‘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.*

It’s Finally Happening!

i-TECH IT Training Center, KADO

i-TECH IT Training Center, KADO

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

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

Passu, Gojal, Hunza

Passu, Gojal, Hunza

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

Attabad Lake Hunza Gojal

Attabad Lake Hunza Gojal

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

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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)

Snippets from Past Few Weeks

Been a bit disturbed and distracted lately. My country is going through a really tough time and it hurts me to see it that way. Growing up I always thought people hurt other people for money, power, position. Now I am finding out they also kill for God. And a God that they all believe in but each wants the other to believe in Him exactly the same way s/he does. It’s all very confusing. I was going through my Facebook feed and I came across a quote by Rumi that resonates so well with everything happening.

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

Anyway ……

I got great news today from the Hunza today. The NGO that I was working with to help bring digital work to the area has received grants to train 1500 locals in various kinds of online work. 60% of those trained are going to be women. I am so excited I can’t sit still. This area has 100% literacy rate in people 30 and below. They have advance, postgrad degrees from some of the top universities in Pakistan. If this works out, it’s going to be HUGE.

In other news, am thinking of registering TDL as a not-for-profit. Am a bit hesitant as the last effort to register as a sole proprietorship ended up with no results at all. If you know someone who can help me get it done with minimal hassle and a guarantee it will work out, get me in touch please.

Saw my beautiful guapa Amy after almost 2 years! I love technology and above all, Skype. We had a great video call reminiscing, laughing, planning, catching up. Wish everyone could understand that basic human feelings remain constant through every country, age, religion … if you are loved, won’t you love back? If you are respected, aren’t you gonna give it back? And if you are valued, will you respond any differently? I can never understand people who live in a different country but refuse to truly become a part of it because they are afraid of losing their identity or afraid of being treated badly. You receive what you give.

Pakistan mornings and Arizona nights were never filled with so much laughter!!!

Pakistan mornings and Arizona nights were never filled with so much laughter!!!

Ooohhh … had these lovely keychains made for TDL by the very talented Varah Musavvir of Firefly.

We Can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.

The Digital League - Empowering Pakistan One Digital Task at a Time

The Digital League – Empowering Pakistan One Digital Task at a Time

The Beauties

The Beauties

Thought these would be great for some marketing and for friendly give-aways.

Welcoming guys into The Digital League is proving to be a blessing and a great move. I am a feminist at heart and will always give preference to women-SPs over male ones (sorry boys!) but let’s face it – not very many women know setting up CRM systems and playing with SVGs. So am really glad to have these boys on the team now. Something tells me I am going in the right direction finally and it feels good.

OK then ….

byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Town Hall with Hilary Clinton

Better late than never …

Was invited by the US Embassy, Islamabad to attend the Town Hall with Secretary Clinton in Serena, Islamabad on Friday, 21 Ocotber 2011. HRC has a presence, I tell you. She kind of fills up a room with her persona. After the **** that happened in her personal life I was slightly overwhelmed with her strength and confidence. When she talks, you have no choice but to sit up and listen. Spotted Huma Abedin. Stunning! Grinned and waved at her … she smiled and waved back.

There were so many moments where I thought, “This is the best part of the afternoon” and one of them was meeting Tara Uzra Dawood. Tara is a graduate of Harvard law School and CEO of Dawood Capital Management. Under the larger umbrella of DCM, she runs a fund called the LadiesFund (minus the space). For details check out the website and/or facebook page. It’s an organization after my heart and is very interesting, but in a nutshell, it’s a business and financial consultancy service for Pakistani women looking for grants, loans, equity or merely a platform to promote their business. A firebrand of a woman, Tara and I chattered away and I realized there was a lot being done for Pakistani businesswomen. It frustrates me how little people know about these initiatives. If only these were advertised well! LF is a very web-savvy organization but despite being an Internet-geek, I had never heard of them before – perhaps if the media highlighted the positive things happening in Pakistan once in a blue moon things would be different???

Another one of those moments …

Met Wahaj us Sirja, CEO of NayaTel. Such a humble man. I of course walked right up to him as he was getting ready to make a phone call … I have no manners, I know, been told that a gazillion times, dunno why people still bother *eyeroll. Anyway, told him about Hunza and he was excited and very helpful. We exchanged cards, I emailed him, and he connected me to his contacts.

On the way out, I bump into Atif Aslam. Eeeee … ! Well, no, not really. I wasn’t star-struck but I do like the guy’s singing. Took a photo with him of course. How can I help liking him when he sings like this:

I am just discovering the joys of networking. Tara introduced me on email to the co-founder of All World Live, Anne Habiby. Girls, don’t expect me to hand it all out to you. Go to their website and read up on what they do. However, this is how they summarize their work:

Our model is simple – find the best growth companies, put them on the global radar screen, and let the market do the rest.  This is the next economy.

We call this Visibility Economics™.

Got invited to a dinner hosted for the Pakistan 25 Fast Growth Companies in Islamabad. Met Anne … needless to say she was ah-mazing. Learned it was extremely important to keep a paper-trail of business transactions even if it’s just a bunch of Western Union receipts sitting in a shoe-box. However, bugged the hell outta my friends and am glad to say one of them got selected for the Arabia 500.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …

Meet the 25-yr Old

You have heard a lot about him and wonder why and how a 25 yr old can mentor someone as awesome as me. Osama Sehgol, co-founder of TimeSvr talks about his startup, challenges, bootstrapping, social enterprise, CSR, and he talks a lot – so just watch the video. I am secretly very proud of the kid. You’ll know why in a bit. :)

 

 

Running a VA Business without any Electricity

Yep – can be done. Believe me. Come summer and the govt decides we are better off with no power – will make us more hard-core. Our daddies in WAPDA (something, something Power something Authority) feel us kids are being raised too soft. A bomb blast a day, random killings, CJ sent packing home, ppl dying in hospitals coz docs have gone on strike, drones … NOT enough. Having uniterrupted electricity would make us into wusses who cry at rainbows and sunsets. We can’t have that. NO NO NO NO!

Anyhoo … so I have a power-backup. It runs my clunky old desktop for about 3-4 hours on the condition that I only run the desktop, one tubelight and one fan on it, and nothing else. The team in Hunza works under even harder conditions. Temperatures go below freezing point and stay that way from October to March. They don’t have gas to run heaters. They hardly have any electricity thorughout the year so electric heaters are ineffective. So, the generators generously supplied by a local NGO help to run the computers but the women have to work under very harsh conditions. Still, they turnaround the work in good time. I am surprised they can even work. What am I talking about?

Just wanted to vent a bit. The power crisis is driving me crazy.

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee