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.
Almost SEVEN years! Time does fly – takes several breaks to crap on you – but it flies. Women’s Digital League started as FIRST and ONLY social enterprise of its’ kind promoting and providing online computer-based work to Pakistani service providers. Of course, we were gender-biased and still are. But regardless of that, we were the pioneers. At a time when people scoffed at the idea, closed doors in my face, mocked me, gave friendly advises on NOT continuing with it and continuing with my teaching career WDL kept plodding away. SLOW AND STEADY never made sense to me until WDL.
Today, WDL has several franchising offers, a World Bank grant under its belt, recognition on several platforms including FORBES and ASHOKA *insert crazy blood-curdling excited screams*. WE WERE EVEN ON MASHABLE before Mashable decided to post articles on male health (ahem) and 9 year olds getting all excited about meeting Trump.
UN, WB, USAID, investors and VCs are pouring in Alahmdulillah (easy – I am not detonating anything – merely praising God for everything! Gosh, peeps! *eyeroll). I have offers from people in other countries to expand there. It’s just crazy.
But what makes me really happy is that FINALLY this crazy idea is being taken up by others who are MAD and implemented. My mission was always to have people believe and come into the field. It was lonely being the only one. I am so excited to see new faces doing incredible work creating digital livelihoods. Hundreds and thousands of people trained throughout the country in working online doing graphics, WordPress, social media, article writing, data entry … the awesome interactions taking place, the stories coming up … it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
Currently, the grant we received from WB back in April 2015 for just one training has been extended and we are now conducting 10 trainings over a period of 12 months. Who would have thought! World Bank hiring me as a consultant to run a digital livelihood program! RIDICULOUS!
There is this quote by Gandhi I found a while ago and have been in love since finding out;
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
Giving up is never an option. Perseverance always pays off and that’s the quality of an entrepreneur. Tell you the truth, just last week I broke down while on my way to a meeting. When I say broke down I mean I actually sobbed in the backseat of a rental with a driver who was a complete stranger. Decided I didn’t want to attend the meeting, didn’t want to have anything to do with WDL and that I just couldn’t handle it any more. Some would argue I shouldn’t be making this pubic because it would make people hesitant in investing in WDL or me but WHAT THE HELL. Since when have I ever played it by the rules.
Anyhoo what I was trying to say is that Gandhi forgot one thing. He forgot to mention … “And in the end everyone wins” because when you are doing good in whatever way you are actually multiplying the effect.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.*
In Pakistan there is a big debate every year over whether we should celebrate Valentine’s Day or not. The debauch liberals are all in favor. The enlightened moderate ones (ah Musharraf … you made the term famous) say sure, but only with your spouses. The flag-bearers of our morality, the ones who have sworn to save their brethren from hell-fire are strictly against. Either way, here is 2014’s V-Day just a few days away. And this brings me to my new love.
Basecamp is a co-working space in … wait for it … PESHAWAR! Yeah ok so 2 weird things there. The name, Basecamp, itself. Isn’t that an online project management website? Then second even CRAZIER thing. It’s in Peshawar!!! Isn’t that the crazy city at the Afghan border hit by the worse strain of terrorism of any urban area in Pakistan?
Hang on. Let me get to each separately before I get sidetracked and this post never sees the light of day like so many others.
I asked Muhammad Uzair, cofounder of Basecamp, some very tough questions over our Facebook chat.
Q1. Dude, why Basecamp? Why not “Khyber Goes Cool” or something?
A. “We are Basecamp Pakistan, they are/were 37 Signals. Basecamp is your temporary stay with us before your big startup summit, your next big mountain to scale.”
Q2. Peshawar? Seriously? Are you crazy?
A. “Yes we are are we needed a space to get the rest of the crazies together. At first we were meeting at Cafe’s, organising events in Universities, and brain storming at friend’s drawing rooms. So it made perfect sense to combine all three and get a co-working space of our own.”
Uzair, that was cheesy but OK I will accept.
Happy peeps? The Digital League is also one of the very first of the “crazies” that has made this place home. Got a couple of kids sitting there handling social media and web dev for clients. As a “thank you”, Basecamp gave TDL (and all other registrants) free swag. Check this out and be jaylus.
I think it’s really cool. It doesn’t matter what you think … at least not on my blog. *grin
OK two more photos so you know how cool it is. All Google-like grunge-garage look (you can’t see the ceiling – that’s where the garage look comes in).
Oh, yeah, asked one last very important question after which the lazy co-founder refused to answer any more.
Q3. What are the perks of working at Basecamp?
A. “We give you a starter kit to just get you started, and then there’s everything Basecamp offers. Top talent of the region to work with, weekly talks that range from cutting edge research in biology to trends in digital marketing, an acceleration/incubation program is also just around the corner by one of our partners. Not to forget access to world class mentors (and investors!).”
So this February 14th, Basecamp is my Valentine. *what a sad life. I know*
“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.
P.S. Dear Serena, I took all the toiletries and emptied out the mini bar. Just saying.
Entered Women’s Digital League to the Ashoka Changemakers “Women Powering Work” competition. Today on a Twitter chat arranged by Ashoka I found out WDL had been selected as an Early Entry Prize winner.
Shortest, happiest, most exciting real-life fairy tale ever.
P.S. Am also selected as a “Thought Leader” for the topic. Thank you.
I have such an eye for spotting talent. *ahem. *cough. *splutter. No but seriously. Just a week or so ago I meet 10 amazing startups. I write about only 2. And one of them already is the winner of the first ever Pakathon. In case you don’t know what a Pakathon is, which means you don’t read my blog, which means you NEED TO RAISE YOUR STANDARDS … read about it HERE. iTrak has won $2000 in prize money which is a good amount for a startup in Pakistan. And it’s not just the money. It’s the exposure and the chance to collaborate with talented entrepreneurs from places like MIT and Harvard etc.
Here is a demo video of iTrak. Have a look.
Best of luck to these guys. Can’t wait to see how far they go.
Also, the second team to win from Pakistan is LookOut360. This is the team I met on Friday, just 2 days ago and loved at the Pakathon venue in LUMS, Lahore. You can watch their demo HERE.
“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.
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.
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.