About role models. Ordinary lives. Extraordinary inspiration.
If you ever made the mistake of asking me what does this country needs, you would know where this conversation is going.
I think we have a national shortage of role models. Yes we have brave souls who know how to take a stand, who oppose the madness of the mob, who believe when there is no reason to continue believing, who speak when no one else is willing to speak, who lend a helping hand when all hope is lost.
Yes we have many examples, some even regarded as national institutions, who have routinely walked the road less taken.
We need more.
I don’t think the issue is that we have a shortage of moral fiber. Over the last forty years, for as far back as I can remember, I have always been able to count on the help of strangers on the street, in this country.
I think the bigger challenge is that ordinary stories of extraordinary courage, of spirit, of making a difference are simply not told. They are not celebrated. They happen every day on every corner but we are so busy rushing to our next meeting that we simple don’t stop and notice. If we could only take a breather and open our eyes, the next time someone came along and said, are you crazy, this is Pakistan, you could look back at that role model you met on the street the other day and say with a knowing smile, “Yes, I know, this too is Pakistan.”
The same holds for the field of entrepreneurs and startups. There is a great deal to celebrate. The hard work put in by our elders and our technology sector thought leaders is finally paying off. We are now on the map. Go to any technology industry startup event in the region and you will see Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad mentioned and referred to. It took years of patience, sacrifice and effort to make this happen; we are almost there.
But are these the only stories to tell? To celebrate? The only role models?
We need more.
My friend Nabeel Qadeer is a crazy one. This is his story.
When I look back to our first meeting over lunch in Karachi ten years ago I remember what Jehan Ara said to me. “There is this young man I know from Lahore that I think you should meet. I think you will both enjoy meeting each other. He is a dreamer, just like you.”
Ten years later when I look back at our association and all the instances when Nabeel said, I think I am going to give this a try, the one common thread between all of his ideas has been the road not taken.
Nabeel has always done things that an ordinary mortal would think twice about. Joining a government initiative led by Dr. Umar Saif to promote entrepreneurship, first in Punjab and then nationwide. Check. Encouraging young men and women to put their ordinary lives on hold and take a shot at something extraordinary. Check. Convincing children to explore the many facets of technology by working as interns in the summer heat in Lahore. Check. Convincing technology leaders to take out time to come teach startups practical hands on techniques to grow, to scale, to sell in Lahore. Check. Explaining the politics of the street to technology leaders by taking them to meet ordinary individuals on the street. Check. Launching a national prime time television show on entrepreneurship that uses a new format. Check.
Given Nabeel’s tenacity and his desire to celebrate ordinary stories of extraordinary effort, I can’t wait to see the pilot. I know this has never been done before but when has that stopped us from trying out new ideas? Plus what could be better than a show that makes it possible for us to see, meet and explore the lives of ordinary individuals who should be national role models but are not. Not because they don’t have great stories to tell but because we have never had the time to stop and take notice.
Remember my original thesis. We need more role models.
Ordinary role models. Not super heroes but common souls, young men or women on the street can relate to. Who can inspire because they are just like us. It is easy for super men and women to fly because they have degrees from Ivy League universities, millions of dollars in funding and access that we can’t even dream about. Think about that for a second. You are not going to inspire the next generation by showcasing a community that already has everything. You will have to do something different. Something that is driven by people like us. Not super heroes.
Nabeel A. Qadeer, my friend, go forth and change the world yet again by doing something different. Don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise. What is the worst that can happen? That you will fail? So? You have never ever let that hold you back.
Even if that happens, you will be in great company with the rest of us failures. The lot that tried rather than just talked. The ones who dreamt of bigger and better things. The restless souls. The crazy ones.
Remember the best stories we have shared have always been of times when we have aimed for the impossible, tripped and fell. And then we got up and we tried again.
The only legacy worthy of our children is one of spirit, of trial, of change and yes, of failure. Because without our failures, the ones who succeed, will never be.
Godspeed my friend, Godspeed.