Moi in the Limelight

Peeps, been lying low deliberately. Got something cooking up. Can’t tell until I have all the ingredients and seasoning. Meanwhile, I had to share something with you all.

I am truly blessed. No, I didn’t go and have quadruplets. What is it that make life really worthwhile? Yes, fancy vacations, limos, size 10, Brad Pitt all that helps. But they don’t give you true happiness or what reason does Ms. Jolie have to be depressed. Right?

What really matters is when you can form a true human connection with people around you. See and experience the best in them. The kind of best that makes you look at the madness surrounding human kind and start believing in an alien race conspiring against us. Because how can a specie capable of so much goodness, such love, such warmth and sensitivity ever hurt anyone at all.

I am fortunate enough to know many such people and Amy Scerra is one of them. She is a project manager at Thunderbird. We met while I was there for Project Artemis. We didn’t bond instantly. To me she was the distant one. The one who was quiet, didn’t laugh out loud much, kept her distance. She dressed awesome. Wore a diamond watch. The Rich American Woman. And then she let me have a peek inside her soul. We were riding one night in a van and she started talking religion. Oops. Seriously? A liberal Christian-American from NY who studied in Las Vegas wants to know about Allah and Qura’an. So happens she had a copy of the Qura’an she had bought on her many travels. This apparently small gesture made me see her differently. It was just the “respect” factor. A person who could bond with others as a “person” minus the titles and tags. And the more I came to know about her especially through her blog the more I knew she was my “kindred spirit”.

1st day, 1st impressions. What a DIVA! Diet coke, neon OPI and a Nordstrom dress. Can you blame me? ;)

1st day, 1st impressions. What a DIVA! Diet coke, neon OPI and a Nordstrom dress. Can you blame me? ;)

 

Lil Princess Amy and a giant Moi. We were color coordinated that day. *sigh. Miss her so much.

Lil Princess Amy and a giant Moi. We were color coordinated that day. *sigh. Miss her so much.

 

Today we are sisters and best of friends.

Why am I writing this? Because she recently gave a TED Talk in Phoenix that touched me to the core. A tweet, FB status, an email, none of those could do justice to how I feel every time I listen to it and neither does this blog. But I had to share this.

Love you soul-sister.

You can watch the TED Talk here:

Or on Vimeo here:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/65371163″>Amy Scerra at TEDxPhoenix Change – The Human Moment</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user15593072″>WD League</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I Don’t Want to be a Celebrity!

Ladies, I am having mixed feelings about this:

When I found out on Saturday Google wanted to feature me as part of their case studies in online work I was excited. Very excited. When the video came out it was fab and I loved it. However, a day later things changed somewhat.

Open the video in YouTube. Do you see that description there?

Originally from South Waziristan, Maria runs the Women’s digital league; an online freelancing company that provides digital services to clients from around the world. Maria and her team of female employees work from their homes and conduct research, database management, event management etc.

Umm … this is the second instance in a short period of time where I’ve been invited to be a part of some big shot event and then introduced as being from SW. Now that would have been fine with me except that none of the other’s profiles read, “XYZ, originally from Tando Ala Yaar” or “Native of Lahore” or whatever. Why does this have to be a prefix for me? Is my only achievement the fact that I belong to FATA? Why does that overshadow the fact that I’ve a Master’s Degree in English Lit? Or that I am a woman in a male dominated industry? Or that I’ve worked extremely hard the past few years? I just don’t get it. Maybe I am reading too much into it and getting all sensitive for nothing but nevertheless … I don’t like it. I don’t understand why it has to be there.

Another reason why I am disturbed is because overnight I am being swamped with CVs. Look at my Facebook page stats:

Virtual Assistant
Do you see the MAD graph? I don’t have any work, ladies. Not at the moment. I am not hiring. I am merely working on building the portal and reaching out to people trying to convince them to give us work when the portal is online and ready to go.

I am not a successful businessperson. Actually, I am quite a failure. Yeah, let’s say it out loud. I never meant to enter business. All I wanted was to get a an O-A Levels teaching job and earn Rs. 30k a month. That was the most I aspired for. WDL was started by accident. I had discovered online work – was making decent money – working flexible hours – no workplace politics. It was great. Other woman just had to know about it but no one would take me seriously. So I had the bright idea of making it into a business because flaunting titles, though empty ones, gives you more credibility than if you work out of pure good faith. I just meant to encourage other women to work online.

No regrets. I have enjoyed the journey. I am still loving it. It’s what gives me the strength to get up in the morning and actually puts a smile on my face. Working on WDL makes me happy. There! But, I don’t want anyone to think I am a fraud. There are just so many of those out there flaunting “social enterprises” – you’d be surprised. Am working very hard. trying to make this happen. But for now, I am just a simple woman with a dream and lots of hope and tremendous support and help from some amazing people. Just a disclaimer here. Some people have asked if I am supported by the government or if it has helped me in any way. fair question considering the video is being shown from the PITB platform. But to clarify – I’ve been working on my own with no financial help from any organization.

OK I have vented enough. Have had a fever for last 3 days so forgive me if I am not making much sense.

Thank you … *bow

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Plea to Educational Institutes – Please Let the Teachers Teach

Summer breaks are horrible. Means the kids stay home and do nothing but watch TV or play video games. Can’t blame them – too *bleep-ing hot outside. No decent swimming pools – none that comes with proper safety standards at least.

Came across this wonderful TED Talk by Ken Robinson (yeah, dunno what rock I was lying under): 

I was a really average student. I could have been really good but I never put enough time into it and then there was Maths *shudder. Most of my teachers couldn’t stand me mostly because I asked a lot of questions, disrupted the class, made silly comments, and was just really the class clown and spent most of my time standing outside the class then sitting inside.

What I lacked was an interest in anything except languages – English and Urdu, and I was quite good at those. Another thing I loved was the debating club. Was a part throughout school and college. Naturally I took a language course in college and then at the university level. But, it was disappointing to say the least! All the teachers were interested in was to just “cover the course”. It was a constant race and we were unwilling mules.

Same when I became a teacher! The school had to have a uniform curriculum through all its branches throughout the country which makes sense. But what I found really silly was that we had to do the exact same Q&As with the students, and exact same exercises, and exact same word definitions. It was literature and grammar we were teaching for crying out loud. A teacher is supposed to fine tune her lessons according to the level of the students in the class. So for instance the first year my class was really brilliant. Surprisingly and annoyingly good. So I could go through passages quickly with them, teach them more advance concepts, give them extra reading to do at home. The year after that was a complete different set of kids. They lacked basic concepts and had to be taught from scratch. However, I was expected to teach both groups the exact same thing at exactly the same pace.

I remember how I tried doing Stream of Consciousness exercises with the latter group and focused on just doing class activities that did not require any writing for a week. Idea was to get them to take an interest in literature and be able to understand and feel the words. I had a lot of angry parents come in next week complaining how they weren’t paying for their kids to have a good time in school but to learn and show results. Sighhh …

You know what was really sad? Those kids were really bright though their grades might let you to believe otherwise. They came up with the most fascinating stories and ideas. Imagination was real to them. It was easier than fact. But then you had to tell them, “I don’t have time for your stories. We have to complete 10 exercises in an hour and I gotta check them all.” Yeah, that was the goal of every teachers day – finish the course work for that day and forget about whether the students actually understood anything or not.

My request to all teachers: Students who are not good in your subject does not mean they are bad students. Even if they are not good in any subject in school, it still does not mean they are bad students. It just means, they have yet to find out what interests them. For me, it was my flashing lights (I mean “tech”) and startups. Something I was never introduced to during school, college or university. For others it may be dancing, painting, skating, cooking … anything.

Please don’t kill their self-respect and creativity.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Phew – will try and keep the one a lil light-hearted. ;)

Solitude’s Desert

I try not to let the ‘other’ side of me take over this blog. No – my doppelganger shall remain away from here. But I have to share this. Apologies in advance.

Last night, I and hubbie were mocking how a pop-singer had been given the ridiculous task of singing a real song. Then this came on the radio and we both thought it was a version by Iqbal Bano we hadn’t heard before. Meesha has done a terrific job. The way every word has a ‘melody’ to it that needs no accompaniment by instruments gives me shivers. *Gushing. Of course the fact this poem is written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz who is my favorite poet and sung by Tina Sani, my absolutely fav singer, this was a make-or-break test for Meesha and boy did she ace it or what! Love it!

Now this brings me to another reason why this caption is not as corny as I am being ↑. Sighhhh … told you about the GIST Competition in Dubai, right? NO DON’T STOP READING JUST YET! I am NOT going to tell you about the whole thing again and be wimpy. Am over it and as annoyingly giggly and optimistic as ever. The reason why I refer to it is because you see Dubai is a desert, right? Yeah despite (horrifying) buildings like this:

Tacktastic

and this:

Tallest building … yeah they couldn’t figure it out so stuck a steel pillar on top … yippppeeee … its like a woman wearing stilettos and saying I am 5′ 11″. LOL MOST RIDICULOUS THING EVER

and this:

Kill me someone

GOSH they were ugly! I was saying??

Erm …

…….. yeah ..

So there I was in the desert with goth-meets-Disney-meets-StarTrek structures all around and sheikhs with beautiful manicures and gorgeous sheikhas that made me want to go get a nose-job. Bored with Malls and grieving for the enchanting perfume-bottle-shaped trophy … OK I AM GONNA SHUT UP ABOUT THAT. So for whatever reason I wanted to go see something other than malls and fancy buildings. Someone suggested seeing Old Dubai so me headed out with Khoo (James) Chan Shiang. Khoo is from Malaysia and is founder of SecQ.me which is an app for smartphones as well as certain wrist watches that uses GPS and in-built security alert in case you are in danger. You can learn about it here. But to cut it short he is super geeky and you know that means he is my new best friend. Met his friend, Shafiu Hussain. Shafiu is from Maldives, married to a Russian lady whom he met in India and he currently lives in Malaysia, and to add fuel to the fire, turns out he is founder of TaxiMonger. TM is again an app and acts as a virtual call center for taxis (cabs, yo Yankees!). And we were in a place with bazaars called Gold Souk and Spice Souk (souk is “market” in Arabic) with little alleyways that let us into their heart and we discovered the most amazing secrets like a Sikh shrine and a street that looked like it was out of a market somewhere in Delhi.

Hindu Idols

Sikh Shrine in Middle of Nowhere

Looking at Gold Souk from Spice Souk across the river

As we sat down to eat biryani and chicken karahi at a place called Karachi Darbar we talked about what geeks talk about. Happens SecQ.me and TaxiMonger are collaborating and calling the mash-up TaxiMonger Bodyguard. What was Women’s Digital League doing there? Why of course providing social media assistance! But more than that, brainstorming ways the app could be launched in Paki-land. NOT talking more about it. Maybe nothing comes off it. Maybe something does. You will be the first ones to hear whatever happens, my lovelies … hope you know that.

But for now, go check out both apps. They are free to download and you can find out how form their websites at www.SecQ.me and www.TaxiMonger.com.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Ummm … so am I the only one who thinks the title is awesome? At the end of the day it is just my opinion that matters here anyway. *hairflip :P

Meet the SemiFinalists – I Dare BPC

Some days I read the stuff I write and can understand when people are somewhat skeptical connecting with me – I wouldn’t want to know myself – sound absolutely crazy. And then I look in the mirror and say … WHATEVER!

So, am following up on the last blog I wrote. Uploaded  a bunch of videos I made during the CRDF Global GIST I Dare Business Plan Competition (I know I don’t have to say the whole thing  – that was more for SEO – and it’s MY blog – feel free to show yourself out if you don’t like it). Surprising how good the iPhone 4 camera is. If anyone wants to buy me a b’day present (it’s 4th April) plz don’t hesitate to get me Siri. If you can’t get it without the iPhone 4S, well, I guess I’ll have to put up with it.

*scratches her head*

……………………
……………………
………………………

Oh, yeah …

I am not going to do much talking – the videos tell who they are and what they do. However, one guy I promised I would tell you more about, Ali Raza Randhawa of Pak Energy Solutions, is not someone I can do justice to if I don’t add a little more about him.

So he has a degree from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore (yeah, that’s in Pakistan). His startup is called Pak Energy Solutions (PES) and he is working on a bio gas plant that’s powered by organic waste. Started in February 2011, look at the achievements of this kid in just a year:

1. Semifinalist at the GIST I Dare Business plan Competition 2012 in Abu Dhabi and Winner of Elevator Pitch Contest (In Progress)
Jointly organized by CRDF Global’s GIST I Dare BPC and MIT Pan Arab Enterprise Forum

2. 1st Prize – Young Entrepreneurs Business Plan Competition 2011
Jointly organized by Punjab Govt. and Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Endorsed by Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan
3. Finalist in Europe, Middle East and African Final of Global Social Venture Competition 2012
Organized by London Business School, United Kingdom
4. Exclusive Invitation by Prime Minister of Turkey for Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2011 in Istanbul
5. Semi-Finalist in Global Innovation through Science & Technology 2011
Organized by CRDF Global in Istanbul, Turkey
6. Semi-Finalist in Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition 2011-2012
Organized by University of Washington, U.S.
(Couldn’t attend because of lack of sponsorship)
7. Finalist and Runners Up, TiE All Asia Business Plan Competition
Qualifier into TiE New-Delhi Chapter
8. Semi-Finalist Global Sustainable Business Plan Competition 2011-2012 (In Progress)
Organized by William James Foundation, U.S.
9. Semi-Finalist in Dell Social Innovation Competition 2012 (In Progress)
Organized by University of Texas at Austin
Also, (I KNOWWWww … you never thought there’d be more, right?) he is one of the winner of the PASHA Social Innovation Fund sponsored by Google (still waiting for the fund to be released). All this guy needs is $20,000 to take his project to the next level. I really don’t understand why VCs and other investors are not throwing their money at him. It would be such a pity if this talent goes unnoticed … and NO, winning a bunch of competitions is NOT called noticing – it’s just a means to an end, in this case, funding.

 

Am going to just upload the rest of the videos. Watch the amazing semifinalists introduce themselves. My apologies to those I didn’t get a chance to speak to. If you are reading this and are interested please send me your short videos and I’ll be happy to add them here.

 

oDesk Wire Transfer

Went back to my oDesk account the other day after a long, long time. They have added an option for Wire Transfers now. For a moment I was excited. Yipppeeee … no more signing up for Payoneer and waiting forever to receive the card. No more setting up Skrill (formerly Moneybookers). I quickly went on and set up my account only to find out oDesk charged $30 per withdrawal via Wire Transfer. WHAT THE HELL! So the portal charges 10% of the withdrawal amount and then another $30 for the transaction and then another $4.99 as currency conversion fee. It’s ridiculous considering most of the tasks pay $1/hr and the fixed price projects are like $4 an article (for example). I can write about 5 500 word articles a day so let’s say I have a good month and write 5 articles every day for 30 days that would come to around 150 articles and a total earning of $600. oDesk subtracts their 10% and another $34.99 for the transaction and that leaves me with $505.

So for a whole month worth of work I get what? Only $505!!! Recently an SEO client-turned-friend from the US said the low rates were the fault of the contractors. They bid so low in order to get a job it makes the rates so pathetically low. It’s sad how the low employment rate in our country and in others like Philippines and India forces people to work for peanuts. I know how hard it is to get work on these portals and maintaining a good rating. There are predators out there that will hire you for pennies, give you an impossible task (25 articles 500 words each in 3 days) and when you deliver they will still bug you over the money threatening to give you a bad rating if you complain to the admins. It has happened to me so I know what I am talking about. And if it comes to the worse and you do go to the admins, chances are they will side with the buyer. So what options do online workers have?

What has your experience been like using these portals both as clients and service-providers? I know you will never comment coz you are probably here looking for info on “honesty and generosity” as per my stats. But miracles happen. Which reminds me of MJ … :'( “And I believe in miracles, and a miracle’s gonna happen tonite … “

What Motivates Us?

This is a question most answer with ‘MONEY’ … yeah that holiday in Italy, or the blood-red Ferrari, or brand new house all require MONEY. But according to a study by economists from MIT, University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon the system of monetary reward as incentive for performance does not hold true once you get over rudimentary cognitive skills. In fact, reward in this case led to poorer performance!! Don’t believe me? Watch this: