Bull semen inspired me this week. Now there’s a sentence I thought I’d never write. However, I digress. In addition to the aforementioned BS, the wonders of micro-financing, a stroke survivor’s tale, and the development of sustainable housing provided me with a renewed belief in both the power of the human spirit and the future of Pakistan. All these issues were discussed at the TEDx conference held in Karachi.
TED is a US-based non-profit organisation that holds conferences across the world showcasing practitioners and experts from a variety of fields. I recommend you check out their website at TED.com for some stimulating lectures. What started out in 1984 as a conference centred around Technology, Entertainment and Design – hence the acronym – has evolved to include other themes and topics. The driving philosophy behind TED is quite simple – to disseminate ‘Ideas Worth Spreading”. And the TEDx event – an independent, local, self-organised event operated under licence from TED – did just that. As participants emerged from an afternoon of motivating talks there was a palpable sense of optimism and hope in the air — a sense that anything was possible if we collectively put our minds to it.
Now the cynic in you may be thinking “yeah, like a bunch of English speaking elites engaging in some artsy-fartsy form of intellectual masturbation is really going to change Pakistan! Try living in the real world”. To which I would say you are right, and wrong. TEDx won’t change the world, or Pakistan, or even Karachi for that matter. But it did provide a refreshing reminder of how hope and optimism can transform people, and yes, countries. There is a reason that Obama used the word to galvanise his presidential campaign. Hope is integral to mankind, providing us with inspiration to create a better future for us and our children — a promised land for which to strive.
Now I am no Pollyanna. I am only too aware of the deep structural problems facing Pakistan from overpopulation to terrorism, to ethnic, sectarian and wealth disparity. An informed populace is the cornerstone for any functioning democracy. Nor am I advocating some artificial ‘Brand Pakistan’ project that presents some artificial reality to the outside world. ‘Enlightened Moderation’ and ‘India Shining’ failed because they projected something that bore little reality to what was happening on the ground.
But we do need to provide ourselves with a sense of hope. I went to the conference a cynic and came away with a renewed sense of vigour and purpose towards creating a better Pakistan. If a small conference can do that for 300 people, imagine what espousing these emotional triggers on a national level could do?
Optimism and hope are emotional triggers that are sadly all too absent from our media and our national dialogue. Instead we revel in fear, pessimism and despondency. A contagious negative state that further perpetuates fear, pessimism and despondency. Why can’t we recalibrate this vicious cycle?
Take the recent coverage of Cyclone Phet for instance. The media did sterling work in responsibly covering the emerging cyclone and warning us of potential dangers. My beef, however, was in their inability to sufficiently celebrate the heroic work done by so many to ensure the public’s safety. The Pakistan Navy and helicopter crews that rescued stranded fishermen, the city government that ordered the dismantling of billboards prior to the storm — these people should be praised for a job well done. But it didn’t happen. As a nation we are so quick to condemn when things go wrong, but rarely do we congratulate our officials when they do a good job. We all know how it feels when we are praised at work. We work twice as hard afterwards. It’s time our media started celebrating our nation’s successes. It’s time to switch off the de facto cynicism switch.
As for the bull semen, well Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen Fund, told us how they had artificially inseminated foreign bull semen with embryos from Pakistani cattle. Previously, Pakistanis farmers were only able to produce four litres of milk daily. The resulting hybrid cattle were now producing closer to 15 litres a day for the farmer. Inspiring stuff indeed.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 9th, 2010.