Saturday, 28 May 2011

Re-Launch Brand Pakistan - Part II

A few days back I wrote about the stereotype image that Pakistan has fallen victim to and my intention to become part of the mission of 're-branding' Pakistan correctly in the eyes of international media. I have since then been looking at what other people have been doing in this regard. Today on my flight from Karachi to Islamabad, I saw this video and was utterly impressed. This is exactly 'one' of the actions we had in mind to make a step towards this re-branding exercise. 

I urge all Pakistanis sitting abroad and inside Pakistan to visit Iampak ( and  not only spread the 'image' but also become 'part of the image' by contributing your proud story of being a Pakistani. 

Believe me, it is 'us' pakistanis on the streets who make the soul of this country and not the few leaders or political/religious groups that mistakenly happen to be the face of the country on mass media. 

I have just come back from a breathtaking trip to the northern areas of Pakistan, "Nathiagali" (which I will also blog about soon) and I also saw some foreigners (seemed European by the accent) bag-packing  up there and I was very pleased that some non-Pakistanis had the courage to come down and discover the beauty and positive truths of Pakistan themselves despite what is projected on media.  

If you are a Pakistani sitting anywhere in the world, doing anything that can help Pakistan break away from its 'Terrorist' image, then please email your profile to  and become part of the 'real story' of Pakistan! 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Istanbul: in two half days

Soon after our wedding, my husband had a two week business trip to Toronto. We had planned I'd go visit my family in Dubai during those two weeks and tickets etc. were all sorted out. It was the evening before our flight to Dubai (his connecting to Toronto) and he comes home with three options for me: "my trip is going to be a month long now, so you have 3 options, either you spend a month in Dubai or you spend 2 weeks in Dubai and 2 weeks in Lahore (where my grandparents and two siblings are) or you could accompany me on the business trip." Without much thinking, the newly wed bride plunged at the offer of being with her husband (and I have to admit somewhere deep down the inherent traveler in me was excited about the new destination). Last minute, the only available flight we found for me was with Turkish airlines so we had to travel the long 14 hour journey separately!  (he was already booked on emirates)

The journey had a 7 hour stop over in Istanbul so I decided I would try my best to get a transit visa and get out of the airport. Seven hours of sitting at the airport before and after two long flights would have been a physical and psychological disaster for the adventurer living in me. So I tried and luckily managed to get the transit stamp. Not knowing much about the city and location of the main tourist attractions, I went looking for the tourist helpdesk at the airport. They advised me that I should take a taxi (worth 70 Turkish liras, one way!) and get to the other end of the city which could take an hour. When I asked them what the tube (metro) would take, they said 1.75 Turkish Liras - the decision was simple: I wasn't going to listen to the travel desk anymore. So I got a map of the city from them and went straight in the direction of the subway. The map showed me a picture of the Blue Mosque (built in 1606), one of the most famous tourist attractions of Istanbul . I showed that to the subway staff and asked them what route would take me there.

It was still 6am in the morning when I boarded the tube. I plugged my ipod into my ears and chose a seat next to the window. We quickly came over ground and I could see the suburbs of the city in the dawning light. This was March and still very cold for Turkey so everyone was packed in long coats, gloves, headgears and muflers. Luckily I was dressed for Toronto so I was well equipped for Turkey too.

I managed to change subways correctly and got off at the station closest to the Blue Mosque. On my way, I saw many mosques that looked exactly like the Blue Mosque (that I had seen in pictures) and I wondered if I had already missed it. To add to my confusion, when I stepped out at the correct station, I could see three similar mosques again! It was freezing cold and foggy - I walked along a bit trying to figure out which mosque I should audit first. It was 7am now - streets were still quite deserted. Only one breakfast stall on the pathway was to be seen. I went to him as I was a bit hungry myself and bought myself some traditional turkish cheese filled bread. Nice fellow he was - he noticed I was a tourist and let me pay a discounted rate when I fiddled with my bag looking for more change. Hunger was solved, but it was still too cold, too cold for my apparently very warm clothes. I found a cafe open, perhaps the only cafe open at 7am in the morning  - the Pudding Shop. They had wireless internet and I was carrying my travel buddy - my laptop! So I quickly connected, ordered a latte and spent some time checking emails, updating friends and family etc. By 8am, the chill had worn out and the sun was brighter. I decided it was time to do what I had originally come here to do - look for the Blue mosque! I went into one Mosque, saw all around, inside and outer courtyard - it was beautiful. It looked like the blue mosque, but I wasn't sure if it really was. So I went ahead to the next mosque and there I read a very different name to the mosque outside its gate and came out again looking for "the mosque". So I asked someone on my way, which of the three was actually the Blue Mosque, which I later learnt was also called the "Sultanahmet Camii Mosque". He pointed at the one I had entered first, so although I had seen it, I went inside again to give it the due respect and detailed observation, now that I knew it WAS the blue mosque :). Spent some good time, took a few pictures with the help of friendly looking strangers roaming around willing to patiently click while I posed like a typical tourist. I was satisfied, I had done justice to all the hassle of getting the transit visa and risking my way out of the airport. I walked about but since it was early morning, most shops were closed and I decided to return back to the airport in good time.

I got the same opportunity on my way back from Toronto. This time I made it to the ctiy at around 6pm, much more confident and knowing my way around. It was a perfect time to join the evening rush and glow of the tourist areas. I decided to check out the famous 'Grand Bazaar' this time. This a popular shopping area with traditional turkish shops selling handwoven carpets, bags, clothes, wall hangings and what not. The turkish lights are beautiful - multi-coloured and very delicate in glass and wrought iron. I had some interesting exchanges with the shop keepers - some thought I was Iranian and others Egyptian but whoever I was, it was a way to lure me into buying their prized products. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my walk all across the bazaar and infact I walked long enough to get to the Blue Mosque again. Istanbul, rightly known as the city of mosques, has a mosque of equal grandeur at literally every ten steps. The most beautiful part of the evening was the call (azaan) for the maghrib prayer. Suddenly all the mosques started the azaan and the city seemed to have risen above the ground in this beautiful synchornised echo. All the pedestrians and shopkeepers started walking towards their closest mosque (quite a choice they had). I also joined the congregational prayers at one of these mosques. The ladies area was upstairs and I happened to be only one out there but I actually enjoyed the combination of privacy in my area and being part of the group of people praying downstairs. 

Later I grabbed the traditional Turkish 'Donor kebab'  and walked across the colourful bazaar, enjoying the walk in the comfortably cold weather (this time of the day as compared to the chilly early morning on my last transit). 

I happened to engage in conversation with a couple of Turks who were curious where I was from. When I told them I was from Pakistan, to my surprise they were extremely warm and pleasant and said "oh brother country, brother country" in sincere joy! Pakistanis today seldom get that kind of a response towards their identity and so I was touched. One of them who I met outside the mosque asked me if I could teach him names of the 5 prayers in Arabic, since he only knew them in Turkish. That was a pleasant sweet exchange of knowledge and he repeated the five in Arabic to make sure he remembered as I told them. Another two Turks I met in the cafe were discussing the recent upheaval in Middle East and were interested in my views on it. I also met an Afghan/Turk shop keeper who had lived sometime in Pakistan and managed to speak a little bit of Urdu. And so a  truly Turkish evening it was! 

Friday, 20 May 2011

Olive - the LUSH by Pakistan?

I am a big fan of 'naturals', especially when it comes to personal care products. When I first went to London I came across this amazing shop called 'LUSH' and one of their key marketing tool was the 'scent' that traveled from their store to out to the entire shopping street. LUSH ( started as the hand-made natural ingredient soap makers in the UK and now they have expanded to almost 50 countries and across a wide range of personal care products (including cosmetics, deos, shampoos, oils etc). Their colourful and chunky products with the most tempting and mesmerising scents are quite a treat! and you can be sure that's about the most natural you can get when it comes to skin care and beauty products.

My most recent visit to LUSH was in Toronto a couple of months back and I was excited to buy their products after almost 2 years! I got myself a charcoal based face wash (it is known to clean out the deepest dirt from your pores) and a handmade banana based liquid  foundation (and it doesn't look like you've applied make up at all).

But now it seems like I might not have to wait to travel across continents to get my 'naturals' anymore. "Olive" ( a similar brand of hand made natural products has just been discovered! It is a local (Pakistani) business, which makes me very proud! And their products look just as amazing as LUSH. On the a left is a picture from an exhibition were Olive launched their range (you can see the similarity to the LUSH display above). In fact they also held a 'talk session' on their products to help their consumers learn more about the ingredients and understand what is it that they apply on their skin or hair. The packaging is also quite trendy and attractive, adding to the temptation from the scents and making them excellent gift items!  

I've been wanting to try Olive products and have just discovered that they are available in Lahore and Karachi at the following outlets:

Karachi: Object (Park Towers), Solo (Clifton)

Lahore: Source, Shop 224, Y Block, DHA (adjacent to Nishat Linen)

I'm definitely visiting their outlet tomorrow! :)

You want to Litter? Fine.

I know that Littering is a much repeated and reinforced topic, but what brings me to re-state the obvious here is my little experience today while I was in the car with my family outside a juice shop near hussain chowk, Gulberg (Lahore).

While waiting for our juice order, the car infront of us just spat out a disposable glass of juice. At that moment I and my family wished someone had done exactly to him what the video up here shows! My aunt almost got out of the car to correct those young teenage lads (as we later saw through the car) but she stopped short realising that they seemed the sort who would react foolishly. So alternatively she requested the juice shop waiter to pick up the litter which he willingly did.

This little incident got me in to thinking about ways to bring about a change in people's very casual attitude towards littering and I started looking into what other developed countries have been doing. During my search I also came across a concerned group of Pakistani's running the campaign called "Don't mess with Karachi" (, apparently inspired by 'Don't mess with Texas' ( one of the most impressive anti-litter campaigns (speaking creatively) and I was glad to see that someone somewhere in Pakistan is also trying to bring about this positive change. 

So with out going into much criticism (and assuming that MOST of us do act oblivious and immune to litter once in a while), I thought I'd play my little part in being the change I'd like to see around me. Here's my humble resolution & suggestion list:

Can we please:

1. Never throw litter out of the car, instead carry it home to our bins?

2. Always fold our gums into a paper and then throw them into bins? 

3. Not feel ashamed to point out to others that they've just littered? If difficult to correct them in person, can we instead pick up what we see thrown in front of us? That would certainly cause embarrassment for the litterer! 
4. Not squish our cigarettes on the road or pathway while walking. Neither toss them out of the car? 

I know the list could go on for ever - but if we could just start with those FOUR above and make them second nature to us, I'm sure our cities would be degrees cleaner than they are today. 

And if the Government really does want to make money out of the public, heavy littering fines should be a better way than increasing all kinds of other taxes. At least it will do some good to the country! 

P.S : Littering really is Uncool! 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

My latest shopping destination!

My sister and I visited the Harroons outlet at Gaddaffi stadium, Lahore this week and came out with at least 6 shopping bags! We hadn't planned to do all that shopping but once you enter the shop, suddenly a bunch of colourful and well assorted items jump at you and you're excited that you can actually buy gift items, shoes, bags, funky jewelry, stationary, household items,  mugs etc. all under the same roof. So we stocked up gifts for all upcoming birthdays and also got ourselves a few funky items. 

I particularly liked their shoe section, we bought 2 pairs and were short of cash otherwise we wanted to buy 3 pairs actually. Their shoes, ranging from converse, slippers, fancy sandals, pumps to wedge heels are all extremely comfortable and at a very affordable price range of Rs.1000-1200.  The designs were all very unique and trendy. 

Another interesting item was their collection of 'wall stickers' which can be used to spice up your rooms and it seems like you've painted it. I'm attaching a picture of what we did in my sister's room. We had a lot of fun doing it together too.  I got two of those for my own place too. These too were just for about Rs.350 each and an excellent summer activity for mothers to do with kids, or for any one thinking of re-doing their living room or bedroom. 

There was another item which might interest teenage boys - disco t-shirts. These t-shirts have a neon coloured badge which lights up according to the music playing in the background (something like  a sound detector is attached to it.)

I had first become a fan of Harroons when they opened up in Islamabad and was ecstatic when they launched in Y-block DHA, but I visited the Gaddaffi outlet for the first time (which is a lot bigger than the Y block outlet) and they've got a whole different range of items and great variety at this outlet as compared to the DHA one. 

If you go sometime this week,  you'll catch their amazing collection currently in-store I bet you'll come out with a pair of shoes at least like we did! 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The confused graduate...

Have you come across people who tell you they became who they are by chance or luck and not by conviction or passion? I have... at my work place, at university, at college - I have come across professionals and students who are pursuing a particular career or opting for a course because that just happens to be something that was financially lucrative, or something their parents advised (in some cases 'forced') them to do, or because they happened to get a particular job offer or acceptance letter into a program. Now many of these people might be doing great at whatever they are doing and might be very happy with themselves as well while others drag themselves to class or work because they just 'have to'. Some people make it big by virtue of chance and random decisions, while others spend years yearning for one thing and pursuing another. 

In Pakistan, where there is still lack of career counselling services and programs and where parents still have their pre-historic, risk averse views about professions and their scope, young o-level and a-level students are almost led to making subject choices by virtue of their grades or luck. What they choose as their subject in a-levels/Fsc/FA to some extent leads them to the university program they are well suited for. Since the first decision was not based on thorough potential and aptitude analysis, neither is the next level and the next level until they join the work force where they finally realise that they had been going in the wrong direction all that time. Since its too late to change or go back now, often people work hard and try to maintain their performance just so that they remain employed. But such people keep themselves unhappy and their colleagues frustrated because given their natural in-aptitude or passion for that job, they cannot progress beyond a certain limit, thus holding back the entire team they work with. This kills their own self-esteem too and impacts their career path in the longer run. 

I think career counselling starts way before children get into colleges; a good exposure to a wide variety of options either through mentor-ship, internships and personality assessments can help a student realise at a very early stage as to what they are naturally inclined towards. And this exercise needs to be done repeatedly in short intervals to test for natural evolution of interest that often leads youngsters to change their mind every few months (which is alright, as long as they do it at the right stage). 

While professional career counselling services might take their due time to develop in schools and colleges, as elder family members (uncles, aunts, elder siblings or cousins) we should take interest in our up coming generation and help them figure out what it is that they would like to stand for in life. Because honestly, the career you choose is likely to take up 70 percent of the hours in your 'non-sleep' life. If you think of it this way, it better be something you really enjoy and can excel in with the least amount of pain. 

You can take them along to spend a day at your work place during their summer/ winter vacations. It would be good for young students to come for a round to the offices of banks, factories etc. to get a feel of the work place; some of them also spend a week or two at the office, even if they are too young for internships yet. The kind of work environment your career entails also has a lot of stake in your career choice so although students might not understand what exactly the employees are doing sitting at their computer screens or before assembly lines, simply the feel of the work environment will also help them understand their professional temperament.

Ideally, it would be good if schools also organised for professionals from different fields of arts, science, business etc to visit their students once in a term and talk to them about their jobs. Students could also follow up with one on one meetings with the guests later on. I know that guest speaker sessions are held at undergraduate and graduate schools (like Fast, NUST, LUMS, IBA) but that is more like narrowing your core area or choosing the employer in the field that you've already chosen. Broad career choice is made much before a student enrolls in a university and similar seminars, sessions need to be held in secondary level schools too. 

I went for a personality assessment by Meyer Briggs (( some years back and I found it to be very useful in defining and reassuring me of my strengths and accordingly suggesting the careers and functional roles that suit my personality. I was surprised at the accuracy of the tests results and now having worked for the past four years I see myself playing along the same strengths and the same behaviour that the test had identified in me. ) 

English Tea House - an experience worth the pricey tea

As you enter the greenery filled enclosure through the path to the left of "Yum" , the new Thai restaurant in Gulberg, Lahore - it takes you to oldish English times in Yorkshire or Scotland. The greenery is still under design, as you can see some gardeners and exterior designers working on taming the thick dark green branches of the trees outside this very 'country side' like cafe called "English Tea House". A friend of mine introduced me to this place for quite rightly its ambiance. During our time in Europe we had  gone out for breakfast and tea at similar places when we visited each other and this experience was a perfect nostalgic reminder of those days. Even if you haven't been to Europe, entering this cafe, makes you connect with childhood story books and movies set in the Victorian times.
Adding to this feel was the staff who were dressed in checkered Scottish uniforms and the females in longer versions of scottish skirts and sashes which I particularly enjoyed. Quite amusing are the vintage wall plates also adding culture to the interior of the cafe.  
It would be perfect place to visit in the winters with their outdoor benches and tables placed beautifully midst the greenery and wooden terrace. For summers you can sit inside and enjoy the outdoor view from the clear glass walls.
The Tea itself was not too great and a bit too expensive, almost Rs.200 for a serving that you could pour twice (in their defence), but even Rs.100 per serving seems a bit pricey to me for plain ol' chai. Since we had already had lunch elsewhere we didn't have space to try out their snacks but given their ambiance is worth another visit, I'd like to try out their Yorkshire pudding and other pies sometime soon. I managed to take a few photos; gladly the staff was quite easy going and friendly.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

I want a job BUT... (Dilemma of the working home-makers)

Today I wanted to write about something closer to my own heart and current situation in life. Ever since I remember back from school days, I haven't really had a long holiday or relaxed lifestyle. Being the over ambitious and studious kid that I was, always worried about grades and involved in five other extra-curricular activities, I hardly had time to spare for anything other than 6 hours of sleep and sometime even less. 

