Either Help Me or Shut Up

I am sick and tired of people, especially young kids from KPK, asking me why I don’t work in my own province. Never mind work, why I don’t even attend any events I am invited to in Peshawar. Maybe this will help you all.

BECAUSE MY FAMILY WON’T ALLOW ME!

Did you see what happened to that teenage girl? I am not pro or anti Malala. She is a kid. And what happened to her was horrifying. But the moment she gets hit and media gets into a frenzy over it and take her to the UK all hell breaks lose. I have never read more disgusting and abusive words being spoken for a little girl whose only fault was she was trying to tell the world about the situation in Swat Valley viz-a-viz girl education. Why did that happen? ‘Coz she was a girl and it was easy to malign her. Not only pushtuns, its a national phenomenon. I went on this trade mission to the US just recently. Some FB Page posted a picture of the whole delegation. There were 3 other women besides myself. Here are some of the comments that picture received:

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Yes, I am not covering any names. It’s publicly available on the FB page so why should I trouble myself. And I don’t want to translate what’s written there. All I am saying is when you have people like that who in their right mind would want to work in such a public manner? Some very brave women still do and they don’t care but they have their families supporting them or they have broken away from their families. I don’t have either and also I don’t have the courage to go ahead and work tirelessly round the clock to make things better for everyone in whatever way I can and then be publicly abused and called names. And even if I had my family’s support I still wouldn’t do it.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want to work in KPK. I am going to but as Mufasa said in Lion King, “Being brave does not mean you go looking for trouble”. I am gonna do what I need to do and find a way where people won’t be able to point fingers. I already am. But doesn’t mean I am very public with it. I started a small company called The Digital League about a year ago. It has its office in Basecamp Peshawar. It employs a few local boys and also supports the co-working space. I am always open for mentoring and advise to anyone anywhere. Also, with respect to speaking engagements, if a university or college invites me for a session I will be more than happy to attend. I am doing what I can to bring WDL to KPK but it doesn’t mean I have to be the face of it – I have other plans.

If you ask me what is more important to me riches and success or honor … I will always go with honor. Call me old school, coward, hypocrite … but that’s how it is. And to those in KPK and from KPK raising fingers, please do tell how many of you have wives, sisters, daughters working in the development sector leading public lives and interacting with 100s of men on a daily basis in KP? You understand our culture better but you still point fingers – please do come up with some examples now.

YES I AM ANNOYED AND ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED SO EITHER COME FORWARD AND HELP ME OR JUST STOP BEING SO JUDGMENTAL. Or I will huff and puff and blow your house down.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Women Entrepreneurs – The Dots Connect Looking Backwards

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

It’s as cliché to start an article about entrepreneurship with a Steve Jobs quote as it was to end an essay in school with an Allama Iqbal couplet. The latter we did because his poetry was shown before every news hour on dear ol’ PTV in the days before we were familiar with the term channel surfing. But I can honestly say Jobs hits the right notes almost every time.

I am one of the foolish ones, the crazy ones, the mad ones, the ones with the constant hunger for better. I am an entrepreneur. A very romantic notion in the country we live in. Building something amongst the chaos surrounding Pakistan is absolute madness. We are torn by the worse wave of sectarianism and terrorism ever. Power shortage, redtape, strikes are the norm. Add to it the fact I am a pushtun woman with a Master’s degree in English Literature.

There are loads of Mad-Hatters out there but I take the cake.

So how challenging is it to be a woman entrepreneur in Pakistan! Let’s take it one step at a time.

The Lack of Guidance

You are sitting with a crying baby in your lap and the next big business idea hits you. Now what do you do with it since you don’t have a business degree, not that those have ever produced anything but great managers. The first challenge is to find someone who has been there, done that, and will listen to your idea. Of course your friends and family brush it off as a continuation of your postpartum depression. Now you start scouring the Internet for “I have hit the next big idea since the light bulb. Who do I contact”. Find a few helpful articles, hopefully land on Quora. If you are really intelligent you will turn to LinkedIn and look for CEOs, founders etc of various businesses in Pakistan. Having a nice display picture helps at this point. IF they accept your invitation you will send out lovingly drafted messages about your idea and hope they reply back. Maybe, just maybe, a few will. And even maybe-ier then maybe, one of those emails will actually be helpful in telling you what to do.

