Below is my experience report for the project's training component and some personal thoughts.
Social Media has proven to be an effective tool for community mobilization and democratizing access to information, news, and entertainment worldwide. People can connect with each other, find ways to share ideas, and collaborate. We saw some incredible feats achieved by people in the past decade where social media acted as a catalyst. But, there have also been incidents that made us think hard about content moderation and social media censorship. Another aspect is to consider the impact of living inside an echo chamber because social media algorithms only show us what they assume we are interested in or want to see.
But, today’s story is not about the impact of social media on people and society but rather my thoughts on a project that I recently completed with IBA and UNDP. I won't get into many details about the overall project, but only about the training component. I was hired to conduct two full-day capacity building through social media workshops. The aim was to teach digital skills, mainly social media, to young people living in two major informal settlements in Karachi: Azam Basti and Rehri Goth.
Some data on smartphone users in Pakistan can be seen here.
I was given a brief profile on these participants, their gender, age, education, and the social media platforms they use. So, I created a workshop catered to their specific needs and the learning objectives shared with me by the project team.
Before we talk about the contents of the workshop, here are some of my observations on the workshop participants.
Both of my workshops had a majority of female participants. Over 50% of them were students from grades 9 to 12.
Girls/Women who have already completed their education, mostly intermediate, were working in some capacity, either by running a small business (tea stall, handicrafts, etc.) from home or working in a factory or school.
Most people have informal jobs, and salaries/earnings are paid in cash. Most have no access to financial services, including a bank account.
Cultural and religious conservatism is apparent, and I observed very pronounced gender roles in the stories they shared during the workshops.
Girls/women were motivated to do something with their lives and wanted to change things for themselves and their families. They wanted to get a higher education and work in a formal setting to earn more.
Male participants were very open about the issues the women in their families and surroundings face and understood the unfair way women are treated generally.
A significant number of younger men/boys were interested in sports, and some of them were avid gamers. PUBG seems to be very popular in these areas.
Every participant in both workshops had access to a smartphone, either they owned one or used one that another family member had. Most girls were using phones owned by their father or brother.
All participants were familiar with Whatsapp and thought it was essential to their lives as they could make free calls and connect with their loved ones.
The second most used platform is YouTube, and Facebook followed right behind. Instagram is used mainly by women, and mostly younger participants use TikTok.
We discussed the reason why they use a particular platform. TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook are mainly used for entertainment. YouTube is used to learn simple skills, like cooking, fixing things around the household, DIY projects, and improving English speaking skills. YouTube is also the primary source of entertainment and news due to the 24/7 live news channels and Pakistani and Indian drama channels.
All participants showed concerns about the dangers of social media and the internet by sharing stories of harassment, financial fraud, scamming, and identity theft that happened to them or people in their circle.
Some data on Pakistan’s mobile gender gap can be seen here.
I created a dialogue and activity-led workshop plan. We talked about WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok and how these platforms can be used for skill-building, finding economic opportunities, and citizen journalism. Internet Safety was also an essential part of the workshop, alongside a content creation activity we did at the end.
We spoke about hashtags, geolocation, algorithms, curated vs. created content, and the business models of these platforms. This led to a discussion around why we see what we see on our newsfeeds and how we can improve the way we consume content. We had an exchange on internet safety and about safeguarding ourselves and our loved ones from scammers, hackers, and thieves. Data privacy was also an important item in the agenda, and we chatted about getting consent before taking and posting someone’s picture online.
Workshop participants were interested in improving their economic condition, as the majority in Azam Basti and Rehri Goth are working-class people and near the poverty line. We talked about upskilling opportunities, career options, and the potential of eCommerce for their handmade products.
The last part of the workshop consisted of an hour-long activity that helped them connect the dots between social activism and citizen journalism. Participants worked in groups, picked one cause/issue they wanted to work on, and then created a powerful story. They presented their work using chart paper and created hashtags for their chosen topic. Both Rehri Goth and Azam Basti are facing similar problems. So, we explored the most pressing issues in these areas and came up with a list.
Unavailability of public transport
No clean drinking water
No hospitals nearby
Mental health crisis
Lack of colleges/vocational training centers for girls
No waste management system
No recreational spaces for youth
The governmental and municipal authorities have neglected both areas, and people are living in misery, and the areas lack basic facilities. Lack of social cohesion is another problem because most people come to Karachi from other parts of the country to find work, and they find it difficult to adjust here. Their ideas and stories showed an accurate picture of the life of a low-income family living in an informal settlement in Karachi. Even with all this happening around them, they were hopeful for their futures and wanted to learn and advocate for themselves.
The young generation needs direction, tools, and support to become successful in their lives and change the dynamics of their families. There is no lack of potential, only a lack of opportunities and awareness. With these workshops, we tried to expose them to opportunities and avenues that could help. They learned to advocate for their right to be treated fairly and have basic facilities in their townships/areas. We also created two closed digital spaces for them to stay in touch with each other and me.
The stories they shared were heartbreaking. I don’t have the heart to include them in this post, but I would like you to visit an informal settlement near you and have an open conversation with people living there.
I don’t know how I feel right now. A part of me is hopeful to see their potential, how quickly they learned, and the work they produced. But another part of me is enraged at every person who was ever hired or elected to take care of this city. Almost all of them failed Karachi, which means they failed the whole country. The city’s infrastructure is crumbling, and there are a plethora of urban challenges. Still, we can’t seem to find a listening ear, neither in the provincial government nor the federal government. This city and its people are resilient and are still trying to do their best, but at the same time, nobody should be expected to be this resilient and experience such inequalities, and neglect.
I am hoping for better days, for Karachi and all of Pakistan!