Long Overdue

For those confused about how to contribute to my b school campaign, here is link to my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/MariaGoesToSchool THANKS!

 

Dubai was awesome.

No, let me rephrase that.

ASHOKA was AWESOME.

Gosh … who would have thought I would make it to Ashoka! For those of you who don’t understand what the big deal is it’s the OSCARS of social entrepreneurs. That’s what I told my sister since my family still don’t understand what I do but in retrospect it was very apt. The ladies were ah-mazing.

Ashoka Everyone                                             Ashoka award

 

You will need YouTube to view this video. Or if you are in a country blocking the service you can use a proxy. I use 12345proxy.com *evilgrin*

Have been invited by a v prestigious b school to apply for their leadership course. You have no idea how big of a thrill it is. Just having your application considered by them is a huge deal never mind getting an actual invitation from them. Now if only I had the money. Do you think if I start a Crowdfunding campaign you’d all pitch in? Tuition fee alone is like 12,000 euros but got good chances of getting a sponsor. Travel is the actual problem. Need about $10,000. That’s like 10,000 people contributing a dollar each. Or 5000 people pitching in $2 each. or 2500 people giving $4/ea. Or 1250 people giving me $8/ea. That should be doable, no? I am serious guys. if you want to help, pledge $8 below and send me an email at maria@womensdigitalleague.com. Let’s see if I can get 1250 people to give me $8/ea. :D

Had to send my college/university degree to my business partner cum mentor. Since I didn’t have the degree on me I ended up sending the DMC (Detailed Marks Certificate). And GAWD it was so embarrassing. :D :D I was a topper in my own college but those marks are anything but topper material. :D

Few months back met this American guy who has been living in Pakistan for last 10 years or more. Runs a disaster relief organization by the name of Comprehensive Disaster Response Service (CDRS). Goes around the world helping people during times of … you guessed it … disaster. Has a strong passion for rock music. Is usually spotted wearing one of his many Pink Floyd shirts.

Todd Shea in Pink Floyd

Imagine an American walking around Swat or Buner or Bannu. Yes, guys. BANNU. The dude is absolutely crazy. At the mo, he is in Bannu at ground zero with the IDPs from North Waziristan. CRAZY!

Todd Shea - Crazy Americano in Bannu

Reason why I am sharing all this is because my peeps, things are really bad for these IDPs. He is collecting funds especially for the local hospital. Am sharing a photograph he put on FB along with an appeal for donations. If you click on the image it will take you to his post where you can connect with him to learn more and donate. Honestly, if this doesn’t move you, I don’t know what will. Please contribute what you can?

Todd Shea - Hospital - postnatal care - bannu

 

OK my lovelies, me outta here. But here is a recap of all of above:

  1. I am an Ashoka Changemaker which means I am cool and you are not. Deal with it.
  2. Scratch last bit of above. You are all awesome. Please give me $8 and spread word (I am serious about this) so I can attend the b school.
  3. People are dying. Please donate what you can.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Chugging Along Just Fine

I love the sound of that word. Chugging. Can see a fiery red steam engine billowing smoke along dangerously curving tracks over huge barren mountains with a clear blue sky above with not a hint of white or grey or any ripple. Happy thoughts. :)

So here is what we are doing with WDL. Me and my long-time business advisor and mentor have come together formally and are registering WDL as an NGO (Non-governmental organization). Idea is to make WDL a training platform for women … something I had never had much focus on until quite recently. I always left the training bit to my freelancers and also to partner organizations. Have come to realize that unless someone like myself who has experience of the actual freelancing world comes forward and shows these ladies how to work and find work online WDL will have trouble finding the right workforce. So here we are now. The registration is still in process but we are certain that’s what we are going to do.

Work Love Before you start with your sarcasm, yes I know I have always said I hated being an NGO auntie. You know the kind with the Birkin bag, Chanel shades and beautiful mani/pedi asking for donation to buy pencils and erasers for poor slum kids? *shudder. Also, spending money on NGOs in a country where they have so much negative connotation around them seems like such a waste. Why not invest in a socent instead? A hard core for-profit business working for the community aiming to make everyone rich and not just the top-tier. I may have a way too simplistic approach to things and correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t it make more sense to actually invest in a business that would work to eradicate a social problem and at the same time be sustainable? Because with NGOs they are mostly only dependent on aid and the moment the aid agency decides to pull the plug on a certain project or just wrap up its activity in a certain area or country, the NGO’s work goes kaput. They may be in the middle of something wonderful but without necessary funding they have to wrap up things and go home until another donor agency comes along. A socent on the other hand will come with a proper business plan. Invest rather than give charity!! It’s so frustrating how millions or perhaps billions of dollars are being dispersed this way without really showing significant results.

NGO

But what I am saying is over the past 5 years I have done a lot considering how and where I started from. They needed idea validation. I gave idea validation. I won’t even name the organizations, publications that have been witness to the validity of WDL’s concept. But no money has ever come in. Perhaps its a girl thing. Now if I had been running a pastry business from home and wanted to make a cafe people would invest in it. But being a woman and wanting money to start a tech biz makes people hesitant. Maybe people are just callous and couldn’t care less about a business that keeps 20% in commission and gives away the rest to the service providers because they’d rather keep 60% because hey, they could hire someone full time for same work for a quarter of that. Why hurt the social fabric? Let the poor get only enough to live by … don’t let them experience any better because then they will start asking for more which will make it hard for us to get even richer.

Yes, I am somewhat angry. However, the plan has always been to reach as many people as possible and if that means becoming an NGO, so be it. I have nothing to worry about. 5 years may have proven to people how big an idiot I am but they know I am an honest, sincere idiot. Money is the last thing that could corrupt me.

Am just so fortunate to have the best group of people to work with and to have by my side as supporters. Just having a mentor who believes enough in me to want to partner feels AWESOME. Will be starting training in Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) in May, got training in Hunza (yayyy), tons of other very exciting things happening that I will try and keep my mouth shut about until they happen. Found out the hard way if you share your plans with people they will just go ahead and do them behind your back. :/ I hate growing up!!

In FUN news, I went sightseeing with a friend. Found the most amazing place 5 minutes drive from home – the Shalimar Gardens. Sighhhhh …. just thinking about it makes my heart beat all funny. I will let you Google the history and all but what struck me was that I never expected it to be what it was. Does that make sense? I was on a rickshaw with this friend and we get to this dirty, dusty road. We stopped by a terribly vandalized wall. On closer look I saw a door build inside it with garbage heaps on either side. And then after buying a Rs 5 ticket a rather amused guard let us in the door.

 

Shalima Gardens

And Oh. My. God. I had goosebumps. That’s all I can recall of the first 5 minutes inside. Couldn’t even tell why. All I know was I felt like I hadn’t found a Secret Garden but like I had found a person. Someone who was both warm and fuzzy but also there was a coolness … something only people living in hot climates would understand. Like the gentle hand of a loved one cupping your hot face on a humid afternoon and surprising you with how cool it feels. I know people like that. People whose hands are always cool … not a startling cold … but a gentle soothing coolness. If you know what I mean then that’s how it felt. Everything was connected. Like … like a body is. Not like a man-made building or garden. Like if you take out even one tree, one blade of grass, you will scar it. I know the place is not what the emperor who built it meant for it to be … every ruler who came made changes to it, its a victim to plunderers but still … there is something that I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps I am not meant to. It’s a feeling. An experience. My life is so enriched for having been to the place.

Perhaps I should start writing YA novels. Throw in a few vampires. Hmm …

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

On Turning 35 and more

Uhhhhh ….

Ummmm ….

Errrr ….

*Minion-ese*

I am brand ambassador for #NestleNesvitaWomenOfStrength campaign. Khirad *sharam* (Don’t worry if you don’t understand this – it’s from a superhit Pakistani TV drama).

Am waiting for the video they made. Or maybe I am not. I tried following a script to answer their Qs. But they wouldn’t have it. And we all know when I speak from the heart I get into trouble. *biting nails*.

Here is an example:

For those of you who understand urdu … I made a Pathan joke. Ugh. Those who don’t, I MADE A PATHAN JOKE. *facepalm. Being a blueblooded pushtun is perhaps the reason I don’t have people calling me racist.

Alauddin - Nestle Nesvita Women of Strength Campaign 1

A photo from the campaign.

Anyway, I am glad the video (yet to go live) was shot at Alauddin. It’s my second fav place now … almost as magical as Hunza. Did I tell you I was going to Hunza for a whole month in July In sha Allah? Yes, Sir, I am. Woo hoo.

