When she was growing up in rural Pakistan, Dr Memoona Anwar’s father had to fight for his daughter’s right to have an excellent education.
Today, Anwar is a PhD qualified expert in digital identity and a named co-innovator on a US patent awarded in September to Data Zoo, where she is Chief Compliance & Innovation Officer.
She is also about to go on parental leave as she awaits the birth of her third child.
“As a young girl, I aspired to become an engineer,” says Anwar.
“Among my six sisters, I was the only one to pursue technology and defy the prevalent cultural notion that STEM fields are only for men. My bachelor’s degree was in computer science and later I earned my master’s in software engineering while balancing a 9-to-5 job with evening classes.”
Anwar earned her first two degrees at Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology and in 2014 moved to Sydney with her husband and their first child.
“Leaving my homeland and coming to Australia to pursue greater opportunities was daunting. As immigrants in an unfamiliar land, starting from scratch with limited resources, we had a lot of challenges,” she says.
It was after the birth of her second child that Anwar chose to pursue her doctoral degree in information systems at UTS, where she specialised in blockchain-based digital identity solutions, digital ecosystems, and privacy-compliant management of personally identifiable information (PII).
“Achieving a harmonious work-life balance has been a significant personal challenge,” Anwar says.
“Balancing family responsibilities with a demanding work life, particularly during my PhD studies while raising young children, was a formidable task. Leaving my children in childcare early in the morning and picking them up late in the evening was emotionally taxing.”
While studying at UTS, Anwar was initially placed with Data Zoo as an intern. Then CEO Tony Fitzgibbon offered her a permanent job as a researcher in late 2018.
Data Zoo is a Sydney-based global fintech with award-winning “know your customer” regulatory compliance solution. Fitzgibbon credits Anwar as having been pivotal in expanding Data Zoo’s product offering.
“We’ve cultivated a culture that firmly believes in innovation, unique perspectives, and the diverse contributions women bring to the workplace,” Fitzgibbon says. “In any company, the true strength lies within the intellect and dedication of its people, and we couldn’t have achieved what we have without Memoona being with us on the journey over the last five years,” he said.
In her professional role, Anwar is a passionate technologist, reinventing regtech with Web3 and decentralised identity solutions.
She is also a keen observer of internet culture.
“Despite significant progress, gender and racial discrimination remains prevalent. This dual discrimination is evident online, negatively impacting the experiences and interactions of women like me in digital spaces. It ranges from online harassment to algorithmic bias,” Anwar says.
“One persistent challenge that continues to endure is the digital gender divide, leaving women – especially minority women – disproportionately affected. This gender gap encompasses disparities in access, utilisation, and influence, and it worsens inequalities for women of colour like me,” she continues.
Anwar’s journey at Data Zoo has been remarkable, marked by numerous significant achievements, such as the recently granted US patent.
The patent has the potential to prevent identity theft and mitigate the damage caused by data breaches by using a layered verification to create a compound digital identity and a real-time dynamic trust scoring system.
By combining government-issued documents with online identity sources and other relevant details like open banking data, the US patent means that banks, digital wallet apps and crypto platforms can build extra security into their customer onboarding processes while improving the customer experience.
“Data Zoo’s transformation from Australian startup to global business has been incredibly exciting to be part of,” Anwar said.
“Data Zoo embodies the very essence of my core values with a diverse group of talented people, with over 50 per cent of the leadership represented by women, collaborating and working towards a common goal: to empower the world by making services open and accessible to all through technology.”