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Returning to the Motherland

By Israa Nasir and Kamil Shafiq

· Returners,Healthcare,Toronto

On the global stage, Pakistan suffers from a poor public image; partly because of the political climate, and partly because nobody hears about the really cool stuff that is happening here. While we can’t do too much to change the geopolitical position of Pakistan, many Pakistanis are moving back to start interesting ventures that improve the country brand and benefit the people living here.

Our peers are a tremendous source of learning. Since we’re in idea stage, we meet other founders who have encountered similar, sometimes identical challenges as us. We count on their experience to guide us down the right path when we hit a fork in the road. It’s also a tremendous source of inspiration to see the work of fellow founders having a real impact on the lives of the people who need it most in Pakistan, from teaching someone how to use the internet to enabling an amputee to re-enter the workforce!

Moving here, whether you are originally from here or have never lived here, is exciting and challenging. we moved here two months ago, and never having lived here before, here are a few of our learnings if you’re thinking of coming here to work on your start-up.

1. Learn the law

If you’ve moved here to launch your business venture, make sure you learn as much as you can about the legal system here. The legislation hasn’t caught up with the fast changes happening in the entrepreneurship landscape, so everything isn’t straight-forward. Make sure you have all the necessary documents and status. If you aren’t a Pakistani citizen, you will likely need a NICOP (if you don’t have one, apply for one!). This National Identity Card is required for everything, from a phone plan to a bank account.

2. Be ready to bargain

No matter what kind of product or service you’re looking for, there’s almost always room to bargain. From legal fees to rent for an office space, there’s no such thing as non-negotiable…finding some wiggle room here and there can go a long way!

3. Do your research

If you’re planning to work here, you will likely need a space. There are many co-working spaces popping up in all the major cities. They are great places to meet others who are working in the same industry as you. Connect with them on Facebook or email before hand, talk to them about if you can work there and how much it’ll cost you. There are many free working spaces, like cafes, as well – but these aren’t as good for many people, can be noisy, and the internet is unreliable.

4. Everyone knows everyone

It is a really small community of entrepreneurs here, so get ready to network! Most connections to important and reliable people, like developer shops or web designers, are made through personal referrals. Get comfortable in knowing exactly what you need and being able to articulate if with grace. Don’t be shy, most people are willing to help with connections! (and when you make it big…don’t forget to pay it forward!)

5. Talk to students

Pakistan has an abundance of bright, motivated students that are looking for work experience to build their resume. Starting a fellowship program is not only a way to find strong, affordable talent for your business, but a great marketing vehicle as well!

6. Talk to veterans

Reach out to other co-founders who have moved back, or those working in the space you’re interested in, talk to them about their personal challenges and journey. Don’t be afraid to message people on LinkedIn or Facebook. Have a clear idea of the questions you want to ask, so you don’t waste your time or theirs.

7. Be patient

The work culture here is different, so give yourself some time to learn the way things are done here. (Insider Tip: people prefer phone calls over email here, so response time to email is slow).

8. Have fun!

Treat it like another place you travel to. What are you like when you go to other places: explore the local markets, visit cultural festivals, take in local historical sights. Pakistan doesn’t have the reputation of a country where things happen, but there is a lot that happens here. Have an open mind and enjoy the experience.

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Israa and Kamil pitch their project plan for Ammi Service at Pakathon's Global Finals at Toronto's Aga Khan Museum in November, 2015.

Israa Nasir grew up in Toronto and is a registered psychotherapist; she is the healthcare lead for Ammi Service, and is committed to making changes around her. She is currently based in Lahore and leading initiatives that impact maternal health issues and women's education in Pakistan. Kamil is the business development lead for the Ammi Service. Kamil is looking forward to engaging key stakeholders to ensure that the Ammi Service gets into the hands of the women who need it most in Pakistan!

Ammi Service is the first-ever voice-based messaging service that educates and empowers expecting women in Pakistan. The Pakathon team has been supporting Team Ammi during their transition back to Pakistan. Israa and Kamil have been making tremendous strides on their project by being part of invest2innovate's 2016 cohort with the mentorship of Kalsoom Lakhani.

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