Was invited to a seminar arranged by British Council Pakistan. The US Embassy will always be my first love (think Artemis) but it was nice to hear a different English. *grin. As skeptical as I was the experience really was quite wonderful. Best part was meeting Dr Quratulain Bakhteari. The lady has a PhD in pit toilets. I meet people like these … who just quietly go through life touching people, working for them, and I somehow want to just cry. So easy to make people’s lives better. All it takes is a little bit of our time and yet we don’t do it. Why? Emo much? Oh well.

British Council Seminar

One epic moment at the seminar. I have been trying to avoid this anecdote but I can’t help it. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. So, during a panel discussion on how we can use technology to engage civil society, moderator asked us how we can capitalize on a hyper connected youth. This person representing the IT Ministry gave the BEST answer. Remember, I said IT Ministry. He said the best way to engage this tech-savvy, socially connected youth was to build playgrounds and get them involved in sports!!! OMG. OMG. ROFL. *splutter gasp* #facepalm. Sigh.

What else? Ummm …. nothing much really. Oohhh yeah. I turned 35. Wow. I always used to think 35 was old. But I don’t feel old. Is that normal? Pretty much feel the same as I did at 15. Except I have some grey hair now. And I weigh a ton. Or two tons. But I feel just as stupid as I did before. Somehow the same stupid thoughts make people think I am clever now. Find me inspiring. Strange how perspectives can change. However, not sure how I feel about it. As long as I wasn’t relatively famous I knew who were my friends most of the time. Now, I am not. I mean I think I do but then I find out the hard way they are just people who are intrigued. They have an idea of who I am and then they are disappointed when they find out I am not who they thought I was. That I really meant what I told them about me and I wasn’t just being self-deprecating. And it’s like they are taken aback and shocked that I can be human. But oh well. I am not competing with anyone on being nice.

The only person you should try be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

 

DDSS – Different Day, Same SUPER-AWESOMENESS

I hate how Facebook keeps tempting me to say something. That little white bar pretends to be interested in what I am thinking, who I am with, what I am eating. Like an annoying 12 year old who wants to shadow everything you do.

Wow! I am random, ain’t I?

My mind is cluttered with a lot of rubbish these days. On top is WDL, as usual. Not that WDL is rubbish. NOT AT ALL. I mean I have questions and people who will gladly answer the questions but am just not sure I am ready to hear them … just yet. Going in a slightly new direction with it. Have included capacity building to the things we do. Have always been slightly averse to the term. Have you noticed how many people throw that at you … “capacity building”, “skill development” ? It all sounds like a fraud. Maybe because it usually is. I mean what’s the point of skill building if you are not going to follow up on it and actually help people realize how that new skill they have learned from attending your workshop is useful to them? If there is no economic activity generated around it it’s pretty useless IMO.

Millions of dollars are coming into Pakistan and being used for teaching people to fish. But if they live in a desert? How good is that fishing workshop to them? Why would a person who barely gets 2 meals a day send one of his/her 10 kids to your school? What value is there is learning about plateaus and names of planets when what they really need is the 3 Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) and special lessons in farming, fixing machinery, handicrafts, computers even to start earning even while they are in school? Do I sound bourgeois? I really hope I don’t because that’s not my intention.

Look, I am going to women who already have college degrees and am teaching them to harness the power of the Internet to become economically independent. I thought I would just show them how to use Elance and oDesk and then let them see what a wonderland it all is. But I very quickly realized not every one is cut out for data entry or SEO. It’s CRIMINAL I believe if I know it’s not going to work for most and KNOW what will and then not help. So here I am now giving the whole package. We are doing a crash course on these different platforms like oDesk and Elance and Live Person. Then I am going to do simple basic websites with them using free WP templates and tweaking them to look and feel a certain way so that includes basic Photoshop. After that I am doing Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest with them. Having done that I will brainstorm what their special skills are. Are they good at embroidery or knitting or baking or do they give tuition etc. Having done done that am going to show them how they can then use all the skills they learned to make a business out of what they are already good at.

So suppose a group of 5 girls say they give tuition to primary grade kids. They can make a WP website, create a page for it on FB and link that to Twitter, and now promote themselves as an academy with female only teachers where the local parents would feel comfortable sending their little girls to for exam preparation etc. They can also add tuition classes through Skype as a VAS.

Similarly another group can come together and make a small catering business.

What do you think? Am I missing something here? What are the other ways you think the Internet can help them actually gain financial independence?

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

The Highs and Lows

I have been really pathetic past couple of days. But we all need those days now and then. When you experience something that tears you between what you know is right and what you know will make you happy. It can be professional or personal life. “Succumb” – my heart tells me. “It’s not you” – my mind chastises. Not being a very strong person I always take the easy route. Turn to Him. Lay it all out into the open and tell Him to do for me what’s right because I don’t have the strength. So, when I was weak, He stepped in. I tell you dudettes, His decisions are realllllyyyyy tough and you gotta be a 100% sure you want an intervention. So I was saying … I have been down in the dumps, hating myself, hating on the world, hating on everything. And I am still not all the way OK but the worse is over. I am here writing this blog, ain’t I? So … deep breath … inhale … and EXHALE. Phewww …

Back to my former glory .. almost.

I was at Alauddin Academy. You know about that, right? It’s crazy fun, I tell you. And so gratifying. The online work workshop is going well thanks to the very hard work of Amna Zafar. Initially the plan was to just teach them basics of Elance and let them figure out other things on their own. But seeing how enthusiastic everyone is and what a wonderful bunch of students we have, we are now covering all the basis. So Elance, oDesk, Freelancer and LivePerson. Also, basics of blogging, creating WordPress websites using simple templates (tweaks really), Facebook and Twitter and how to use them for running small online businesses. Exciting, right!

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Again, I request you … if you have any data entry work or SEO article work or some other small thing you think you wouldn’t mind getting done on the cheap while helping these women please ping me.

So long.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

‘Sup, Doc?

Loads of cool stuff happening.

1. My First Event: I suck at organizing events no matter how tiny. But 2014 saw to it that I cross that bridge too. With the help of my very sweet student volunteer, Arooj Perzada, I gathered a group of about 35-45 people at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, Pakistan for GIST’s live webinar “Crowdfund Your Startup Venture” showing from the State Department in Washington DC, US. You can see the album here courtesy of the amazing The AppJuice team which was our official social media partner. You can also read about the event here and here. You can also watch a recording of the live event here (they took a q towards the end from your’s truly ;) )

GIST TechConnect

2. Bringing Technovation to Pakistan: How many times have you heard that technology is just not for girls? That’s exactly what Technovation is trying to change. Its a Not-for-Profit based in Silicon Valley. It encourages school girls to make smartphone apps using a simple software that works like LEGO-blocks. Girls decide on a social problem, find a way to solve the problem via a smartphone app, and then build a business plan around it. Winning entries get to pitch to real investors in Silicon Valley. How cool is that? NO! That wasn’t a question. It was … kind of … if the answer is YES ITS AWESOME COOL!! *glare. OK so I have been in touch with the team for a while and this year I got some schools in dear ol’ Pk involved. We have the Liberal Arts High School from Islamabad, Alaudin Academy Lahore and Sedna School Hunza. I have high hopes for these girls. Also, if you or someone you know is a phone app developer and would like to volunteer their time (2 hours a week) please contact me. Let’s see how this goes.

Technovation Challenge Pakistan

3. The Portkey: I am suffering from a Harry Potter hangover. I miss it. *sob. Have finally found someone I think I can trust my baby with Yeah am talking about WDL. This company is making my web portal. Am super excited. This is something I have wanted since I started the company but just could never muster up the courage to actually work on it. Also, the fact I am perpetually broke didn’t help things much. I realize that now is as good a time as any. Gotta make it happen. So wish me luck peeps.

4. Elance Trainings: Am starting the first batch of Elance training in Alaudin Academy with a batch of 25 women. Amna Zafar, an Elance user and a very successful freelancer from Pakistan, will conduct the training. If you have any small data entry / data scraping projects you can send our way, please contact me.

Alauddin Academy

5. Guest from the US: Took a one day hurricane trip to Islo-land to attend a luncheon in honor of Catherine Russell, United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Had met her predecessor, Melanne Verveer, during the famous Project Artemis/GS 10k Women. Found out Saba Nazneen Ghori, one of our hosts at the US State Department, is temporarily working at the US Embassy Islamabad. It was so exciting to see her – like those 3 weeks weren’t just a dream. :) Met some exceptional Pakistani women including Dr Sania Nishtar, Sabeen Haque, and Saddafe Abidi.

6. Hunza on Elance: Great news coming out of Hunza. Just so haters won’t call me names, I am not taking credit for this. The IT Centers are run independently by KADO. I merely advise on best practices, chalking out course work, help with marketing and whenever possible, connect them to work. Trainess at the centers are finding online work. They are involved with writing projects with AllVoices, formatting eBook on Elance. I am soooo psyched for them. Can’t wait to meet them in the summers. Here are some of their stories that they shared independently. WDL NEVER shares personal stories of its service providers.

freelancers in Hunza Gilgit-Baltistan

Didar Ali Hunza KADO

7. Celebrity: 2013 was super awesome. WDL has finally started getting the recognition it deserves if I may say so myself. Was featured on Mashable, Virgin, Ashoka, ForbesElan, Express Tribune, International Business Times, WAMDA, Muftah, TechPresident, The AppJuice. It’s just been CRAZY! I am happy, proud, humbled, nervous.

Mashable

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

*The Elance Training at Alauddin Academy is not an official certification workshop. It’s conducted independently by users of Elance to help trainees use the platform.*

Super Woman, Maria Adil

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“When I read about this lady I genuinely for a moment thought, Wow, she is a super woman. Please welcome Maria ADIL”.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

OK so explanation.

Was invited to speak on the panel for entrepreneurship at the US Embassy Islamabad’s Annual UGrad Alumni Reunion. They were covering travel and lodging and as you know by now I am a champion freebie of course I went. They put me in Serena for the night. Cool, right? As my friend says, You don’t need to be rich to have fun. Mwahahahaha.

So in the AM I head down to the venue. LOADS of young people. GOSH, it was enough to make the mid-life crisis kick in. It was a lot of positive energy I can tell you. Seeing old friend/neighbor Osman Saddique who is now an alumni coordinator at the US Consulate Peshawar was a treat. Can’t believe he is the same kid who used to play cricket in our street and get scoldings from my mother. Tee hee.

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So, panel starts. Of course Ayla Majid was there. love the woman to bits. She is so brainy … like not the “I have read all of Tolstoy” kinda brainy but the accounting, FCCA, ACCA, (all other acronyms made from English alphabets certified) kinda clever. 2 other gentlemen that I barely knew. And this is my dahlins when the moderator, a young girl barely out of her teens introduces me as. Maria ADIL. I guffawed out loud. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No wonder she thought I was a superwoman. Confused me with someone else I guess. Have to Google this Maria Adil person now. Am intrigued.

One thing I realized during the session was how even now so many kids are clueless about how to make their ideas into reality. Some questions that sill come up are;

- How do I finance my project?

- Where do I find incubators or accelerators?

First thing everyone needs to understand prolly is how businessman and entrepreneur are different. If there are 5 textile mills in the country and they are not meeting demand of the market then you start a new textile mill. Does exactly what any other does but its meeting market demand. There you go. You have a business.

Then you have an entrepreneur. Entrepreneur identifies a problem. Has probably been affected/afflicted by it. And tries find a solution to that problem. So to me personally entrepreneurship is about;

1. Self discovery

2. Saying no to being a “victim” to a problem.

3. Finding a solution where traditionally you are told there was none

As Ayla very aptly said in Pakistan you see problems everywhere. From the grassroots level to the very top. So this is the Land of Opportunity now quite literally. For example, I am a woman. Not allowed to work outside unless its teaching at a school or a girls college. Am a new mother. Can’t even do the little I am allowed to. So I go ahead and start the Women’s Digital League –  a platform where women can work from home on various ICT tasks. Where do I get my money from? I don’t have any. Erm … I make it online. OK, but then what about spending on a website and putting a system in place? I use WordPress and mu BFF “Excel Spreadsheets” and Google tools. How do I pay my employees? They are all ad hoc – project based workers. What about power outages? Get a UPS. Internet problems? Get TWO connections instead of one and PRAY. Internet censorship … no YouTube or Skype to phone calls that clients used to pay for? Apologize to client and not take YouTube tasks or send them to a friend in another country (really, takes 10 minutes to upload a video max … what kind of a friend would say no to helping out with that?) – instead of Skype use Hangouts (calls to landlines in US are FREE) or get a phone card … they usually last for ages.

So you see … everything has a solution or that’s how an entrepreneur thinks. So don’t worry about things before you have started. Take the plunge and the net will appear. If you MUST have funding, try crowdfunding, or pitching in the various startup competitions that are happening these days. if you are good, the money will come, I promise you.

If you have any Qs, just LMK. Mayeb I will answer or I can always pass them on to superwoman Maria ADIL.

hehehehehehe

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Dear Serena, I took all the toiletries and emptied out the mini bar. Just saying.

