The Bottomless Cup

Month: June, 2010

TEDxLahore: Ideas for Hope

Yesterday was the first volunteer meeting for TEDxLahore. In case you are not familiar with TEDx, it is an independently organized TED event, where intellectuals come and discuss their ideas with an engaged audience in a local setting.


I have been a fan of TED since about a year now, because I believe that the problems of the world will not be solved by capital but with ideas ideas. Projects such as One Laptop Per Child, Developmental Solutions Organization and TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) attempt to achieve precisely this.

The main organizers (similar to the “Upper Board” of DSO-Q) had a clear idea of the kind of speakers they wanted. They wanted people who are not necessarily famous for their accomplishments, but have done great things for the country. I must say the accomplishments of these people left me at complete awe; these people had brilliant ideas that they selfless;y executed for the betterment of something bigger than themselves. People like these gives every Pakistani hope for a better future and giving them exposure does a lot to improve the tarnished image of Pakistan.

I am not sure if being famous has anything to do with a good TED talk. I believe any accomplished person whether he/she is famous or not, can give an inspirational speech. From the top of my head, someone like Imran Khan can give a speech about “honoring the ones you love” and integrate his idea behind Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital to give a unique, inspirational talk. Unfortunately, I cannot give out the the names of any of the participants, but I can assure you that these people will inspire you.

Talking about speeches, I am a part of the Speaker Team (Headed by Khurram Siddiqui, a professor at FAST-NU) and my job entails giving the speeches a heading/topic that is exciting in order for the speaker to make his/her speech as focused and as interesting as possible in that very short time span. Another part of my responsibility will be making “TEDx Packs” for the speakers, which outline the purpose and format of the TEDx events, so that they can start preparing their talks. Lets hope the speakers take out some of their time and make an effort to give an awesome speech.

Exciting Stuff. More of TEDxLahore to come! In the meanwhile check out for further information.


Artificial Development?

When you step into the “new Lahore”, it is hard to tell that the city is going through a difficult phase. Little is there

indication that the city is going through a security and energy crisis, and that people are largely unsatisfied with their lives. Why? Because we just opened Pakistan’s first Cinnabon,that too with with a celebrity red carpet event. What is

amusing is that when the Pakistani finance minister was asked about the poor state of the economy, he responded by denying that the economy had retarded growth by giving the example of the number of McDonalds opening in Pakistan.

Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with places likes these opening here; of course there is a segment of the population that is a market for such products and services. However, what

I do have reservation against is that people consider projects like this as a sign of development. You would only be kidding yourself if you think like that.

I was wondering about why this is the case when I stumbled upon this recent TED talk titled “Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile” by Chip Conley:

This is one of the most inspirational talks I have ever heard. It talks about how we should concerned about Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of economic indicators such as GDP, which don’t say anything about how the government is doing on public welfare. Pakistan is probably not so economically weak; the 45th highest GDP in the world does not even begin to explain how dire our situation is.  When I was in Rwanda (Note:  139 on that list), I thought people were happier there. It is really heartbreaking to see the people of my country with miserable faces, and I did not quite see the same expressions from the people in Rwanda. The country has done really well for itself, for this very reason. In places like Tanzania, when I asked Tanzanians why there is no McDonalds there, they answered by saying that they don’t need it. It is this kind of self confidence that every Pakistani should possess. We should truly believe that the western way is not the right way for every country. It saddens me to see that Pakistan is no.6 from the bottom on the Legatum Prosperity Index.

Finding Your Entrepreneurial Identity

Entrepreneurship is part of human nature; our desire to do business is something intrinsic to all of us.  My idea of an “entrepreneurial identity” is about this dream of a unique business that you probably had all your life. I have yet to come across someone who doesn’t.

I’ve had this obsession with books ever since I can remember. Note that my obsession with books does not necessarily translate to my fondness of reading. I enjoy reading, but I am not a regular reader. I do however, love owning books. I therefore knew that I would want to start up a business related to books.

I also love coffee. I get very picky about cafes, and I have a couple of favorites where I go study. Due to this, I have acquired the ability to tell between different coffees. Therefore, my dream project is setting up a cafe for intellectuals. Even though these are common all over the world, it would be something new in Pakistan.

The cafe industry is very artificial and glamorous here. Cafes do not serve the utility that they serve in many parts of the world. For me, a cafe is a place where one can study, read, have meetings or discussions. It is also interesting to note that the first cafes were built in Damascus for the very reason of intellectual discussion. A library-cafe hybrid would be a good way to describe what i want.

