Just some Tidbits

Alright peeps … you know I love you all so here is some little info from the ICT Trade Mission.

1. YouTube is NEVER getting unblocked. Nope. Got it from the horse’s mouth (funny expression, right?). Had a lively (ahem) disucssion right at the Google HQ at Mountain View. So happens that YouTube/Google has banned the blasphmous video which was why YT was blocked in dear ol’ Pakistan. NOT because YT/G suddenly becamse sensitive to Muslim feelings but because an actor in the video filed a copyright or something suit. Now PTA has no reason to keep the website blocked except that if anyone dares to give verdict in its favor some WAY BETTER Muslim than any of us will take offence and decide that person no longer has the right to live. You know what I mean? So that’s that.

2. The not-so-important ministries in Pakistan such as the IT Ministry are given away to whoever raises their hand first. ‘Nuff said.

3. Higher echelons believe we (as in Pakistanis) don’t have enough talent and hence foreign governments need to step in not only to give us monetary aid but also intellectual aid. For example, NO ONE in Pakistan knows about eGovernance so the government would like to import people who do. Ummm … I’d like to request the Pakistani government to please use google for something other than looking for stuff to ban. Thank you.

4. No one is doing business with Pakistan because we don’t have good piracy laws and the few that we do are not implemented. One point raised was about downloading movies and music. My question to them was, “I want to use iTunes and Amazon etc to buy music, ebooks, movies but we don’t have PayPal and our credit cards are not accepted online. NOT watching latest movies or listening to music is not an option. So, what choices do I have?” Was that a fair question? *Hint: Do not respond unless it’s in the affirmative.

5. Microsoft won’t come to Pakistan until we stop using pirated software. A point raised by many on the delegation: MS needs to lower its prices because when it comes to a choice between ridiculously expensive and free, guess which wins? Pakistan is a good sized market and currently we are using the software for free. If they lower the price a bit we will pay for it because who likes to see that annoying “Your copy of Windows/MS is not registered” message pop up all the time? I wouldn’t mind paying $50 for a good bundle with Outlook and Publisher.

If this gets me into trouble I promise I will write a much more detailed post ‘coz that’s how I roll ;)

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Some ministers believe that YouTube is not relevant to a country like Pakistan and small businesses working with social media do not matter. #facepalm

ICT Trade Mission

Been back a while from my awesome possum trip to the US. Still horrendously jetlagged or maybe its the winter creeping into my ol’ bones and making me lazy. Dunno. Either way, about time I got my act together and started workign ‘coz I tell you my peeps, I got tons to do.

This blog post is not gonna be any different than previous ones. Just confused, random thoughts all over the place. But it helps me get stuff out of the way onto this digital page so I can start thinking about new stuff or put things into perspective. So here we go.

Was invited to a one week ICT Trade Mission by the US State Department. Me and a couple other women were sponsored by the US-Pakistan Women Council hence how I was there. Yes, I am still poor and can not afford a trip to Murree never mind the US. Had some big shots from the Pakistani ICT industry including minsiters, chairman this-and-that, CEOs of fancy firms. US Ambassador to Pakistan accompanied us on the mission. Actually, the whole thing was his idea. He is really keen on geteting trade dialogue going between the 2 countries. Great guy except that he was at Google HQ in Mountain View and it was his first time and he was completely calm!! How can you not be excited about being inside Google? I asked what would get him as excited as us  and he said a trip to the beach. But why, I ask you? You can Google the beach! Oh well … !

10502009_10152528756143621_8278686722985949503_n

Spent 2 days in Washington DC. Stayed at the same hotel I did 3 years ago while on Artemis/10k. Missed the girls terribly. Walked through rain to the National Mall, visited Capitol Hill, went to the Smithsonians – and did all of this in my kolhapuris. I AM INVINCIBLE! And just in case you don’t know what a kolhapuri is:

Kolhapuris

Met Saba Ghouri at the State Department. I almost cried. Had been reminiscing about her just an hour ago with a friend and telling her how she was in Islamabad these days. And in she walked. Got to meet new director of US Pak Women Council, new director Econ at US Embassy Islamabad, had a great meeting with Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell.

Had my dream come true as we flew to San Francisco to spend 4 dreamy days at Silicon Valley. I DIED of excitement. Visited Stanford, almost got run over by the campus bus, had a mouth-gaping-wide-open lecture by 2 professors, decided I love the academia more than any other specie, was given a personal tour of the campus by one of the professors. It was one of those moments when your faith in God multiplies by a gazillion times and its reaffirmed that He listens to everything I say to Him but He waits for the right moment to grant you your wish.

Went down to Microsoft and Google and Oracle HQs for meetings. They were all great but somehow they paled in comparison to Stanford.

Here is the earliest adapter of Google Lollipop. :P

I am the earliest adapter of Google Lollipop. :P

Forgot to nick this for brags but glad I got this photo at least.

Forgot to nick this for brags but glad I got this photo at least.

Junglee in Stanford - see that bus behind me? It almost ran me over coz I didn't wait to check if there was anything behind me. Almost the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Junglee in Stanford – see that bus behind me? It almost ran me over coz I didn’t wait to check if there was anything behind me. Almost the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Take aways:

- Made acquaintance of some wonderful people who accompanied us on the trade mission. Got to know others I knew from before more closely and some misconceptions were removed.

- Stanford tops Google.

- Academia tops programmers and coders and CEOs.

- I know about entrepreneurship … 6 years have taught me a lot.

- Being friendly comes naturally but putting people in their place early on when they get out of line is important.

- Jet lag sucks.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Orientation on Digital Livelihood, Going Dutch, Monsoon, and other stories

LCWU DFDI OrientationHad a great orientation on Digital Livelihood at the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU). Being there makes me feel old. GOD! College for me was ages ago. Graduated in 2000. But I digress. So went and told them my story, gave them an idea about working online, an idea of why it was important for women to work. Note to self: I need to work more on it – make it tighter and more focused so I am not running around in circles. Had a healthy turnout. Let’s see how many actually register. You can see album from the orientation here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.658595287580704.1073741924.234046770035560&type=1 

 

Met with my Dutch journalist friend. She ran the story she did last time she was here. It’s in Dutch of course but she said she would share links which of course I will share with you all my lovelies. Amazing how similar people are everywhere. All these differences of religion and culture are in our heads. I mean this woman is from Netherlands. A journalist, a divorcee, with an adopted daughter. On the surface we have nothing in common. But underneath the layers of skin color and clothes and language we are so much alike. Guess when you put away prejudices and preconceived notions and give people a real chance that you see a common thread of humanity. People are born good. It’s time and experiences that turn us more one way or the other. Another note to self: Don’t judge people by who they pretend to be – give them an honest chance. 

The monsoon in Lahore has been CRAZY. Thankfully our house didn’t get flooded but all the ceilings started to leak to an extent that I was scared of turning on the lights in case there is a short circuit. Government and political parties too busy participating in the circus in Islamabad. Lahore, the city that the provincial government promised to turn into Paris, ended up becoming Venice. Case in point … 

Lahore turns into Venice

WDL is giving a scholarship to this AH-MAZING online entrepreneurship mentoring course. ‘Young Entrepreneur Mentorship’ is a 3-semester mentoring program spearheaded by Sandi Krakowski. Sandi is the President & Founder of A Real Change International, Inc. She is also one of the most sought after marketers in the world, specializing in social media, copywriting and digital media. She has homeschooled all 3 of her sons, and has personally mentored many young people who have created a 6-figure income online in under 24 months.

The scholarship is worth $497 and is open for all women between the age of 16 and 25 who are interested in starting their businesses or want to take their business to the next level. More details available at http://www.arealchange.com/blog/young-entrepreneur-mentorship-opens-week

If you or someone you know is interested and exhibits qualities like leadership, passion, perseverance and a strong will to help others then please write to query@womensdigitalleague.com with “The Young Entrepreneur Mentorship” in the subject line. 10 shortlisted women will be interviewed by moi for the spot. Selected person will have to volunteer with WDL for 3 months after the program. 

