Super Woman, Maria Adil


“When I read about this lady I genuinely for a moment thought, Wow, she is a super woman. Please welcome Maria ADIL”.


OK so explanation.

Was invited to speak on the panel for entrepreneurship at the US Embassy Islamabad’s Annual UGrad Alumni Reunion. They were covering travel and lodging and as you know by now I am a champion freebie of course I went. They put me in Serena for the night. Cool, right? As my friend says, You don’t need to be rich to have fun. Mwahahahaha.

So in the AM I head down to the venue. LOADS of young people. GOSH, it was enough to make the mid-life crisis kick in. It was a lot of positive energy I can tell you. Seeing old friend/neighbor Osman Saddique who is now an alumni coordinator at the US Consulate Peshawar was a treat. Can’t believe he is the same kid who used to play cricket in our street and get scoldings from my mother. Tee hee.


So, panel starts. Of course Ayla Majid was there. love the woman to bits. She is so brainy … like not the “I have read all of Tolstoy” kinda brainy but the accounting, FCCA, ACCA, (all other acronyms made from English alphabets certified) kinda clever. 2 other gentlemen that I barely knew. And this is my dahlins when the moderator, a young girl barely out of her teens introduces me as. Maria ADIL. I guffawed out loud. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No wonder she thought I was a superwoman. Confused me with someone else I guess. Have to Google this Maria Adil person now. Am intrigued.

One thing I realized during the session was how even now so many kids are clueless about how to make their ideas into reality. Some questions that sill come up are;

– How do I finance my project?

– Where do I find incubators or accelerators?

First thing everyone needs to understand prolly is how businessman and entrepreneur are different. If there are 5 textile mills in the country and they are not meeting demand of the market then you start a new textile mill. Does exactly what any other does but its meeting market demand. There you go. You have a business.

Then you have an entrepreneur. Entrepreneur identifies a problem. Has probably been affected/afflicted by it. And tries find a solution to that problem. So to me personally entrepreneurship is about;

1. Self discovery

2. Saying no to being a “victim” to a problem.

3. Finding a solution where traditionally you are told there was none

As Ayla very aptly said in Pakistan you see problems everywhere. From the grassroots level to the very top. So this is the Land of Opportunity now quite literally. For example, I am a woman. Not allowed to work outside unless its teaching at a school or a girls college. Am a new mother. Can’t even do the little I am allowed to. So I go ahead and start the Women’s Digital League –  a platform where women can work from home on various ICT tasks. Where do I get my money from? I don’t have any. Erm … I make it online. OK, but then what about spending on a website and putting a system in place? I use WordPress and mu BFF “Excel Spreadsheets” and Google tools. How do I pay my employees? They are all ad hoc – project based workers. What about power outages? Get a UPS. Internet problems? Get TWO connections instead of one and PRAY. Internet censorship … no YouTube or Skype to phone calls that clients used to pay for? Apologize to client and not take YouTube tasks or send them to a friend in another country (really, takes 10 minutes to upload a video max … what kind of a friend would say no to helping out with that?) – instead of Skype use Hangouts (calls to landlines in US are FREE) or get a phone card … they usually last for ages.

So you see … everything has a solution or that’s how an entrepreneur thinks. So don’t worry about things before you have started. Take the plunge and the net will appear. If you MUST have funding, try crowdfunding, or pitching in the various startup competitions that are happening these days. if you are good, the money will come, I promise you.

If you have any Qs, just LMK. Mayeb I will answer or I can always pass them on to superwoman Maria ADIL.


OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Dear Serena, I took all the toiletries and emptied out the mini bar. Just saying.


Getting Used to Lahore

Edited post with images and links and NAMES.

I have moved to Lahore.getting introduced to the tech scene in a new city. I was comfortable in Islamabad. Knew everyone. Lahore is different. Was invited to speak at Pakistan’s tech incubator called Plan 9 twice. That was nice. Met some very exciting young people trying to make it into the tech world. If you need intro to Plan 9, it’s the place Groopic was launched & groomed.

A couple of the projects got my heart racing. The first was an optical mouse called iTrak that could be used by the disabled. The very excited founding team told me there were other similar products in the market but they were super fancy & therefore super expensive. Their entire focus was on one core functionality and that is to control the mouse after calibrating with an individual’s eyes.

The other was an app called AllSecure by TechnoIsys, a smartphone sensor that helped you locate your phone in case of theft. If a thief tries to turn it on it records his video and transmits it to the cloud notifying the owner as well as relevant authorities with a GPS location. How awesome is that!

So far met one exceptionally interesting “shining lights” person. He leads several ecommerce platforms in Pakistan under the Rocket Internet umbrella. These include the fashion portal, famous food portal FoodPanda & general shopping store called Did I mention he is also a gentleman? He is.

Rocket Internet

Couldn’t find a better image

Big difference I feel between Lahore & Islamabad? Erm it’s too early to say anything but yeah the Lahore tech scene has more younger people involved and is not so telco-centric. Or obsessed over the banking sector. Thank God for that. I was sick of hearing people talk about SaaS and apps and other ideas targeting Mobilink and Standard Chartered. *yawn

That’s all the updates I have for now apart from the fact that very exciting things are happening in Hunza that are keeping me awake at night dreaming, planning, grinning, believing.


P.S. I write this as my mother-in-law gets her hair dyed at the salon. First ever blogpost from the iPhone app. Yayyyy. Apologies for no images. (Edited from the original version)

Social Versus Cultural Enterprises

I got to meet Sharmeen Chinoy – cool, eh? It was a US Embassy and HEC joint seminar about Acid Attack Victims (of course). I am sorry I almost snoozed through most of it so am not a good judge of how it went. Don’t even remember who was present. If interested, read this excellent roundup by Zainab Khawaja here. You may see me in some of the photos she has put up .. 😉

Also met the US Ambassador to Pakistan’s wife, Dr. Marilyn Wyatt.

We are BFFs now. Proof =========================================>>>>
Read an article recently in Social Edge that made me sit up and go … huh? Everyone knows know how big a supporter I am of social entrepreneurship. In a turbulent country like Pakistan business coupled with social good really is the elixir we are looking for. At the recently held Youth Entrepreneurs Conference a lot of the kids thought a social enterprise is a not-for-profit. KILL ME SOMEONE! NO, social enterprise is NOT synonymous with a not-for-profit – though a a #socent may also be a not-for-profit. Put simply a social entrepreneur is made when she (the feminism continues!) notices a problem in society like energy crisis or lack of clean drinkable water or women empowerment and comes up with a solution for it. The next step then is to find out if the solution is sell-able – if it can solve the ‘pain’ of a customer. For example, with Women’s Digital League, I am working on economic empowerment for educated Pakistani women who are discouraged from working outside their homes. At the same time WDL is providing affordable digital services to clients based around the world. At the end of the day, whatever the purpose, at the core of every business lies profitability and scalability. If I receive millions of dollars every month but can’t pay my utility bills  how long would I be able to sustain my love for helping humanity? And paying salaries is the same as profit – as you grow you pay yourself more the same way you would take home more when you start getting more profit.

The article introduced a new concept to me – cultural entrepreneurship. Here is how it defines it:

Cultural entrepreneurs … solve problems by disrupting belief systems—using television shows like Glee to initiate viewers into the disability or GLBTQ rights frameworks or the Twitter campaign #mensaythingstome, designed to expose anonymous misogyny online.

It’s hard for me to distinguish between the two. Ain’t Women’s Digital League changing mindsets by giving women the opportunity to work from home? That’s a shift from the conventional way Pakistanis are used to working. So where do I put WDL? So how is a TV show like Glee an enterprise? Or how is a Twitter hashtag campaign an enterprise? I find the whole business vs. enterprise thing very confusing.

So an enterprise is a “purposeful endeavor”. Then why isn’t a business the same too? Isn’t creating a new product, increasing profits, scaling, permeating markets an endeavor with a purpose as well?  And if by ‘purpose’ we are referring to ‘social good’ then what’s the point of separating social enterprises from just enterprises?

I am losing it. Help!

On a less thought-provoking note, am waiting for the list of finalists for GIST I-Dare Business Plan Competition which will be held in Lebanon (fingers crossed / Palms together / whatever whatever). Am holding a one-day quick session on leveraging the power of Internet for free marketing – this is in collaboration with Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and is targeting SMEs by local women. Applying for a grant from the US Embassy for Pakistani Alumni for my Hunza people … oh I how love them and wish I’d see them one day. Also, I turned 33 this month. Yippppeeee.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

TEDxMargalla – A Journey in Tweets

This guy's t-shirt says it all.

This guy’s tee is the best way to describe a TED event! Ordinary people, extraordinary ideas!

TEDxMargalla had me tweeting like a woman possessed! There was just so much to talk about and tell people despite Wi-Tribe’s best efforts to stop me thanks to their sucky connection.

I am going to tell the entire awesome story of the event through my personal tweets and others. So without further ado – here we go!

@Saher Tariq – Host

2001 – got accepted to Yale University – all previous ideas of becoming a doctor went out the window.  9/11 happened while I was there. The changing world didn’t make any difference to me. I was committed to coming back to Pakistan. Wild boars became timid before the bombers. (Quoted from Man in the Arena by Roosevelt). (I could help doing) A simple thing like showing up for work every day and doing your work with honesty and integrity. I welcome you to this arena called Pakistan.

You are obviously very talented – not everyone gets a scholarship to Yale – but you are a Mobilink employee which was the official sponsor – the  curator being a Mobilink-er I can understand, you being the host I can also understand, but you giving a TEDx Talk I can’t.

@Flora Mahmood – Drama-writer, Teacher

Tale of a Pakistani girl (raised in Scotland) who hated Pakistan with her whole heart. Her feathers weren’t just plucked out but were cruelly pulled out. She was suddenly told to consider a future entirely different form the one she had anticipated since a kid. She was told to consider wedding proposals. The evils in this story are not people – the evil in this fairytale is fate itself. Was accused of International parental kidnapping for committing the heinous crime of being a mother.  Why have I received Only this – Only through this you will receive that – Rumi! Rethink yourself – not Pakistan. (Pk) is a country she stole into frightened – like Jonas in the belly of the whale; instead it took her back like a child into its womb.

Dear Flora, this was very touching and thought-provoking but where was the idea? What was the idea? The tale of a ‘princess’ who was cruelly forced to face real life and go through some very challenging times to become an independent woman and learn to love the country the very thought of living where was stifling for her just doesn’t make for a TED talk.

@Asad Umer – CEO Engro

Asad had this wonderful voice that just made me want to sit up and listen to him. He was the first of the 3 speakers so far who were actually dressed casual. He caught my attention with this line: “The President’s address to assembly made me think, Sounds like a damn good country to me.” – yeah, that was funny or maybe it was just the way he said it. But here is my problem – he used TEDx as a self-promotion platform – the reference to Engro and how it was all ready to face Amul head on was a no-no. And what is it with the Pakistan vs India thing anyway? Looking back through my notes I recall him saying, I truly believe that Pakistani people are destined for greatness!” and also “Power needs to be distributed amongstpeople of Pakistan! We must stand up for the less fortunate!” Yes, we know that, Asad. The question is, HOW? What ideas do you have for attaining just that? Statements are easy – solutions are tough.

@Romano Karim – Filmmaker

Sighhhh … he didn’t even give a TED talk – he merely used it as a platform to show his no-doubt riveting documentary on Rehana Sehgol called “The Petman Girls”.

@Khalida Brohi – CEO of Sughar

And now we are talking! I have shouted it out in a hall full of people and I’ll shout it from rooftops if I need to – THIS WOMAN IS PHENOMENAL! When she came on stage I thought to meself, “Ugh, a wanna-be Rumi, eh?” HOW WRONG I WAS!

Where is God they ask me? I dont have to respond or if I do I just smile. Because right there in that moment he is also smiling. These women (working at Sughar) learn to say NO to the traditions that are against them. We’re not doing a lot but the little change that we are bringing everyday is very beautiful.

After the talk I went up to her and gave her a huge hug. I hope I was able to channel all my love and appreciation through it. There was so much I could relate to but she had the courage to stand up there in front of a hundred people and more watching on a live webcast and talk about the problems and challenges facing women in her village. Ms. Brohi, you have won yourself a huge fan and your talk truly encompassed the spirit of TED. Salute!

@The Thespian Alliance – Mime Troupe

Now I am not a big fan of mime – actually I am not a fan of the thing at all. But these guys were AWESOME I tell you. I mean you couple the word “mime” with “Pindi” and you think “boyzez” but they gave a stellar performance and left the audience mesmerized.

@Adil Najam – VC Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

This is the best time to be a Pakistani. I didn’t say it was the easiest time. I don’t want to talk about rethinking Pakistan but about making Pakistan. (To do that) we will have to rethink the way we think about the rest of the world.  Imagine you are on another plant and looking down on this planet called Earth and looking at it as a country. (You will see that) You live in a country where 2 billion ppl live on less than $2 a day. Your country Earth isn’t just a poor country but a degraded country. You live in an insecure country. If the US State Department had a say on travel to Earth they would say catch the first rocket out of here. We live in a third world country on a third world planet. Development is not GDP but dignity. Number of Indians troops killed in 60 years of Indo-Pak conflict is less than kids killed in Delhi in 1 year due to dirty water. Development is health, wealth and knowledge. Only one number counts – the number 1 because the one is you, me, and someone who says I am not going to wait for someone else to bring a change.

Based on the random excerpts from his speech from my Twitter feed I don’t have to say how this is a superb TED talk at so many levels. He was eloquent, charming, knowledgeable, and I am no tree-hugger but he made me sit on the edge of my seat. Adil got a standing ovation and a well-deserved one. However, we could have done without the reference to stats from LUMS and the watermark logo on all slides.

@Sami Shah – Funny Guy and Marketing Dude

Have you noticed how people hug nowadays? It’s a defense posture. The suicide jacket is mummy’s hug. We have become tourists of the past. Pakistan is (an) obnoxious kid now and we are the panicking parents. We all have uncle munawar in our families – he is the uncle who believes in conspiracy theories. One guy emailed me (and) he asked, “Do all Pakistanis live in caves”? Think about the irony “He emailed me”. By ridiculing things we are frightened of, we beat them.

The first stand-up comedian who did not use religion to get laughs. He didn’t use sexual innuendoes either. He was just plain funny. I heard this was a much mellowed down version of his usual performances but hey – he was perfect that evening. Of course, I spoke to him afterwards and he was so down-to-earth and so-not-snide and those, my friends, are rare qualities in a person who uses the eff word liberally in his tweets and speaks good English in Pakistan.

The event host quoted from the Man in the Arena again and if last time it was cheesy this time it was painful.

But … I LOVED THE EVENT! Yes, they had an average host, 1 average speaker, 1 disaster, 1 non-speaker (???), a brilliant performance, 2 absolutely magical talks and a genuinely funny talk with no cringe-worthy moments – don’t you see why I am going ga-ga?

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. I wonder if Adil Najam moisturises his hands with Vaseline and keeps them in cotton gloves overnight coz a handshake with him made me want to run for that manicure.

Right to Life with Dignity

Lately, I have become less snooty about the events I attend. Went to my first Human Rights Day celebration at the National Library in Islamabad. It was arranged by the Pakistan-US Alumni Network’s(PUAN) Islamabad Chapter.

Naeem Mirza, COO of Aurat Foundation, was the keynote speaker. For the most part he talked about something I could easily get off Wikipedia like the story behind Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), or the long list of human rights violations happening in Pakistan. But what interested me was when he mentioned that the first clause of the UDHR was the “Right to Life with Dignity”. I thought I had a right to life, to healthcare, education, practicing my religion and beliefs. But never had anyone told me I had a right to live with dignity. What does that even mean? Dear old Google came to my help and I realized ‘Dignity’ is what everything else stems from. Dignity means knowing your worth, valuing yourself because only when we start valuing ourselves do we start asking for more and understand our rights. Being an entrepreneur myself, the following video by Acumen Fund really struck a chord:

Robert Maynard said and I quote;

Human rights rest on human dignity. The dignity of man is an ideal worth fighting for and worth dying for.

Without dignity there can be no equality. And it begins at home. If I don’t love myself enough because of my weaknesses or failures and hence lack self-respect I give others the power to usurp my rights. Looking down upon one’s self leads to a low self-esteem which makes us doubt what we deserve allowing society or certain segments of it to take over our rights. There can be no equality without dignity. The day women realize they can’t ask for equal rights when they curse men who don’t vacate a seat for them on a bus or when they ask for separate seats in all government institutions they will have a much stronger case. The day people realize they can’t ask for a right to clean roads and public toilets when they throw garbage in front of other people’s homes instead of taking it to the dumpster they will sound more convincing. The day we realize we can’t ask for the right to practice our religion anywhere in the world without being ridiculed when we look down upon minorities in our own country with loathing we will have a better case. In short, we have to earn the right to ask for our rights by giving others theirs.

Lok Natik Theater presented a brilliant skit on human rights. Below is a short clip I was able to capture on my phone-cam.

Brent Beemer, US Cultural Attache to Pakistan spoke at the event:

I leave you with this thought:

Equality lies only in human moral dignity. … Let there be brothers first, then there will be brotherhood, and only then will there be a fair sharing of goods among brothers. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Women Political Empowerment Program (WPEP) Pakistan

Just got back from attending a program I NEVER EVER in my CRAZIEST dreams thought I’d attend. It was the launch ceremony of the first Women Political Empowerment Program funded by USAID. I went because my US Alumni chapter emailed, texted and called multiple times … being the fuzzy, warm bear that I am, I couldn’t say no. Got there hoping to see a few familiar faces – saw none and almost had a heart attack. But then I spotted Fauzia Kasuri, the President of Women Wing of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (better known as Imran Khan‘s party). I had met her previously at the US State Dept in Washington DC during the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program. She met me like a long lost friend but I could tell she hadn’t got a clue who I was. She later asked me where we had met before and gave me a bear hug … invited me to the PTI HQ in Islamabad … and was generally a sweetheart.

Anyhoo, the program started … we were informed some of the ladies had been in an Election Campaign Development Workshop all day. Hmm … what was I doing there??? Then started a coma-inducing intro of what politics is, why it’s important, how the US was helping us, how political empowerment was vital for women in the developing world and blah blah blah. It was pretty interesting I am sure but me having no interest in politics whatsoever made it a painful experience. The guest list included Sandra Houston, the Country Director for National Democratic Institute (NDI); Dr. Catherine Johnson, Senior Director at Office of Democracy and Governance, USAID; Jamie Martin, Assistant Cultural Affairs Attache, US Embassy; Shabbir Ahmed, Country Representative of NFEC; Talat Khurshid, Planning Advisor at HEC. But before I could doze off and embarrass myself by falling out of my chair, the biggest surprise of the evening came.

Abida Hussain is a legend in Pakistani politics having been the first woman to be elected to the National Assembly back in 1985 on an open seat. Her political career, however, started way back in the 1960s. She has served as a cabinet minister and was appointed as ambassador to the US. Sista’-friends, I am not one for politics or politicians, I don’t go starry-eyed at famous faces, but this woman is special. Here is the story she told that made me fall in love:

I was elected as a member of the National Assembly in 1985 – the only woman among 116 men. The first task given to us was to hold an election on the 20 reserved seats for women. Once elected, I was very unhappy to find out I had been made to sit with these women rather then with the men that I had met head on in the election and who were seated in an alphabetical order. I went to the secretary of the parliament and demanded I was treated as an equal to the men. The secretary being a bureaucrat as usual meant well but said the wrong thing, “OK Abida Sahiba, you can sit next to your husband.” I looked at him coolly and said, ‘I spend enough time with my husband at home. I would like to be seated in the alphabetical order.” As fate would have it, my name came right next to that of a maulana saheb (a religious cleric) with a big beard and a turban. He was offended and distressed, and demanded that I be asked to sit elsewhere. The secretary came to me and this team seated me next to a gentleman that I am still good friends with. This guy turned to me and said, ‘Look Abida, I am not the alpha-male type, my friends already make fun of my squeaky voice and lack of facial hair. Now if I agree to sit next to you when no one else would, it would confirm everyone’s suspicions about my masculinity. So do you mind sitting with someone else?” Now since it was said so sweetly, I couldn’t refuse. This time I told the secretary I was going to find someone who wouldn’t mind sitting next to me. So I saw this young man who just couldn’t be 25 (minimum age for contesting the NA elections). I went up to him and told him I knew there was no way in hell he was 25 and if he didn’t let me sit next to him I would raise the issue on the floor. The kid was terrified and said he was going to turn 25 in 2 months but I could sure sit with him.

I was in stitches. But more than that she said what I’ve been feeling for a long time but couldn’t articulate. She said women come into politics because for them it’s about winning an election and joining the assembly. Leadership arises out of frustration with social conditions that need to be changed but that no one is doing sufficient work for – to feel passionate about an issue and and make it a cause. To use her exact words, “They win a seat and then become chamchees (sycophants) to the male members.” LOVED THAT!

Afterwards, I went to say hello to her and found her so down-to-earth. She asked me what I did and after finding out I was an entrepreneur she told me about her daughter who has been working for the last 14 years setting up an energy plant in her village in interior Punjab province. I got goosebumps just hearing about it … she told me to email her and she would make the introduction between me and her daughter. This is why meeting new people and giving everyone a chance is important … you never know what gems you might uncover under all that rubble and sand.

…. it’s unlike me, but I smile (NOT grin) as I write this post … 🙂