Running about from grade to grade, I finally enrolled into an MBA program which made my routine crazier - and my mindset even more competitive and career oriented. Right from day one in your MBA class you know you have to fight for the best job in the market - and if you get it you go to the next level of 'having no time'. Thats exactly what happened to me. As ideal as it may seem - I pursued an Investment Banking career in London right after graduation. Having exhausted myself in the 8am-10pm (on good days) routine for about 2 years,  I decided to slow down a bit and come closer to home. So I moved to Dubai and found a job in the Consumer Goods industry which gave me a few extra hours to myself but still kept me pretty much on my toes. 

And then life took its course and I got married. As I had 'idealistically' planned, I took sometime off to enjoy the first few months of this new transition in life and also to settle in with the change. Being the restless workaholic that I had become over the years, this break was only pleasant for a while and my soul started to feel idle and useless very soon ,and I'm now back on a serious job hunt....BUT... but the dilemma now is that having seen, read about, and experienced the horrors and stresses of corporate life, I know and understand the kind of impact it 'could' have on your family life if you're not an excellent 'gymnast' when it comes to work-life balance. This is more relevant for females as they share a greater share of the responsibility of home and kids. 

So now I am looking for a job, and a good one, but I feel like the corporate sector still hasn't progressed enough to accommodate the very natural and crucial transitions like marriage and motherhood,  in the life of their female employees. Not many companies are well set up with 'agile work spaces' that allow you to function flexibly out of the office. Day cares are now an upcoming trend but still has a long way to go before it becomes one of the key facilitations in the eyes of Human Resources.

'Job share' is another concept which sounds quite appealing to those for whom time is more relevant than money. In this case two employees are employed at the same position and they split their salary and hours in half. This concept again is quite unexplored by most companies. It is understandable that this is a hassle from the management point of view where a manager has to supervise two instead of one person for the same job but on the other hand its not likely that both female employees would take leave or become mothers at the same time which makes it easier to hold on to the work load when such a situation arises. Instead of having no assistant, you have 'half an assistant' while you find a replacement for the other half. And in many cases because the job sharing colleagues work very closely, one can take the load of the other on a temporary basis. Companies also offer the job share partner to take the full load and full pay if they are interested.

The job share colleagues choose the hours that suit them - and can exchange hours when they need to move around work for a need at home. It also brings more competitiveness to the team as job share colleagues are constantly at a comparison. They know they are not the only assistant and they cannot exploit the manager. They also know that when it comes to dealing with cross functional teams, their manager has two lenses to view a situation from and therefore there are chances for less bias (on softer issues etc.)

While I am still only a wife and not a mother and could afford to work full and manage home exhausting the best of my energy and organisational skills - I am conscious that I 'could' be at another stand-still situation in a few years with motherhood. I might be thinking too long term but that's exactly how the corporate sector needs to think if they do not want to face high turn over of their female employees who are now in significant number and at quite strategic positions.

I recently read a very good book called 'Womenomics' by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay (two high flying journalists) which talks about the dilemmas, stresses that career oriented females go through when they start making homes and families. They are almost at a loss of options to keep their conscience and intellect satisfied at the same time! While its completely alright to choose one way or the other if that's clearly your priority, but most women after having worked full-time would like to remain intellectually engaged and productive while they still manage their homes and play their part as mums. The book also ‘re-defines success for women’. I recommend this book to all females who're at this stage or planning this stage in their life and careers. I also think employers should take learning from this book to devise such HR policies and work arrangements that females to be able to progress beyond mid-career levels with least negative impact on their home lives and nerves! :) 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Re-launching Brand "Pakistan" !

Today my husband and I were discussing the ever increasing and seemingly never ending issues with Pakistan. To be honest while so much seems to have gone wrong with Pakistan on the face media, life hasn't change that much in many ways. For example, I've lived in at least three different cities in Pakistan over my lifetime and all those neighbourhoods are either the same or more developed. I see more brands on our high streets and more international fastfood chains across all cities. I see more people in my generation than in my dad's plunging for entrepreneurship and creating jobs for others too, than taking the comfort route to enslavement in private and public institutions. More children around me are now pursuing studies abroad than they did in the generation above us. This means today's Pakistan is more exposed, educated, experienced and well informed about their situation and perhaps the solutions to improve it. 

People are waking up to the real meaning of democracy and power of sincere leadership. Many who were earlier complacent are now feeling their patience is being evoked and are on the edge of taking action in some way or the other to raise their voice against injustice and corruption. I noticed this in our street TV shows where media goes out to hear the voice of simple 'shop keepers' , 'cobblers' , 'farmers' etc. and they sound more educated and informed than many learned people. 

