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 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

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

In World’s Longest Hotel, In front of World’s Tallest Building, At World’s Largest Race Course – ‘Coz We Are The Best!

Am back beautiful ladies from the GIST I Dare Business Plan Competition Finale in Dubai. Am past my initial disappointment – no, WDL didn’t win. No, not even the special Woman Entrepreneur Award. For a while it sucked. I let the disappointment wash over me – I sat in my room alone and grieved – I went to the Mall alone and sat in a corner and wept unobserved. For a while I was even bitter and a complete b**** to everyone. Yeah, everyone thinks I am funny so even when I am mean they are kind and think I am just kidding around but I was a pain for a while. However, finally, I got it out of my system.

Masters in English Literature. Secondary School teacher. From South Waziristan. That’s not who you would expect to be at a competition for tech startups. The surreal bizarre truth of the moment. I was sitting with people running the coolest tech startups being mentored by people from LinkedIn and Google and invited to Silicon Valley, and I was competing with them. And yeah, the 29-yr old Asian kid sitting next to me was actually a venture capitalist whose firm Neoteny Labs had invested in companies like Insync (love child of Dropbox and Google docs!!) and Game Ventures besides many others and was most coveted by startups in Asia and Middle East!!! James Chan was a jerk – that was my first impression after the very short menotring session we had. James Chan was an incredibly honest and forthright guy to be depended on to give you a very clear idea of where you stand in the market and also ideas on how you could make it better. Above all, he was human. Something I have always doubted VCs were. He likes playing video games in stealthy corners of the hotel, loves photographing his kid, and enjoys a simple chat.

Realized I have a bias towards female entrepreneurs / mentors despite being a woman myself. Was disappointed when I found out my one-on-one mentor was going to be a woman and she wasn’t even Asian! But Dr. Christiane Scholderer of Mind Talk turned out to be a blessing after how James Chan fried me (no hard feelings James ;) ). She “got” me and WDL. Understood what I was doing and why I believe it will work.

After the results spoke to some judges and they, along with all my fellow finalists, were of the opinion that I need to talk more about the

eAid Team led by Rumaisa Mohani receiving the Woman Entrepreneur Award

women whose lives WDL will impact or has already affected in some way or the other. Here is my stance on the thing. I work in a country where “honor” is more important than anything else and its always associated with women. A man who allows his women to work is looked down upon as being unable to provide for his family. Its a stigma. Now if I go out and start talking about these women, even if I change their names and all, still, WDl becomes associated with helping “poor women who can’t make ends meet” and that can lead to a LOT of trouble.

Also, the idea is to work through organizations already active on the ground who have a trusting relationship with the communities because otherwise being a woman-owned business leads locals to believe we are NGOs here to radicalize their women and corrupt them. Being from the same kind of background I am more culturally sensitive to the way they think and act then most others. So, whether it gets me the dough or not, I can not risk showing “stories” unless the entire community’s elders permit it.

Wow – I sound so sane! *grin – WDL does that to me.

Almost All of Us (Sans me ;) )

For the fun stuff, if you own an iPhone or an Android, ladies, download SecQme. Its a wonderful app that “secures” you. Here is a simple video that shows you how it works:

Will blog about it in more detail separately but this app is developed by a new friend, Khoo Chen Shiang from Malayisa who was a finalist.

James Khoo giving a demo of SecQMe on his Watch!!

Now Kai Feng Chew has a startup called CloudStat. CloudStat is a God-send for people doing social media. Its a way to manage all your social media in one place, collect retardedly simple to read analytics, and just figure out which social media channel is best for marketing your product or service. I strongly advise you go check it out.

Being a tech-geek these companies make my heart beat like crazy. On the other hand, being a social enterprise buff, am absolutely in love with GreenovationTechs and Pak Energy Solution. They also received first and second prizes respectively. The first makes buildings with a special kind of material that has “airconditioning” properties. Just what we need in Pakistan these days with the horrible power crisis. Pak Energy makes gold out of cow droppings!! As the founder said in his presentation, “If I told you you could make big cash from cow dung you would think, “Bull Shit!” ” LOL! But they convert cow droppings into biogas energy for producing energy.

I read on Women 2.0 that men get funded and women get mentors. I say, go right ahead my pretties. Get the mentoring. Absorb it all. Men do get funding but they also waste a lot of it ‘coz they get cocky. On the other hand, funding will come and when it does we will be ready to make the most of it. Duh!

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Was late for my flight. Stranded at the airport. Emirates has the SUCKIEST customer service ever. Being a pushtun obvi I didn’t let them get away with comments like, “next time you are shopping remember this is an airport not a bus stop”. Gave them a telling-off they will never forget along with a complaint to the manager directly. Took a flight to Lahore and came to Islamabad on a Daewoo.

P.P.S Some Facts:

Longest Hotel = Meydan Hotel
Tallest Building = Burj AlKhalifa (That shoudl also be given the World’s Ugliest Building Award)
Largest Race Course = Meydan Race Course
Best Startups = Women’s Digital League etc :P

Flashing Lights Finally and GIST “I Dare”

Firstly and most importantly my life long dream has come true. I SAW THE FLASHING LIGHTS! Yes, I did. No, not in my sleep. I actually really truly saw them. Legend has it … one fine day my boss decided to show me the place and I saw it. End of story! Woo hoo. How awesome is that! I took pics but was told it was super secret and so deleted them though extremely reluctantly. Sorry my peeps – can’t share. For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I am talking about I have always had this crazy obsession with seeing the room inside a tech company that has all the tech stuff in it – like the machinery and all … that goes blink blink, flash flash. Still don’t know what its called but I finally saw it and life is GREAT! :D

There is LOADS to share about Women’s Digital League but am waiting for the right time to do that so you will just have to put up with it for a bit.

Going to Dubai for a few days for the finale of GIST’s BPC. Am extremely nervous. Have zero preparation and am panicking. Sure will be happy when its over. GIST made a “banner” of all teams that are participating. Here is how mine looks:

Yes, there is more of Amara here then me but then I am not surprised – she is such a diva. Also, perhaps the only pic of me without a burqa. :D

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

All Things Free – You Only Have To Ask

Good news first – Women’s Digital League‘s website is up. I made it myself so please be kind on the comments. If you can do anything to help make it look better please know I need your help and would really appreciate it too. Must thank Amara Javed of Pink 2.55 and her fiance Irfan Lala for all their help. And a “Ghost Friend” who insists I never mention to anyone I know her – thank you “Shadow Boxer” *hugs. People wonder why I am such a believer … tell me how I can be anything but -

Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.

:)

Just when they tell you nothing comes without a fee and nothing in this world is free and for everything else there is a MasterCard (cheesyyyyy) … here comes 3 courses I am DYING to get started on. Without further ado:

  1. Technology Entrepreneurship: Stanford University has a host of free online courses for engineering, Artificial Intelligence, SaaS but of course the one I am excited about is this: Technology Entrepreneurship. This course focuses on how to launch a successful startup.
  2. The Lean Launchpad: Again by Stanford University … the course focuses on how to turn “a great idea into a great company“. You can learn more here.
  3. Code Year: This is a year long free online program that teaches you to code. It’s a New Year’s Resolution challenge to get people to learn to code and make their own websites by the end of 2012. So far 333,789 people have signed up for the program backed by Y-Combinator and the O’Reilly Media. You can sign up here or learn more here.

So if you are interested in launching a startup, are already working on one you may want to sign up for these free courses. I know I have.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

3 Photos, 3 Lessons

What do you see when you look at this photo? A woman suffering from domestic violence? Slipped, fell and hit my head against a bucket full of hot water and hence the bruise. Many well-wishers were concerned and thought what you probably thought too. Was told by a friend how some ppl were speculating about trouble in heaven. How many times have you heard people say Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Perceptions can be ridiculously wrong. Always give people a chance. Don’t think the worse first. Be open to possibilities and don’t be skeptical.

*HappySigh … in the last year I have had great success as an entrepreneur and great disappointments as well. I have already mentioned a couple of million times about the certification from Project Artemis and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program – don’t worry, won’t go into that. What feels even greater is when people from my own country take notice and appreciate what I am doing. I got a right old thrill from giving a workshop at the Pakistan Blog Awards UnConference in Islamabad. The emails and twitter messages I have received since have been extremely encouraging and I know I’ll cherish them for a long time to come. For a little while I gave up on Women’s Digital League telling myself I couldn’t do it anymore and had reached a saturation point. It was pure hell I tell you. Because I know, in fact I am CERTAIN this can work. All I am looking for now is a tech partner who can help with writing code for the portal I  have in mind. Been networking like crazy and taking chances viz a viz my family by attending all sorts of events and sometimes volunteering to even speak at them to raise awareness about WDL and to find someone who would work with me on this. Let’s see if I’ll find someone in 2012.

This is my fav photo of 2011. Eat your hearts out. I am fabulous and I know it. Just because I am not insecure and I don’t flaunt it doesn’t mean I am a nobody. :D Yes, this is how some of you sound when you throw around your accomplishments. Humility is a rare virtue and is often confused with a lack of achievements. Being humble is a trait that may not get me far with people looking for ‘confidence’ (arrogance, really) but I will never change it. I know a lot, have achieved a lot but there is A MOUNTAIN LOAD of work to be done yet both in my personal and professional life. I can’t pretend to know something when I really don’t. Saying oh I am a wonderful businesswoman coz I know it all is just not the truth. I suck at numbers, my Facebook statuses are about how to divide $500 equally among 6 women and that’s how I run my accounts. I am still confused between assets and liabilities, and profit vs revenue but I am not afraid to ask for help. Been planning to run a series of events through the country to promote awareness about online work and startups and the first one is already scheduled for 28th Jan, and I still have to get a sponsor. I am getting nightmares thinking about it but if I don’t pull it through on the 28th will that mean I am a loser who is all talk and can’t get anything done? That’s what I’d have thought a few years back but not any more. These are stumbling blocks and once I stumble and stand up, I’ll find a way to remove the obstacles or work around them and start anew. For now, fingers crossed I pull it through on the set date.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
P.S. Yes, I never edit or reread through anything I write. Feel free to b****. :D

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