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



Just some Tidbits

Alright peeps … you know I love you all so here is some little info from the ICT Trade Mission.

1. YouTube is NEVER getting unblocked. Nope. Got it from the horse’s mouth (funny expression, right?). Had a lively (ahem) disucssion right at the Google HQ at Mountain View. So happens that YouTube/Google has banned the blasphmous video which was why YT was blocked in dear ol’ Pakistan. NOT because YT/G suddenly becamse sensitive to Muslim feelings but because an actor in the video filed a copyright or something suit. Now PTA has no reason to keep the website blocked except that if anyone dares to give verdict in its favor some WAY BETTER Muslim than any of us will take offence and decide that person no longer has the right to live. You know what I mean? So that’s that.

2. The not-so-important ministries in Pakistan such as the IT Ministry are given away to whoever raises their hand first. ‘Nuff said.

3. Higher echelons believe we (as in Pakistanis) don’t have enough talent and hence foreign governments need to step in not only to give us monetary aid but also intellectual aid. For example, NO ONE in Pakistan knows about eGovernance so the government would like to import people who do. Ummm … I’d like to request the Pakistani government to please use google for something other than looking for stuff to ban. Thank you.

4. No one is doing business with Pakistan because we don’t have good piracy laws and the few that we do are not implemented. One point raised was about downloading movies and music. My question to them was, “I want to use iTunes and Amazon etc to buy music, ebooks, movies but we don’t have PayPal and our credit cards are not accepted online. NOT watching latest movies or listening to music is not an option. So, what choices do I have?” Was that a fair question? *Hint: Do not respond unless it’s in the affirmative.

5. Microsoft won’t come to Pakistan until we stop using pirated software. A point raised by many on the delegation: MS needs to lower its prices because when it comes to a choice between ridiculously expensive and free, guess which wins? Pakistan is a good sized market and currently we are using the software for free. If they lower the price a bit we will pay for it because who likes to see that annoying “Your copy of Windows/MS is not registered” message pop up all the time? I wouldn’t mind paying $50 for a good bundle with Outlook and Publisher.

If this gets me into trouble I promise I will write a much more detailed post ‘coz that’s how I roll ;)

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Some ministers believe that YouTube is not relevant to a country like Pakistan and small businesses working with social media do not matter. #facepalm

ICT Trade Mission

Been back a while from my awesome possum trip to the US. Still horrendously jetlagged or maybe its the winter creeping into my ol’ bones and making me lazy. Dunno. Either way, about time I got my act together and started workign ‘coz I tell you my peeps, I got tons to do.

This blog post is not gonna be any different than previous ones. Just confused, random thoughts all over the place. But it helps me get stuff out of the way onto this digital page so I can start thinking about new stuff or put things into perspective. So here we go.

Was invited to a one week ICT Trade Mission by the US State Department. Me and a couple other women were sponsored by the US-Pakistan Women Council hence how I was there. Yes, I am still poor and can not afford a trip to Murree never mind the US. Had some big shots from the Pakistani ICT industry including minsiters, chairman this-and-that, CEOs of fancy firms. US Ambassador to Pakistan accompanied us on the mission. Actually, the whole thing was his idea. He is really keen on geteting trade dialogue going between the 2 countries. Great guy except that he was at Google HQ in Mountain View and it was his first time and he was completely calm!! How can you not be excited about being inside Google? I asked what would get him as excited as us  and he said a trip to the beach. But why, I ask you? You can Google the beach! Oh well … !

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Spent 2 days in Washington DC. Stayed at the same hotel I did 3 years ago while on Artemis/10k. Missed the girls terribly. Walked through rain to the National Mall, visited Capitol Hill, went to the Smithsonians – and did all of this in my kolhapuris. I AM INVINCIBLE! And just in case you don’t know what a kolhapuri is:

Kolhapuris

Met Saba Ghouri at the State Department. I almost cried. Had been reminiscing about her just an hour ago with a friend and telling her how she was in Islamabad these days. And in she walked. Got to meet new director of US Pak Women Council, new director Econ at US Embassy Islamabad, had a great meeting with Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell.

Had my dream come true as we flew to San Francisco to spend 4 dreamy days at Silicon Valley. I DIED of excitement. Visited Stanford, almost got run over by the campus bus, had a mouth-gaping-wide-open lecture by 2 professors, decided I love the academia more than any other specie, was given a personal tour of the campus by one of the professors. It was one of those moments when your faith in God multiplies by a gazillion times and its reaffirmed that He listens to everything I say to Him but He waits for the right moment to grant you your wish.

Went down to Microsoft and Google and Oracle HQs for meetings. They were all great but somehow they paled in comparison to Stanford.

Here is the earliest adapter of Google Lollipop. :P

I am the earliest adapter of Google Lollipop. :P

Forgot to nick this for brags but glad I got this photo at least.

Forgot to nick this for brags but glad I got this photo at least.

Junglee in Stanford - see that bus behind me? It almost ran me over coz I didn't wait to check if there was anything behind me. Almost the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Junglee in Stanford – see that bus behind me? It almost ran me over coz I didn’t wait to check if there was anything behind me. Almost the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Take aways:

– Made acquaintance of some wonderful people who accompanied us on the trade mission. Got to know others I knew from before more closely and some misconceptions were removed.

– Stanford tops Google.

– Academia tops programmers and coders and CEOs.

– I know about entrepreneurship … 6 years have taught me a lot.

– Being friendly comes naturally but putting people in their place early on when they get out of line is important.

– Jet lag sucks.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Orientation on Digital Livelihood, Going Dutch, Monsoon, and other stories

LCWU DFDI OrientationHad a great orientation on Digital Livelihood at the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU). Being there makes me feel old. GOD! College for me was ages ago. Graduated in 2000. But I digress. So went and told them my story, gave them an idea about working online, an idea of why it was important for women to work. Note to self: I need to work more on it – make it tighter and more focused so I am not running around in circles. Had a healthy turnout. Let’s see how many actually register. You can see album from the orientation here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.658595287580704.1073741924.234046770035560&type=1 

 

Met with my Dutch journalist friend. She ran the story she did last time she was here. It’s in Dutch of course but she said she would share links which of course I will share with you all my lovelies. Amazing how similar people are everywhere. All these differences of religion and culture are in our heads. I mean this woman is from Netherlands. A journalist, a divorcee, with an adopted daughter. On the surface we have nothing in common. But underneath the layers of skin color and clothes and language we are so much alike. Guess when you put away prejudices and preconceived notions and give people a real chance that you see a common thread of humanity. People are born good. It’s time and experiences that turn us more one way or the other. Another note to self: Don’t judge people by who they pretend to be – give them an honest chance. 

The monsoon in Lahore has been CRAZY. Thankfully our house didn’t get flooded but all the ceilings started to leak to an extent that I was scared of turning on the lights in case there is a short circuit. Government and political parties too busy participating in the circus in Islamabad. Lahore, the city that the provincial government promised to turn into Paris, ended up becoming Venice. Case in point … 

Lahore turns into Venice

WDL is giving a scholarship to this AH-MAZING online entrepreneurship mentoring course. ‘Young Entrepreneur Mentorship’ is a 3-semester mentoring program spearheaded by Sandi Krakowski. Sandi is the President & Founder of A Real Change International, Inc. She is also one of the most sought after marketers in the world, specializing in social media, copywriting and digital media. She has homeschooled all 3 of her sons, and has personally mentored many young people who have created a 6-figure income online in under 24 months.

The scholarship is worth $497 and is open for all women between the age of 16 and 25 who are interested in starting their businesses or want to take their business to the next level. More details available at http://www.arealchange.com/blog/young-entrepreneur-mentorship-opens-week

If you or someone you know is interested and exhibits qualities like leadership, passion, perseverance and a strong will to help others then please write to query@womensdigitalleague.com with “The Young Entrepreneur Mentorship” in the subject line. 10 shortlisted women will be interviewed by moi for the spot. Selected person will have to volunteer with WDL for 3 months after the program. 

OK … that’s all folks. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

The Dirty ‘F’ Word for Startups and Other Things

The Send Maria To School campaign FAILED! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee (that’s me getting excited over nothing). Couldn’t find 1250 people to donate $8. *Sob. But did find many friends who rose to the challenge and donated very generously. Still a long way from my goal so decided to return the money. 100% of those who wrote back said they wanted me to keep it and use it for WDL. How awesome is that! Here is the thing. Crowdfunding is such a cool concept and it really works. But to make it successful you need to have a team of people working with you. You will need someone to run your social media campaign, do your graphics, write emails to network, send thank you emails, send updates, put up latest info on the campaign on whatever platform you are using and so on. Plus, you need to do it from a proper platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo or if most of your network is in the MENA or Pakistan you can try Zoomaal. With the other 2 platforms sometimes credit cards from these regions are not accepted. Zoomaal is based in MENA so it won’t give you any problem with your plastic. Also, of all the donations received the one that touched me the most is from Sidra Qasim. Sidra is the co-founder of an e-commerce startup called Markhor. Out of nowhere she sent me $50. Knowing how hard-pressed startups are for money this gesture really won me over. Thank you once again Sidra and Waqas. 

Recently made acquaintance of this really inspiring young man. Imran Ali Rajput is the founder of Inovadors, a startup aiming to ‘bridge the gap between education and employment’. This guy came out of nowhere and made it to the first ever week-long MITx Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. He is the only person to get selected from Pakistan. You can read more about it here. Unfortunately he couldn’t find any sponsors. I can’t tell you how frustrated that makes me with everything. We have tons of money to spend on stupid workshops that serve no purpose except to show donor agencies we are doing something. Even more is spent on startup competitions, that I completely endorse, but if startups like Inovadors are not finding sponsors for such huge opportunities then what exactly is the purpose of holding these events? Now he has been selected for the Web Summit in Dublin. I truly hope he finds someone to pay for him to attend. If you know someone who can help or you have any ideas please do share them. 

Above is just one example. The guy just happened to connect with me. I wonder how many others are missing out on huge opportunities just because they can’t find funding. :( 

Other than that, it’s all good. Kids have started school. THANK GOD FOR THAT. They were driving me nuts expecting me to entertain them every day. I have started drinking the yuckiest possible homemade juices. An example? Cabbage, cucumber, spinach, carrot, mango, apple, plum, beet, ginger, lemon concoction. :D Told you it was disgusting. 

The Digital League just finished working on this really cool website for a client. Check it out here. This involved a lot of sweat and blood and I am so proud of my team. I still hope for the day when I can source out such work to WDL. Any girl-coders in Pakistan out there who can deliver such work? DO get in touch. 

Have a workshop at Lahore College for Women University starting 15th September. Looking forward to that. Involves some surprise guests. Will share more later ;) This is strictly for students of the university. However, if you are interested in attending drop me an email at maria (at) womensdigitalleague (dot) com and I will see what I can do. 

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Still waiting for the NGO registration to go through for WDL. Oh yeah … a Malaysian friend/client has got my Hunza team working on a data scraping project. We have 20 women engaged. It’s so awesome. Am really excited. There was definitely a learning curve there and we are still trying to figure out most efficient way of extracting data (we = client and us) but it’s really cool that the women are getting a first hand experience of how online work is actually possible. The procurement officer in Hunza tells me the women are having such a grand time they even come to work on weekends. :) :) It’s my dream to have this model replicated through out Pakistan. 

OK no more to add. Take care my lovelies. Don’t let anyone get you down. Stay away from negative people. You are wonderful as you are. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 P.S. The ‘F’ word = FUNDING 

Negativity – Let It Go

People will bring you down no matter what you do. There will always be something you didn’t do right. Something someone thinks you or they could have done differently. A dear friend was telling me just today about how social entrepreneurs will forever face the dilemma of going with fulfilling their dream and getting rewarded with immense personal gratification, and following the set rule of success and measuring it in terms of money.

“What is your revenue?”

“How many people do you employ?”

“How come you don’t even have an office?”

So many questions. So many DUMB questions to put to someone working to bring a sustainable social change. Foolish questions to ask a social entrepreneur spending every minute of his/her life envisioning and working for a social revolution that will make lives better and not just bring in VCs. Makes me question the person’s knowledge of what a socent actually is.

Then there are those saying they would do it differently. My question to them; Why don’t you? I don’t own copyrights to running digital livelihood workshops and connecting people to work. Fast rewind to my first blog posts. I have said it time and time again I am not one to get scared of challenges. And no one can stop me from doing something I truly believe in. Everyone I went to with the idea for WDL said NO. They said it was impossible. So here I am doing it myself. My journey has been no secret. It’s all here on this very blog. Been saying if I couldn’t make it happen it was OK. Maybe someone will pick it up from where I leave (which would only be when I die or someone actually makes my dream a reality) and take it to the next step.

My “marketing tactics” have been questioned. Something about how I am cashing in on being from South Waziristan and a woman and a Pakistani and working for digital livelihood and using that as leverage to get attention. Can I help being in a unique position? All of that is true but just how many times have I pitched myself as a poor lil helpless D.I.D. running away from my oppressed past? Or plastered black, yellow, brown, orange faces with myself patronizing them? People find out from word of mouth about WDL and they are curious and then they want to tell the world about it. Am I supposed to say “No” to them just because I make some people uncomfortable and insecure? So if Pakistan has a dormant workforce and faces challenges in working I am not supposed to highlight it? Puhleaze! On the contrary to what some excuse me of I am telling the world we have a LARGE UNTAPPED EDUCATED SKILLED workforce and all it lacks is opportunity. Millions of little girls are denied and education but MILLIONS do go to school and college and universities. Pushtun women have perhaps a harder time especially those from Waziristan and rest of FATA but we are NOT the oppressed, illiterate lot the World wants us to be or knows us to be. I am one example of the women who came forward and said HELL WITH ALL YOUR MEDIA-FED PERCEPTION. I am as Pakistani, as Waziristani, as it gets. I am a woman. I have an education. I am doing tech. Our fathers and brothers and husbands are NOT the cruel savages they are made out to be. There are many more like me … many MUCH MORE intelligent, educated, empowered then me. Stop stereotyping me.

So how the hell am I using any marketing tactic here? I don’t remember even referring to my tribal background ever in any interview. I am taking a social media detox for this reason. I am so sick and tired of all the negativity. Always under a microscope being judged for every word that I tweet or put up on FB. This is precisely why I don’t talk about work on social media and blog as little as possible. This constant scrutiny. It’s like I can never do anything right. Now I know the moment you read this post you will be like oh she is aiming for sympathy/empathy. UGH! I wish I could say I don’t give a crap. But I do. I mean not enough to stop being me. But enough to want to go get a sugar high and then hate myself for it.

In other happier news, had a great 3 days in Islamabad with the familia and friends. Miss this city. Just being able to walk from Shaheen Chemist to Kohsar Market to sit in GJC for a smoothie and then walking down to Kuch Khaas which is my “safe spot”. Off to Lahore tomorrow via train. Sighhh … I am not liking the place so far but having a house in the most green area in the city helps a lot.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Aerosmith’s Angel is still goosebump inducing.
P.P.S. Goosebumps remind me … I had the BIGGEST HUGEST BUMPIEST goosebumps listening to Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Baig. Pakistan’s first mountaineer sibling duo from Hunza climbed 7 peaks in 7 continents including the highest, Mount Everest. Oppressed women? OH SHUT UP ALREADY!
Samina Baig and Mirza Baig