"Am I doing what is important to me? Am I moving my country in a positive direction? After that I knew I had to take a different route.” - Saba
When — growing up in Karachi — Saba Khalid sees, first hand, what it means to have limited agency over your own body, she does not yet know that the fight for women’s and girl’s rights will become one of the defining topics of her life.
Nor that she will manage to find ways to combine this with another passion, technology, and least of all how the combination will lead her to invent an ingenious piece of AI that will cut through the culture of silence around female health and hygiene in Pakistan.
Today, Saba — a wide, confident smile; a public speaker’s presence — is an award-winning social entrepreneur, activist, and journalist.
But her story begins differently.
When she’s setting out, she moves through a number of Corporate Social Responsibility departments (and is quickly disillusioned), works as a journalist across large media houses (but struggles), and feels unable to find a role as a woman in Pakistan that is meaningful to her.
Saba sits herself down: Am I doing what is important to me? Am I moving my country in a positive direction? “After that,” she says, “I knew I had to take a different route.”
She sees how curious young Pakistani girls are to learn about their bodies — and how schools, parents, and society are all failing them on this. One taboo bugs her in particular: menstruation. One in two Pakistani girls doesn’t know what’s happening to her when the first period arrives.
On a four-month program at a local startup incubator, Saba sets out to design a solution. At first, she thinks about a blog, a portal, some kind of platform. But who is going to read the lengthy, research-based pieces she’s planning to write?
Investigating further, she realizes what is missing most are conversations. Opportunities for women and young girls to ask questions, in real-time. How can we make it accessible? Sustainable? It’s a struggle, but Saba is patient and persists.
The DO School allows her to experiment further. She wins a prize, receives a small pool of money. And out of this, her idea slowly emerges: a chatbot that specializes in menstruation and hygiene.
The Raaji is born.
Pakistani girls see themselves in the girl on the screen that talks to them — in response to their questions. Questions that many cannot put to anyone else. No personal data gets collected, nothing is recorded. If the AI senses a concern, it connects to a gynaecologist.
The Raaji chatbot is now used widely as part of education in schools, and with phenomenal impact.
Saba finds herself across the Financial Times, the Guardian, the BBC; the headhunters of big tech routinely knock on her door.
But she prefers to design her own future: traveling between Pakistan and the world, developing new ideas with her small team, meeting girls, and listening. What would really help you? How can I reach you better?
For Saba, the link between her personal quest for meaning and the societal and economic transformations that are necessary is self-evident. They go hand-in-hand.
The future she is creating is one where everyone feels digitally included, empowered, and literate — but especially rural women and adolescent girls. And the message that resonates through all her work is pointed directly at them:
You can do this too.
Written by Daniel Kramb