NOTE: This is a lightly edited (for formatting) version of a post on my personal Facebook profile which in turn was a slightly edited version of something I posted internally at work.
I had the distinct honor to be able to represent Facebook at two major events in Lahore, Pakistan last week. Specifically:
- We launched an Innovation Lab in Lahore, focusing on VR. The developer circles community in Pakistan launched a first-ever country-wide conference. More on that here.
They were a resounding success - we had unprecedented levels of community engagement and a successful launch. Also, in a surprise to me, we had great reviews in the press, which is rare. Hats off to the policy and comms teams for pulling that off.
I’m not the best person to speak to the complete, full impact of these events - I’ll leave that to the experts and the notes above.
I’m going to talk about something else. This note is about why the Pakistani story is important for us to remember, as the diaspora living abroad, so we can be reminded of where we came from and how we can help.
The Pakistani story
Here’s a potential interpretation of the Pakistani story, told in a few bullet points. I have heard all of these, and at times, thought of them myself.
- Pakistan is a backwards, over-populated (220 million people!), third-world country
- There’s violence everywhere, it’s not safe to visit
- Corruption is endemic, both in the government and society, why should I even bother doing the right thing?
- No Pakistani has ever achieved something of note
- The people with skills/talent leave the country to never come back and fix it
This sounds harsh. I wouldn’t want to live there. And yet, so many people do, and there are a select few that are actively working to make everything better. When you talk to them, you realize Pakistan has a marketing problem. More on that later.
At this point, dear reader, you might be wondering, “OK, so why should I care?”.
Despite all the hardships, and challenges, that have been tossed at them - the Pakistani people are surprisingly resilient and optimistic. Many a person would have given up - understandably so - and been resigned to their fate. But they’ve taken it as a challenge to rise up and fix things. We should do the same.
There’s so much amazing stuff going on, and we’re in a unique position to help.
The good, the great, and the inspirational
Let me start off by saying this only covers a tiny bit of what I heard. This contains two stories, and a few summarized bullet points.
If you haven’t heard of TechJuice, you can basically consider it Pakistan’s version of TechCrunch - they cover everything related to startups and entrepreneurship in Pakistan.
Fatima, the founder, shared her story and it was humbling. After graduating college in 2012, studying engineering (and working as a freelancer), she wanted to start her own company. She went to various incubators, and heard the same story everywhere: “But Fatima, you are a woman. You’ll get married. You need a male, technical cofounder”.
She started doubting herself and got an industry job. But the itch never went away. She applied to hackathons, and won the first global, cross-border hackathon that was setup at the time. She took that idea, went to investors, and again, got rejected. Mostly because she was a woman.
She didn’t give up.
She talked to some friends and saw an unserved need (people didn’t know what was happening) and the rest is history. TechJuice now has a team of 20+ and is one of the premier tech news blogs in all of Asia.
An unnamed student
My biggest regret from the events is that I didn’t get this person’s name and they left before I could follow up more.
I had the honor of chatting with a high school student, from Quetta, who traveled 1200km by bus and train just to attend this event. He had self taught himself React, React Native, and other technologies and wanted to connect more with developers and grow his skills so he could eventually work for NASA.
He came all this way so he could get advice. I spent 5 minutes explaining resources available to him in Pakistan, including the completely free, fully funded, top quality education at LUMS via the NOP program (which, again, due to Pakistan’s marketing problems - he hadn’t heard of). He was poor, had a rough life, and yet - wanted to do so much.
I heard that and took a long, hard look at myself - I’ve been lucky to be privileged and have so many resources, yet I balk at any inconvenience. Looking at this is an inspiration to do better, and give back - these people are relying on our programs so they can be connected to the world at large.
- Facebook runs almost 150 Developer Circles across the world. The one that has the highest gender diversity ratio, is in Pakistan (Faisalabad)!
- Our local Developer Circles leads are doing so much, selflessly, because they want to give back to the community. I’m trying to get my hands on the video so I can post it, because everyone’s stories are inspirational.
- This includes people who are ex-military, got injured and couldn’t serve their country that way anymore, so they picked up coding and are helping the community in other ways now.
- As part of our innovation lab launch, we had the first gathering of VR companies across all of Pakistan.
- 6 people got jobs as a result!
- We were specifically thanked for bringing this community together. The connections we build, matter, both on and off-Facebook.
- Pakistan has world-leading VR companies. And due to marketing issues, even people working in VR in Pakistan were not aware!
- To better describe the excitement, the DevC conference event had capacity for 300, and 700+ people showed up. From all over the country! The excitement was invigorating.
I went in to this trip thinking I’d be able to contribute back to the local ecosystem, thinking about what I could bring to the table. It was too much about me and not enough about what I could learn from the community:
- The work being done in the valley (and by the diaspora) is having an incredibly meaningful impact on the world
- We need to continue believing in what we do and execute on it - people are being helped.
- People are hungry for mentorship and guidance - and we can (no, must!) provide that.
If you’re interested in helping the community and giving back - be it LUMS, or wherever else - please reach out and I’ll try to do my best to connect you to the right folks.
Last, but not least, this could not have happened without an amazing team - thank YOU (in no particular order) to Jason Lin, Elisha Tan, Sarim Aziz, Adnan Majeed, Umair Sadiq, Maheen Sohail, Winnie Young, Mikaal Anwar, Hamza Tahir, Waqas Sheikh, Dr Suleman, our security team, and so many others that worked behind the scenes to make this a success.