Will Uber work in Pakistan?

Yep. You read that right. The taxi-hailing app service has confirmed opening operations in Pakistan. Before you go ahead and download the Uber app on your smartphone – let’s explore what this means for Pakistan’s fledgling e-commerce economy.

Uber, an online on-demand taxi- ride service provider, has been racked with notoriety since the very beginning of its operations. Some of the criticism has been directed at the lack of background checking before Uber signs on with drivers. Note the use of the word ‘signs’  and not ‘hires’; on-demand service economy has made parceling out work to contract workers common place.  This approach ignores many of the advances that have been attained since the 1st labor law set in place post the Industrial Revolution – including minimum wage, insurance, health care compensation, cap on working hours, etc.

There have also been numerous complaints of Uber drivers attempting kidnappings or worse, especially when women call for the ride service. Take for example the Delhi Uber Rape Case, where an Uber driver was accused and found guilty raping a female passenger last year in December.  Subsequently, all app-based taxi services were banned in Delhi.  To-date, the city has also rejected an application by Uber’s rival, the Indian-based OlaCabs to run it’s personal transportation services in the Indian capital.

What is worrisome is that when the executive responsible for Uber’s international launches was questioned by the Wall Street Journal in December 2014, he admitted that the company did not conduct independent background checks of it’s drivers at that time.

“According to Mr. Singhal, the basic requirement for a driver to partner with Uber is to have valid documents pertaining to third party vehicle insurance, a commercial permit to ply a taxi as well as a driving license. The company does not conduct background check on its drivers, Mr. Singhal said. Instead it relies on the background check the government does on drivers that it issues with commercial permits.”

CW Uber

Pre-existing concerns for the safety of  Pakistani women while using public transport has led to the creation of services such as Zar Aslam’s Pink Rickshaws. The Pink Rickshaws are driven by women for women so as to avoid potential harassment by male rickshaw drivers.   Uber’s head of communications has been reported saying that all drivers in Pakistan will undergo through screenings and background checks. To inspire confidence in the service, Uber (and other app-based taxi services like it) will need to prove that their fleet is reliable for use by all possible customers, men and women.

While earning an easy buck on the side is tempting, the safety concerns on a Uber ride  also applies to drivers,  such as when this unsuspecting driver was attacked by a drunken passenger. I must applaud the Uber driver’s smart move in mounting a camera facing the rear of the car; this led to the easy identification and arrest of the rowdy customer.  Could the lack of training of the driver be one of reasons for such an attack? Had the driver in question been sufficiently trained to spot a trouble-maker, could this situation have been avoided?  If the Uber driver was not on contract-basis, commission-giving model  but rather a salaried employee, could he have been more likely to refuse this customer from the outset? It can be argued that the feeling of a secure work arrangement would have enabled this Uber driver to act from a place of personal empowerment; he would have considered his own safety versus chasing dollars into risky situations.

Travly,  Savaree, Easy Taxi, and Careem – all names of local startups vying to provide alternative transportation solutions to Pakistanis in the recent years. Adoption of such services has been dismal to say the least. Barriers to success include the ever-present rickshaw, the reliance on cash payments by customers, negligible options when it comes to mobile payments, insistence on booking rides solely on the web apps and the slow adoption of technology for errands. Such realities had led newer entrants, such as Careem, to provide a phone-based bookings in addition to the web/mobile app as well as accepting cash payments from customers.

Is it too unreasonable to expect that some government institution take the initiative to protect the tech industry in this nascent stage? Can we avoid setting up our entrepreneurs for failure by not pitting them against an international heavy-weight and champion of disruptive business practices like Uber? How about a 2 year ban on any such foreign-based services-oriented technology company entering the Pakistani markets ? Give them a chance to educate the customer base, so when the competition begins, at least its on an even playing-field.

While identifying the possible problematic scenarios Uber can face while functioning in Pakistan, it is important to remember that these conclusions are based on how the company has conducted itself thus far. If Uber Inc. changes it’s organizational model by ensuring it’s drivers are thoroughly vetted or that drivers are hired as employees with all the perks of a job at a multinational, I am more than willing to roll out the welcome mat. As for the customer base, that is something that only time and a marketing campaign or two can tell.



#DigiWriMo StoryJumping Part 19: Time is a Flat Circle

This is part 19 of a storyjumper for Digital Writing Month. To read the story (so far), follow the links:

Part 1 Bruno’s blog started us off with a personal narrative.

Part 2 Kevin’s blog began the story.

Part 3 Maha’s blog continued…

Part 4 Sarah’s blog…

Part 5 Ron’s blog…

Part 6 Tanya’s blog…

Part 7 Kay’s blog…

Part 8 Ron’s blog…

Part 9 Dana’s blog

Part 10 Tania’s blog

Part 11 Maureen’s blog

Part 12 Sue’s blog

Part 13 Rhonda’s blog

Part 14 Yin Wah Kreher’s blog

Part 15 Scott’s blog

Part 16 Jeffrey’s blog

Part 17 Wendy’s blog

Part 18  Charlene’s blog

[ The story jumps to Wry…]

After being rudely jostled by the old blind man,  Wry shrug herself off and started staring into the distance. Right about when Kevin/Keith and Sarah/Haras were about to say something to break Wry out of her reverie, she shouted a loud ‘O.k.!’ as if summoning the attention of a room of preschoolers.

