To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, 2021, we talked to Munira Miyaziwala a member of the Dawoodi Bohras of Seattle, and a social and educational entrepreneur who has spent over 20 years leading startups, non-profits, and other established organizations in the fields of science and education. She single-handedly grew her most thriving venture, Techno Smart Kids, to provide 20 educational programs in 15 locations. To mark International Women and Girls in Science Day, we spoke to Munira about her incredible journey in science.
What got you hooked onto science?
I grew up in Bangladesh in the late 1970s and early 80s, a time when there were very few opportunities available in STEM. Math and science were my favorite subjects in school, but I never had any practical exposure to them until I started taking tours of factories with my father, who was a businessman. This ignited my interest in technology. The engineers patiently answered my questions, and I admired them for their knowledge and skill. As a little girl, I wished to join them one day and become an engineer myself.
Who inspired you to pursue technology?
After completing high school in Cochin, Kerala, I achieved a bachelor’s of science in Design from the University of Madras. My interest in technology was reignited after moving to Seattle with my husband Shabbir, an engineer for Microsoft. He inspired me to leverage my design skills and pursue an associate degree in Web Design and Development. After completing my Associate’s degree, I started my own web design and development business, SMB Design Solutions.
How did you balance your work and home life?
I had to run my business while my son was at school or in bed so that my professional responsibilities did not conflict with my duties as a mother. After my second child was born, I stepped back from my web design work. It was too challenging for me to meet the demands of running a business and raising two young children simultaneously. However, during this time, I started a nonprofit called KHEK, Kids Helping Kids. One of KHEK’s goals was to develop children’s compassion, awareness, and empathy towards those who are less privileged. We strove to empower them to identify, plan, and execute charitable projects.
“Techno Smart Kids runs a variety of programs that teach programming, robotics, digital art, electronics, and game design.”
What is your greatest entrepreneurial effort and how does it relate to your career in science?
Of my various entrepreneurial efforts, Techno Smart Kids (TSK) has been the most gratifying and successful. Several years ago, my son was telling me about his day at school and he mentioned that some of his friends were struggling to use basic computer applications. I realized that there was a need for tech education that was accessible and engaging to elementary-age students and so, in 2013, I started TSK, a program designed to introduce kids to technology.
Initially established as a summer camp held out of my home in Seattle, we eventually expanded to offer before- and after-school enrichment programs at school campuses and online. Today, we run a variety of programs that teach programming, robotics, digital art, electronics, and game design.
TSK has given me the opportunity to impart my science and technology knowledge to young kids while staying in my field of interest. It has also helped pave the path to STEM education for youth in my community. Coding and programming help children develop an appreciation for how things work. It teaches them how to solve problems by employing both creative and analytical skills and perseverance, traits they will need in all other aspects of their lives.
What have been your biggest challenges (as a woman in science)?
As a woman in a male-dominated environment, I have to make an extra effort to make myself heard and get my point across. I struggled initially to strike a balance between my work and home life, and found it difficult to keep up with advancements in my field while not neglecting my responsibilities as a wife and mother.
What has helped you overcome the challenges you have faced?
Throughout my career, I have faced many hurdles, but my faith has always given me the patience and strength to overcome them. Prayers and strong faith help me realign my thoughts, shift my perspective, and gain the confidence I need to handle anything.
How do you think women can achieve gender parity?
As mothers and women, need to actively raise our children with gender equality in mind and avail the same opportunities to our daughters as we do to our sons, so they shine based on their skills and capability and not gender. We need to remind the girls and women in our lives that they are more than their appearance and praise them for their leadership, intelligence, creativity, and other skills. We must support a progressive work environment through equal representation of women in leadership roles, equal pay, and education on gender parity. We must support the promotion of women in the arts, sciences, sports, and other fields. Finally, we need to share household responsibilities among family members.
Why is it important for young women to have role models?
Young women are more likely to pursue careers in which they see other women succeeding and thriving. A female role model shows girls what is possible and inspires them to aim higher.
What do you envision for your future?
I would like to bring tech education to kids, especially girls, of 3rd world countries, like Bangladesh. I would also like to promote opportunities and resources for young children with science aspirations to nurture their interest at an early age.
What advice do you have for young women who want to follow in your footsteps?
Change your attitude from “I don’t know” to “I don’t know …yet”. Don’t be shy about following your passion and taking a chance. Be open to making mistakes as it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Do not give up on hurdles or underestimate your capabilities. Maintain a work-family life balance and, most important of all, when you have kids be a mother first before anything else.
We would like to thank Munira for giving this fascinating interview, and we wish her luck in her future endeavors.