The Harassment

You take the address of the kind guy (let’s not kid ourselves – it WILL be a guy and not a gal) and go pay him a visit. You ask all your carefully planned questions. You get crap MBA-type answers – all right but completely useless. But of course you don’t know it at that point. You sit a bit more, sip on some tea, get asked strange questions that appear innocent but something tells you they aren’t. Still you leave feeling forever indebted to the guy. You reach home and he has added you on Facebook, Skype and also sent you an emoticon on Viber. Hmm.

The Maanneee

Bless your heart. You really think any bank will give you a loan? Yes they will talk to you kindly. A woman entrepreneur is still a pretty rare specie. But don’t let them fool you. To get a loan you need to have 3 or 4 different accounts and show movement between them (I am forgetting the exact term here). You also need to have property in your name. No, not gold and car but actual land and building sort of property. And let’s face it – who gives property to a woman in this country? The father and brother don’t believe in it because it would split their family wealth. The husband doesn’t because she is an outsider and might leave him any time with it. So you can forget it.

The “Log Kia Kahein Ge” (What will people think!)

In the beginning your family will let you be. It will be highly amusing to see you trying to set up shop. Endearing, actually. But wait till you actually start making it happen. Have you read Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind? Just to give you a quick idea – the men leave to fight the American Civil War. Women are left to tend for themselves. Many start doing business such as open a general store or a bakery. The remaining men and society in general love the idea and help out the women by buying stuff they don’t need. But Scarlett O’Hara is looked down upon for starting a business. Why? Because she is very successful at it. You see … it will be alright as long as you don’t make anyone feel insecure. After all, a successful entrepreneur is a threat. I mean give a woman some money of her own and she will definitely bring dishonor to the fam. Everyone will try and persuade you into giving it up. Most (over)used argument will be, “Log kia kahein ge!” (What will people think!). Tongues will start wagging about how you meet men to get business. Who knows what antics you use to get them to buy from you! If you are married they will also tell you your husband won’t find you woman enough as a man likes dim-witted trophy wives that churn out one dish after the other in the kitchen while looking like Vidya Balan in Parineeta. Nobody wants a wife that talks numbers and gets her hands dirty at a factory.

Now, now ladies. Don’t let my whining scare you off. Being anentrepreneur is awfully exciting and gratifying. I get to be my own boss. Wake up when I want to and work when I want to. I can spend the entire day actually thinking, planning and creating rather than discussing which was better, Fatima Gul or Zindagi Gulzaar Hai. There are certainly days when I want to jump off a roof. However, every time I pick myself up, and trudge along for another few months I look back and realize how true Job’s words are. You just have to believe and not give up. Challenges will come. Horrifying experiences will follow. But through it all there will be moments of utter joy, such happiness as can only be felt and not explained. Looking back you will understand why you never gave up.

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Dream Chasing

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. 😀 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****. 😀

Running a VA Business without any Electricity

Yep – can be done. Believe me. Come summer and the govt decides we are better off with no power – will make us more hard-core. Our daddies in WAPDA (something, something Power something Authority) feel us kids are being raised too soft. A bomb blast a day, random killings, CJ sent packing home, ppl dying in hospitals coz docs have gone on strike, drones … NOT enough. Having uniterrupted electricity would make us into wusses who cry at rainbows and sunsets. We can’t have that. NO NO NO NO!

Anyhoo … so I have a power-backup. It runs my clunky old desktop for about 3-4 hours on the condition that I only run the desktop, one tubelight and one fan on it, and nothing else. The team in Hunza works under even harder conditions. Temperatures go below freezing point and stay that way from October to March. They don’t have gas to run heaters. They hardly have any electricity thorughout the year so electric heaters are ineffective. So, the generators generously supplied by a local NGO help to run the computers but the women have to work under very harsh conditions. Still, they turnaround the work in good time. I am surprised they can even work. What am I talking about?

Just wanted to vent a bit. The power crisis is driving me crazy.

Ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee