And then everyone WINS!

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.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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Bliss

Ashoka ChangemakersEntered 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.  

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Am also selected as a “Thought Leader” for the topic. Thank you. 

 

The “Pakathon”

My first ever visit to LUMS. Very exciting rickshaw ride from the other side of the city. Took about half an hour to reach. Not complaining. That comes AFTER I reached. The campus is beautiful. Very spiffy. But right outside the gate runs an open sewer as stinky as any sewer ever was. Why can’t they at least cover it? God knows LUMS has plenty of funds. The sewer does not only kill a person’s appetite with the lingering smell that doesn’t leave you for hours afterwards but can be a serious threat to kids attending the university. Dengue, anyone?

Now that that’s off my chest …

I was there to meet my mentor. Just happens he was here for something called the “Pakathon“. And this Pakathon-thingie is soooo cool. Now here is what it does (briefly). The is sort of a hackathon of social entrepreneurs brainstorming and presenting ideas to use tech for solving various issues in Pakistan such as health, education, violence prevention etc. In 3-days time, student-teams have to come up with an idea, prepare a business plan focusing on finance and marketing. 6 teams from around 20 Pakistani universities (eventually. For now, it’s just 2 universities with 6 teams each) are connected then virtually to teams and mentors from places like Harvard and MIT. The event is live streamed. Judges then deliberate and announce winners the next day. Winning goodies include up to $10k in seed funding as well as incubation at Harvard and MIT and Sloan etc.

iEnvious.

The competition is open to plans from both Pakistani as well as students from other countries studying at these institutes. I had the opportunity to speak to 2 of the 6 teams at LUMS. Came back very inspired. Especially with the idea for using teach to collect donations to send street kids to school. The other was to create a Ushahidi kind of platform to report violence, accidents, crime etc to relevant authorities using SMS. The kids were all pretty clear on what they wanted to do and had done their homework considering the ideas and plans were all prepared within 24 hours. Wow!

Can’t wait to see how they do.

You can watch the live stream here:

Watch live video from pakathon on www.justin.tv

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

The Digital League?

I got such a terrific surprise today.

Over the past few weeks, I decided that in a country like Pakistan with such a huge unemployment rate it was unfair of me not to include 50% of the population in Women’s Digital League. But then, it’s Women’s Digital League you know. How do I work around that? Spoke to my mentor and he was like, “Why do you even need to announce that? Just quietly become THE Digital League and when you have enough women in the workforce you can make WDL as an off-shoot of the main business”. Why do simple solutions like that never come to my mind?

So, Ladies & (reluctantly) Gentlemen, now WDL is an equal opportunity employer. We will make the changes to the domain name and all once we have enough funds to do it. At this point, being a social enterprise, spending money bringing in more work is more important then worrying about branding.

Having said that, I am working with some wonderful guys (besides the ladies). I was gonna tell you about the surprise. So Mr Usama Shahid Khan, the first male service provider at WDL, did such a swell job for the Malaysian client he was working with that they have made him an integral part of their team and put his profile up on their website. Have a look at Mr. Khan here: http://piktochart.com/our-team/

I am so happy and so proud of him. And I am not celebrating just him. As we near the end of 2012, I would like to send out a BIG thank you to everyone associated with WDL. All the ladies who have worked with me in the last 3 years, the mentors and advisors, the loving supporters, and the clients of course. At times I haven’t been able to deliver. There have been times when I have been so embarrassed and depressed over work not done (Thank you Government for continually blocking Google and YouTube services hampering my work) that I’ve completely disappeared from cyberspace for weeks and told myself, “Hell with it all”. But through it all, I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in me. I say it out loud, “I am a failure”. I am in terms of the revenue I bring in and lack of management skills. I am barely a businessperson. However, I won’t give up and will keep doing what little I can do because …

To laugh often and much;

to win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

to earn the appreciation of honest critics

and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;

to leave the world a bit better,

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch

or a redeemed social condition;

to know even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Vote for WDL here, pretty please? https://apps.facebook.com/photosvr/contests/18/images/7171

Opportunity to Work for a SOCENT in Washington DC

Phew – been away for a bit. Unlike popular belief, it hasn’t been all fun and games. Been making some tough decisions, keeping myself sane (or as sane as I was born), and the having rare moments of being awesome. Like this one! As I write this post I am sitting in an air conditioned coach of a train  on my way to Pindi from Lahore. Last time I read anything about Pakistan Railways was that it was terrible and a nightmare of a travel. Rubbish! So it takes me 5 hours to get to Lahore instead of 4 on the motorway but then it costs a quarter of what it does in fuel if I took my own car (Actually, I don’t spend a penny – my hubbie is in the Railways 😛 ). 

About this post … a dear reader, Shazia Khan who is is an American-Pakistani and runs a social enterprise called EcoEnergy Finance needs help. I am very impressed with this youngster based in Washington DC and couldn’t say no. 🙂 Please read and help out as much as you can. 

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EcoEnergyFinance is a small non-profit, which provides solar energy products to Pakistan’s rural poor in order to provide income generating opportunities, improve health and fight climate change. We were recently selected as one of 19 Social Enterprises supported by the Skoll Foundation’s Global Social Benefit Incubator and are poised to scale rapidly as we penetrate Pakistan’s alternative energy market. We are looking for a motivated individual to become an integral part of our team. Although the position is currently unpaid, there is a very distinct opportunity for upward mobility and advancement in the organization as we grow.

The Fellow will regularly liaise with the Executive Director, Director of Operations and field staff to communicate EEF’s successes and challenges to a wider audience. The Fellow will plan and develop content for EEF’s blog and website. Additionally, they will be responsible for creating a community of followers to tap for ideas, networking and fundraising.

This position is ideal for recent graduates and students with a background in communications, digital media, web development or graphic design looking to gain practical experience with an internationally recognized NGO.

Responsibilities and Requirements:

Since we are a small office, you will be relied upon to assist us in various aspects of program development. Primary responsibilities include:

  • Creating a newsletter for the organization
  • Writing content including regular reports tracking our progress
  • Managing our social media efforts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Keeping our website www.ecoenergyfinance.org and blog up to date

Candidates should have excellent communication skills, particularly excellent writing skills and the ability to collaborate with and assist a diverse range of people. We are specifically looking for someone with meaningful experience in using a wide range of digital platforms, design, CMS or HTML, and website development. Additional experience writing copy and proofreading/editing is preferred. Candidates should also have a keen interest in environmental and international development issues.

Hours are very flexible. This position is unpaid and available immediately.

Pipelines and Funnels – Dammit!

Someone I revere asked me recently; “Do you honestly believe WDL can work?” Without batting an eyelid I said, “Yes!”

Ask me what my business pipeline is and I will give you a goofy grin and say, “I don’t know”. Ask me what my sale funnel is and I’ll giggle nervously and tell you I ain’t got a clue. But there is no doubt in my mind that WDL is meant to be.

Many a days I am tempted to get myself a job. Am offered good ones. Great salaries. Here is the problem. I know if I take up any of those offers I’ll make a bunch of money but I’ll never ever be happy. Now, I am no fool. Being as stubborn as I am has been a great asset in running WDL. Despite the mockery and the cruel jokes I’ve been slowly moving along. However, I am not a fool. I promised myself I would give 5 years to WDL and try make it work. I have absolutely no doubt that it is a very practical idea that can actually change the lives of many in Pakistan. But at the same time I also know sometimes you are meant to be the architect and not the mason. If I am unable to scale it up, I’ll just get it out of my system knowing I tried REALLY hard. There will be no nagging guilt telling me I quit and chickened out.

Its not easy being a woman in a very male dominated industry. Making it on your own without any connections or biz background is hard. Putting up with jeering comments about trying to be “saintly” is horrid. Being asked what you have been doing for last 3 years is hard. You can’t go to everyone and say, “Hey, I know I am where most women in the industry start from. But its’ taken me an incredible amount of sacrifice and resilience to be here where I am now and I am proud of it.” Maybe someone, some day will come and take it to the next level. I am happy I’ve got the ball rolling. Am happy I have a “case study” at least in WDL for others.

I have absolutely no clue how to run a business, I have admitted time and time again. Yes, I know crazy stuff like the infographic below:

 

But when it comes to serious stuff, I am just a literature student who somehow finds herself doing tech. All I know is this is what I am meant to do. Dunno where it will lead. Just know the journey is completely worth it.

And no, we don’t know where it will lead. We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here. ~ Steve Jobs

 

 

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