’s what shocks me. And when it comes to ovulation, girls get married really young. Okay? They get married very young. They’re not very educated. They don’t know about understand ovulation, they have multiple pregnancies, many of whom then babies die. Like I said, one in 28 babies die in their first month. And most maternal deaths in Pakistan, are due to direct childbirth complications. So it’s not like it’s like a It’s not like it’s the problem. It’s just way worse than we can I can even express to you. It’s way worse than I can even understand on my own. That’s the difference. So when it came to hair, for me, it was like, okay, women deserve a platform that is an all in one solution to women’s health care. And in a population with 80 million reproductive women, we have over 40 to 50 million women who are smartphone users active, you bring that down, even if you bring down 20 to 30 million women, active smartphone users, that’s a huge population shock, right? Okay, that is bigger than a lot of countries. Right? In Pakistan, when we say when I talk seven 30 million when people were displaced due to the floods. This time, we had to explain to people globally, this is bigger than most European country, it’s a large population, 20 30 million people. So my focus was really clear with the app that we’re launching, it should be in English, it should be in Urdu, it should be enrollment or to which is the three languages we launched with. But the more capital I get, I want it to be in all regional languages. And you have community support, when you can speak to women about your health issues. We are launching Pakistan’s first period and pregnancy tracker, and with subscription based menstrual hygiene products that make sense.

Michael Waitze 51:50
Yeah, but also, that’s the perfect way to end. I want to thank you, Mahnoor Farishta, the Founder and the CEO of Khair. Thank you so much for doing this. And you have to promise me have to come back as this continues to develop, please.

Mahnoor Farishta 52:03
Oh, yeah, 100%. And we also just don’t want to highlight another feature that I really liked about it. So one is the beard pregnancy tracker, menstrual hygiene products, because reason why I see menstrual hygiene products is important is not only because of awareness, I just want to go over the best part about this. So it’s not just awareness. One is there’s a lot of shame associated with buying menstrual hygiene products, the women, a lot of them depend on their husbands and their brothers etc to do so. But we have partnered with enough organisations to provide a care package to the care package. And it’s not just your it’s not just your pads or it’s not just your menstrual hygiene products. We have pimple patches for hormone acne, we have your medicine, it’s a cotton underwear, anything you need for hair and your period. So like wellness in your period, but also, for every two packets of fat you buy from Khair, we donate two packets to girls from the word income backgrounds who cannot afford menstrual hygiene products and miss school or work as a result. So the idea is that period poverty in Pakistan is a huge problem. And we want to be wanting to be a sustainable way to help both populations. So yeah, and then with every fair package, you get one free call with one of our care GPS. And then then company digitising healthcare infrastructure is because simultaneously as we grow, we give you access to gynaecologist, paediatrics any of the doctors that you need for your health concerns, all on one application. And then we have for October is a really fun. It’s a feature. It’s called the breast cancer cells scan. So it’s an eight step process on how to check yourself every month, and you get a monthly reminder. So every month, you should check yourself check your breast because early detection of breast cancer saves lives. And Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in Asia. So it’s another problem that we have one in nine women so yeah, that’s Khair in a nutshell. But as we grow, I’d definitely love to come back. tell you more about what happened, what we’re doing. And yeah, all in one solution to women’s healthcare. Definitely follow up care.tk on social media, and thank you so much, Michael. This is great.

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