The Promise is Fulfilled

So all of you now don’t go and die (Translated from “Ab saray maro mat”). I promised you photographs and photographs though shalt get.

 

 

 

 

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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. 😀 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

Chugging Along Just Fine

I love the sound of that word. Chugging. Can see a fiery red steam engine billowing smoke along dangerously curving tracks over huge barren mountains with a clear blue sky above with not a hint of white or grey or any ripple. Happy thoughts. 🙂

So here is what we are doing with WDL. Me and my long-time business advisor and mentor have come together formally and are registering WDL as an NGO (Non-governmental organization). Idea is to make WDL a training platform for women … something I had never had much focus on until quite recently. I always left the training bit to my freelancers and also to partner organizations. Have come to realize that unless someone like myself who has experience of the actual freelancing world comes forward and shows these ladies how to work and find work online WDL will have trouble finding the right workforce. So here we are now. The registration is still in process but we are certain that’s what we are going to do.

Work Love Before you start with your sarcasm, yes I know I have always said I hated being an NGO auntie. You know the kind with the Birkin bag, Chanel shades and beautiful mani/pedi asking for donation to buy pencils and erasers for poor slum kids? *shudder. Also, spending money on NGOs in a country where they have so much negative connotation around them seems like such a waste. Why not invest in a socent instead? A hard core for-profit business working for the community aiming to make everyone rich and not just the top-tier. I may have a way too simplistic approach to things and correct me if I am wrong but doesn’t it make more sense to actually invest in a business that would work to eradicate a social problem and at the same time be sustainable? Because with NGOs they are mostly only dependent on aid and the moment the aid agency decides to pull the plug on a certain project or just wrap up its activity in a certain area or country, the NGO’s work goes kaput. They may be in the middle of something wonderful but without necessary funding they have to wrap up things and go home until another donor agency comes along. A socent on the other hand will come with a proper business plan. Invest rather than give charity!! It’s so frustrating how millions or perhaps billions of dollars are being dispersed this way without really showing significant results.

NGO

But what I am saying is over the past 5 years I have done a lot considering how and where I started from. They needed idea validation. I gave idea validation. I won’t even name the organizations, publications that have been witness to the validity of WDL’s concept. But no money has ever come in. Perhaps its a girl thing. Now if I had been running a pastry business from home and wanted to make a cafe people would invest in it. But being a woman and wanting money to start a tech biz makes people hesitant. Maybe people are just callous and couldn’t care less about a business that keeps 20% in commission and gives away the rest to the service providers because they’d rather keep 60% because hey, they could hire someone full time for same work for a quarter of that. Why hurt the social fabric? Let the poor get only enough to live by … don’t let them experience any better because then they will start asking for more which will make it hard for us to get even richer.

Yes, I am somewhat angry. However, the plan has always been to reach as many people as possible and if that means becoming an NGO, so be it. I have nothing to worry about. 5 years may have proven to people how big an idiot I am but they know I am an honest, sincere idiot. Money is the last thing that could corrupt me.

Am just so fortunate to have the best group of people to work with and to have by my side as supporters. Just having a mentor who believes enough in me to want to partner feels AWESOME. Will be starting training in Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) in May, got training in Hunza (yayyy), tons of other very exciting things happening that I will try and keep my mouth shut about until they happen. Found out the hard way if you share your plans with people they will just go ahead and do them behind your back. :/ I hate growing up!!

In FUN news, I went sightseeing with a friend. Found the most amazing place 5 minutes drive from home – the Shalimar Gardens. Sighhhhh …. just thinking about it makes my heart beat all funny. I will let you Google the history and all but what struck me was that I never expected it to be what it was. Does that make sense? I was on a rickshaw with this friend and we get to this dirty, dusty road. We stopped by a terribly vandalized wall. On closer look I saw a door build inside it with garbage heaps on either side. And then after buying a Rs 5 ticket a rather amused guard let us in the door.

 

Shalima Gardens

And Oh. My. God. I had goosebumps. That’s all I can recall of the first 5 minutes inside. Couldn’t even tell why. All I know was I felt like I hadn’t found a Secret Garden but like I had found a person. Someone who was both warm and fuzzy but also there was a coolness … something only people living in hot climates would understand. Like the gentle hand of a loved one cupping your hot face on a humid afternoon and surprising you with how cool it feels. I know people like that. People whose hands are always cool … not a startling cold … but a gentle soothing coolness. If you know what I mean then that’s how it felt. Everything was connected. Like … like a body is. Not like a man-made building or garden. Like if you take out even one tree, one blade of grass, you will scar it. I know the place is not what the emperor who built it meant for it to be … every ruler who came made changes to it, its a victim to plunderers but still … there is something that I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps I am not meant to. It’s a feeling. An experience. My life is so enriched for having been to the place.

Perhaps I should start writing YA novels. Throw in a few vampires. Hmm …

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

On Turning 35 and more

Uhhhhh ….

Ummmm ….

Errrr ….

*Minion-ese*

I am brand ambassador for #NestleNesvitaWomenOfStrength campaign. Khirad *sharam* (Don’t worry if you don’t understand this – it’s from a superhit Pakistani TV drama).

Am waiting for the video they made. Or maybe I am not. I tried following a script to answer their Qs. But they wouldn’t have it. And we all know when I speak from the heart I get into trouble. *biting nails*.

Here is an example:

For those of you who understand urdu … I made a Pathan joke. Ugh. Those who don’t, I MADE A PATHAN JOKE. *facepalm. Being a blueblooded pushtun is perhaps the reason I don’t have people calling me racist.

Alauddin - Nestle Nesvita Women of Strength Campaign 1

A photo from the campaign.

Anyway, I am glad the video (yet to go live) was shot at Alauddin. It’s my second fav place now … almost as magical as Hunza. Did I tell you I was going to Hunza for a whole month in July In sha Allah? Yes, Sir, I am. Woo hoo.

Was invited to a seminar arranged by British Council Pakistan. The US Embassy will always be my first love (think Artemis) but it was nice to hear a different English. *grin. As skeptical as I was the experience really was quite wonderful. Best part was meeting Dr Quratulain Bakhteari. The lady has a PhD in pit toilets. I meet people like these … who just quietly go through life touching people, working for them, and I somehow want to just cry. So easy to make people’s lives better. All it takes is a little bit of our time and yet we don’t do it. Why? Emo much? Oh well.

British Council Seminar

One epic moment at the seminar. I have been trying to avoid this anecdote but I can’t help it. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. So, during a panel discussion on how we can use technology to engage civil society, moderator asked us how we can capitalize on a hyper connected youth. This person representing the IT Ministry gave the BEST answer. Remember, I said IT Ministry. He said the best way to engage this tech-savvy, socially connected youth was to build playgrounds and get them involved in sports!!! OMG. OMG. ROFL. *splutter gasp* #facepalm. Sigh.

What else? Ummm …. nothing much really. Oohhh yeah. I turned 35. Wow. I always used to think 35 was old. But I don’t feel old. Is that normal? Pretty much feel the same as I did at 15. Except I have some grey hair now. And I weigh a ton. Or two tons. But I feel just as stupid as I did before. Somehow the same stupid thoughts make people think I am clever now. Find me inspiring. Strange how perspectives can change. However, not sure how I feel about it. As long as I wasn’t relatively famous I knew who were my friends most of the time. Now, I am not. I mean I think I do but then I find out the hard way they are just people who are intrigued. They have an idea of who I am and then they are disappointed when they find out I am not who they thought I was. That I really meant what I told them about me and I wasn’t just being self-deprecating. And it’s like they are taken aback and shocked that I can be human. But oh well. I am not competing with anyone on being nice.

The only person you should try be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

 

It’s Finally Happening!

i-TECH IT Training Center, KADO

i-TECH IT Training Center, KADO

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.

Passu, Gojal, Hunza

Passu, Gojal, Hunza

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.

Attabad Lake Hunza Gojal

Attabad Lake Hunza Gojal

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.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Snippets from Past Few Weeks

Been a bit disturbed and distracted lately. My country is going through a really tough time and it hurts me to see it that way. Growing up I always thought people hurt other people for money, power, position. Now I am finding out they also kill for God. And a God that they all believe in but each wants the other to believe in Him exactly the same way s/he does. It’s all very confusing. I was going through my Facebook feed and I came across a quote by Rumi that resonates so well with everything happening.

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

Anyway ……

I got great news today from the Hunza today. The NGO that I was working with to help bring digital work to the area has received grants to train 1500 locals in various kinds of online work. 60% of those trained are going to be women. I am so excited I can’t sit still. This area has 100% literacy rate in people 30 and below. They have advance, postgrad degrees from some of the top universities in Pakistan. If this works out, it’s going to be HUGE.

In other news, am thinking of registering TDL as a not-for-profit. Am a bit hesitant as the last effort to register as a sole proprietorship ended up with no results at all. If you know someone who can help me get it done with minimal hassle and a guarantee it will work out, get me in touch please.

Saw my beautiful guapa Amy after almost 2 years! I love technology and above all, Skype. We had a great video call reminiscing, laughing, planning, catching up. Wish everyone could understand that basic human feelings remain constant through every country, age, religion … if you are loved, won’t you love back? If you are respected, aren’t you gonna give it back? And if you are valued, will you respond any differently? I can never understand people who live in a different country but refuse to truly become a part of it because they are afraid of losing their identity or afraid of being treated badly. You receive what you give.

Pakistan mornings and Arizona nights were never filled with so much laughter!!!

Pakistan mornings and Arizona nights were never filled with so much laughter!!!

Ooohhh … had these lovely keychains made for TDL by the very talented Varah Musavvir of Firefly.

We Can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.

The Digital League - Empowering Pakistan One Digital Task at a Time

The Digital League – Empowering Pakistan One Digital Task at a Time

The Beauties

The Beauties

Thought these would be great for some marketing and for friendly give-aways.

Welcoming guys into The Digital League is proving to be a blessing and a great move. I am a feminist at heart and will always give preference to women-SPs over male ones (sorry boys!) but let’s face it – not very many women know setting up CRM systems and playing with SVGs. So am really glad to have these boys on the team now. Something tells me I am going in the right direction finally and it feels good.

OK then ….

byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee