Empowerment!

At the Asia Pacific Region Internet Development Dialogue (APRIDD) I attended last week one issue kept coming up – that of access. Some argued that should everyone have access because we say it would bring economic empowerment but what we see is that people just flock onto social sites. So maybe access shouldn’t be for everyone.

Tell me something! Does everyone who go to med school end up becoming a doctor? Does everyone who go to a book store buy books on how to put together a rocket? So just because someone is going to become a housewife after going to college or is going to pick up 50 Shades of Grey that means we should prevent their access to education and bookshops?

Internet Access is a human right now. Once I have access what I do with it is my choice. Same as the right to life is my right and what I do with that life is my choice. But let me make something even clearer. Economic activity is generated when you have social networks. Who do you sell to? How do you even know if something you have is needed by someone to the point you can make money off it? To do that you must be socially connected.

When I started using the Internet it was just for chatting with people (mIRC and AOL) or to send and receive emails. Then a time came when I was using it to help with homework. Then came videos and blogging. But I realized the things I had to say and the way I said them were appreciated. That I actually knew stuff. And when I was fired from my teaching job I turned to the Internet and started selling articles and blogposts and even some data entry stuff. All this led to Women’s Digital League, and here I am.

Did I start off thinking I was going to run a business? No! But was that option available to me when I needed it? Yes! But to get to this point I had to go through the whole process of learning to use the Internet and building social networks and understanding to some extent the options I had available to me.

But even if I never did any of the work I did using the Internet and I just sat home and watched funny cat videos or read latest Hollywood gossip that’s my choice.

And here is a local newspaper featuring me (without my consent or knowledge, though I am not complaining … yet) 😀

express-tribune-self-sufficiency

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeee

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Vanity Fair

Its so frustrating when after fighting fights much bigger than myself and taking on ridiculous challenges and coming out as the victor at 37 years of age I am struggling with body image issues particularly because of my expanding waist line. It just plain disgusts me.

I didn’t have weight issues except for a couple of years between age 10 and 12. Other than that even after two kids (given a generous post-pregnancy time to reclaim my body) I was at an envious weight. And then entrepreneurship hit hard and somewhere along the way the stress that comes naturally with growing a business, working a job, raising kids, looking after the home kinda started getting to me. So more and more time in front of the screen eating whatever the hell I could get my hands on and less time outside enjoying things like the weather or a walk or a hang out with friends.

No, I am not feeling sorry for myself. And I don’t want you to feel sorry for me either. I am just mad at myself. Look at all super successful people. They handle all above I mentioned and yet they stay super fit. I see men and women my age, younger, older, doing way more than me and somehow they keep things together and find the time to exercise and eat healthy.

*screams*

Have tried all kinds of fad diets from the 13 Day Military Diet – I lost 10 lbs in 13 days – and gained it back in 10 days. Tried going on this diet where I had to drink this really yummy chocolate flavored powdered drink twice a day as a meal supplement. That didn’t last v long. Have even tried doing it the right way with an hour-long HIIT and clean-eating with calorie count for 3 months and looked and felt GREAT but then came vacation time and I stuffed my face with carbs and sugar.

KILL ME SOMEONE.

Now all this is making me depressed. I don’t like it. Not so much out of vanity though that’s a reason as well, but more because I am nearing forty and at this rate I will be a whale at 41 and will develop multiple diseases.

Truth is, I LOVE MY WORK. If I had the choice I would do nothing but work on all these cool projects all the time. But I also realize it’s bad for my mental and physical health. Entrepreneurship is cool and it’s OK to be passionate but you need to draw the line somewhere and find time for yourself. And I am struggling to do that.

Can someone help me with the stress, the eating, and the sedentary lifestyle, please?

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

NKOTB

If you don know what that acronym means you are too young and I hate you or you are too old and umm … ok you may stay.

Ran into this kid with a startup. Now you know that’s my favorite kind of person … young, ambitious, innovative, entrepreneurial. He was at a business meeting selling his startup services to this 4 star hotel. And guess what? I thought he was some plumber or other handyman sitting there to receive his check! Now plumbers and handymen are very respectable, hard working people.I am not dissing them. Most days I look like I clean public toilets for a living. But when you go to sell your idea you have to dress for the role. Period! So for example, if you are a professor at Stanford you can get away with a tshirt and shorts in class. If you do the same in Harvard,they will prolly dismiss you from the job on your very first day. You can go into McDonalds in your nightsuit but you have to dress in a certain way to dine at Avari.

So dahlin’ coolsters of today, if you wear slippers, shalwar kameez, and an untamed/unkempt beard to a serious business meeting with an important potential client, forget it. And you are actually being disrespectful.

yoda-meme

Similarly, this new company has started ops in Pakistan and been a year or so. Maybe less. Maybe a little more. But in a bid for rapid expansion to beat competitors to new opportunities they are making some serious mistakes. Such as … ok let me rewind a bit. The company provides on-demand cab services. They don’t own the cars but get them on contract basis from individuals and pay them on a monthly basis or something similar. Reason why I use them is because I felt very safe using the service. I travel a lot and am out of the house at odd hours like 11 pm or something. Now in Pakistan being female and taking a cab at night can be a risky business but I felt this company did lots of background checks on drivers and cars and had GPS so I could relax. Turns out I was wrong!

Yesterday I booked a car for 6:30 AM. The car that came had a green number plate that said Government of Punjab. Now using a government car as a rental is … you can understand … unethical. I was offended but my anger was geared more towards the government than the company. Turns out it was an illegal license plate not used by the government at all. So whoever’s car it was, it was indulging in an illegal activity. WHAT!!! Not cool.Just so not cool. Of course then the Special Monitoring Unit got involved and the company called couple of times. All I am saying is don’t think consumers are fools, and don’t take security for granted.

Ok thanks.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeee

But I Want More

Man, from running a Google-check on my name and finding ZILCH to now when all this really cool stuff pops up, I AM LIVING MORE THAN MY DREAM. But I want more! Some would call this selfish. Others would tell me I was ungrateful. I say wanting more is what keeps us going.

So the latest idea is to start an IDEA Center. You know – a kind of, sort of, community center but more. Or maybe less. People can just walk in and know that everyone present is v open to hearing them out. Discussing things. No matter how quirky, crazy it may sound. Add to it a co-working space. You can just walk in and grab a bean bag (or just sit on the floor) and do whatever you need to do. Heck, spend the whole day if you want. No money required. But in return you have to give back in some way. I dunno – maybe listen out someone’s idea. Give a 2 hour workshop over the weekend. Offer to give pick and drop to the people. Bring food. Or tea. ANYTHING you can offer.

Invite people visiting town to spare some time and come meet our people. Slowly add a library. A tiny cafe where tea costs Rs 20 ($2) and a plate of samosa with chutney is Rs 30 ($30). Cheap and fun and useful place for people of all ages to just hang out. If we feel the place is getting crowded, we have a HOUSEFULL sign displayed.

Please, let’s do this. It would be so much fun. And it’s not even that expensive. All I need is 3 months of uninterrupted time to work on this. HAHAHA – that made me laugh – not happening any time soon. But hey, if you are up for it and SERIOUSLY up for some hard as s*** work that pays you ZERO in monetary terms in the short run, COME OVER.

Eeeeeeeeeeeee

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

And then everyone WINS!

Almost SEVEN years! Time does fly – takes several breaks to crap on you – but it flies. Women’s Digital League started as FIRST and ONLY social enterprise of its’ kind promoting and providing online computer-based work to Pakistani service providers. Of course, we were gender-biased and still are. But regardless of that, we were the pioneers. At a time when people scoffed at the idea, closed doors in my face, mocked me, gave friendly advises on NOT continuing with it and continuing with my teaching career WDL kept plodding away. SLOW AND STEADY never made sense to me until WDL.

Today, WDL has several franchising offers, a World Bank grant under its belt, recognition on several platforms including FORBES and ASHOKA *insert crazy blood-curdling excited screams*. WE WERE EVEN ON MASHABLE before Mashable decided to post articles on male health (ahem) and 9 year olds getting all excited about meeting Trump.

UN, WB, USAID, investors and VCs are pouring in Alahmdulillah (easy – I am not detonating anything – merely praising God for everything! Gosh, peeps! *eyeroll). I have offers from people in other countries to expand there. It’s just crazy.

But what makes me really happy is that FINALLY this crazy idea is being taken up by others who are MAD and implemented. My mission was always to have people believe and come into the field. It was lonely being the only one. I am so excited to see new faces doing incredible work creating digital livelihoods. Hundreds and thousands of people trained throughout the country in working online doing graphics, WordPress, social media, article writing, data entry … the awesome interactions taking place, the stories coming up … it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Currently, the grant we received from WB back in April 2015 for just one training has been extended and we are now conducting 10 trainings over a period of 12 months. Who would have thought! World Bank hiring me as a consultant to run a digital livelihood program! RIDICULOUS!

There is this quote by Gandhi I found a while ago and have been in love since finding out;

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Giving up is never an option. Perseverance always pays off and that’s the quality of an entrepreneur. Tell you the truth, just last week I broke down while on my way to a meeting. When I say broke down I mean I actually sobbed in the backseat of a rental with a driver who was a complete stranger. Decided I didn’t want to attend the meeting, didn’t want to have anything to do with WDL and that I just couldn’t handle it any more. Some would argue I shouldn’t be making this pubic because it would make people hesitant in investing in WDL or me but WHAT THE HELL. Since when have I ever played it by the rules.

Anyhoo what I was trying to say is that Gandhi forgot one thing. He forgot to mention … “And in the end everyone wins” because when you are doing good in whatever way you are actually multiplying the effect.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Hey Scaredy Cat

Interacted with a bunch of startups and more mature business owners. then darling friend Salma Jafri (@salmajafri) asked something similar on Twitter. Thought I’d share it with you loyal PakiMom-ers before I lose my urge to write.

If you have launched something stop being scared of not being able to deliver. Look at Patari. They launch an invite-only beta. This not only keeps them from getting overwhelmed while just finding a foothold. Also is a great marketing strategy ‘coz it adds the exclusivity angle. We all like feeling important and flaunting our exclusive access even if we may not use it all that much.

Also, I will continue with the Patari example since its local and more relatable. So everyone knows Patari now. Their unique selling points. Many others will jump into the field. They will have the advantage of having Patari already there having done their market research for them and all the feedback people have. The dos and donts. So developers will have no problem replicating the thing, making it prettier, cleaner, even reaching out to same artists and offering them something better/more. But while this may sound like a negative it actually could also work to Patari’s advantage. While others are copying them they can add new things, improve and roll out new features. That way their competitors will always be a step behind them. Remember the idea is easy and anyone can copy it. No big deal. I mean we know Facebook – lets make one and all become billionaires. But whats difficult is the entrepreneurial spirit that comes with it which means thinking ahead and doing new things all the time many of which may not work out but the few that do become game changers.

Feel free to disagree. Not like I care. Duh.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Feel

Stuff

1 – Deactivated Twitter for a month. Wiped off all data. Signed up again. Same handle … @MariaUmar. Why? Dunno. I just did. No, not an attention seeker. On the contrary … had quite some followers. But you will think what you think so whatever.

2. WDL received a $6000 grant from World Bank to run a pilot on online work in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Training 20 women in creating a digital livelihood. Diverse backgrounds. 7 of them now working – 3 as writers, 2 on social media, 1 on data entry, and one on research.

3. ^ also means I can now officially call myself a WB Consultant. Very cool.

4. Spoke at several events, attended even more.

5. Do I sound bored? No, I am not. Just don’t feel like documenting everything.

6. Do you want to see something super awesome? For the WDL KPK campaign, my fav graphic designer, Nida Salman created these graphics that EVERYONE is talking about. From concept to execution it’s all her.

Message to women from conservative backgrounds that wearing a scarf and concealing their faces did not mean they had to kill their dreams.

Message to women from conservative backgrounds that wearing a scarf and concealing their faces did not mean they had to kill their dreams.

Girls are often told their

Girls are often told their culinary skills, especially making a perfect round roti or bread is their biggest asset. But it’s time to break that stereotype.

Another take on the "Gol Roti" syndrome.

Another take on the “Gol Roti” syndrome.

Sewing Machine has been seen as a sign of women empowerment for ages. You see the government and charity organizations distributing these pretending to be for female empowerment when they are missing the point. Education and dignified work is what women need.

Sewing Machine has been seen as a sign of women empowerment for ages. You see the government and charity organizations distributing these pretending to be for female empowerment when they are missing the point. Education and dignified work is what women need.

These posters make me as excited today as they did a month ago.

Want to thank Qazi Jalal the sweetest, most humble, extremely helpful guy I know. If I ever vote PTI know it’s only because of him.

Don’t have energy to go into details of any of above.

OK byeeeeeeeeee