More, not less, females are enrolling in schools. More, not less, high achievers are making it to Harvard and corporate jobs in the international market. More, not less, parents are realising that their daughters too are equal to their sons and deserve the same level of education and moral support to flourish. More females are now pilots and policewomen than 10 years ago. I'm not going to dig in the figures because these are obvious and available for verification any where on the internet or reports by development and research organisations.

Today's Pakistani generation is less worried about social status, the big dream home, the expensive car than their parents. They are more puzzled about ideological issues, national issues, religious and political issues because they were born in an era when there was utmost mismanagement and confusion around these issues.  

In my entire friends circle, the children are more accomplished and aware, in terms of education, self -actualisation and careers than our parents generation. 

So why is it that the media portrays us to be 'deteriorating' whereas we are clearly not deteriorating, at least not as a Nation! Yes our political leadership has deteriorated but a if a bunch of incompetents (to put it extremely politely) are running the country, that doesn't really represent its whole population. In a country like India or Pakistan, it is but obvious that the cream of the nation is going to be every where but in Politics. And perhaps the worst of its population has no choice but to be in Politics. 

So this leads us to think, are we really that bad or is it a matter of zooming in a little and turning the camera  left and right to get a better view of what this country called 'Pakistan' is all about. Perhaps the only need is to 're-launch Brand Pakistan' and to fix its perception in the eyes of its audience with a better sample size and slightly better information made available.  

My husband and I have taken this as a personal patriotic initiative to gather all patriotic marketing gurus of Pakistan to conceive the best manner to 're-launch brand Pakistan'. 

Done great work for dairies and soaps so far - about time we use our creative heads for a bigger 'product'. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Teach For Pakistan - Start the Movement

I came across this movement called 'Teach for Pakistan' (TFP) which is an initiative to attract top quality talent to contribute a couple of years of their lives towards education for the underprivileged masses in Pakistan.
This model is not very new - it has been previously tested in the States under the name of 'Teach for America' and in the UK by the name of 'Teach First' and now beginning August 2011 it will be tried out in Pakistan. 

Almost every bright young talented student in Pakistan who can make it to Oxford, Harvard or Cambridge will prefer to plunge to the opportunity to pursue their prized international degree and flee from the home land. Similarly, those who have recently graduated and are looking for well paying careers would never even consider teaching in the rural areas as an option. What 'Teach for Pakistan' does is that it offers you a starting salary matching that of the corporate sector in Pakistan to go out and teach in the suburbs and rural areas for 2 years. At the end of the years you will not have lost out on the corporate world because companies like Unilever and GSK are partnering with TFP to offer its Alumni internships and guaranteed   interview calls. Also TFP has affiliates of the like of Harvard Business School who give credit and recognition for work experience at TFP in their selection process. TFP also commits to training its employees with necessary transferable skills like organisation skills, communication and leadership skills, entrepreneurial skills which are valued at any other B-school or corporation. 

I think this effort to reduce the gap  between the 'haves' and 'have nots' in Pakistan is a great one! We need to realise that sacrificing 2 years out of our lives may not necessarily drag us down, but it can thrust a nation upwards! 

Moreover if you come to think of it - no business can make money in a poor, jobless population so its only fair that large businesses and corporations as well as graduate schools help develop 'their future clientel and   consumers' for their longer term sustainability and growth. 

TFP is currently hiring and their hiring criteria is not any less rigorous than a top level corporate. If you're  an experienced professional looking to add a few years of 'social responsibility' to your life, or a fresh graduate looking for a decent salary - you can still apply for this fellowship at this link: 

Monday, 9 May 2011

Innocent: brand of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the few corporate idealists...

I recently read the company history and profile of "Innocent", the makers of "innocent fruit drinks" in Europe, and was utterly impressed and enthused by the success story of the brand and the three young Cambridge graduates turned entrepreneurs. John Simmon, the writer of the book, very candidly takes us through the mermerising story of three college friends, 3-4 years into the corporate world, wondering if all their hard work and intellect was actually being consumed in the right place.

A very idealistic approach, a solid business plan, and simple marketing research techniques coupled with intuition and gut lead the young men to become owners of the now fastest growing beverage brand in UK, Innocent. However it was not as simple as it seems. There were sleepless nights spent in figuring out ways to raise capital for the business, ways to merchandise it, and ways to produce it. But the most difficult bit of it all was : Innocent fruit drinks had to be 100% natural, without additives, preservatives or any artificial flavours and colours. Raw material had to be sourced from the best farms and there was this undying spirit of 'ethics' behind the idea of making it '100% natural'. It was the time when the western society was waking up to the horrors of obesity and unhealthy junk food regimes that had spread like cancer in their daily routines.
A point worth mentioning is that these young men were employed at one of the best multinationals at the time this idea arose to their unsatisfied hearts and minds - and they sacrificed their well paying stable corporate jobs and lifestyle to plunge in the risk of starting a 'small, innocent, simple' juice company that offered fresh fruit smoothies to the niche of the society that wanted a healthy substitute for coke, pepsi, artificially flavoured drinks and remove a little bit of guilt from their other wise unhealthy daily routines.

Why this story and company inspired me is because having worked in the consumer goods industry for some time I realised how marketing has taken the focus away from the actual product - thus sacrificing the quality of whats inside the bottle and continuously glorifying whats outside the bottle and on the TV screens. Innocent as a brand believed strongly in investing in the product as the first priority - advertising was their last concern. They felt that if their product was great - it would SELL and they were right (business doubled almost every year since they first began and they were the pioneers of the new smoothie segment in the beverage market in UK). Innocent is a story that proves that you need not be ruthless or sacrifice ethics in order to be commercial or to become a successful business.

Over the years Innocent also became one of the most creative brands when it comes to consumer marketing. Once the product had established its quality and the ROI started to flow in, the creative minds of the entrepreneurs started working towards what they called the 'smaller things' i.e. the marketing. They first began with using the space on the packaging for their marketing with the help of small 'innocent stories' and 'witty comments' that would add a smile or interesting moment to your day. I'm attaching a few glimpses of their advertising here for your amusement. 

What innocent is as a brand, is what innocent is as a company, and what its people are as the employees of the company - through and through consistent and honest to the single minded stance of the brand "100% natural" and true to its core values of "doing whats right" even if it means doing it more expensive and selling it at a higher price, because those who understand the value, will willingly pay the higher price.

I was so inspired to read the book and so surprised that a company as ethical and solid towards its commitment could exist that I called up the company's 'Banana Line' , a customer feedback number that they claim is picked up within 3-4 bells and you can simply chat with them about the product, their company or anything you feel like and the employee at the other end will sound like a typical 'innocent' guy or girl who would be friendly to you , tell you a joke and talk to you without showing you any hurry to get back to their busy business. So I thought calling up the helpline will allow me to really check the authenticity of what I read in the book - and to my surprise I had a typical 'Banana Line' experience with a guy called 'George' who was from the operations department but sounded like he owned the company when I asked him a few questions about their current business and futures plans. It was then that I became a true fan of 'innocent' - the company that not only claimed but actually acted on the values and ethics listed on their Corporate Policy Document. 

I recommend this book to all marketing and brand experts and aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

"Its How you Say it"...Toastmasters Leadership & Communication Program

Toastmasters International ( is a public speaking and leadership training program running in various countries across the world. I became a member of this non-profit organisation back in 2004 in Dubai. My dad introduced me to Toastmasters (TM) where he and his office colleagues used to get together every 2 weeks to practice speaking before an audience. 

We all come across instances in our daily life where we need to speak up - whether it is an office presentation, dealing with clients, teaching, giving a farewell or welcome speech or simply talking things through with out spouses and children. Most of us feel nervous when we are up against a big audience and thats only natural. At toastmasters you are given the chance to practice before audience, before you have to actually speak in a real life situation. It is a very organised training program with a structured meeting design and training manual to follow. Every Toastmaster (member of the club) has to go up the levels as per the TM manual to improve their speaking skills. 

I have personally benefited so much from this program that upon my return to Pakistan I decided to open a chapter in Lahore. So a group of us enthusiastic MBA fellows from LUMS, intiated the first chapter in Lahore, The LUMS Toastmasters Club.(

Toastmasters helps you improve your skills across different aspects of public speaking including voice clarity, body language, vocabulary and even styles of speech e.g. motivational, convincing, emotional, humorous. It is a fun place to be in and interact with people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds, professions and ages. Once you reach a certain level, you can then participate in regional speech competitions and finally enter the global Toastmasters conference held annually in different parts of United States. You can find a full overview of this amazing programme on their official website ( 

I was visiting as a guest at the Karachi Toastmasters Club (( meeting yesterday and I was utterly impressed by how professionally and enthusiastically the team is running the Club.  Apart from building your speaking skills, Toastmasters is a great place to meet new people and to get motivated! 