My cafe would be one where one could read books from a selection, work on one’s laptop or carry out meetings in a well lit, student friendly environment. I feel strongly about good ideas being the solution to all our problems. My cafe would provide an environment conducive to thought.

The name -  The Bottomless Cup.

The Stats, The Introvert and The Mini Cooper

It is funny how I closely monitor my blog hits. To me, it is very important that what I am writing is being read, why else would I write a blog? Also, it makes me incredibly happy when someone tells me to blog more or that they have missed reading my blog because I haven’t written a new entry. So, while I was looking at my blog statistics, I realized that this post got the highest hits ever. To my surprise, it is the one where i was supposedly suffering from writer’s block and did not have access to the internet. Moral of the story: make some posts personal!

The past four months have been intense, I think i discovered myself more then than the 3 years before that. While I was leaving Rwanda, I was asked by Waleed Ali Khan's dream car - mini coopermy team members what I had learnt from the trip; and before I could say anything, they said said one word: confidence. And that was precisely what I was going to say. I think I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, know where I want to see myself in the future, and feel a sense of purpose for my life. For one, I realized that if I ever make enough money, I want a Mini Cooper! I also want to continue to pursue my global development initiatives, and perhaps want to work for the United Nations if I ever get the opportunity.

I am proud to be an Introvert. While I was thinking about how awesome the past 4 months have been, I also realized how my trait as an introvert made my growth an internal process.  I remember one of my relatives once said that I was incapable of even buying something from a shop (because I was quiet and shy). Because I was an introvert, I just felt that internal desire to prove him wrong instead of talking back to him. Alas! I doubt after Rwanda people can say this!

I think I am writing this very personal blog just  because I am an introvert. My love for writing was born because I wasn’t really fond of talking to strangers. I prefer writing to professors than dropping by at their offices. I’ve always preferred writing because it can avoid social interaction. Writing is something I can do in solitude and it helps me clear my mind. As research suggests, introverts are thought oriented, and hence like to think instead of speak or take immediate actions.

Suspending Judgment: Bringing out the Anthropologist in Us

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” – Ruth Benedict

My trip to Rwanda was so much more than service; I was able to learn a lot from this extraordinary society that had gone through so much and was now stronger than ever. The lessons that I learnt from simply observing were meaningful; and as I was talking to this McGill anthropology graduate student, I realized that I was an anthropologist in my own way. Jessika was a courageous person; she came to Rwanda all alone to study the effect of ICT in learning and the role the government can play in it. What makes her even more courageous was that she was completely uncertain of what the future would hold; she had not received a visa that gave her the license to do her study, she knew barely anyone in the country and more importantly, she was pursuing a career that did not guarantee her any kind of job security. Yet, she was visibly happy with what she was doing, and was a tremendous support to all of us.

During our conversation, she was telling me that the purpose of anthropology was bridging the gaps between “stereotypes and people”, which leads to explanations that can “open people’s eyes.” To do that, she has to firstly suspend any kind of judgment (which is probably the hardest thing to do!) and become a first hand observer.

Some of the names of the victims of Rwandan Genocide at the Memorial we visited. Photo by Joshua Debner

What she had taught just helped me articulate my thoughts on Rwanda. However, what I was unable to do was to suspend my judgment, as I was exposed to so much negative media about the African continent. The images of an underdeveloped, uncivilized and poverty stricken Africa is all i saw before visiting Rwanda. When I got there, I saw probably the best display of civility I have seen. The roads were very clean, and I had barely seen any kind of littering. Crime was almost non-existent and I felt very safe there. However, what completely astonished me was that the society was so ordered; people were busy doing their set tasks, and one could see that everyone on the streets had a purpose. The people were very friendly and well mannered, and everyone dealt with us very professionally. I think Pakistanis can learn a lot from the Rwandan People, particularly how they rose from the tragic genocide that appeared to have devastated the country irreparably.

Our global leaders need to do the same. When applying a certain policy and when dealing internationally, they need to suspend their judgments and make an effort to base these judgments on first hand interactions. This could in fact be a solution to world peace; because not only can we appreciate and understand differences, we realize the similarities in our humanities. If politicians were anthropologists, they could perhaps prevent wars that are based on human differences.

Anthropology could also enable learning; I myself have been wondering how there could be so much peace in a country that saw so much violence and devastation in he past. Pakistan is going through a similar phase, where it is not only battling with terrorism, but also suffering from inter-sect wars, which is probably our own version of the Hutu-Tutsi war. I wish to do more research into how this problem was possibly solved. Once I am done, I’ll be sure to dedicate a blog post on that.