We often hear age is just a number – Azima Dhanjee is a testament to this saying. ConnectHear is a social entrepreneurship venture aimed at increasing sign language accessibility and deaf inclusion in Pakistan. It was founded by three college students in 2018.
Azima recalls that while she was pursuing a degree in Entrepreneurship at IBA they had been given a project where groups had to take on a business project during the course of a semester. Azima decided to take on a project that aimed at helping people with hearing disabilities. The idea struck her because Azima is a child of deaf adults (CODA). She was an interpreter for her parents at all times and if she wasn’t present at some instances it resulted in her parents losing important opportunities. It had always bothered her seeing her parents struggle with their disability due to a lack of accessibility.
Azima along with her two Co-Founders approached Nest IO, a startup incubator, to work on their idea. The idea proved to be solid and ConnectHear was incubated at the Nest IO. Azima recalls that the best part of being at The Nest was working under the mentorship of Jehan Ara who had a lot of experience in the startup ecosystem. Coupled with this they could also access necessary resources like a place to work, cameras and video recorders.
An idea that was born for a project ultimately turned into a full time dream. Azima was 19 years old when ConnectHear started operating. She was also full time enrolled at IBA so managing university workload with a startup was very challenging. To continue on her entrepreneurial journey Azima had to make some difficult decisions. This included taking a gap year to focus solely on ConnectHear and help the business take off. Another thing that was challenging for Azima and her Co-Founders was the fact that they were 19 years old. While age is genuinely just a number when it comes to innovation there was hesitation and reluctance in investing in or working with such young people. However, Azima mentions that she never let that become an excuse for them. She felt that giving up was not an option and if 50 people felt that they were too young, they’d be at least one who believed in their idea.
This validation for ConnectHear came in the form of a breakthrough collaboration for a deaf inclusive concert organised with Strings the band. This was the first time where an event of this nature was being conducted. This helped in getting the word out about the work ConnectHear was doing and aided in their business gaining momentum. At this point people had forgotten about their reluctance and doubts and wanted to work with ConnectHear.
Another important milestone for ConnectHear was working with the Government for the General Elections being held in 2018. By making an effort to connect the Deaf community to the political process, ConnectHear in collaboration with GEO News and NOWPDP – an NGO with a disability-inclusive vision – broadcasted live election updates in sign language for the Deaf community.
In the last few years ConnectHear has grown a lot and has seen a lot of changes. ConnectHear is now led by two Co-Founders instead of three. Azima is the CEO while Arhum Ishtiaq who is a student at Habib University is the CTO at ConnectHear. They have also formed a team that has helped in growing their operations. When asked about future plans for ConnectHear Azima mentioned how they want to make their venture global so everyone with a hearing disability has an equal opportunity. They want to use the technology they have developed in the best way and help as many hearing impaired people as they can.
We wish Azima, Arhum & ConnectHear the best in their astounding journey!