Bliss

Ashoka ChangemakersEntered Women’s Digital League to the Ashoka Changemakers “Women Powering Work” competition. Today on a Twitter chat arranged by Ashoka I found out WDL had been selected as an Early Entry Prize winner

Shortest, happiest, most exciting real-life fairy tale ever.  

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Am also selected as a “Thought Leader” for the topic. Thank you. 

 

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

The Digital League?

I got such a terrific surprise today.

Over the past few weeks, I decided that in a country like Pakistan with such a huge unemployment rate it was unfair of me not to include 50% of the population in Women’s Digital League. But then, it’s Women’s Digital League you know. How do I work around that? Spoke to my mentor and he was like, “Why do you even need to announce that? Just quietly become THE Digital League and when you have enough women in the workforce you can make WDL as an off-shoot of the main business”. Why do simple solutions like that never come to my mind?

So, Ladies & (reluctantly) Gentlemen, now WDL is an equal opportunity employer. We will make the changes to the domain name and all once we have enough funds to do it. At this point, being a social enterprise, spending money bringing in more work is more important then worrying about branding.

Having said that, I am working with some wonderful guys (besides the ladies). I was gonna tell you about the surprise. So Mr Usama Shahid Khan, the first male service provider at WDL, did such a swell job for the Malaysian client he was working with that they have made him an integral part of their team and put his profile up on their website. Have a look at Mr. Khan here: http://piktochart.com/our-team/

I am so happy and so proud of him. And I am not celebrating just him. As we near the end of 2012, I would like to send out a BIG thank you to everyone associated with WDL. All the ladies who have worked with me in the last 3 years, the mentors and advisors, the loving supporters, and the clients of course. At times I haven’t been able to deliver. There have been times when I have been so embarrassed and depressed over work not done (Thank you Government for continually blocking Google and YouTube services hampering my work) that I’ve completely disappeared from cyberspace for weeks and told myself, “Hell with it all”. But through it all, I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in me. I say it out loud, “I am a failure”. I am in terms of the revenue I bring in and lack of management skills. I am barely a businessperson. However, I won’t give up and will keep doing what little I can do because …

To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics

and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better,

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch

or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Vote for WDL here, pretty please? https://apps.facebook.com/photosvr/contests/18/images/7171

Opportunity to Work for a SOCENT in Washington DC

Phew – been away for a bit. Unlike popular belief, it hasn’t been all fun and games. Been making some tough decisions, keeping myself sane (or as sane as I was born), and the having rare moments of being awesome. Like this one! As I write this post I am sitting in an air conditioned coach of a train  on my way to Pindi from Lahore. Last time I read anything about Pakistan Railways was that it was terrible and a nightmare of a travel. Rubbish! So it takes me 5 hours to get to Lahore instead of 4 on the motorway but then it costs a quarter of what it does in fuel if I took my own car (Actually, I don’t spend a penny – my hubbie is in the Railways :P ). 

About this post … a dear reader, Shazia Khan who is is an American-Pakistani and runs a social enterprise called EcoEnergy Finance needs help. I am very impressed with this youngster based in Washington DC and couldn’t say no. :) Please read and help out as much as you can. 

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EcoEnergyFinance is a small non-profit, which provides solar energy products to Pakistan’s rural poor in order to provide income generating opportunities, improve health and fight climate change. We were recently selected as one of 19 Social Enterprises supported by the Skoll Foundation’s Global Social Benefit Incubator and are poised to scale rapidly as we penetrate Pakistan’s alternative energy market. We are looking for a motivated individual to become an integral part of our team. Although the position is currently unpaid, there is a very distinct opportunity for upward mobility and advancement in the organization as we grow.

The Fellow will regularly liaise with the Executive Director, Director of Operations and field staff to communicate EEF’s successes and challenges to a wider audience. The Fellow will plan and develop content for EEF’s blog and website. Additionally, they will be responsible for creating a community of followers to tap for ideas, networking and fundraising.

This position is ideal for recent graduates and students with a background in communications, digital media, web development or graphic design looking to gain practical experience with an internationally recognized NGO.

Responsibilities and Requirements:

Since we are a small office, you will be relied upon to assist us in various aspects of program development. Primary responsibilities include:

  • Creating a newsletter for the organization
  • Writing content including regular reports tracking our progress
  • Managing our social media efforts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Keeping our website www.ecoenergyfinance.org and blog up to date

Candidates should have excellent communication skills, particularly excellent writing skills and the ability to collaborate with and assist a diverse range of people. We are specifically looking for someone with meaningful experience in using a wide range of digital platforms, design, CMS or HTML, and website development. Additional experience writing copy and proofreading/editing is preferred. Candidates should also have a keen interest in environmental and international development issues.

Hours are very flexible. This position is unpaid and available immediately.

Pipelines and Funnels – Dammit!

Someone I revere asked me recently; “Do you honestly believe WDL can work?” Without batting an eyelid I said, “Yes!”

Ask me what my business pipeline is and I will give you a goofy grin and say, “I don’t know”. Ask me what my sale funnel is and I’ll giggle nervously and tell you I ain’t got a clue. But there is no doubt in my mind that WDL is meant to be.

Many a days I am tempted to get myself a job. Am offered good ones. Great salaries. Here is the problem. I know if I take up any of those offers I’ll make a bunch of money but I’ll never ever be happy. Now, I am no fool. Being as stubborn as I am has been a great asset in running WDL. Despite the mockery and the cruel jokes I’ve been slowly moving along. However, I am not a fool. I promised myself I would give 5 years to WDL and try make it work. I have absolutely no doubt that it is a very practical idea that can actually change the lives of many in Pakistan. But at the same time I also know sometimes you are meant to be the architect and not the mason. If I am unable to scale it up, I’ll just get it out of my system knowing I tried REALLY hard. There will be no nagging guilt telling me I quit and chickened out.

Its not easy being a woman in a very male dominated industry. Making it on your own without any connections or biz background is hard. Putting up with jeering comments about trying to be “saintly” is horrid. Being asked what you have been doing for last 3 years is hard. You can’t go to everyone and say, “Hey, I know I am where most women in the industry start from. But its’ taken me an incredible amount of sacrifice and resilience to be here where I am now and I am proud of it.” Maybe someone, some day will come and take it to the next level. I am happy I’ve got the ball rolling. Am happy I have a “case study” at least in WDL for others.

I have absolutely no clue how to run a business, I have admitted time and time again. Yes, I know crazy stuff like the infographic below:

 

But when it comes to serious stuff, I am just a literature student who somehow finds herself doing tech. All I know is this is what I am meant to do. Dunno where it will lead. Just know the journey is completely worth it.

And no, we don’t know where it will lead. We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here. ~ Steve Jobs

 

 

Social Versus Cultural Enterprises

I got to meet Sharmeen Chinoy – cool, eh? It was a US Embassy and HEC joint seminar about Acid Attack Victims (of course). I am sorry I almost snoozed through most of it so am not a good judge of how it went. Don’t even remember who was present. If interested, read this excellent roundup by Zainab Khawaja here. You may see me in some of the photos she has put up .. ;)

Also met the US Ambassador to Pakistan’s wife, Dr. Marilyn Wyatt.

We are BFFs now. Proof =========================================>>>>
Read an article recently in Social Edge that made me sit up and go … huh? Everyone knows know how big a supporter I am of social entrepreneurship. In a turbulent country like Pakistan business coupled with social good really is the elixir we are looking for. At the recently held Youth Entrepreneurs Conference a lot of the kids thought a social enterprise is a not-for-profit. KILL ME SOMEONE! NO, social enterprise is NOT synonymous with a not-for-profit – though a a #socent may also be a not-for-profit. Put simply a social entrepreneur is made when she (the feminism continues!) notices a problem in society like energy crisis or lack of clean drinkable water or women empowerment and comes up with a solution for it. The next step then is to find out if the solution is sell-able – if it can solve the ‘pain’ of a customer. For example, with Women’s Digital League, I am working on economic empowerment for educated Pakistani women who are discouraged from working outside their homes. At the same time WDL is providing affordable digital services to clients based around the world. At the end of the day, whatever the purpose, at the core of every business lies profitability and scalability. If I receive millions of dollars every month but can’t pay my utility bills  how long would I be able to sustain my love for helping humanity? And paying salaries is the same as profit – as you grow you pay yourself more the same way you would take home more when you start getting more profit.

The article introduced a new concept to me – cultural entrepreneurship. Here is how it defines it:

Cultural entrepreneurs … solve problems by disrupting belief systems—using television shows like Glee to initiate viewers into the disability or GLBTQ rights frameworks or the Twitter campaign #mensaythingstome, designed to expose anonymous misogyny online.

