April 17, 2024

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Article by Roni Kane, intern with the U.S. Department of State, currently studying International Studies and Film, TV and Media at the University of Michigan.

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headshot of Malik AWE Alum Madeeha Malik, the CEO of Cyntax Health Products, is one of the top 101 CEOs in Pakistan

[Pakistan, November 2022] If there’s one thing Madeeha Malik knows, it’s that sometimes it pays to take a leap of faith.
Growing up in Islamabad her parents wanted her to become a doctor.  But a passion for pharmacy led her to a successful career in academia during which she became the first, and only, female professor of pharmacy practice in Pakistan.
While working at Hamdard University Islamabad, Malik spent a lot of time conducting research on eating disorders in Pakistan.  She soon realized that she wanted to go beyond researching the problem to being a part of the solution.  She came up with the idea of launching a business — a gutsy move for a professor.
“I had research experience, but I was not actually an entrepreneur,” Malik says.
In 2020, she took a second leap of faith and started Cyntax Health Products, the first female-led pharmaceutical research company in Pakistan.  Cyntax is a company that conducts clinical research studies related to health and medicine and sells products that promote body positivity and mental health. 
A professor by day and an entrepreneur by night, Malik wasted no time in developing new merchandise for Cyntax, such as Mady’s Organics, an organic health and beauty product line.  
Now she’s been named one of the top 101 CEOs in Pakistan and she’s been awarded the prestigious 1st Business Women Excellence Award by Pakistani president Arif Alvi himself.
But when Malik started out, Cyntax was a small operation — just Malik and four staff members who were working on developing 32 organic skincare products for Mady’s Organics.  Malik wanted to hire more employees and expand her product line, but she says it wasn’t financially feasible — until she received a $3000 grant in 2021 from the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), a U.S. government initiative to empower women with skills and business learning.
Malik spent three months working with business leaders and U.S. exchange program alumni mentors as part of AWE, which is offered through the Lincoln Corners Pakistan, a network of 18 American Spaces.  American Spaces are educational and cultural engagement spaces operated in partnership between the U.S. Embassy and select local institutions.  
There, Malik learned the entrepreneurial skills she would need to take Cyntax to the next level.  She says AWE helped her completely revamp her business model after learning how to price her products, improve product branding and how to raise capital investment.  
“AWE was really a game changer,” Malik says. “[AWE] helped me in so many ways that I feel like they’re a part of Cyntax — they’re like a family.”
It was her AWE mentors that taught her what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and turn her dreams into reality, Mailk says.

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AWE Alum Madeeha Malik accepts the “1st Business Excellence” award AWE Alum Madeeha Malik accepts the “1st Business Excellence” award

“A good idea is not enough to start a business,” Malik warns. “You need a mentor, to get the right resources, the right skills and the capital if you want it to be successful.” 
After working with AWE, Malik says Cyntax got a complete makeover. She was able to release a slew of new hair care, body care and cosmetic products designed to provide individuals of every age and gender with the tools to feel confident in their appearance. 
“My team and I started working on organic products,” Malik says. “After one year of extensive research and development, we developed 59 organic skincare and wellness products.” 
In September 2021, Malik decided to use the grant money she had received through AWE to expand her work on body positivity through an inclusive clothing line. A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 21.9% of children and adolescents were underweight, while 5.4% were obese. 
As a result, Malik says there are a lot of Pakistani women with vastly different body compositions, but most major clothing stores do not have sizes to support women who need petite and plus-sized clothes. 
That’s why she launched Dhaaga, a new clothing line offering a greater variety of size options for Pakistani women to help them to feel confident in their clothes. Dhaaga customers can request a free screening for mental health issues or eating disorders and are able to order casual or “festive” attire in sizes ranging from XS to XXXL. 
“We provided a one stop solution for everyone who wants to order plus size or small-size clothing custom for them,” Malik explains. 
Since graduating from the AWE program, Malik has quintupled her staff from 4 to 20 people. Cyntax’s customer base has also skyrocketed to over 1500 regular customers, leading Malik to temporarily step back from her role at the university and dedicate herself to her company full time. 
She’s been nationally and internationally recognized for her work as well. In April, Malik was presented with the Leadership Award 2022 by Begum Samina Alvi, the First Lady of Pakistan, and was named one of the most influential women CEOs in the country. 
Then in August, she won the Distinguished Pak-U.S. Alumni Award, an honor specifically awarded to individuals who have positively impacted Pakistani-U.S. relations through their contributions to their field. 
And she’s not slowing down anytime soon. Malik is getting ready to list her products on Amazon and she plans to launch an organic menstrual hygiene kit in January. She still finds the time to serve as mentor for new AWE cohorts of Pakistani women entrepreneurs and to support other Pakistani women as they launch their own companies.

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AWE Alum Madeeha Malik poses next to a display for her organic skincare line, Mady’s Organics. AWE Alum Madeeha Malik poses next to a display for her organic skincare line, Mady’s Organics.

“I think I act as a role model for so many of the other women who are entering into entrepreneurship or academics or into research,” Madeeha says. “I chose this profession on a blind faith. I never regretted that.” 
When you are passionate about what you are doing, Malik says, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. 
The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs operates under the U.S. Department of State and helps women like Madeeha Malik launch and grow their businesses using the DreamBuilder platform developed by Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. AWE currently offers programs in nearly 100 countries and has empowered roughly 25,000 women worldwide. AWE started operating in Pakistan in 2021 and has energized more than 60 women entrepreneurs since then. 
For more information about AWE, visit: https://eca.state.gov/awe
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State fosters mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries to promote friendly and peaceful relations. We accomplish this mission through academic, cultural, sports, and professional exchanges that engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders in the United States and more than 160 countries.

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