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Narjis Bokhari Ali — President OPEN Washington DC

  • Posted On: 20th January 2014
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Narjis Bokhari Ali — President OPEN Washington DC

Narjis Ali is an exemplary model of passion, determination and success for all Pakistani entrepreneurs. She is the President and CEO of Sure Secure Solutions, a company providing targeted end-to-end solutions and problem resolution in the Greater Washington area. Narjis comes with 30+ years of information technology expertise and has leadership capabilities that span from strategic planning to implementing solutions. She has worked in high profile positions for several U.S. Federal government agencies, including Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and NASA. Aside from running her own company, Narjis is also the president of the DC chapter for OPEN, a voluntary organisation dedicated to the training and facilitation of budding Pakistani entrepreneurs. Narjis is an active believer in giving back to the community and dedicates her free time to fundraising for various causes and contributing to local shelters and charities.  Narjis speaks to Blue Chip about her entrepreneurial and personal journey to becoming a successful female CEO and an inspirational leader of the community


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What was the journey behind the idea and inception of Sure Secure Solutions and what challenges and experiences did you have to face to make this venture a success?

Narjis Ali: ”I started working at the age of 16 after I did my O’ levels from Jesus Mary Convent in Lahore and read about these big machines with exceptional computing powers called computers.  I was admitted in Kinnaird College but my heart was looking for how to get into the Computing world. Coincidentally, I had gone to Karachi for a vacation with my family and the first two mainframe computers had come to Pakistan and I started interning at IBM at The Habib Bank Plaza.  Since then I haven’t looked back, from punched cards to Cloud Computing, the IT bug has been my heart and soul. Being an entrepreneur at heart, in 1982, I collected every desktop that I could lay my hands on and I brought them to Pakistan and set-up some computer labs for the students.  Then I initiated the first O’ levels and A’ level courses in information systems, and the first BSc course in information systems that they offered through the LSE in Pakistan.

When I went to the U.S. about 15 years ago, I worked as a consultant with IBM where I trained people in using different kinds of software. After a few years I decided to start my own company and gathered a team of partners, Mike Lounge was an astronaut and Director, Business Development at Boeing, Adam with experience in startups, a few colleagues in the current U.S. Customs project, and together we created a roadmap for Sure Secure. Our focus is Application Security, Secure Integration and Cloud computing. We contract with the Federal Government in the U.S. and our main clients are the Department of Homeland Security and NASA where we provide Security and Cloud architecture support services.”

What is your philosophy behind succeeding as an entrepreneur?

NA: ”My philosophy generally in life is the passion for my work and a deep need to give back to the community.  To succeed as an entrepreneur, one needs to have a vision, a strategy, short term and long term objectives, identify the barriers, define tactics to overcome the barriers and create action items as part of the overall roadmap. As an entrepreneur, one has to take certain risks and then never lose focus of the objectives. After that, all it takes is hard work and more hard work.  There have been times when as an entrepreneur, one has to stop and take stock, sometimes a few steps back helps redirect and channel efforts in the right direction. There are many unanticipated roadblocks, delays and other circumstances that can adversely affect the business, under such circumstances, it is very important to persevere and stay grounded. A successful entrepreneur will focus on the client needs, constantly look for pain points or gaps that exist in the client workspace or industry and acquire deep domain knowledge. I have always personally devoted time to understand the needs of our clients and keep a communication channel open with our clients. I believe no one can sell services better than the stakeholders in the business. The most important aspect of a successful business is the human resources in the company.  To me, our developers and consultants are the most precious asset in the company; we believe that not only hiring but retaining resources speaks volumes about the success of a venture.”

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We understand that you train and encourage future leaders and entrepreneurs like yourself, what was your vision behind OPEN?

NA: ”OPEN used to stands for Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North-America. It started from Boston, and that was 15 years ago. We started the Washington, DC chapter in 2003, so this year marked our 10th Anniversary. It all started with a small bunch of people who said how can we connect people doing businesses from Pakistan so they can mutually benefit from each other?  The mission of OPEN is to help people of a Pakistani origin connect, develop and grow. It is a networking and a mentoring platform.  Networking and managing relationships is an important aspect of any successful business.  Being part of entrepreneurial organisations, such as OPEN DC, provides a way of connecting with people and creates growth opportunities through collaboration. I have been part of OPEN for the last 10 years and I am currently the President of OPEN Washington DC. I am very passionate about this organization because it provides a platform to provide collaboration opportunities and mentoring, to share our lessons learned and best practices to help make this world a better place for all.

We have seven chapters so far in the U.S., Silicon Valley and DC are the most vibrant and active chapters, and largest in terms of charter members.  OPEN has tiered membership, the first tier is a regular member, then we have Charter Members, and a Board that comprises of a group pf Charter Members. The Charter Members, usually recognised entrepreneurs, are actually OPEN’s backbones who provide the financial ability to run the organisation. The Board assumes the fiduciary responsibilities, defines the strategic vision and manages the overall functions of the organisation. OPEN provides an opportunity for its members to meet and interact with industry leaders, inspirational speakers and successful entrepreneurs. There is also an executive committee that is lead by the President, this is the body that is most active and is the miracle team that puts together all events and is the heart and soul of the organisation.

At OPEN DC we have an active Women’s Leadership Forum and a Youth Wing to promote Women Entrepreneurs and allow students and the younger generation to participate in developmental opportunities.”

 We see that you raise funds for the CARE foundation in South-East Asia and for several other charities, can you relate some unforgettable moments from these experiences?

NA: “As far as charitable causes go, I believe one has to have that passion inside them to give back. I give the example here of Darwish dancers and their signature posture with one arm towards the sky and the other towards the ground, so that is my philosophy, I am looking up for light and then it needs to just pass through me to someone else, so that concept of giving is what makes me part of so many different things. OPEN is a professional forum, but I am part of many social organisations too. I have supported the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital for many years now, raising funds and helping wherever we can. When I was in Lahore, I worked with Seema Aziz for CARE Foundation, I have not been able to give the foundation the amount of time and contribution I would ideally like to but whenever I can I always do. We also support Citizens Foundation, Namal College and many other NGOs from Pakistan. It is just a way of trying to make a difference in people’s lives the best we can sitting so far away.Since I live in the U.S., the country and its people are very dear to me too, and I make an effort to support local social organisations like the March of Dimes, Children’s Cancer Hospital and several others where I contribute and help. There are many things that you can do in the U.S. that are missing here and we can try and replicate them in Pakistan too. For example, there are shelters in every community for people who don’t have a home or people who don’t have money to eat, one can volunteer some time there and help out in various tasks.”

 You have previously received the prestigious International Communication and Leadership Award and several others, what meaning do these awards and nominations have for you?

NA: ”The Leadership Award was a great honor because Toastmasters is a renowned organisation operating all over the world and their main focus is the art of public speaking. So working in the DC area, being a part of several ventures, operating my own company, I had some visibility through OPEN and the community and they asked me to speak as a keynote for   one of their events.  I talked about my own life experiences and the deep feeling in me of wanting to give back to community. I was very humbled by the gesture of having been given this award and for me it is something that refuels the passion in me to do something for Pakistan, because I do love the country so much and this strengthened my dream to bring about some sort of change, albeit a small one, whether it is for women’s rights, or betterment for students or just helping people become better human beings and positively contributing to their surroundings and to the world. My keynote last approximately 45 minutes in front of a roomful of non-Asian people and I got a standing ovation.  Since I was talking from my heart it was so well received and it made me realise that people all over the world are good, and one just has to seek that goodness in human beings. I mentioned this in one of my recent talks as well, that if you decide that you want to start something good, you just have to say it out loud, and people will come out of the woodworks to help you.

This year I also received the Brava Smart CEO Award.  I am honoured to have been selected, but I believe I still have a long way to go and realise the dream for making a success of the venture we started.”

You inspire and encourage so many people, who are your role models?

NA: ”I have several role models as one person can’t possibly be a role model in everything. I admire Mandela, I admire Mahathir, Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, but I can’t be a Mother Teresa alone, I have to have a bit of Mandela, a part of Steve Jobs. An ounce of people you admire or look up to, incorporated into yourself or your life makes you who you are. My mother was my social role model, and my father was a true inspiration. My dad taught me the love for poetry and the understanding for the deep meaning in a simple verse. I have so many role models I can’t even begin to list them really, but recently I was in London for the OPEN launch event in Imperial College and I was one of the speakers there and a student there asked me how does one find a mentor? How do we choose who to follow and learn from? So I responded that it is more important for you to decide what you want to do first and you will find your mentor. As Rumi also said, that when the student is ready, the mentor will appear. You just need that one person to believe in you and tell you that you can do it, in my case I started my IT career without any formal training because of my passion and a push from my uncle who believed I could do it.”

 Through your Women’s Leadership forum, what key message do you convey to the working women today regarding their work?

NA: “ Our OPEN Women’s Leadership Forum provides an opportunity for women in small businesses to showcase their products and promote their ventures. We have special events for women entrepreneurs and also collaborate with the U.S. Pakistan Women’s Council on certain development initiatives. I also work with ASHA for Women, an organisation that helps destitute women providing medical, legal and financial support. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to give a message of hope to other women, help them realise that it is possible to achieve something if you set your mind to it, and to not be afraid. I am a living example of someone who keeps moving ahead and makes a place in this world by believing in myself and working hard despite all the obstacles I have faced in my own life. My Mantra has been, only to Him I pray and only from Him I seek help.”

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