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.
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.
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.