Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2019

Forging ahead

Saba Khalid, Founder, Aurat Raaj, in profile.

Saba Khalid is running late. Her Careem, she says via a message on WhatsApp, hasn’t reached her and she apologises profusely and is rather frazzled when we meet 30 minutes later. As she settles down, she continues to speak rather quickly, brimming with enthusiasm about the projects she has on the anvil.

Closest to Khalid’s heart is Aurat Raaj – the web portal she founded in 2017 and which focuses on educating and empowering women through curated content relating to the achievements of women in Pakistan and the issues they face. A by-product of Aurat Raaj is Raaji – a fictional, animated character from Thar. After escaping an attempted honour killing by her family, Raaji becomes a symbol of women’s empowerment and provides women with information so “they can live freely.” She does this via a video series (several episodes are available on Aurat Raaj’s website; others have been screened at venues such as schools for underprivileged girls) and a Chatbot-based app, which answers questions relating to sexual and reproductive health, education and employment via AI; the more complex queries are redirected to Khalid and her team of volunteers, many of whom are trained psychologists.

Aurat Raaj and Raaji resulted in Khalid winning several accolades last year; she won the Pakistan edition of She Loves Tech and was featured in the Huffington Post in an article titled 14 Change Makers With Global Impact. In December 2018, at the Bafta Awards, Raaji (the video series) received the tve Global Sustainability award in the ‘AI: Empowering the future’ category.

Despite these achievements and the exposure her start-up has received in a very short period of time, Khalid is not high on herself in the least; she speaks about them in a matter of fact manner. At some point during our conversation, she even goes to the extent of saying that it is possible that she won one of the awards because she is a woman from a country like Pakistan (not exactly known as a bastion of gender equality) and the fact that Aurat Raaj focuses on underprivileged women. She adds that entering awards is a good way to give her start-up exposure and help her gain financing, betraying a realistic approach and ability to strike when the iron is hot.

A graduate of Szabist, Khalid realised that a nine-to-five job was not her cup of tea. Although she worked for three to four years at several organisations in various capacities, including two publications (Spider and The Express Tribune), because she loves to write, it was not until she was awarded a fellowship in Berlin in 2012 that she started to enjoy her work in earnest.

Once in Berlin, she worked for Rolling Stone magazine, covering subjects such as street musicians and gaining exposure to the vibrant start-up culture there. She also started freelancing and consulting for several start-ups and built what she calls “networks”. A few years later, in 2016, she came up with the concept of Aurat Raaj with Tino Hahn (the co-founder of the start-up who is based in Berlin).

“I was attending a conference and partnered with him. I told him I did not like what was going on in Pakistan (with regard to how women are treated) and wanted to change it. Literally, on a tissue paper, we wrote down the idea for the website. When I came back to Pakistan, I had Rs 25,000 saved and gave them to a developer to create the website.”

After that, she met Jehan Ara, President P@asha and Big Bird at The Nest I/O, who told her they were taking in a new batch and were willing to help her develop her idea. “It was fantastic; Jehan Ara opened my eyes to the opportunities available in the tech world for women and I changed the idea of Aurat Raaj from a journalistic venture into a tech business.”


Aurat Raaj and Raaji resulted in Khalid winning several accolades last year; she won the Pakistan edition of She Loves Tech and was featured in the Huffington Post in an article titled 14 Change Makers With Global Impact. In December 2018, at the Bafta Awards, Raaji (the video series) received the tve Global Sustainability award in the ‘AI: Empowering the future’ category.


Eventually, thanks to guidance from Jehan Ara as well as other entrepreneurs she met at the Nest and those in Berlin, Aurat Raaj became more of a tech-led business. In addition to the website and Raaji, Aurat Raaj organises self-defence classes at schools in Pakistan. They have also partnered with organisations such as UNICEF to screen videos featuring Raaji aimed at providing schoolgirls with information about topics often considered taboo such as bullying, child abuse, child marriage, feminine hygiene and honour killings.

Funding continues to be an issue for Khalid. She says the initial grants were dedicated towards the development of the app and this a part of the reason she realised entering for awards and gaining exposure would help her raise more funds. Currently, she is updating the Raaji app and hopes to enter it in the forthcoming World Summit Awards in Portugal.

In the meantime, Khalid is working for other start-ups and freelancing for several organisations, mainly in Germany. These include a media house where she is working on creating viral content and Invest2Innovate, an accelerator based in Pakistan. In many ways, she has managed to find the ideal way of doing what she loves, and embodying the phrase “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day” – and this is apparent when she tells me that she loves to read – but that she primarily reads books for Blinkist, a Germany-based organisation where she condenses non-fiction books into 15-minute summaries and recordings.

However, despite her accomplishments, there is something very ‘real’ about Khalid; in fact, she is quick to point out that she has been able to take a lot of risks in her career because she comes from a relatively privileged family and therefore has a lot of advantages that the majority of women in Pakistan do not have. That is not to say that she has not had her share of struggles. “My parents told me that they would not support me because I went to random areas and talked about controversial subjects such as women rights and child marriage and they believed I was taking too many risks.” Needless to say, she did not let this stop her and continued pursuing what she believes in. She says part of the reason she began Aurat Raaj had to do with the murder of Qandeel Baloch; it made her want to change things in Pakistan.

Given what I now know about Khalid, when she says that she has very little spare time, given all her commitments, I don’t think she minds this in the least. In fact, I suspect this is exactly how she wants to lead her life. On her own terms, doing what she believes in and doing as many different things as possible.