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


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:

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?

Social Enterprises – Disillusionment

Yes, your favorite entrepreneur is a little down. Disillusioned! Anyone who reads this blog (which isn’t very many people) know about my romance with social enterprises and with startups in general especially those related to the IT sector. But lately, things have been a little different …

Contrary to popular belief I am the MOST social person ever. I hate attending social gatherings. I don’t like visiting friends or family. Talking on the phone is torture. Even when I do meet people I am extremely awkward and do and say crazy stuff. People make me nervous. That’s why I love social media. I can stay in touch with everyone who matters and everyone who doesn’t matter at all but like to think otherwise.

But since May last year I have been pushing myself to go out there and meet people because it’s important for business. And people at the end of the day are just that, people. Humans! Which means, they are “humane” as well. Compassionate.

Sadly, I have started feeling like no one cares. I may be wrong of course but I don’t hear anyone talk about helping others. If you dare to do that they look at you like that kid in junior school who talks about becoming a doctor to help the ailing humanity. Stupid! Naive! Dumb! Value proposition means saving big bucks in the most innovative way. My biggest competitors are sitting in India and Philippines so I am asked, “We can get the same services at the same rates at the same quality from Gurgaon. Why you?” And I naively say, “Because WDL is a social enterprise. We do everything they can do for you but we also bring you personal gratification.” *Roll on Floor Laughing* right? No one cares. Maybe if I said, “They are doing it for $1/hr. I’ll do it for $0.50 which means these young women in some remote village will barely make enough to buy groceries but hey, you’ll save a tiny bit more for serving fancier wine at that dinner party for 50 you have been planning for 2 weeks now“. Now THAT will bring in the work, eh?

Also, I have meet “social entrepreneurs”. Online of course. You know what the common thread is? Marketing! Marketing black and yellow faces to white ones. Posting big website banners with smiling photos of people in non-western clothes sitting in front of computers saying to the world, “Look, I am the new monkey specie in the zoo … see how I can hold a banana and eat it almost like you would.

Here is what someone I have been following for a long time had to say on the whole social entrepreneurship thing:

To start, i have had a problem with the frame of “social entrepreneurship” as it is generally an elitist frame. “Cultural entrepreneurship” would seem to dig the hole deeper…. Who but the privileged? Do we not as humans all want to make a positive impact with our efforts? Lots of my colleagues living on less than $5 a day make a difference in their community with their enterprise, but wouldn’t be seen in this priviledged air. As this term has gained currency from funders, I find myself grudgingly in a growing market established itself around this “social entrepreneurship” frame. Secondly, as a change agent and an academic trained in cultural anthropology, the frame of “cultural entrepreneurship” as an innovation newly born in the context of capitalism is so disconnected from the many bodies of good work by practitioners in applied social sciences, that I don’t even want to get started.

Elitist! Feeding on others misery. Making money off it. Asking for their stories so they can manipulate them and do business. Make the next million for the VC breathing down their necks for return. If this is how I wanted to sell – telling sob-stories about my team – I’d be well on my way to making it into the Big League. BUT I AM NOT SELLING ANYONE’S DIGNITY FOR DOING BUSINESS! This is the whole idea behind WDL. Hire us because we are good at what we do. Not because of issues in our personal lives that you can milk for your next CSR campaign.

My way may not be the way taught by professors in universities. My way may also not be the fastest way. But I’ll get there and will keep my humanity intact as well.

For now, I go back to listening to soppy 80s songs and picking up online fights with random people over nothing.