Secrets of an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Uncategorized, WomenX Gems

When we think of entrepreneurs many of us picture the men and women who’ve made it big – scoring a mega-hit after a thousand and one failures and two thousand and one misses, but what actually makes a true entrepreneur? What are her characteristics and unique traits that ensure a fighting, inventive, and intuitive spirit?

The entrepreneurial spirit, first and foremost, looks for and pursues opportunities without collecting massive resources. MBA graduates on the other hand, tend to look for and seek out lowest-risk opportunities with the highest return on investment (ROI) and with the most resources available to them.

Some of the major myths that plague entrepreneurs are:

  1. You need a big vision – you have to have big dreams to pursue your dreams.
  2. You have to have a Business/Financial/HR strategy before you can start.
  3. You need money, and lots of it.
  4. You need skilled people.
  5. You need to have a risk-taking mindset.
  6. You need relevant training to be amazing.

In the coming weeks I’m going to break apart these myths. We’ll not only understand what an entrepreneur isn’t but we’ll narrow our focus onto what an entrepreneur is, including their personalities, habits, thinking style, and other characteristics.

Reinterpreting the world around them

Entrepreneurs see a need and fill a need. Many of us have traveled a lot, are very observant of our surroundings, and love talking with people to learn what kinds of services or products people need. We’re constantly looking at the world around us, and at the products and services already offered, thinking “I can do better.” We also read a lot, meet a ton of people, and finally, over time, those dots start to connect…

Entrepreneurs are more likely to use what’s immediately available around them to make their products, rather than seeing out special raw materials. They find creative uses for things that they already have on hand to craft unique, rare, and variety-filled items. The best example of this is a Pakistani Ralli quilt, or any quilt for that matter, that is created using the scraps and tatters of fabrics past it’s prime.

ralli quilt

Ralli quilts Seller,Sukkur-Pakistan Credit: Nadeem Khawar / Getty Images Ralli quilts are traditional quilts made by women in the roral areas of Sindh, Pakistan. Rali is Cultur and tradition of Sindh, Pakistan from centuries.

An example of sourcing abundant local available raw materials is that of Bernice Dapaah, CEO of the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative in Kumasi, Ghana making bicycles out of bamboo. Her goal is to empower women, create jobs, and also create a fantastic affordable product with a smaller environmental impact than traditional aluminum-framed bicycles.

Bamboo Bikes Initiative: Ghana from Momentum for Change on Vimeo.

Another example is that of Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of the company Bert’s Bees who literally grew her company from scratch. Starting with a pile of unused beeswax and a used pickup truck she grew her business into a huge line of products. She literally started with nothing – not even a phone to take orders on, and lived in of an off-grid cabin in the North Woods of Maine, USA.

You can download the entire Roxanne Quimby Story.

Quimby once said that the reason for her success is that she likes to live on the edge, with no predictability or planning. Entrepreneurs like her do tend to live lives in which we have less to lose, which helps us take calculated risks and fear less. In contrast, traditional business schooling grooms students of business to be very risk-averse and afraid to go out there and take even small chances.

Taking calculated risks

It can be imagined that a typical MBA graduate it well versed in the calculated and measured risks of getting a car from 2nd gear into 5th gear on an open highway. Entrepreneurs, however, are in the business of finding the car, getting it to start, and driving it in 1st and 2nd gear up that bumpy dirt road and over to the main highway of “big business.”

Entrepreneurs think different and are not afraid to try new things. They always calculate the risk of what they can afford to lose and still keep going. Investors are more careful – they always try to minimize risk, hit targets, to get the biggest return on their investments.

Nothing to lose

Entrepreneurs are not afraid of losing anything because they tend to live their lives as if they have nothing to lose. They are great risk dividers to spread the danger thin – forming partnerships with others and working with the slack resources they have available to them. This habit actually enables them to make really quick intuitive calculations and decisions regarding affordable losses. They always know exactly where they stand and what they can afford to lose and still keep pushing forward.


Entrepreneurs are also keenly aware of who they are and understand both their own strengths and weaknesses. For the most part they’re not arrogant, and admit that they don’t know everything (but of course are always ready and willing to learn). Most of all, entrepreneurs are great at knowing who to hire to make a killer TEAM and headhunt the right candidates for their team to fill in the gaps of what they themselves are unable to do.

Entrepreneurs will never say “I’m better than you” they are likely to say “I love what I do – I’m always learning – I want to grow and learn with you.”

WomenX Gems – Orientation

Uncategorized, WomenX Gems

Over the next four months I’ll be joining forces with over 50 other instructors and participants as part of the fourth and final cohort of the womenX program here in Karachi, Pakistan. The soft skills training, business training, networking events, and mastermind sessions are sure to be a source for increased business clarity, insight, and courage.

I’m looking forward to our first formal business session at the Aman Center for Entrepreneurial Development (AMAN-CED) on the main Institute of Business Administration (IBA) campus coming up over the next 14 weeks.

I’m also looking forward to sharing some gems from our meetings over the next few months and this WomenX Gems series will contain my reflections and insights on various aspects of the training and networking sessions. I look forward to sharing my journey – hopefully you find these ideas as profound as I did.


Orientation was a blast this week as we met at Dot Zero – a cooperative working space here in downtown Karachi

Let me first say that I love that there are so many co-operative, private, semi-private, and co-working serviced office spaces sprouting up in this city. With no public library system (like I was used to having the option of utilizing when needed) and few accessible wifi areas that will also let you plug in your laptop around the city, these spaces are a must-have service for many!

Rent for a full office space is expensive for start-ups and working out how to host clients and get fully connected can be a big hassle. Dot Zero, and other alternative work spaces like THBC Business Centers, Co Pakistan, and The Second Floor allow entrepreneurs the quiet spaces, meeting rooms, and event space they need to practice professionalism while also keeping their budgets in mind. For 5000Rs – 15000Rs a month ($50-150) Karachites can gain access to their own personal professional workstation and desk – really affordable and I’m so glad this service exists!

The meeting room space was fantastic, large wide windows, plenty of chairs and tables and a state of the art overhead projector system. There was an attached kitchen behind us closes behind folding doors that I presume is used to make deli-like snacks and meals during the work week.

In the orientation presentation I was exciting to note that about a third of the participants were actually not working in textiles, accessories, and cooking. I saw businesses as diverse as B2B consulting services, healthcare, tech, and more – really exciting to see women taking on non-“traditional” businesses and breaking through those glass ceilings.

Intro by Sabeen Haque

After some ice-breakers and the orientation by Enclude, the company that is managing the World Bank-funded program, we got an introduction to the soft-skills sessions by Sabeen Haque of Minding H.E.R. Business.

She reminded us that no matter what latitude we’re at the attitude is the same – women in business is hard for some to stomach. No matter what country we’re in we can face objections from friends, family, and society – it’s always hard to break the mold.

I look forward to learning more from her on topics like; how to get rid of the people in my life that are holding me back and attracting those who will support me; how to say “no” to projects and opportunities that don’t fit into my goals; and overcoming objections from people who don’t understand my desire to be own my own bosslady!

Urooj Mazhar on Leadership

Urooj Mazhar got us all thinking about the true meaning of leadership. Just because we have followers does not make us a true leader. A true leader understands that leadership is about action not position.

Urooj also led a discussion and get up and move exercise based on Steven Covey’s theory of circles in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: concern, influence, and control. We ruminated on a new Urdu word: fikar – which loosely translates into worry and focus. In essence, the things we think about the most will become what we care about the most.

Our Circle of Concern includes the things that we spend the most time thinking about, but it also includes a lot of worry and negativity. It’s where we also find concepts and emotions like vague complaints, gossip, comparing, and bullying.


Inside our Circle of Influence is where the action is! Herein lies positive, persistence, goal-setting, and solutions. Here we can affect changes in others around us through our actions and personal choices.

One step further in – to our Circle of Control – lies all that we have direct control over in our own lives. This includes choices and decisions about how we spend out time, self-management, and personal goals and mindsets: basically everything related to our own selves on a daily basis. Our circle of control also involves prioritizing and choosing to focus on things we can personally change or influence.

Inside the circle of control is where the hard choices and sacrifices happen. The choices we make there in what to do, think, and feel, will define our outputs. Depending on our choices we can either move forward in a rocket or a Pakistani rickshaw, but it’s important to remember we ALWAYS have a choice.