Harassment, Internet Censorship, And Kindness

I am mad as hell today. Actually been that way the past few days. I am not going into details except that I have threatened an expose on the harassment that takes place in the highest echelons of Pakistan’s tech sector. Am sure it happens in all spheres and in all countries but still … does that make it OK? NO.

Does anyone have ANY idea how hard it is in Pakistan for a woman to go out and get a job and pursue a career? What she doesn’t need is some ancient (grand)father figure or a sicko suffering from a horrible case of the mid-life crisis coming onto them with disgusting lines and propositions. Some of us are strong enough to give them a piece of our mind and walk away. But for majority of women its not easy. They get easily confused, start doubting themselves, even blaming themselves thinking they must have said something to encourage that kind of behavior. To you I say, ladies, you have nothing to be afraid of. If you feel uncomfortable with someone it’s because they are making you so and you have every right to let them know. If they still don’t back off, a hard smack across the face works wonders. But if you want to go for something subtle, you can seek help from various organizations in Pakistan such as AASHA, and still others that allow you to post your complaints anonymously.

^ was number one reason why I was mad. Here is Reason Number 2.

Internet Ban Pakistan

 

(Noorani = spiritual)

The stupid IT Ministry keeps banning everything. First YouTube, then Skype to phone calls, then the tinkering with Google itself. Recently they tried to ban IMDb. WHAT THE HELL! I mean why don’t we just give up the charade and just go back and start living in the caves since the original cave-inhabitants have already been “smoked out” and are now using cell phones and Internet to carry on with whatever they do. And so to protect us innocent peeps, government needs to block everything. Hurray! Better start buying caves … am sure property prices will rise significantly in Tora Bora soon enough. *grrrr

Phew … that felt good. Now with all that venom out of the way you ask … “Dudette, we know you are super awesome but how do you manage it? Like despite all the obvious and not-so-obvious challenges how do you go on being your legendary self?” To this I say, “I know sista’ friends. It’s a lil hard to believe any one person can have so much talent, killer good looks, and etc. But a few good men (okay, “people”) is all you need to keep going.” OK seriously. Just finding a few good people really makes a difference. Most people you come across turn out to be complete jerks. But the handful are such a pleasure they take away all the bitterness and negativity the majority try to bring into your life. Let me give you an example.

I needed a kick a** presentation for this accelerator in CA, USA (details later, my lovelies). Now we all know I am no good with that stuff. So wrote to random ppl asking for help. So many rose to the occasion … some being complete strangers. It was so heartwarming I tell you. And this is what keeps me going and believing and dreaming and keeps me optimistic.

OK enough … byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

It’s Finally Happening!

i-TECH IT Training Center, KADO

i-TECH IT Training Center, KADO

I’ve been trying to write this blogpost for last several hours but keep hitting delete after just the first sentence. Nothing seems to do justice to how I feel and what I want to convey to you. So am going to cut the c*** and get right to the point. Read this: http://mountaintv.net/how-one-entrepreneur-in-hunza-is-using-the-internet-to-revitalize-his-business/ You may say, so what? I say, you have no idea how HUGE this is or how happy and thrilled I am. Let me give you a bit of a background. The past 2 or 3 years (am forgetting – it’s the age and the after-lunch brain-freeze) I have been closely associated with an NGO called KADO working in Hunza. Was introduced through mutual friends who come 3-4 times every year to Pakistan from Canada to carry out community development exercises in the area. When we were introduced KADO had an Internet Cafe running into loss because of the army run extremely unreliable Internet and the extreme power shortage. I begged the then CEO not to shut down the place and instead use it to train local women in micro tasks. He agreed and I started sending them some work through MTurk and CrowdFlower. The results were heartening. The women worked from 9 AM to 5 PM every day. Of course many hours were wasted due to power outages and slow internet. But at the end of the month they earned about Rs 1000-Rs3000. Karimabad, the town where the IT Center is located has a 100% literacy rate for people 30 and below. And these are people with post-grad degrees from some of the best universities in Pakistan. Yet most of them choose to go back home. In a town of about 20,000 people jobs are hard to come by. A typical school teacher earns Rs 4000 per month (roughly $40). Now the sum they earned through this work wasn’t big, but it gave us a good idea of the change online work could bring into this area. Of course this wasn’t enough to sustain the center. Just when I thought there was no chance KADO would keep the center open, the 25-year old (obviously older than that now) stepped in. Osama was traveling to the Northern Areas. I casually mentioned the Center and asked that he visit if he got the chance. The kid actually went there and not only that he convinced the new CEO to keep the Center open by offering to put the women on his payroll for 3 months!! Mubeen (the CEO) being the gentleman that he is agreed. Both Osama and I kept sending work to KADO off and on but I had trouble convincing people to send them work. To send in trainers. To support and finance the project. Several very long emails were sent. Proposals were prepared for telcos to provide internet to the area. Policymakers and stakeholders in the government were beseeched. I stalked the Lukas Biewald (CEO of CrowdFlower) and other members of his team on social media. All this to no avail. My frustration reached it’s peak when people started contacting me asking for work. Read this note I posted on Facebook. But recently KADO managed to do the impossible. Here is a short description of the project they sent me:

“Enhancing Employability of Marginalized Segments in GB through ICT” is one of the projects of KADO which focuses on providing employable training to the marginalized youth in “Online Earning/Freelancing” and “Alternate Energy Solutions” in Gilgit-Baltistan. This project falls under Fund for Innovative Training (FIT) programme which is co-funded by the European Union, the Kingdom of Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented through GIZ in collaboration with NAVTTC. Through this project we have to train almost 2,500 people in online earning/freelancing in various locations of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) with more focus on marginalized segments of the society including poor, youth, women, persons with disabilities and disaster affected people. The trained people will also be facilitated to link them with online employment. To make this happen, KADO has established state of the art IT centres, 07 fixed and 01 mobile IT centre (20 workstation in each IT centre with Laptops; laptops for less usage of energy) with dedicated, reliable and speed internet through satellite down-links VSAT (due to internet issues in mountain areas) and solar power solutions (due to massive load shedding in the area). Expert trainers have been hired to train the target group in many fields including; web-designing, programming, e-marketing, content writing, e-publishing, call centre expertise, forex trading, online accounting and finance and solar power solutions. We expect that this training will have a massive impact on poverty alleviation in the area and reduce the issues related to unemployment among the target audience.

Passu, Gojal, Hunza

Passu, Gojal, Hunza

I am beyond thrilled. one of the tasks I sent them besides the MTurk and CrowdFlower stuff was converting several books that the client sent in scanned jpg format. They not only had to type them out but also format them which was a very tough job considering most had complex graphs and geometrical diagrams. I remember they would work till late at night just to get it done on time because otherwise the constant power outages would have made it impossible to finish on the deadline. The team manager had to travel at night to the next town to email me the complete work as their Internet completely died.

Attabad Lake Hunza Gojal

Attabad Lake Hunza Gojal

I tell you this because everyone needs to understand the commitment these people have to their work. Any work you send them is not charity. You can be sure that those people will work harder than anyone else making sure you get the best quality and the most incredible turnaournds considering their challenges. Just think of the mindboggling possibilities here. A person sitting in Gojal, about 4877 meter above sea level in a town of just 2000 inhabitants working on your crowdsourcing tasks or converting your data into a machine readable format while you are thousands of miles away in DC or London or Berlin! Gojal has been cut off from the rest of Gilgit-Baltistan due to the Attabad lake Disaster of 2010. People here are largely unemployed and survive on food aid coming in from China. This is a story of resilience beyond imagination. Of courage and bravery. Of motivation and a willingness to bring a change.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Eye-to-Eye

I have such an eye for spotting talent. *ahem. *cough. *splutter. No but seriously. Just a week or so ago I meet 10 amazing startups. I write about only 2. And one of them already is the winner of the first ever Pakathon. In case you don’t know what a Pakathon is, which means you don’t read my blog, which means you NEED TO RAISE YOUR STANDARDS … read about it HERE. iTrak has won $2000 in prize money which is a good amount for a startup in Pakistan. And it’s not just the money. It’s the exposure and the chance to collaborate with talented entrepreneurs from places like MIT and Harvard etc.

Here is a demo video of iTrak. Have a look.

iTrack Final from Asad Badruddin on Vimeo.

Best of luck to these guys. Can’t wait to see how far they go.

Image Courtesy: Plan 9

Image Courtesy: Plan 9

Also, the second team to win from Pakistan is LookOut360. This is the team I met on Friday, just 2 days ago and loved at the Pakathon venue in LUMS, Lahore. You can watch their demo HERE.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee