Zia Khan is a social activist, motivational speaker and founder of Quetta Online, one of the largest volunteer forces in Balochistan.
Q. What need did you feel that sparked the idea for Quetta Online? What was the inspiration behind it?
ZK: I noticed that Balochistan was not very well-represented on social media and even when there was representation, it was in a negative light. Being an IT expert, most of my work has to be carried out online. I wanted to use my expertise and social media to create a more positive representation of our city. I wanted to promote the talent and culture of its people and highlight the problems we face. That is how Quetta Online came to be.
Q. Did you anticipate that it would turn into such a huge community of over 100,000 members?
ZK: No, I never anticipated having so many members. I hadn’t realized the power of social media initially. I had just wanted to spread positivity among those around me. I first realized how useful it could be when we were looking for blood donors in the group for the first time back in 2010. We were looking for O negative, which is a relatively rare blood group, but had an overwhelming response and met the requirements.
That was when we realized that we could capitalize upon this and use it for so much more. We could empower the youth and give them more positive means of connection and self-expression.
Q: Have you, or do you plan to expand the project beyond Quetta? If so, where?
ZK: Yes, I do. We’ve recently started Balochistan Online and it already has around 22,000 followers and members. In addition, others like Sibi Online, Pishin Online, Noshki Online, Sui Online, Zhob Online and Dera Bugti Online are also operational under our umbrella. We are currently working on expanding into Sohrab, Turbat, Panjgur and Loralai, which will be launched soon, In sha Allah.
Q: How do you feel that a social media based model, such as your own, would function in parts of the province that lack access to the internet?
ZK: There are very few parts of Balochistan now that lack internet access. I would say that as much as 80% of the area has access and is making use of it. We use social media as a tool but we also carry out physical activities through our volunteers all over the region. The internet has made the world so small that it fits in your phone. So, for now we work primarily in the areas that have access until the rest can gain it too.
Q: Do you feel that there is an increased desire in the youth to take action towards the betterment of their surroundings and become agents of change?
ZK: Yes I do think so. All social development theories, one way or another, highlight the significant role of the youth. Around 60% of Pakistan’s population comprises of youth; that includes Balochistan as well. Youth are change leaders and you only ever need one generation to bring about change. So, if we concentrate our energies more towards development and change we can make it happen.
Anything is possible in the social media age. I feel that not knowing how to use it to your advantage is a disability. You can connect with so many people and learn from them through it. If the youth want to be agents of change, there are so many platforms available for them, such as yours (VoB). They just need to be willing to seize these opportunities.
Q: How do you think they would benefit as human beings from volunteer work?
ZK: I believe that we do volunteer work for no worldly gain, but only in Allah’s name and for His mercy. If you’re working with such a noble purpose, it is impossible for you not to gain anything out of the experience.
Secondly, volunteer work is something we do because we want to. Paid jobs are usually something we have to do; it’s a compulsion to earn our livelihood. We do volunteer work for the sake of humanity and Allah SWT has said that whosoever works for the betterment of humanity will find peace. That’s all we need to hear to realize how beneficial volunteer work is for us as human beings.
Our province needs volunteers, we lack skilled labour and institutions. There’s so much volunteers can do to help. I can list hundreds of things right now that we can do as volunteers to help our people.
Q: Have you or do you plan on collaborating with the government on projects?
ZK: Yes, we are collaborating with them. We want to empower institutions that bring about change. We’ve been working with the Regional Blood Center (RBC) to arrange blood donation camps, find donors, create twitter trends etc. I am also a member of the Government of Balochistan Endowment Fund and other such government initiatives.
We are ready to work with anyone who wants to work with us. We want to support the government in any way that we can for the development of the province.
Our belief as a community is that Balochistan is our land and therefore, by virtue of this ownership we support anyone who works for its betterment.
Q: You have not limited your portfolio to a specific kind of social work. With a wide range of registered NGOs already operating in the region, why did you feel the need to create such a community?
ZK: I’m sorry to say but NGOs are slowly becoming a business. Granted that some of them are doing a lot of great work but most of them have a very business-minded approach.
Quetta Online and Balochistan Online are like schools and colleges for their members. Different members have different interests and we help them accordingly by connecting them through subgroups so that they can learn from others in the field. We know we cannot change Balochistan just through this effort, but we are making the best effort we can.
I have no expenses associated with it. This way, we are able to show that even without sources and funds, we can influence change and serve people. Meanwhile others, who have so many funds to their name, fail to do so. If they were doing well enough, we wouldn’t even need to do what we do.
It’s such an easy model that there are boys in KPK who run groups like Karak Online and Swat Online, whom we just helped in replicating our formula, no funds required.
Q: As an unregistered group, how do you feel your model produces so many more on-ground results, as compared to other NGOs?
ZK: There are definitely cons to being an unregistered group; many legal problems associated with it. We usually carry out our activities through donations from our Core, Active or Executive volunteers who can manage to donate, rather than from external groups because that would be a legal liability.
However, there are benefits as well. There’s no competition within the community. Anyone who leads, is selected solely on the basis that they are experts in their fields. Secondly, I don’t have any expenses, most of our work is carried out virtually.
We are thinking about registering in the future, under the same name or a different one as there are some projects we would like to be involved in that require registration.
Q: How did it feel to be honored for your service at the Excellence Awards after 10 years in the field?
ZK: I was obviously very happy. Everyone associated with me also feels proud; my friends, family and volunteers. It feels good to receive recognition from the government for your work. It means I really did make a difference. It is an honour I never thought I would receive. I didn’t come into this field looking for awards. Many more volunteers have applied this year because they see that their work could be appreciated at such a high level.
All we want is to inspire and motivate our youth with the added incentive of getting awarded for their work. It was a huge honour for me to receive the award because it was recognition for my team as well.
Q: What are your future plans for Quetta Online?
ZK: One of our plans for the future of Balochistan Online is that we would like to establish a one-window facility for disabled people to help cover all of the issues they face.
Secondly, we want to expand our network as much as possible so we can connect, educate and empower as many young people as possible. Once Balochistan Online is up and running successfully, we can move on to Pakistan Online as well.
So we have many plans for the future, but our main purpose remains the development and empowerment of youth leaders.
Q: What message would you like to convey to the youth?
ZK: My message to the youth is to never give up in life. Don’t underestimate yourself by thinking you cannot do anything. You are the only one limiting yourself as long as you do not believe you are capable of what you want to do. The day you decide that you can and you focus your energies on the task at hand, you will be able to do it and do it well.