Ladies Club @ Staff College: an example of excellence in project management and a case for greater inclusion of women in the work force

Imagine managing a transient, unwilling and unpaid work force of 500 ladies and being asked to plan and execute work that is equivalent to roughly 40 weddings a year for a 1000 guests on a 5 day notice…

I caught up with my sister in law Saadia after many years this week. For the past 2 years or so, my brother has been posted at Staff College Quetta, as a Directing Staff. For those who don’t know, Staff College is a premier learning institution of the Pakistan Army. Though for me, the most intriguing part of my brother and sister in law’s journey is the Ladies Club at Staff College called Al-Nisa where Saadia is an Assistant General Secretary. While the Ladies Club sounds like a casual gathering place for ladies to learn skills or have fun, it’s actually a LOT of work.

My sister in law showed me some VERY elaborate events organised by her on super short notie, all by working with this semi unwilling and transient work force that can’t be fired, this work force is essentially wives of officers posted at Staff College. To make matters more complicated, this work force comprises of vastly diverse educational and social backgrounds.

The strange rule at Al Nisa (that’s what the Ladies Club is called) is that it’s sort of mandatory for the ladies of Staff College to participate in Al Nisa activities, else they risk being ostracised. My estimate is that my sister in law dedicates at least 50 hours a week to Al Nisa and it got me thinking: Wow that’s some serious managerial talent right there, and it’s never going to get utilised again and it’s unpaid! That led to: my sister in law could easily be CEO of many organisations I’ve come across and she would probably do a much better job than a lot of men I’ve met.

Generally businesses of today say they struggle with finding talent and in particular finding capable and willing women so I asked my sister in law if she could re-call from memory 5–6 highly capable ladies who she has worked with at Al Nisa, sure enough she could, and she could point out a lot more than 5–6.

This is huge because if 5–6 highly capable ladies who trust each other’s intentions come together and dedicate say 5 hours a week to any given purpose using some friendly hand-held technology what could they achieve?

Now I don’t fully agree with where all the energy is getting spent by Al Nisa, some of the activities seem trivial frankly such as organising elaborate entertainment events to entertain wives of senior army officers who visit Quetta or surprise farewells and things like that. But, I am in awe of the capability set that lies within this relatively less known entity called Al Nisa. I can’t recall all the activities Saadia told me about, but it’s a wide range. It includes 2 day fun fair festivals involving close to 500+ stalls to organising clean up activities to improve sanitation.

Why I think the work Saadia and some of her friends do at Al Nisa is an example of project management excellence?

They manage a transient and unwilling work force to do things everyone does not really care about, but for better or for worse, somehow some of these ladies get a LOT done. I mean it’s a LOT, and I’m hoping Saadia writes about what a LOT is, or that some of her friends will contribute. The supposed “management” of this club can’t really fire people. It’s sort of like a temporary family business where you inherit colleagues who come in all shapes and forms and you are expected to deliver some pretty challenging tasks on super short notice.

Imagine planning a 1000 person wedding on a 4 day notice! That’s the sort of stuff Saadia has been doing, while it’s ridiculous that she has to do such things, it’s also incredible that she can!

More than Al Nisa, I am writing this note for Saadia, she is one of the most capable people I’ve known and I think technology is already at a point where Saadia plus a few Al Nisa battle hardened ladies can come together and create a stellar organisation to solve some of humanities grand challenges.

At a personal level, I also think it’s high time that the men of today started looking more intently to find the oodles of talent lying in this massive under utilised work force known as women. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t have equal representation. I have been guilty of hiding behind excuses as well as to why gender diversity is awful. I am convinced that this can and must be overcome not because I want to overcome my guilt or because now I have 3 nieces, but because there’s a crazy amount of super high quality talent available and it can be utilised to achieve some outstanding results.

Here’s a fun technology fact: Most messaging and planning at Al Nisa is done over Whatsapp! Though the participants always insist on a “Please Acknowledge” note whenever a note is sent.

Good luck Saadia.