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Kalsoom Lakhani: passionate about Pakistan

Kalsoom Lakhani: passionate about Pakistan

Founder of one CHUP or Changing Up Pakistan, Washington based  Kalsoom Lakhani has made waves for her insightful analysis and continuous updates on events in Pakistan. In just a few years Kalsoom has built up a formidable following and has gained recognition for her presenting a more accurate and balanced view of Pakistan which is often misrepresented in the media. She talks to Blue Chip about the success of CHUP and her commitment to Pakistan

What inspired you to set up CHUP?¨

Kalsoom Lakhani: “I founded CHUP three years ago, not long after Pakistan was labeled, “The Most Dangerous Nation in the World,” and former PM Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. I didn’t want to start a website that was apologetic about the situation in Pakistan – we have an abundance of burgeoning issues from corruption to violence to economic problems – but I wanted to create a blog that at least provided a more nuanced perspective of the country. CHUP aims to be a voice that probes and analyzes current events, but also discusses and highlights the positive stories that aren’t always newsworthy – the artists, the filmmakers, the social entrepreneurs, the musicians. The blog provides news briefs and analysis, contributions by young Pakistanis, and interviews. “

Has the success of CHUP surpassed your expectations?

KL: “It’s still hard to believe that anyone other than my parents want to read what I have to say, so yes, the increasing readership of CHUP has far surpassed my expectations. It’s humbling, but it also comes with the added pressure to maintain or better the quality of my website’s content.”

How do you see CHUP evolving in the future?

KL: “I’m in the midst of launching a new group blog on the social entrepreneurship space in Pakistan (ThinkChange-Pakistan will launch February 15), so while juggling a full-time job, CHUP, and this new blog will be taxing, I hope they all continue to feed into each other. So much of my day job (I head Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources, and work with start-up social enterprises and innovative initiatives) inspires or is inspired by the content of CHUP, so I hope that continues.”

In the wake of Pakistan’s devastating floods, you mobilized support from the US, how did you go about this?

KL: “My company ML Resources partnered with Pakistani Peace Builders & Indus Valley Productions last August to launch Relief4Pakistan (, a grassroots campaign to mobilize support for the floods in Pakistan. Many of us involved were receiving emails, phone calls, and messages on a regular basis from friends and colleagues who heard about the floods but were unsure where to give their money. Rather than five people giving $5 to five different organizations, we decided to vet one organization in the first phase of our campaign to centralize donations to one place (so one organization would get $25 rather than just $5). We leveraged social media platforms and people-to-people relationships to not only raise the money (we raised $150,000 in the first phase) but also to foster a sense of citizen investment – so that donors knew where their money was going and were able to ask continuous questions. R4P was therefore a campaign to raise awareness about the floods but also to increase transparency at a time when people were reluctant to give money to Pakistan. In our latest phase, we have partnered with an international relief agency Operation USA, local tribal leadership, and community organizations, to help rebuild areas devastated by the floods that are not receiving enough support from the government or aid organizations.”

CHUP shatters a lot of popular misconceptions about Pakistan; as a Pakistani living abroad, how distorted is the image of Pakistan conveyed by the media?

KL: “The image of Pakistan in the Western media is almost always framed within the terrorism narrative. This is not surprising because negative news is news-worthy, but it is obviously a one-sided depiction of the situation in the country. Yes, Pakistan has many problems, but not everything is negative or should be framed within the terrorism context. For example, if a fashion week occurs in Pakistan, it’s not happening “in spite of the Taliban,” or “in the face of Taliban violence,” it’s happening because Pakistan’s fashion industry has always been vibrant and growing.”

Are you optimistic about the future of Pakistan?

KL: “It would be naive to say I was fully optimistic about Pakistan’s future, especially given the ground realities and the recent assassinations, bombings, corruption stories, and violence. However, I am cautiously optimistic. In my day job at ML Social Vision, I work with incredible social entrepreneurs and professionals who are taking an innovative approach to tackling development gaps and issues. With CHUP, I have interviewed and met inspiring and vibrant Pakistanis who make it difficult to be completely pessimistic about the country. In my opinion, I think Pakistan has an outer layer that is rotten, but beneath that layer lies so much energy and potential that are difficult to ignore.”

When did you start blogging?

KL: “I started blogging in January 2008. CHUP just turned three years old. I survived the terrible two’s.”

Who have been your role models?

KL: “I am constantly inspired by other Pakistani bloggers and journalists – there are so many truly articulate, eloquent, and smart people that provide rich commentary about the country, and really put me to shame. I quite often have a Wayne’s World-esque “I am not worthy” moment when reading some of my favorite bloggers or pieces/documentaries by some incredible journalists.”

What advice would you give to aspiring bloggers?

KL: “Only blog about a topic that you are truly passionate about, that you could see yourself still writing about years later. Also, figure out your voice and how that should come through in your pieces. Your blog could be about a general topic like Pakistan, but if your angle is unique and reflects your personality, it’s more approachable. If I go back and read some of my blog posts, I’d like to think people could hear me reading it out loud.”

How do you balance CHUP with a full time job?

KL: “Let’s just say that I’ve been sleep-deprived for about three years now.”

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