Pakistan may not be leading the co-working concept in the world but with more than a few dozen co-working spaces that have popped up in urban centres, we’re not far behind. A new entrant is a vibrant co-working space on top of the coffee shop Sattar Buksh in Karachi.
CoPakistan is the brainchild of Khizra Munir, who is the CEO of this setup and runs it entirely by herself with the advice and funding of her partners. Having worked with multiple advertising agencies and consulted on various campaigns, she knows what artists need.
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“A lot of art students are now becoming entrepreneurs. Many of my friends freelance as photographers, filmmakers and architects, and struggle working constantly from their homes or from cafes,” explains Munir as the primary reason for CoPakistan’s inception.
Of course, renting your own office at the beginning of your career can be rather expensive. But while working from home sounds cheaper in comparison, it comes with its own problems. “If you don’t get out of your pajamas and look like you’re going to be productive, you’re probably not going to be productive. Then, the bell will ring, your parents will ask you to run an errand and before you know it, the momentum is lost,” Munir says.
Working at this creative haven uninterrupted, however, comes at a pretty hefty price tag that most freelancers can’t usually afford. Being an artist means your take-home income varies every month and a monthly membership of Rs15,000 for individuals is pretty expensive compared to the many cheaper co-working options available in other parts of the city.
But Munir hopes that her concept of creating an office space that doesn’t feel like an office space will make a difference. “If you are feeling low or sleepy, you could take a nap for a few hours in our ‘chillout lounge’. If you are bored, you can go up to our loft and play some PlayStation 4 or watch a TV show. People work their butts off here but they also take those much-needed breaks,” she says.
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Still, it hasn’t been easy for Munir to attract likeminded people. “For the first few months, it was completely empty. There was so much interest on social media, people were coming and checking it out. But the price point wasn’t working for them. I guess we based it on the model abroad. But Pakistan is very different. Startups and freelancers don’t have the money to commit to anything on a long-term basis in advance.”
So, she started to generate publicity for CoPakistan by inviting startups who had just graduated from tech incubator Nest i/o. “I knew they had just left the safety of that space and needed a similar creative place to work from. I offered them to try the place for free for two months and if they liked it enough, they could pay for it and stay.”
The young entrepreneurs who were initially invited created enough buzz to attract other startups and freelancers to sign up and fill up the space. Currently, iFlix, Mandi Express, Khelo Cricket and ProCheck work out of CoPakistan. Individual members include architects, graphic designers, editors, consultants and filmmakers. Women looking for a safe and private space to work long hours have also become Munir’s client base.
While there’s always music playing, discussions happening and laugher aplenty, CoPakistan also offers a quiet space for contemplative work. “It’s more about connecting, community building, collaborating and convening here. We’re like a big family,” says Munir.
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But not everyone makes use of the community aspect of the space. Anam Mansuri, editor of fashion magazine Women’s Own, says, “I don’t usually have time to interact with anyone at the space. I come, do my work and go home!”
On the other hand, members of iFlix seem to be having a loud huddle in the middle of the tiny space. It seems people working in teams of two and three are more likely to find this space useful as opposed to individuals.
Members also find it quite restrictive and boring that food at CoPakistan cannot be ordered from anywhere other than Sattar Buksh. “The menu on offer from Sattar Buksh has limited items on it and eating it day in and day out can become quite repetitive and annoying,” says one member who brings food from home every day.
Despite its share of flaws, will CoPakistan’s chilled out environment, fast internet, plugin points, boardrooms and smart TVs bring more Karachi-based freelancers to the table? Especially, when many co-working spaces are offering cheaper rates, showcasing and marketing the skills of their members to get them more business, and offering free snacks and drinks?
CoPakistan hopes to resolve these issues by holding workshops, speaker sessions, and events every Saturday, so that members will get training for free and more people sign up. Munir has plans to take the same concept to Lahore and Islamabad and give creative-minded people a place to interact, share ideas and collaborate on projects.
Saba Khalid is a freelance writer living between Karachi and Berlin.