Lawn Lunacy...

 If you've been in Pakistan since the beginning of this summer, you would not have missed (even if you wanted to) the huge billboard advertisements for the numerous and ever growing branded lawn exhibitions. For me this was the first summer after many years that I spent in Pakistan and this whole 'Lawn Prints' phenomenon, as I like to call it, came as a surprise to me.  I have never felt as much rush and excitement in the city's female population on any other national, cultural or social event as the 'Lawn Exhibition Season'. These least expensive of these three piece lawn suits (with some extra frills and laces) costs around Rs.4000 and the upper end goes up to more than Rs.7000. But you still cant wear it until your 'dear tailor' who is now as costly as a designer stitches it and he/she would not take less than Rs.1000-Rs.1500 for a suit that even has the slightest designing to it. Now these days it would be a sin to wear a simple shalwar kameez ; you must have some cuts and pieces at the borders or a panel in the middle if you don't want to end up looking from another era. So the minimum, a ready to wear lawn suit would cost you is Rs. 6000 (including the price of the suit, additional laces and tailoring). The tragedy is - that even after spending so much money, time (at exhibitions) and effort (to look different in the print that almost every women is ultimately going to have in her wardrobe) you end up with a 'casual suit' which you cannot wear at a dinner party. The other tragedy is the never ending series of 'copies' that have already entered the market for those who could not afforded branded lawn; so that makes your 'very expensive' supposedly 'unique' lawn suit, even more common.

But that's not the real problem - the real problem is the shallowness attached to this 'lawn lunacy'  if I may call it. What I hear about these exhibitions (which I boycotted) from my friends and family is that they were like a 'mad house' of ladies jumping over each other, pushing each other just to grab that piece of cloth done by 'sana safinaz' or 'vaneeza'. Some ladies even came back disappointed saying that it was so suffocated and ruthless that by the time they reached the stall, no more prints were left.
So piece of cloth can make us so called sophisticated elite women turn into 'mad cats'.
The other disappointment comes from the supplier end in two ways. One is the quality of the lawn; it is becoming so thin and 'see through' that now men more than women are looking forward to these prints coming out to the market. Especially in summers when the sun is so bright you can hardly hide your legs in such 'crape paper' like lawn. Second - are the designs and trends being endorsed by the top designers. The designers have no idea how easily they can lead a whole nation to indecency. There was a time when we just saw 'sleeveless' and we thought... Alright, thats perhaps the most we can do to look modern and stylish . But now its about 'back less' and 'shoulder less' and you've already seen the 'capri'. Sometimes you wonder if western wear is actually more decent than our latest lawn shalwar kameezes. I do respect that everyone has a right to wear what they please - whether it be covering or uncovering, western or eastern, but what I don't like is using the 'traditional pakistani' form i.e. shalwar kameez (which also happens to be our national dress) as a vehicle to promote fashion that is totally out of sync with our culture. The western media is doing us enough favour already in terms of exposing us to options to western wear and we need our designers to design according to our culture rather than the French culture. This indecency was all over the place on billboards across cities in Pakistan (barring Junaid Jamshed who chose a very graphical ad and avoided using women as tools of advertisement) .
So all said and done you might be thinking "well its easy to criticize, but thats what it is, a decent lawn suit today Does in fact cost you Rs.4000 and we have to live with it". Well, not really. I've done some research of the market and I found some very good looking prints from Lala Classic Lawns and the like for Rs.750 - Rs.1000. And if you wish to spend a bit more and look a bit more formal, I think you are better off wearing a ready made Khadi kurta (worth Rs.3000) with your ever lasting pair of jeans or standard white/black cotton pants. At least you are relieved of the effort on the laces and cuts and the extra money at the tailor; and you're still wearing something unique and stylish. If however you aren't very brand conscious (like me) and would like to play it smart than I can tell you of a Khaadi look alike (and it literally looks alike) shop in Defence Phase 4 market (Karachi); they weave their own cloth like Khaadi does, but they sell it at about Rs.1300 for a 3 piece suit and shirt pieces range from Rs.350 to Rs.700.
Just to give you a sense of the equation, I actually bought myself 8 pieces of cloth at this Khaadi look alike shop and in about Rs.6000 (including designing, stitching and frills) I have now 8 suits that are actually unique and easily mistaken for actual "Khaadi".

I can bet no one will be wearing a copy of what I wear this summer :).

P.S (I've also discovered a tailor in today's world who charges Rs.350 for a suit with designs including panels and pleats)