Since they were all still in the teahouse, all Wry received were dirty stares and a few frustrated sighs from the time travellers.

‘O.k., What?!’ demanded Haras.

Wry leaned in to say “Time is a flat circle.”

A silence so thick you could cut it with a knife hung in the air as her companions waited to Wry to fill in the context.

“You all are searching for the second map.  I say there is no point to that!

I once was hooked on a mini-series called True Detective and one of the main characters kept repeating this over and over again… ‘Time is a flat circle’.

We will keep repeating we once did, over and over again, ad nauseum. There is never a first or a last.


Don’t you realize that all this activity is futile?  Chasing after the maps won’t save your friend’s life.

Accepting that our lives are interconnected is the key to everyone’s survival!  

If we stop craving instant gratification, which often is in the form of social approval via Facebook/Twitter ( *smirk*), there is a possibility that we can slow the brutal repetition of Time long enough to forge a new world.

A world where people from across the globe connect with each other in authentic, creative ways – free from the interpretations of Mass Media Inc., free from the tweaking of various Middle Men.  A tangible, socially conscious community of loving, fractured souls who align more with their innate humanity than any other outwardly affiliation (be it nationality, sports teams (Go Bulls!), faith, or  politics).

How do we go about proving to Master Time that we are worthy of being freed from it’s clutches? We need to prove our humanity.

The maps are not from the Future. The maps are alive! If, at this very moment, any of us change ANYTHING,  from our order of Earl Grey tea to Jasmine tea, the maps will reflect the change.

I say we look for the other travellers immediately, but this time we have to beat the clock!   We need to get back to the source, the ukelele breaking.  Is there anything more unnatural then violence against a musical instrument?!There needs to a musical performance with harmony, syncopation (Jazz), and unity all in display.”

While the others stood stunned by Wry’s revelation, Sarah/Haras responded earnestly.

Ukeleles, as we know them today, originated in Hawaii.  I think we need to change our path. Let’s get to Hawaii to find the other time travellers – fast!”

[Next up is Grace Raffaele with Part 20 of the Storyjumping for #DigiWriMo!]

Creative Chaos: Ethnic Crafts Fair in Lahore

A quick write-up following a visit to a local crafts fair in Lahore – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

CW CCThe Good

  • The Season-November in Lahore is the closest we get to Autumn around here, so it was quite comfortable while browsing through the crowds for the perfect handicraft fix.  The sun is bright enough for us Lahoris to bust out the designer sunglasses, breezy enough to dust off the devastatingly beautiful (read:expensive) pashminas to wrap around our shoulders and the air crisp enough that everyone is infused with an extra dash of joie de vivre -even the traffic policeman on the drive up were less adamant on issuing tickets!   20151107_151456
  • Large variety of crafts on display – From camel-skin lamps crafted in interior Sindh to embroidered leather pouches from Balochistan, there were many types of crafts represented at the fair.

The Bad

  • The LocationThe Mall is already the busiest road in the city, the organisers’ choice of Tollinton Market led to a parking nightmare.
  • The Time of the Year – There is too much going on! What with the Faiz Ghar folks rolling out a festival on literature and music then there is the Khayal ArtsFest with more of the same – November is pretty cramped. I would have probably picked late February/ early March as an alternate time of the year to hold this fair; somehow it seems like all the fairs and fests have been crammed in ahead of the impending ‘Shaadi’ season.  Pushing your limited target audience into a state of overwhelm is not favorable! 

The Ugly (or Missed Opportunities)

  • Products Unlabeled – No Back Story, No Instructions and No Contact info if you want to get in touch with the vendor.
  • Lack of Business Cards, Labels or Social Media presence  – Vendors need to provide some way for customers or potential business partnersto get in touch after the fair is over. If nothing else,  set up a basic Facebook page with the brand name and print a set of cards with the Facebook Page link on it.
  • Prices Aren’t Written in Plain Sight or  are Hard-to-Read – I wrote about this before here.

Refuse the Question

There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

– The Mother of All Questions, Rebecca Solnit 

More gems from Solnit in this article:

We are constantly given one-size-fits-all recipes, but those recipes fail, often and hard. Nevertheless, we are given them again. And again and again. They become prisons and punishments; the prison of the imagination traps many in the prison of a life that is correctly aligned with the recipes and yet is entirely miserable.

The problem may be a literary one: we are given a single story line about what makes a good life, even though not a few who follow that story line have bad lives. We speak as though there is one good plot with one happy outcome, while the myriad forms a life can take flower — and wither — all around us.

Step-Up Workshops : Employability & Empowerment for Pakistani Women

I run self-empowerment, employability skills and digital literacy workshops for young professional women, minorities and economically disadvantaged youth under the banner of Step-Up Workshops.

With my team, our focus is to offer discounted workshops and resource materials that counter common obstacles for women/minorities  in the workplace/hiring scenarios.

Meaning behind the Name

Y8DMSZXDASA little bit about the name, Catalyst Woman – a few years ago, when a colleague was writing a farewell email, she referred to me with a line “I am sure that Mariam will be the catalyst to bring positive social change in Pakistan in our lifetime”.
593a319b83776885f262189de402b0abWe had spent many a tea-break discussing the dearth of quality educational/vocational initiatives for millennial Pakistani women – one can assume that kinship resulted in that sentence.
A year later I formally launched the consultancy with the aim to level the playing-field for working women in Pakistan via every project at Catalyst Woman.