It’s hard for me to distinguish between the two. Ain’t Women’s Digital League changing mindsets by giving women the opportunity to work from home? That’s a shift from the conventional way Pakistanis are used to working. So where do I put WDL? So how is a TV show like Glee an enterprise? Or how is a Twitter hashtag campaign an enterprise? I find the whole business vs. enterprise thing very confusing.

So an enterprise is a “purposeful endeavor”. Then why isn’t a business the same too? Isn’t creating a new product, increasing profits, scaling, permeating markets an endeavor with a purpose as well?  And if by ‘purpose’ we are referring to ‘social good’ then what’s the point of separating social enterprises from just enterprises?

I am losing it. Help!

On a less thought-provoking note, am waiting for the list of finalists for GIST I-Dare Business Plan Competition which will be held in Lebanon (fingers crossed / Palms together / whatever whatever). Am holding a one-day quick session on leveraging the power of Internet for free marketing – this is in collaboration with Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and is targeting SMEs by local women. Applying for a grant from the US Embassy for Pakistani Alumni for my Hunza people … oh I how love them and wish I’d see them one day. Also, I turned 33 this month. Yippppeeee.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Apply for the GSBI 2012

Yes, I promised a video of the UnConference. No, I did not throw up or cry or create any drama. Waiting for the CIO/PBA team to upload the snippets to their website … and then I’ll be happy to share y fabulous-ity with you.

With that being cleared, I received great news last night in my inbox. Besides the several weight-loss, foreign travel and luxury hotel deals newsletters I am subscribed to, I also happen to receive the Social Edge newsletter. Yeah, I am such a mixed bag – that’s what makes me awesome and keeps you average *hairflip. Downloaded 5 seasons of Gossip Girl and my meanness-meter is hitting an all time high. Will try and restrain myself …

The GSBI 2012 scholarship has been announced.

The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI™), a program developed by Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, assists social entrepreneurs in developing business plans that enable their organizations to become financially sustainable and scalable.

It’s a $25,000 scholarship and has had participants from Indonesia, India, Bolivia, and Rwanda besides other countries. I strongly feel it’s about time Pakistan was represented here. What with initiatives like the PASHA Social Innovation Fund I don’t see why that should be a problem.

Some of you ask me what a social enterprise is. You can find info all over the Internet. Social Edge is a good place to begin and so is the Ashoka Social Innovators Fund website. If you are excited by the idea but want a cheat-sheet for areas where you could venture this place will help a bit. *grin However, in short, a social enterprise tackles a greater problem related to changing the very fabric of the society around and tackles the issue without waiting for the government to do something about it. For example, with WDL I am trying to break the barrier for women to go out of their homes to work and am bringing employment to them at their doorsteps. By providing them online work WDL aims to economically and emotionally empower Pakistani women enabling them to put their education to use and gain their lost or low sense of self-respect and dignity.

So, go on my wonderful peeps and make me proud. To infinity and beyond …

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Anyone has a million rupees to help me build my web portal?

 

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. :)

 

 

Social Enterprise as a Business Differentiator

So, I been thinking (I do that on certain rare occasions). Back in the US, during our presentation at the State Dept, Catherine Muther happened to be one of the panelists. Trust me, she intimidated me more than the idea of being inside the State Dept. I am a horrid public speaker. I get nervous, I twitch, worse of all, I GIGGLE, and I run away. So when I breezed through the presentation (thank you, Thunderbird) I was beaming with pride and was confident of receiving a “slow clap”. Of course, that wasn’t to be. All I saw on the faces of the panelists was mild amusement. Uh-oh! Q & A starts and Muther asks, “There are so many similar service providers available, especially in India and Philippines. Why would I invest in your company?” My heart in mouth, I blanked out for a moment. But only for a moment. Until that time I believed it was the fact that we were affordable, cost-effective, and all those boring words every business throws at you. But right at that moment I knew why Women’s Digital League was different. More or less, this is what I told them …

If you are looking for the most affordable service, you can find many that beat WDL on rates hands down. If you are looking for a service with a clear niche like writing or concierge solutions, there are many others doing wonderful work at much lower rates. Born out of frustration with the lack of choices available for a “respectable” job for women and an innate abhorrence of accepting “fate” as a reason for not doing anything to make things better, WDL had no choice but to turn out the way it has. It’s a social enterprise endeavor. Simple as that! We only employ educated, skilled women to work from home on digital tasks. I strongly believe that if women are empowered they can be a strong catalyst in bringing a positive change in society. I was inside the State Dept and it wasn’t the best of times with the guy on their most wanted list killed only 2 weeks ago in Pakistan but I couldn’t help saying that if the mothers are strong, both emotionally and financially, they will raise more stable families instead of the tide of “crazy fanatics” we see now.

The world needs ventures like WDL despite there being some very negative connotations around the word “Outsourcing”. We have to be able to see the bigger picture. Is outsourcing only meant to make the rich richer and take work away from people who deserve it more and pass it on to someone less skilled? I am not going to argue the case of stolen employment opportunities for those in the developed countries; very frankly, I also don’t know what effect it is having the world over. But in my own small world, it’s changing lives. Small changes with big impacts. I am not going to share the stories of these women and sound like I was cashing on their hardships. That’s not my intention and I won’t say more, but for those living in Pakistan – you know what it means to be able to work from home doing tasks that challenge you and give you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, making you realize your education was not in vain. I speak from the heart … that’s how it made me feel.

If you need someone to do your digital tasks and do them well, and paying $3/hr is a steal then WDL is what you might want to look at. For most financiers, this whole speech is not impressive enough to make them want to throw their money at you. But I also won’t even DREAM of taking money from someone who only wants to see how we are going to double the returns on that investment. It will have to be someone who is as passionate about the idea behind WDL as I am. If I never find her, no worries. I’ll do what someone said to me: “You can do business the rich (wo)man’s way and gamble a $100k on your idea, or you can do business the poor (wo)man’s way and make it a success with sheer belief, energy and talent.”

WDL, for me, is already a success because it’s not an idea any more. It’s a reality! I took the initiative and said “I’ll never know if it’ll work unless I try”. Some day, if not me, someone else will pick the idea, find my notes useful, learn from my experience, the mistakes I made, the things that worked and that didn’t, and reach more lives with it – and I assure you I am happy being the nameless, faceless person who conceived it. Maybe this self-depreciating attitude won’t take me far … and then maybe it would … will find out. Until then … I chug away …

BYEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

I Am Not Rich, And Hiring An Assistant

I have been asked several times in the last few weeks why I don’t hire an assistant. I am interviewing someone on Tuesday for that much coveted (not really) position. But here is why the thought had never crossed my mind before:

Yes, that’s my workspace. A little corner of my bedroom with me sitting facing the wall for the most part of the day with a lone tube-light on at all hours as there are no windows in the room and is therefore very dark even during the day. To lighten up the mood, I have a super ugly puppet I bought from Rafi-Peer Theater 2 years ago. Don’t ask me why I bought it but I have this strange attachment with it and hence there it is, staring me right in the face for most part of the day every day.

Then there are the ADIDAS shoes and socks. I never know when I might get the chance to go outside for a quick walk around the courtyard, so they stay there unless I am expecting company.

And of course, there is the tea-mug (if I drink tea outta it and not coffee it becomes a tea-mug, right?).

This also shatters the myth that I am rich. I am not. Trust me. Don’t get fooled by the clothes and the gadgets. Some women come to me for work expecting to get paid a thousand $$$ a month. This is a very important blog for anyone wanting to work with WDL. Women’s Digital League is not a “get rich” project for me. I give fair wages which means over 60% of what the client pays me – and trust me, they don’t pay me $50/hr – FAR FROM IT. Also, I spend more time finding work to give to the ladies in Hunza that I don’t charge a cent as commission, then I spend finding paying work. Money is good, money is GREAT and I would LOVE to be rich but now is not the time and WDL is definitely not the means.

Coming back to the topic, I am working on cleaning up another room in the house and making it decent for another person to come and work from. I have been offered awesome office space (see, good things happen to me – I am not optimistic for nothing) but can’t take it as it’s in Islamabad and would mean leaving the kids alone every day for a few hours. I am sooo hoping I would find someone to come in and work with me. Maybe I am jeopardizing that by writing this post. What if it scares away the few candidates that are interested in the position? But then again, I would want my assistant, my very first assistant, to know exactly what she was getting herself into.

Working with WDL is not all that glamorous at all. You must be passionate about your work, have a strong desire to succeed, be willing to learn and be patient, extremely patient, and not think of it as a “job” but more as a mission, to really enjoy it. I know I love what I do. It’s amazing to see the difference a $100/month can make in the life of a person you have never met and probably never will. It’s one of the most satisfying feelings ever. As usual, I am rambling … so …

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee