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.
Have my posts become a bit whiny and self-obsessed? First bit is bad but latter … I am worth obsessing over. *snort* Alright, I’ll give you some exciting, chirpy updates.
Last week I was interviewed by FM91. I had such a blast. When FM100 first started its services in Peshawar back when I was a teenager everyone was so psyched. That was the first time most of us ever used the radio on our boomboxes. The first few months the coolest thing anyone could do was get a call through to one of the programs. Very first week and my call got through. Still remember I asked for Take My Breath Away from Top Gun and dedicated it to my friend Tehmina Gilani who was crazy about Mr Scientology. Life really is funny. And guess who the RJ was? This girl who used to be a VJ back in the day when being a VJ was really cool and she used to come on the same channel as the Flavor-of-the-Century, Waqar Khan, the Pushtun Brit.
I would call the TV channel incessantly whenever he came online and YES I got to speak to him twice. *annoying teenager squeals*
My fav part of the interview was when the RJ asked what kept me going and I said it was my pushtun genes that make me stubborn and hence I go on. 😀 😀
Oohh speaking of famous, I was on CNBC!! Yeah OK so I may have tweeted that and FB-ed it a gazillion times already but don’t be haters and let me enjoy my spot in the limelight a while longer. Yeah, so the team came to Pakistan to film me. It was so cool. Loads of very fancy equipment.
I mean it took them 2 whole days to film this and it’s only like 2 and a half minutes long. RESPECT for all film-makers even those who made Creature 3D *shudder.
Also, a special shout out to all the people who helped make the video so awesome – Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) especially the DFDI department’s Saima Riaz and Asma Fakhr; Zareen Niazi, Director Ala-ud-Din Academy; Hafsa Shorish, Program Manager Plan 9; Sidra Qasim, Co-founder Markhor; and Shah Rukh, Co-founder Smartek. And of course my wonderful LCWU students whose love and respect mean the world to me. *hugs* to you all.
And of course, the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). I was invited by the Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN) and the US Embassy to moderate a session on “How to become a Successful Entrepreneur”. To be honest, I didn’t know half the people on the panel. But I only need an excuse to go to Islamabad, and also I love meeting my fellow alumni, so I went. And boy was I blown over! I had 6 people on the my panel: Master Ayub, Yasmin Lari, Raza Saeed, Sean Griffith, Qurban Bibi and Rafi Imran. Of these I had only heard of Master Ayub but that’s it. I read their profiles and they all seemed very impressive. But it wasn’t till I started talking to them that I realized just how extraordinary they were. I mean there was Master Ayub who had been teaching disadvantaged kids in a street school for the last 29 years. Yasmeen Lari who has done tremendous work for the economic and social uplift of rural Sind. Raza Saeed, the guy who raised $3.5 million for his company and who spreads dollar-dust wherever he goes. Sean Griffith is a serial entrepreneur and founded Startup Cup and WeCreate. Qurban Bibi runs a training center in Chitral that she built with a micro loan. And Rafi Imran, a young student whose startup just made it into the GEW Top 50 list. MIND BLOWING! I didn’t want the session to end it was soooo fascinating.
Later, the kids wanted to take pictures with me. It was sooo sweet. It’s so humbling when a complete stranger walks up to you and tells you she is a fan. One of them told me she taught at FAST University and gave her students my example. *awwww moment* And then the best thing happened. This woman came right up on stage with a big smile on her face. She had been giving me warm smiles the whole time I was moderating the panel. Turns out she was one of the cofounders of KADO! I read this quote somewhere that appeared cheesy at the time … something about someone hugging you some day in a way that all your broken pieces are fixed. I experienced it myself. There was a warmth and sincerity and so much love in that big huge hug she gave me that made me want to just stay there forever and forget all my worries. I am telling you I am not being emo. Honestly, it was the best thing ever.
Also, I got to meet Salma Jafri, the woman I admired from afar when I first started freelancing and now admire her from not-so-far.
And the fantastic panel:
In other news, I met my Hunza people! Yayyyy. It was so surreal. They were here in Lahore for some conference. I wanted to hug them all and did hug the girls. Wish they could have stayed longer.
OK are you all happy now? No? Whatever!
Loads of cool stuff happening.
1. My First Event: I suck at organizing events no matter how tiny. But 2014 saw to it that I cross that bridge too. With the help of my very sweet student volunteer, Arooj Perzada, I gathered a group of about 35-45 people at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, Pakistan for GIST’s live webinar “Crowdfund Your Startup Venture” showing from the State Department in Washington DC, US. You can see the album here courtesy of the amazing The AppJuice team which was our official social media partner. You can also read about the event here and here. You can also watch a recording of the live event here (they took a q towards the end from your’s truly 😉 )
2. Bringing Technovation to Pakistan: How many times have you heard that technology is just not for girls? That’s exactly what Technovation is trying to change. Its a Not-for-Profit based in Silicon Valley. It encourages school girls to make smartphone apps using a simple software that works like LEGO-blocks. Girls decide on a social problem, find a way to solve the problem via a smartphone app, and then build a business plan around it. Winning entries get to pitch to real investors in Silicon Valley. How cool is that? NO! That wasn’t a question. It was … kind of … if the answer is YES ITS AWESOME COOL!! *glare. OK so I have been in touch with the team for a while and this year I got some schools in dear ol’ Pk involved. We have the Liberal Arts High School from Islamabad, Alaudin Academy Lahore and Sedna School Hunza. I have high hopes for these girls. Also, if you or someone you know is a phone app developer and would like to volunteer their time (2 hours a week) please contact me. Let’s see how this goes.
3. The Portkey: I am suffering from a Harry Potter hangover. I miss it. *sob. Have finally found someone I think I can trust my baby with Yeah am talking about WDL. This company is making my web portal. Am super excited. This is something I have wanted since I started the company but just could never muster up the courage to actually work on it. Also, the fact I am perpetually broke didn’t help things much. I realize that now is as good a time as any. Gotta make it happen. So wish me luck peeps.
4. Elance Trainings: Am starting the first batch of Elance training in Alaudin Academy with a batch of 25 women. Amna Zafar, an Elance user and a very successful freelancer from Pakistan, will conduct the training. If you have any small data entry / data scraping projects you can send our way, please contact me.
5. Guest from the US: Took a one day hurricane trip to Islo-land to attend a luncheon in honor of Catherine Russell, United States Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. Had met her predecessor, Melanne Verveer, during the famous Project Artemis/GS 10k Women. Found out Saba Nazneen Ghori, one of our hosts at the US State Department, is temporarily working at the US Embassy Islamabad. It was so exciting to see her – like those 3 weeks weren’t just a dream. 🙂 Met some exceptional Pakistani women including Dr Sania Nishtar, Sabeen Haque, and Saddafe Abidi.
6. Hunza on Elance: Great news coming out of Hunza. Just so haters won’t call me names, I am not taking credit for this. The IT Centers are run independently by KADO. I merely advise on best practices, chalking out course work, help with marketing and whenever possible, connect them to work. Trainess at the centers are finding online work. They are involved with writing projects with AllVoices, formatting eBook on Elance. I am soooo psyched for them. Can’t wait to meet them in the summers. Here are some of their stories that they shared independently. WDL NEVER shares personal stories of its service providers.
7. Celebrity: 2013 was super awesome. WDL has finally started getting the recognition it deserves if I may say so myself. Was featured on Mashable, Virgin, Ashoka, Forbes, Elan, Express Tribune, International Business Times, WAMDA, Muftah, TechPresident, The AppJuice. It’s just been CRAZY! I am happy, proud, humbled, nervous.
*The Elance Training at Alauddin Academy is not an official certification workshop. It’s conducted independently by users of Elance to help trainees use the platform.*
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Ooohhh … had these lovely keychains made for TDL by the very talented Varah Musavvir of Firefly.
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 ….