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

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.*

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

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

The “Pakathon”

My first ever visit to LUMS. Very exciting rickshaw ride from the other side of the city. Took about half an hour to reach. Not complaining. That comes AFTER I reached. The campus is beautiful. Very spiffy. But right outside the gate runs an open sewer as stinky as any sewer ever was. Why can’t they at least cover it? God knows LUMS has plenty of funds. The sewer does not only kill a person’s appetite with the lingering smell that doesn’t leave you for hours afterwards but can be a serious threat to kids attending the university. Dengue, anyone?

Now that that’s off my chest …

I was there to meet my mentor. Just happens he was here for something called the “Pakathon“. And this Pakathon-thingie is soooo cool. Now here is what it does (briefly). The is sort of a hackathon of social entrepreneurs brainstorming and presenting ideas to use tech for solving various issues in Pakistan such as health, education, violence prevention etc. In 3-days time, student-teams have to come up with an idea, prepare a business plan focusing on finance and marketing. 6 teams from around 20 Pakistani universities (eventually. For now, it’s just 2 universities with 6 teams each) are connected then virtually to teams and mentors from places like Harvard and MIT. The event is live streamed. Judges then deliberate and announce winners the next day. Winning goodies include up to $10k in seed funding as well as incubation at Harvard and MIT and Sloan etc.

iEnvious.

The competition is open to plans from both Pakistani as well as students from other countries studying at these institutes. I had the opportunity to speak to 2 of the 6 teams at LUMS. Came back very inspired. Especially with the idea for using teach to collect donations to send street kids to school. The other was to create a Ushahidi kind of platform to report violence, accidents, crime etc to relevant authorities using SMS. The kids were all pretty clear on what they wanted to do and had done their homework considering the ideas and plans were all prepared within 24 hours. Wow!

Can’t wait to see how they do.

You can watch the live stream here:

Watch live video from pakathon on www.justin.tv

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Getting Used to Lahore

Edited post with images and links and NAMES.

I have moved to Lahore.getting introduced to the tech scene in a new city. I was comfortable in Islamabad. Knew everyone. Lahore is different. Was invited to speak at Pakistan’s tech incubator called Plan 9 twice. That was nice. Met some very exciting young people trying to make it into the tech world. If you need intro to Plan 9, it’s the place Groopic was launched & groomed.

A couple of the projects got my heart racing. The first was an optical mouse called iTrak that could be used by the disabled. The very excited founding team told me there were other similar products in the market but they were super fancy & therefore super expensive. Their entire focus was on one core functionality and that is to control the mouse after calibrating with an individual’s eyes.

The other was an app called AllSecure by TechnoIsys, a smartphone sensor that helped you locate your phone in case of theft. If a thief tries to turn it on it records his video and transmits it to the cloud notifying the owner as well as relevant authorities with a GPS location. How awesome is that!

So far met one exceptionally interesting “shining lights” person. He leads several ecommerce platforms in Pakistan under the Rocket Internet umbrella. These include the fashion portal Daraz.pk, famous food portal FoodPanda & general shopping store called Azmalo.pk. Did I mention he is also a gentleman? He is.

Rocket Internet

Couldn’t find a better image

Big difference I feel between Lahore & Islamabad? Erm it’s too early to say anything but yeah the Lahore tech scene has more younger people involved and is not so telco-centric. Or obsessed over the banking sector. Thank God for that. I was sick of hearing people talk about SaaS and apps and other ideas targeting Mobilink and Standard Chartered. *yawn

That’s all the updates I have for now apart from the fact that very exciting things are happening in Hunza that are keeping me awake at night dreaming, planning, grinning, believing.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. I write this as my mother-in-law gets her hair dyed at the salon. First ever blogpost from the iPhone app. Yayyyy. Apologies for no images. (Edited from the original version)