Good Convos and #GreenIt Campaign Launch w/Amb. Martin Kobler in Islamabad

It all began with a tweet by Ambassador Martin Kobler, the charming German Ambassador to Pakistan, inviting other active Pakistani twitter followers to a #tweetup. A friend shared the tweet asking where all the women were and that’s when I decided to get in touch – all the while thinking this would be a #TwitterLive session. Turns out it was an invite to take part in the first-ever Twitter party at the Embassy.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and here we are! This was a truly special gathering. The launch of the #GreenIt campaign focuses on encouraging sustainable living throughout the country, from planting and harvesting organic food to saving water while carrying out daily chores.

It was an honor to meet with so many caring, motivated individuals, all of whom are so passionate about their respective causes, be it environmental awareness, equal access to education and jobs for women or greater accessibility for limited mobility individuals.

M.I.A.: Work Culture

First, read this tweet.

When the Wiggle-Room Becomes the Bermuda Triangle 

As social animals, us humans have an inherent sense of how compatible we are with others.  This compatibility does extend beyond the typical domains of romance or familial duties; we have a definite compatibility ratio when it comes to our colleagues at the workplace.

In today’s project-driven offices it is quite common for us to be communicating with coworkers in the next city over or even the next timezone.  Given this reality, despite the numerous advantages of instantaneous connections via the internet (Skype, WhatsApp, Email), colleagues often provide each other some wiggle room when it comes to responding back on tasks that aren’t red-hot, Priority #1.

Working in Pakistan there are times we are dealing with choppy internet, poor bandwidth and plain ol’ power breakdowns; to battle all this, Pakistani professionals make it a priority to build in a cushion of time/space to ensure work gets delivered on-time.  We also invest a hefty sum of money in back-up power and multiple internet service providers;  I would specially give credit to our independent freelancing professionals who maintain this high-level of responsiveness without the buffer of a mega-corp or the mega-corp budget.

Going back to the compatibility aspect, we usually have a good sense of who will not exploit the wiggle room given; until that wiggle room becomes the never-ending Bermuda Triangle. Something inexplicable happens and the perfect syncopation fizzles out into unanswered emails and missed deadlines.

I write this only to trigger a conversation about this phenomenon. What makes us, all of us, lose steam during a project? Is this an indication of poor leadership?  Aside from the obvious communication breakdown, are there expectations from the project associates that aren’t being met?  How to jump-start such failing connections?

Is this a failing of our national work culture?  Can work culture even be generalized to include multiple industries across a beautifully complex and rapidly metamorphosing country like Pakistan?

Note: I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this phenomenon in the workplace. If you have any stories, please leave a comment or drop a tweet at @catalystwoman

 

Needed:Co-working Spaces in Lahore

My headphones are plugged in to what I imagine a shoreside picnic coupled with thunderclaps and slight rain shower sounds like. If you have ever wondered who is lame enough to actually use a rain sound app, that would be me. It can also be you, too, if you were camped out in a busy cafe in Lahore’s commercial district. 

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I’m attempting to stay focused on the upcoming meeting, while the couple at the table on the left has once again asked me for the wi-fi password.  Such interruptions, while normal if one is in the mood for people-watching or idle posturing in a swanky eatery, are frustrating if one is waiting to meet a client to finalize terms on a contract.

photo-1429681601148-75510b2cef43Office-less, officially, when it comes to our consulting work, my partners and I feel the need for a formal meeting room or conference room at least twice to three times a month. While that seems quite frequent, when we calculated the math, it still doesn’t make sense for us to invest in a permanent office in the near future.  Reasons being that some of us are still working traditional 9-5 jobs while others prefer the convenience of flex-time and telecommuting afforded by the consulting work-life.

What Lahore desperately needs is an affordable Co-working space which is open to all types of professional, techies and non-techies, entrepreneurs, freelancers, cottage-industry workers, bakers and yes, even musicians. 

What should the co-working space consist of? The usual, a conference room, a small kitchenette, desks or cubicles for hire by the hour or the day, reliable wi-fi/internet connection, a tv lounge/reception and a printer/fax machine corner to round off all the mundane necessities of grownup, office-life.

Let’s step beyond the vomit-inducing, Silicon Valley-esque marketing gibberish that immediately gets plastered upon the advent of a functional service idea.  This is not a recommendation for all of you sitting on your butts to open up 5 co-working spaces right across from each other in Bahria Town  and begin hosting ‘entrepreneurship workshops slash mentorship sessions slash fireside chats’  on the regular.  I am not claiming to be your guru for new-fangled business ideas.

What I am recommending is a more holistic, survey-based approach to solving challenges  your peers and neighbors are dealing with in your immediate vicinity. If you solve that challenge successfully, and lucratively, good on you!  If you fail to solve that challenge the first time around, no problem; you’ll have earned goodwill in the community. Rest your bruised ego, keep your eyes and ears open, and rise up tomorrow with the intent to put your education and initiative to good use.

Note: I have heard inklings of a co-w0rking space popping up in my hometown, but I’m curious if there are any others on the horizon. If you know of any, leave a comment or drop a tweet at @catalystwoman

 

 

Catalyst Woman in the UAE (More Pictures)

Listed on Speakerinnen!

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Proud to be listed on the Speakerinnen website – that, too, highlighting my favorite topics to speak about – Empowering Women, Communications, Educational Technology and Employability Training. Kudos to the founders of the project; this is a great way to show support for balanced representation of both genders on the stage and across all other platforms (digital/virtual).

Looking forward to attending more conferences in 2016!

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.”

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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.