I am passionate about changing lives
Pakistan-based LLB graduate Zunehra Taj talks to London Connection about the happiest day of her life, being a British Council Alumni Awards finalist, and her passion for social impact.
For University of London alumna Zunehra Taj, life after graduation differed to the one she had envisioned while studying. Zunehra had pictured a career in the corporate sector after completing her LLB, with a clear path of progression and job security. However, Zunehra discovered a career in an area she had been passionate about since childhood: social impact. Her compassionate nature has shaped her inspiring career, which led to her nomination for a British Council Alumni Award in the Social Impact Category.
We were delighted to host Zunehra in London for a tour of Senate House and a catch-up about life after her studies. We met with an energetic, intelligent and powerful woman determined to change the world for the less fortunate people of Pakistan.
What made you choose University of London for your studies?
Since childhood, I have been a very talkative person. People would always say to me: ‘You should become a lawyer!’ Initially I wanted to become a doctor, and I even received an offer to study medicine in Pakistan.
I was quite set on this, until the option of studying for a University of London degree without having to leave Pakistan was presented to me. I decided that this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss and applied to study for the LLB.
When I told my family that I had received an offer to study the LLB, they asked if I was moving to London! A lot of people do not understand the concept of distance learning.
When I declared that I was going to study for the LLB, my father was reluctant but my mother was very supportive. When I graduated, my father was the proudest member of my family.
Were your friends and family supportive of your decision to undertake a degree by distance learning?
When I declared that I was going to study for the LLB, my father was reluctant but my mother was very supportive. When I graduated, my father was the proudest member of my family. He accompanied me to my graduation ceremony in London. It was the happiest day of my life, and I believe it was the happiest day of my father’s life too. He said that studying for the LLB was the best decision I had ever made. My father is in ill health, so having these memories to look back on is priceless.
How was your time studying with us? What doors did the degree open?
Studying English law in Pakistan was eye-opening. It was fascinating to learn that in foreign countries, even animals have rights. After graduating, I understood the difference a foreign degree could make in my country. It gave me a new perspective, and I was able to see through an international lens. I was able to see where Pakistani laws could improve.
Your degree led you to becoming the first lawyer in your family. How did the achievement feel?
It felt great. I was actually the first of my family to even study at University level.
Can you tell us about what you did after graduating?
I began to teach in a Pakistani Teaching Centre for distance learning students studying the University of London LLB, just like I had. I taught land law and contract law, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After this, I joined a corporate council that had a head office in Amsterdam.
How did you get into the social sector?
I had always planned to stay in the corporate sector. However, three years after starting my career, an opportunity presented itself which meant I could switch to the social sector. I joined a UK-based INGO (international non-governmental organisation), Save an Orphan, as the Pakistan lead.
I was travelling all over Pakistan. We treated more than 700 children suffering from thalassemia free of charge. We did this by launching the first ever mobile blood transfusion unit in the KPK region. These communities are spread across mountains, meaning sufferers would have to travel around six hours daily down to the cities to get treatment. We made it possible to reach the mountains to stop children being forced to travel for the blood they needed. KPK has the highest rate of children with thalassemia in the whole of Asia and some children require blood transfusions every week. In some families, multiple children suffer.
The children and I don’t speak the same language, they speak a regional language that I don’t understand. Despite this, whenever I would see them they would kiss and hug me. Helping them made all the hard work worthwhile.
You were a British Council Alumni Awards finalist in the Social Impact category. How did it feel?
It was amazing. I never even thought about applying to the British Council Alumni Awards.
When I received the news that I was a finalist, I was so excited. I had to keep checking that it was really my name! I was the first ever University of London alumni member to be nominated in the Social Impact category, which was a great honour to me.
I was called to Karachi to attend the ceremony with fellow alumni members from around the world.
What my parents did really had an impact on how I live my life. Helping people is in my genes.
Did you always know you wanted a career where you would have a big impact in society?
My passion for social impact began at home. My mother and father used to take poor children from the village into the city to study. They helped many children to receive an education. For my family, working to help society comes naturally. What my parents did really had an impact on how I live my life. Helping people is in my genes.
What is your career highlight?
I would have to say gaining a UK degree, it’s as simple as that. In Pakistan, getting a foreign degree means a lot of hard work. It completely kick-started my career.
When you were nominated for the Social Impact Award, you said that you wanted to specialise in human rights law in the future. Is that still your plan?
Yes, that is still my long-term plan. I am passionate about changing lives and I think that would be a step in the right direction.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He was a lawyer, politician and the founder of Pakistan.
What are your future ambitions?
I want to make an impact in the health sector. I plan to open an orphanage and a hospital for children with thalassemia whose families cannot afford treatment. I have seen the absolute pain and agony that sufferers and their families go through – it needs to change. For them, getting blood is as important as getting air.
The children I meet are extremely selfless. I took some children with thalassemia to Pakistan Television Centre to do a live appeal for blood donations. When donors would call up to give blood to a specific child, blood that could save their lives, they would ask if the donations could be given to their friends. Children should not have to experience this, and I want to make a change.