The Bottomless Cup

Category: TEDxLahore

10 Things I learnt from TEDxLahore


This post was featured in “The Nation”  – “Things I learnt from TEDxLahore”

1. The Importance of a Unified Message (Narrative)
This was a person who was a part of an extremist organization, that despite its “wrong” intentions, gained quite a following. What causes such a following? Why did Nazi Germany flourish under such an evil & tyrannical rule?
To Maajid Nawaz, its a simple equation of having a unified narrative, symbols and a leader. Unfortunately, for Pakistan, these components are different for different groups of Pakistanis. Having this unified message and a narrative could be the solution to a Pakistan that is currently divided. I would be surprised if this talk does not go on the TED website soon.

2. The power of expression through freedom of inquiry
What can be more liberating than making your own instrument to express your feelings? I am not a big fan of classical South Asian music, but I realized how music can be an outlet for an explosion of emotions, in this case those of the TEDxLahore audience. The Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts teaches much more than music, it teaches one to be aware of oneself, and inquire about life. The philosophy that is encouraged in this institution is unprecedented in Pakistan. The audience rightfully gave Noor Zehra, the only person who can play the Saagar Veena, a standing ovation.


3. Your capacity for charity needs to increase gradually

Mudassir Zia gave a speech that touched many who have their  entire lives ahead of them. When you graduate, you have the entire corporate world in front of you, and charity seems like something that is holding you back. Yet, if you could start with the smallest act of charity, and move up with small increments, you might as well dedicate your life to charitable acts like Mudassir Zia did. He used the example of carrying a calf in the village, and how if one carries that in the beginning, carrying a big cow on your shoulders will not seem like much of a burden.

4. Access to information can change lives
Did you ever realize how access of national information, that should be rightfully available to the public, can help you? How awesome would it be if you could plan your day according to the power cuts in your region? This seems like a petty benefit when one considers how lives can be saved if relief workers had access to all the information, statistics and data that the government has.

5. The importance of using your education to benefit your country

We often dream of working for Microsoft, Google, Apple or NASA if we become world class engineers or scientists. Mr. Zeeshan Usmani believed that one should “get a good education and move to a bad neighborhood”, something his professor taught him. He used his expertise of science and technology to make calculations and models to help organize crowds in a way to minimize the loss of casualties during a suicide attack. I really hope the government takes his work very very seriously.


6. Fundamentalism might have nothing to do with religion altogether
We all agree that the lowest socioeconomic class in Pakistan is exploited, but continue to be a part of this exploitation. According to TED India Fellow Asher Hassan, we have in effect created a socioeconomic apartheid. Did you ever consider if its ok to give your servants food in different crockery?
With this smothered self-esteem, the poor class of Pakistan cry for attention. Could fundamentalism be a way for them to attempt to recover their lost glory?

7. Some familiar brands and graphics provide comfort in a world of change.

Ever wondered why that Rooh Afza bottle never changes its its logo and design? IMG_0088Because it works! For an expatriate, this Rooh Afza bottle has become an identity of India and Pakistan. It has become a sense of comfort, a constant in a world of change. Ms. Saima Zaidi used communication design to trace back to Pakistan’s culture and heritage through truck art, paintings and logos.

8. Indian migrants are mostly settled in Punjab!

Its funny how we think that most Indian Muslims migrated to Sindh (of those who migrated to Pakistan). However, Mr. Arif Hasan gave us a statistic that surprised us all. Punjab consists of around 80% Indian immigrants while Sindh only consists of 17% of such people. Isn’t it ironic that many People call people from Sindh Muhajirs ?

9. We are applying the western perception of development.

Using an idea that was similar to my “Artificial Development” post,  Dr Nadem Ul Haq attempted to discover why Pakistan’s growth is so stagnant. He argued that building world class highways does very little to help those who suffer from lack of basic necessities such as clean drinking water. We have become a society of mimickers, who use the western idea of development and apply it to a struggling developing country.

10. Professionalism

Last but definitely not the least, I learnt a lot from the TEDxLahore Team. After this event, I  have realized I have a lot to grow and being around such an energetic and hardworking group of people was definitely a step in the right direction.


Is it time for an “Idea Revolution”?


In the midst of political, economical and even ideological turmoil, a few intellectuals in Pakistan continue to exhibit exemplary citizenship as they try to resolve Pakistan’s socioeconomic issues by identifying problems at the grassroots level. Despite Pakistan being placed at no. 10 of the Fund for Peace Failed State Rankings, these individuals continue to write, invent and discuss ideas of hope.

Efforts are made to bring these individuals together in order to create a synergy of sorts, such as nationwide, privately organized conferences. The most prominent of such conferences that is gaining momentum among the public is TEDxLahore, which is an independently organized TED event that takes advantage of its local setting to discuss ideas that are pertinent to Pakistan. The speakers hail from a very wide variety of professional and demographic backgrounds but have the common mission to use their genius for the greater good. As a TEDxLahore Logoresult, TEDxLahore wants to bring these people together so that they can discuss and collaborate to dream and achieve even bigger. Appropriately dubbed as “collective genius”, the event makes an effort to involve thinkers even in its audience members. The high demand for attendance gives its organizers the luxury to pick its audience through an online application where prospective audience members have to prove that they can become a valued contributor to this social meeting for intellectuals. With an audience of 400 people and a live stream that is reaching out to a global audience, the organizers are confident that their efforts will bear fruit. Heavy involvement of social media aims to make this project an “idea movement” where intellectuals, independent from a political agenda, call for people to use their talent and brilliant ideas to help their ailing country.

However, such efforts are not always in the form of single events. Several people have set up organizations that are committed to finding solutions for Pakistan’s social problems by ideas through research and academia. One such organization is SEPLAA, which stands for Seeds of Education, Policy & Legal Awareness. Representing itself as a “Think Tank” organization, it comprises of intellectuals, including a handful of lawyers, who perform research on Pakistan’s index_01socioeconomic problems, to influence the opinions of the public and the policy makers. Citizens also have the options of becoming voluntary ‘members’ of the organization so that they can use whatever skill they have to contribute. Like TEDxLahore, SEPLAA relies strongly on the social media to spread its message. The organization maintains several blogs and other social networking accounts that encourages participation and spreads awareness.

The government and political system of Pakistan has a very tarnished reputation as it is believed to largely comprise of uneducated Pakistanis whose sole purpose is achieve personal gains through their positions. Therefore, many of Pakistan’s intellectuals try to disassociate themselves from any government or political institution, and tend to work independently. With the newly found freedom of press in this country, such institutions can achieve their goals without government intervention to a large extent.

Critics claim that ideas do nothing to solve the problems on ground. However, these entities believe that these ideas, coupled with a strong public relations backing (such as the social media), can influence policy makers to do the right thing. There has been success. For instance, organization including SEPLAA pressurized the government of Punjab into including a new clause in the ‘Nikahnama’ (Marriage Contract) that makes it compulsory for couples to undergo a blood test before getting married to avoid birth defects.

Efforts such as the ones mentioned above touch every citizen’s heart primarily because there is a strong need for people who believe that things are not beyond repair. Pakistan appears to have an abundance of people who love to sit back and criticize, and who shamelessly say that the country is doomed. Very few people use whatever talent they have, be it big or little, to do their part to bring their country back on its feet.

Ideas have caused revolutions. Maybe its time for ours.

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.