The time that we spend on our positive actions (as opposed to worrying, blaming, shaming, and justifying) will determine how far we go…and how fast! We all only have the same 24 hours in a day and for greatest impact we need to be active and positive throughout.

Leveraging Social Media to Grow Online Communities


Muslim women are using social media more than ever before to reach out to and gather with other like-minded folks. There are groups like the International Muslimah Artists Network (IMAN) and Creative Muslim Women (both of which I’m a member) that are really pushing the limits of what we can all achieve when we put our heads together.

There are platforms like Creative Ummah that are creating egalitarian ways of knowledge sharing. There is now also a niche crowdfunding site, LaunchGood, that is allowing important humanitarian projects and really cutting-edge cross-cultural art and publishing ideas (like Islamic manga, for example) to flourish.

Building Mastermind Groups

I’m seeing some of the absolute mastermind-level women leaders of art and publishing participating in free knowledge-sharing across continents and cultures in ways that are innovative and efficient. We’re teaching online classes, writing e-books, and holding free webinars. I don’t even get a sense of competition, I really only see lots of positive encouragement and support from fellow artists as we collaborate to improve ourselves, assist each other in reaching new heights, and integrating new media and technology-based resources with our traditional art training.

Valuing Creative Entrepreneurs

The biggest societal challenge facing many contemporary entrepreneurs is the undervaluing of our endeavors in general. Many artists and authors work day-jobs where they are expected to extremely creative and original on a daily basis but are hardly being compensated by their efforts, this leaves them underfunded and drained to approach their own artistic pursuits.

Creativity is as much a skill as anything else and artists need to set more appropriate values for their work. Until artists, writers, crafters, and other creatives step up and start charging more for their efforts and demand a living wage like the rest of the professionals, they are going to continue to suffer, and their work will suffer too!

This is especially true in countries with already astronomically high unemployment rates, like North African countries, and astronomically high cost-of-living, like Pakistan. When creative jobs are out-sourced to these areas, and workers give 110% effort at a 10% pay rate of what the job would pay in other counties – only the artists and writers suffer, and it cheapens all creative endeavors.

Supporting Each Others Efforts

I think women have really reached a tipping point where we have come to terms with the fact that most of the wealth of the world is concentrated in the hands of a few that some would argue don’t deserve it. We’re looking at ways to grow our businesses, create supportive knowledge-sharing communities, and support each other on a grassroots level so that we can all grow our businesses, do more good in the world and turn the tables a bit.

Why You Should Invest in Diasporic Art


When you look at modern Muslim artists today you’ll find that the vast majority of them have studied in, learned about, and adopted, various aspects of the many cultures in which they’ve lived and traveled. I meet very few Muslims who, if they have the means, have not traveled abroad from wherever their home country is. Interestingly, all Muslims are supposed to travel, at least once in their lifetime (if they can afford it) to Mecca, K.S.A. to partake in the annual ritual pilgrimage – a forced interaction with people from dare I say all places and cultures of the world.

I’m a convert to Islam, I converted in 2000, and I consider myself an expat American. I’ve traveled throughout the Western USA, the Netherlands, Egypt, and the U.A.E., and I’m now currently living in and traveling throughout Pakistan. I like to think of myself as global citizen, which is what many of the other Muslim artists I know also are, and that’s reflected in our art. But we each also have our roots and our own rich family histories to make sense of and re-interpret. I think much of what we do as artists is strive to blend and combine all these new experiences we’re having with our own personal traditions in new ways.

In this global economy, and in this diasporic condition of cultures, subcultures, refugees, and immigrants, we are finding that our artistic traditions are blending together like an ever-deepening Gaussian blur.

For millennia our interactions were based on the trade of spices, foods, handicrafts, fabrics, and other raw materials – this has always been one way that we “met” each other and were exposed to new people and cultures. Trades and traditions intermingled and shifted. It’s just happening faster now. We can go online and order an exquisitely made hand-carved Moroccan end table, bring it into our home, and put a Chinese jade sculpture on it, with a Peruvian rug on the floor below. Just a few centuries ago these were expensive collector items that only the most affluent or adventurous travelers could acquire. So due to greater accessibility we’re being exposed earlier and earlier to all these various traditions.

At the same time the influx of exposure is leading to massive worldwide exploitation of these crafters as well. More often than not they are not being paid what their time, skills, or even the raw materials (like semi-precious stones) alone, are worth – only “pennies on the dollar” as we say in the States. Highly skilled artisans and craftspeople, and the natural environment, are being exploited on a global scale. We really ought to be honoring the objects, and their craft, as a rarity, and giving them the respect they deserve – which means starting by at least paying a fair price for the crafters’ efforts.

I believe the diaspora, bringing with it this deepening exposure to the richness of niche talents and handicraft in many countries, has also created a sense of entitlement in the more exploitative nations. They want to experience the richness of those traditions, but are still not willing to pay a living wage to all the brokers and craftspeople – and that’s unfortunate.

I sincerely hope that more people begin to place higher value on their possessions and save up diligently to pay extra for quality fair-trade artworks and artifacts because that bit extra that someone in a privileged country is stingy to give is quite honestly the difference between life and death for a worker, artist, or craftsperson in an exploited country.

The Islamic Renaissance


There’s an Islamic Renaissance happening all around us – one I’ve considered myself a part of since 2004.

Young artists, chefs, and crafters are deciding to pursue niche trades and gain skills that are extremely nuanced, foodies are learning and sharing traditional preparations, and artists are excited to learn the sacred traditions, skills, and handicrafts that are so interwoven with our aniconic Islamic art traditions. They’re creating geometric designs with only a straightedge and compass, mastering elaborate leather-working techniques, jewelry crafting, metal working, wood carving, truck painting, beadwork, embroidery, ralli quilt making, weaving, calligraphy, and much more. Artists are also actively seeking out traditionally trained and highly skilled teachers in all these traditional art forms.

Islamic graffiti art is also becoming increasingly popular especially because of its social and political possibilities and impacts. Almost all graffiti is an advertisement for social change. It influences minds and hearts from the bottom up instead of the top-down. It speaks to the needs and struggles of the masses – not the trials and problems of the elite. It’s the people’s art – a medium used to speak to others on the same level.

In many countries that are living under especially violent and oppressive systems and regimes (like much of the Arab world at the moment) I think it’s getting the message of resistance across quite clearly.

Additionally, outdoor art exhibitions and wall murals are flavored by its surroundings. Gallery settings are generally rather stark so they are supposed to help the art “speak on its own.” With graffiti art there is a shifting dialog and discussion going on with the community. I police car rolls by, a feral dog wanders past, a group of school children stop to play in front of it – these give the art a sense of atmosphere and place. You just don’t get that indoors.

I believe that sculpture and installation, mixed-media works, new media, and other experimental mediums are also growing as strong as ever. This is of course in addition to the rise in study of the more traditional arts like handcrafts, print-making, and painting.

You’ve got hand-cut paper and digital collage artists, like myself, who are layering old and new images (but also borrowing from many of these other traditional arts) to make statements about the artistic validity of “women’s work” like sewing, embroidery, and crochet. You also have artists commenting on other social issues – like domestic violence and environmental destruction.

Other really innovative artists that come to mind are; Anila Quayyum Agha and her project, Intersections; shadow sculpture artist Rashad Alakbarov; and Mehwish Javed Iqbal with her Only Daughter series. Then you also have new media artists like Yoshi (Yusuf Misdaq) who are doing revolutionary things with sound and video.

Even if one can’t read or speak the foreign language an artwork contains, like Arabic, we can still relate to the script and calligraphic representations of it. We can see and appreciate the skill, control, and precision that goes into creating a masterful Islamic calligraphic works of art. It’s the meanings behind the words that I believe carry the weight of the work though. In the case of Islamic calligraphy we have messages about the attributes of God or reminders and verses from the Quran, which – when people take the time to learn the meanings – definitely add depth to the artworks.

One of my favorite paintings from about 2008 was a piece called “Lunar Cycles.” It depicted the phases of the moon in changing partial sun and shadow spiraling into the center of the painting.


The Islamic calendar is a Lunar calendar so for me it was a testament to the lunar cycles and a reminder of Ramadan – the lunar month in Islam where all Muslims, who are physically able, fast from the first light of dawn to sunset all while contemplating God. Interestingly though, when I donated it to a local public television art auction it was purchased by a non-Muslim. The piece obviously resonated with her on a uniquely different spiritual level – and I consider that a success!

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