Connecting the dots with human-centered design


There are many great lessons that I have learned while working with for the past couple of months but what I loved most about this assignment is that as the In-Country Community Manager for the Amplify program, I got the opportunity to work directly with our community and break my assumptions and stereotypes by meeting people, interacting with them and learning from their experiences. In short, I would say that the whole process of learning and applying human-centered design rewired my brain but just like you can’t connect the dots looking forward, the whole HCD process is one that requires a lot of patience, a capacity to learn to re-learn and an openness that allows you to learn from the ideas that come your way without being judgemental.

The goals that we, the ICCMs, set for ourselves were pretty clear.

  • To reach out to organizations and introduce them to the Amplify challenge
  • To train individuals and organizations in Pakistan on using HCD
  • To build a sustainable community around design thinking in Pakistan

On reaching out to the community

To make outreach most effective for the third Amplify challenge on ‘how might we improve education and learning opportunities for refugees’, I started by defining the types of organizations so I could get my message across to as many organizations as possible while keeping it relevant and came up with these two classifications

  1. Organizations working with refugees directly.
  2. Organizations working on education innovations.

Since the challenge in question required the organization to design for a special community i.e. refugees so my best bet was to reach out to organizations which were already working with such a community and build their capacity for education design or reach out to education innovation specialists and introduce them to the needs of refugees.

For Pakistan, I started the outreach by making use of social media and getting the word amplified by having education influencers share our message over the web, other than that I made use of emails,  direct phone calls and meetings wherever possible to introduce Amplify to the organizations and what I learned was that social media (Facebook in particular) turned out to be most effective tool for generating leads as mostly all of the organizations had Facebook presence with listed contact details. In short, I learned that social media would be highly effective for small intros about the challenge but face-to-face meetings would play a heavy role in getting those orgs to actually participate in the challenge as they would feel comfortable after having met an ICCM.

I also learned that small-scale organizations would be more responsive and were interested to learn about the challenge and its specifics as compared to the big guns of the development sector. My aha! moment was when I realized that a great number of edutech startups were suddenly interested in participating in the challenge. The only way these edutech startups were different to traditional development sector organizations or NGOs were in the way they understood technology and its applications. The downside was that these startups didn’t have hands-on experience working with communities so there I got this amazing idea to pair up a few edutech startups to traditional NGOs and make them apply for the challenge since it was a marriage of technology and community – the two ingredients to what we were looking in the solutions for this challenge.

On training individuals / orgs about HCD

This would be one of the major challenges throughout the journey as HCD, in its originality, is a complex and lengthy process, one that sometimes doesn’t even yield the right results and might not work but the objective here was to introduce the interested organizations to the basics of human-centered design and how it works with help of workshops so they could go back and use this method in their own work to refine the idea or product which they would eventually pitch to Amplify.

To do this – I organized two workshops, one for edutech startups in Karachi and one for traditional development sector organizations in Islamabad. In the workshop, the third Amplify challenge itself would be used as the mock challenge for the day, making the organizations learn through the basics of human-centered design process – inspiration, ideation, implementation. It was interesting to find out that some organizations had already developed processes which were very close and similar to the HCD process itself while for some organizations this was something very new and incredible.

To quote a participant from the workshop, he said “This [process] has opened my mind. I have never thought about my users but this has given me a new lens and I am hoping to use a more user-centric approach while designing for our beneficiaries from now on”

This workshop lead me into my next aha! moment where on furthering interacting deep down with the organizations and questioning them I learned that they had mostly never talked to their users before designing for them and would usually resort of self-made assumptions without any interviews, data or feedback from the users. Edutech startups seemed more responsive to learning the HCD process as compared to traditional organizations because of the virtue of being young, dynamic and open to change.

On building a community 

This was that one goal that was truly close to my heart because essentially building communities is what I do for a living and also something I am most passionate about.

As I said earlier, you can’t connect the dots looking forward but when I look back, I am wowed with what I have been able to achieve with and for my community. To connect the dots, you must first know that they exist and be able to find them and as the ICCM for Amplify in Pakistan, I have been able to find these dots (individuals, organizations, education experts, innovation experts, design thinkers etc) that when connected form a community. I still ask myself, “Can design solve the refugee education problem?” and I am not so sure about the answer but when I ask myself, “Can design build a better community?” – Definitely yes. Because good design should be about people and their needs and the moment you can build a community of people around a certain problem, eventually you will figure out a way to solve it.

Looking forward, the way I see things have changed now is that I sense a growing interest in HCD in Pakistan and I see a small community springing up which wants to learn and use design thinking approach to solve community and business problems and I am hopeful that the community will grow (more than it already has) and that soon we will see this approach being recognized by organizations, institutions and even government to solve mainstream problems that are far too big and far too real. Also, I hope to see companies and businesses adopt this innovative methodology to make it a part of their intrinsic routines and processes.

What I loved throughout the journey is that I got to learn and practice human-centered design myself with support the best HCD team in the world and got the opportunity to interact with ICCMs from Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) and most importantly the opportunity to find and connect those dots that I will always be in touch with as a mentor, supporter and well-wisher.

Here’s to the crazy one from Karachi who thought different

There are two kinds of people you have around you, the ones who you know and the ones who you think you know.

The former might be your close family members or ‘real friends’ and you know much about their interests and passions based on either experience or interactions. But in this post-Facebook world, its actually the latter that would surprise you the most. These are people you have met only once or twice, or those that you used to frequent with but not anymore or ones that you follow or who follow you, such as former third-degree colleagues, an influencer working for a cause, the cousin of a cousin, old college friends who would spam your timeline with selfies and photos of their newly born babies. Thanks to the digital revolution and social media, you have the fortunate (or unfortunate) privilege of calling these people your ‘friends’.

Sabeen Mahmud was one such friend whose interaction with me, though limited, was always full of enlightenment.

Our first interaction, if I recall correctly, was at the Karachi TweetUp back in 2009 when I visited Karachi for the very first time and I was introduced to her as someone told me about T2F – a physical space for people where they could learn, teach and practice their love for technology, entertainment, design and open-dialogue (“wow!” I said as I couldn’t imagine such a place to even exist in Pakistan). Later that day I visited T2F and fell in love with the concept and it was then and there that Sabeen told me about Kuch Khaas and introduced me to Shayaan Poppy Afzal Khan (the founder of Kuch Khaas) who later on became a patron and helped me launch the first ever TEDx event in Islamabad.

Later on, my interaction with Sabeen resorted to just an exchange of notifications on Facebook and Instagram on the subject of Apple and its products as I discovered that we both shared great love for Apple and Design. Until 2015.

A lady enters the huddle room at Nest I/O where a design-thinking workshop is in progress and pulls out an iPhone from her back pocket and puts in the on the table (“who puts a phone in the back-pocket, weird!” I thought). It was Sabeen. The very amazing thing about her that she always had a vibe that would make her known, you could feel her presence in the room, and whether that vibe was weird or funny – it worked. That day we developed a very special bond as I was paired up with Sabeen for the workshop and made a gift for her as part of the design-thinking process. I learned that there was a very simple, kind and loving persona behind the one that she actually projected in the public.

“Do you like the high-tech flower I made for you”, I asked. “It’s bluetooth enabled and adapts to your mood. Its super high tech!”. “I don’t know”, she said. “I like simple things. Perhaps the best gift for me would be a simple bouquet of real flowers from across the street and a CD of music”.

I was baffled but gratified and I knew for sure that the next time I would visit T2F, it would be with a bouquet of flowers. Little did I know that there would be no next time.

Only today, two nights after she’s gone, I realize how there was so much more to Sabeen that I didn’t know. How she was a woman of steel, a beacon of light and hope for the people of Karachi, yet a simple human being with simple aspirations who just wanted to see her people change through the power of knowledge, wisdom and open-dialogue.

It’s only when you look back and connect the dots that you realize how many amazing human beings you know and how many you think you know. Until recently, Sabeen was the latter to me and I always have a regret of not getting to know the real her and not taking those flowers for her from across the street. I will also regret never getting the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about our common love and passion for Apple and the future it builds.

“What do you think about the Apple Watch”, she asked me during one of the conversations and I replied that I would tell her my thoughts once I try on the device. Today I placed an order for an Apple Watch but I will always regret of not being able to talk to her about it.


I think when you lose people like Sabeen, its always hard to have a closure. Finding the right words, siphoning the right memories, reminiscing the right moments but when I think of her, I think of her as the crazy one, the misfit, the troublemaker…the one from Karachi who thought different!

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Is Paypal officially coming to Pakistan?

In a very surprising move today, Paypal has started rolling out its merchant services in Pakistan and now if you try to setup a merchant account through any country other than the US, (e.g. UAE or UK), you will see that you can select Pakistan from the drop down list when adding your business information.

Now you’d think – why the sudden mysterious change of heart by Paypal for Pakistan?

Online marketers, digital business owners and bloggers have dreamed of this day when PayPal would officially add Pakistan to its list of supported countries so they can take their business to the next level but as previously discussed on numerous occasions and forums, its not easy for Paypal to come to Pakistan for multiple reasons such as volume of business, abundance of terrorism and the vague rules imposed by the State Bank.

So why is Pakistan listed in Country List of PayPal while Signing up?

Honestly there is much speculation around this move and most people on social media believe that it could be possible because of several reasons:

  1. It is a technical fault (or bug) and will be fixed soon.
  2. They are working on their systems to add Pakistan in allowed Country List and slowly updating their system.

So rejoice while you can. It is best not to get excited until unless you read an official blog post by PayPal about adding Pakistan to the list of supported countries.


Update: Looks like we have an official answer now. Better luck next time Pakistan

Only the Best Free Webinar Tools and Services for Online Experts

For over a decade now, online trainers and digital marketing experts have relied on various techniques for lead generations and it turns out that again and again it comes down to webinars being the best way to do this since educating customers increases the chances of them listening to you and buying your story – it’s a world proven fact.

But what are webinars really and how are they different from online video conferencing?

If the name rings a bill, the ‘webinar’ is just like a ‘seminar’ but over the web. It could be a small presentation, lecture, workshop or a general online event where the purpose is to educate or inform a mass of people simultaneously.

And yes, if there’s one thing you should know about webinars, it’s that they are resource intensive because you are trying to bring a huge crowd of people online together (anywhere from 25, 50 to 100 or even more) so you can imagine that whatever tool or service you are going to use to host a webinar should have huge amount of bandwidth and cpu resources which makes it all the more hard to find a service that would let you do this for free.

Below, we will take a look at some of the best webinar tools that the web has to offer along with their pricing and features.

GoToWebinar & BlueJeans


GoToWebinar is a product created by Citrix and comes under the GoToMeeting product umbrella that has been around for more than a decade and is undoubtedly the best webinar hosting service available on the web but is only suitable if you have large volumes of webinars and is not recommended for individuals or small businesses since they don’t offer a free version.

Same is the case with BlueJeans which is a rather new but amazing webinar service that has garnered quite a loyal following but the issue with both of these services is that they don’t offer a free version so if you want to webinars just once in a while and don’t want to pay for it, GoToMeeting and BlueJeans are not recommended.

Free Online Webinar Tools & Services

As such there is no webinar tool or service that is completely ‘free’ but there are some webinar tools and services that offer free features but with constraints and in the post below we are going to discuss which of these services exist and which ones are the best in terms of ‘free’ value.

Google Hangouts (Free)


Hangouts, which are originally part of Google+, is one of the best free services available online that you can use to host a webinar.

The Good:

  • Works in the browser
  • Screensharing and Presentation sharing
  • Remote desktop sharing
  • 3rd party apps integration for record and presentation (Slideshare, YouTube etc)
  • Works on desktop, iPhone and Android

The Bad:

  • Requires you to install a plugin once.
  • Only 15 participants can join simultaneously.
  • Organizer and all participants must have Gmail email / Google+ profile

One of the unique features about Google Hangouts is Hangouts on Air which lets you broadcast your hangout to an unlimited number of users but the disadvantage there is that your users won’t be able to interact with your via chat, audio or video.

Skype (Free)


Skype, now owned by Microsoft, is one of the those services which actually started the trend of video calls when it was launched back in 2003 (almost 11 years ago). Today, Skype is so much more and now it lets you do all sorts of stuff – messaging, calling, video conferencing, screen sharing, online presentations etc

The Good:

  • Microsoft backed service.
  • Integration with Facebook.
  • Works on desktop and mobile.
  • 3rd party recording apps available.

The Bad:

  • Requires you to install Skype
  • Only 10 people allowed with screen sharing with video
  • Maximum 25 people while screen sharing with no video
  • All participants must have a Skype ID.

Join.Me (Basic)


Join.Me is a product of the famous Boston-based remote access and remote desktop sharing company LogMeIn

The Good:

  • Powered by LogMeIn
  • Only 10 participants allowed
  • Apps for iPhone and Android

The Bad:

  • Recording not available
  • iPad Presentation feature not available
  • Desktop app only available for Windows
  • account needed
  • Viewers will be shown ads on their screen

MeetingBurner (Free)


MeetingBurner is a fast and simple online meeting platform that can be used for screen sharing, online presentations and webinars.

The Good:

  • Host Unlimited Webinars
  • Only 10 participants allowed
  • No Ads for viewers
  • Mac and PC compatible
  • Streaming video of host
  • Customisable registration page
  • Facebook Promotion Tool

The Bad:

  • Old app for iPhone / Android
  • No Recording allowed
  • No Meeting Analytics (Basic)

zoom webinar

And now for our favourite. is a web and video conferencing service that offers unique solutions such as conference room to iPad connections and the world’s first ever iPhone/iPad screen sharing solution. It gathered a lot of press recently as it managed to win $30 million in Series C funding.

The Good:

  • Up to 25 participants allowed
  • Dual stream for dual screen
  • Join by telephone call-in
  • HD video and HD audio
  • Dynamic voice detection
  • Share iPhone/iPad screen
  • Windows, Mac, Android and iOS
  • Whiteboarding & Recording available
  • Attendees don’t need to have an account

The Bad:

  • Browser plug-in needed
  • 40 minutes per meeting

It seems like it was a tough battle between MeetingBurner and but when it comes to number and uniqueness of features along with reliability and value – wins hands down. Not only does offers a higher number of attendees as compared to other free webinar tools and services, it also offers a range and variety of features that other services don’t have and the $30 million venture backing tells us that its here to stay in the market for long.

If you have any other free webinar tools or services that you would like us to review, please share in the comments below.