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

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