OK … that’s all folks. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

The Dirty ‘F’ Word for Startups and Other Things

The Send Maria To School campaign FAILED! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee (that’s me getting excited over nothing). Couldn’t find 1250 people to donate $8. *Sob. But did find many friends who rose to the challenge and donated very generously. Still a long way from my goal so decided to return the money. 100% of those who wrote back said they wanted me to keep it and use it for WDL. How awesome is that! Here is the thing. Crowdfunding is such a cool concept and it really works. But to make it successful you need to have a team of people working with you. You will need someone to run your social media campaign, do your graphics, write emails to network, send thank you emails, send updates, put up latest info on the campaign on whatever platform you are using and so on. Plus, you need to do it from a proper platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo or if most of your network is in the MENA or Pakistan you can try Zoomaal. With the other 2 platforms sometimes credit cards from these regions are not accepted. Zoomaal is based in MENA so it won’t give you any problem with your plastic. Also, of all the donations received the one that touched me the most is from Sidra Qasim. Sidra is the co-founder of an e-commerce startup called Markhor. Out of nowhere she sent me $50. Knowing how hard-pressed startups are for money this gesture really won me over. Thank you once again Sidra and Waqas. 

Recently made acquaintance of this really inspiring young man. Imran Ali Rajput is the founder of Inovadors, a startup aiming to ‘bridge the gap between education and employment’. This guy came out of nowhere and made it to the first ever week-long MITx Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. He is the only person to get selected from Pakistan. You can read more about it here. Unfortunately he couldn’t find any sponsors. I can’t tell you how frustrated that makes me with everything. We have tons of money to spend on stupid workshops that serve no purpose except to show donor agencies we are doing something. Even more is spent on startup competitions, that I completely endorse, but if startups like Inovadors are not finding sponsors for such huge opportunities then what exactly is the purpose of holding these events? Now he has been selected for the Web Summit in Dublin. I truly hope he finds someone to pay for him to attend. If you know someone who can help or you have any ideas please do share them. 

Above is just one example. The guy just happened to connect with me. I wonder how many others are missing out on huge opportunities just because they can’t find funding. :( 

Other than that, it’s all good. Kids have started school. THANK GOD FOR THAT. They were driving me nuts expecting me to entertain them every day. I have started drinking the yuckiest possible homemade juices. An example? Cabbage, cucumber, spinach, carrot, mango, apple, plum, beet, ginger, lemon concoction. :D Told you it was disgusting. 

The Digital League just finished working on this really cool website for a client. Check it out here. This involved a lot of sweat and blood and I am so proud of my team. I still hope for the day when I can source out such work to WDL. Any girl-coders in Pakistan out there who can deliver such work? DO get in touch. 

Have a workshop at Lahore College for Women University starting 15th September. Looking forward to that. Involves some surprise guests. Will share more later ;) This is strictly for students of the university. However, if you are interested in attending drop me an email at maria (at) womensdigitalleague (dot) com and I will see what I can do. 

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Still waiting for the NGO registration to go through for WDL. Oh yeah … a Malaysian friend/client has got my Hunza team working on a data scraping project. We have 20 women engaged. It’s so awesome. Am really excited. There was definitely a learning curve there and we are still trying to figure out most efficient way of extracting data (we = client and us) but it’s really cool that the women are getting a first hand experience of how online work is actually possible. The procurement officer in Hunza tells me the women are having such a grand time they even come to work on weekends. :) :) It’s my dream to have this model replicated through out Pakistan. 

OK no more to add. Take care my lovelies. Don’t let anyone get you down. Stay away from negative people. You are wonderful as you are. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 P.S. The ‘F’ word = FUNDING 

Negativity – Let It Go

People will bring you down no matter what you do. There will always be something you didn’t do right. Something someone thinks you or they could have done differently. A dear friend was telling me just today about how social entrepreneurs will forever face the dilemma of going with fulfilling their dream and getting rewarded with immense personal gratification, and following the set rule of success and measuring it in terms of money.

“What is your revenue?”

“How many people do you employ?”

“How come you don’t even have an office?”

So many questions. So many DUMB questions to put to someone working to bring a sustainable social change. Foolish questions to ask a social entrepreneur spending every minute of his/her life envisioning and working for a social revolution that will make lives better and not just bring in VCs. Makes me question the person’s knowledge of what a socent actually is.

Then there are those saying they would do it differently. My question to them; Why don’t you? I don’t own copyrights to running digital livelihood workshops and connecting people to work. Fast rewind to my first blog posts. I have said it time and time again I am not one to get scared of challenges. And no one can stop me from doing something I truly believe in. Everyone I went to with the idea for WDL said NO. They said it was impossible. So here I am doing it myself. My journey has been no secret. It’s all here on this very blog. Been saying if I couldn’t make it happen it was OK. Maybe someone will pick it up from where I leave (which would only be when I die or someone actually makes my dream a reality) and take it to the next step.

My “marketing tactics” have been questioned. Something about how I am cashing in on being from South Waziristan and a woman and a Pakistani and working for digital livelihood and using that as leverage to get attention. Can I help being in a unique position? All of that is true but just how many times have I pitched myself as a poor lil helpless D.I.D. running away from my oppressed past? Or plastered black, yellow, brown, orange faces with myself patronizing them? People find out from word of mouth about WDL and they are curious and then they want to tell the world about it. Am I supposed to say “No” to them just because I make some people uncomfortable and insecure? So if Pakistan has a dormant workforce and faces challenges in working I am not supposed to highlight it? Puhleaze! On the contrary to what some excuse me of I am telling the world we have a LARGE UNTAPPED EDUCATED SKILLED workforce and all it lacks is opportunity. Millions of little girls are denied and education but MILLIONS do go to school and college and universities. Pushtun women have perhaps a harder time especially those from Waziristan and rest of FATA but we are NOT the oppressed, illiterate lot the World wants us to be or knows us to be. I am one example of the women who came forward and said HELL WITH ALL YOUR MEDIA-FED PERCEPTION. I am as Pakistani, as Waziristani, as it gets. I am a woman. I have an education. I am doing tech. Our fathers and brothers and husbands are NOT the cruel savages they are made out to be. There are many more like me … many MUCH MORE intelligent, educated, empowered then me. Stop stereotyping me.

So how the hell am I using any marketing tactic here? I don’t remember even referring to my tribal background ever in any interview. I am taking a social media detox for this reason. I am so sick and tired of all the negativity. Always under a microscope being judged for every word that I tweet or put up on FB. This is precisely why I don’t talk about work on social media and blog as little as possible. This constant scrutiny. It’s like I can never do anything right. Now I know the moment you read this post you will be like oh she is aiming for sympathy/empathy. UGH! I wish I could say I don’t give a crap. But I do. I mean not enough to stop being me. But enough to want to go get a sugar high and then hate myself for it.

In other happier news, had a great 3 days in Islamabad with the familia and friends. Miss this city. Just being able to walk from Shaheen Chemist to Kohsar Market to sit in GJC for a smoothie and then walking down to Kuch Khaas which is my “safe spot”. Off to Lahore tomorrow via train. Sighhh … I am not liking the place so far but having a house in the most green area in the city helps a lot.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Aerosmith’s Angel is still goosebump inducing.
P.P.S. Goosebumps remind me … I had the BIGGEST HUGEST BUMPIEST goosebumps listening to Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Baig. Pakistan’s first mountaineer sibling duo from Hunza climbed 7 peaks in 7 continents including the highest, Mount Everest. Oppressed women? OH SHUT UP ALREADY!
Samina Baig and Mirza Baig

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