Rehan School with Rehan Allahwala - Searching For The Question Live #96

Episode 96 March 27, 2024 01:51:12
Rehan School with Rehan Allahwala - Searching For The Question Live #96
Searching For The Question with David Orban
Rehan School with Rehan Allahwala - Searching For The Question Live #96

Mar 27 2024 | 01:51:12


Show Notes

Rehan Allahwala is the founder of Rehan School and recipient of the 2024 BOLD Award. In this conversation Rehan shares his journey of starting the school in 2011 with the mission to educate 160 million Pakistanis. He discusses the evolution of his teaching methods, from using basic phones with educational content to incorporating AI, laptops, and online learning.

Rehan's innovative 8-year program focuses on nurturing problem-solvers, with students specializing in various fields, learning entrepreneurship, and aiming to create million-dollar startups. The school's goal is to create changemakers like Malala and Greta Thunberg.

The conversation looks into the importance of trust, relationships, and networks in the face of rapidly advancing AI and technology. Rehan emphasizes the need for accessible AI education and the potential for tools like ChatGPT to revolutionize problem-solving and knowledge acquisition.

David and Rehan explore the changing dynamics between students and teachers, the value of embracing childlike curiosity, and the need for a mindset shift in education. They discuss the role of AI in building trust, empathy, and shared understanding in a world facing challenges like poverty and conflict.

Throughout the conversation, Rehan's passion for experimenting, learning, and creating positive change shines through. The interview offers insights into the transformative power of education, technology, and the human spirit in shaping a better future for all.

Rehan Allahwala is a distinguished Pakistani business magnate, entrepreneur, and social activist, known for his co-founding role at Super Technologies, Inc. Born on June 21, 1974, in Karachi, Pakistan, into an entrepreneurial family, Allahwala embarked on his business journey at an early age. By the age of 8, he was selling candies; by 10, he sold stationery to his schoolmates; and at 13, he launched his first company, dealing in Commodore 64 games. His ventures expanded into technology, notably with the invention of the modem and voice digitizers by the time he was 16. By the age of 36, after embarking on 51 different initiatives, Allahwala retired to focus on teaching entrepreneurship via the internet.

Allahwala's contributions extend beyond business. His efforts through his telecom company have supported foundations aimed at helping individuals achieve their dreams through entrepreneurship. Additionally, he has initiated projects to teach basic literacy to a billion people using mobile phones, driven by his mission to eradicate poverty globally.

His work in social entrepreneurship and his commitment to leveraging technology for societal benefit have made him a respected figure in both the business and social sectors.

As a speaker, Allahwala is recognized for his engaging discussions on various topics including education, world peace, telecommunications, and entrepreneurship. His belief in connecting people to enhance every aspect of life echoes through his projects and speaks to his overarching goal of creating a more inclusive and empowered global community.

Rehan Allahwala's social media presence is extensive, reflecting his active engagement with a global audience. For further insights into his work and thoughts, you can connect with him on his social media platforms:

- Facebook:
- LinkedIn:
- Twitter:

For more detailed information about Rehan Allahwala's life, achievements, and initiatives, you can visit his personal website at

You can learn more about Rehan School on

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

David: Welcome to this special episode of Searching for the Question Live. My name is David Orban, and rather than having my guest who knows where in the world, it is a big surprise and a big honor to have Rehan Allahwala actually here with me in my study to record this conversation that I’m sure is going to be interesting and fascinating. Rehan, welcome. Rehan: Thank you for inviting me. I’m so happy to be here. David: It is really nice. We have been in touch online for a long time before actually meeting in person in Dubai a few years ago. And now you have accepted my invitation because you were traveling in Italy. That is where I would actually like to start. Tell me what brought you to Italy. Rehan: I got a surprise invitation from an organization called the Bold Awards. They look out for entrepreneurs and projects who are doing something bold and crazy. They sought me out, asked me to apply, and we got nominated as top contenders for the Rehan School project. I came for the dinner party, and to my surprise, we won. That’s what brought me to Italy. David: Congratulations. I wasn’t there, I couldn’t participate. But one of my friends was there. And of course I also know H-Farm, which is the organization that set up the BOLD Awards. H-Farm is an accelerator in Italy doing wonderful different things. Let’s talk about the Rehan School, which is the winner and recipient of this year’s BOLD Award. What is it and when did you start it? Rehan: Rehan School was started in 2011, around 13 years ago, as a way to educate the 160 million Pakistanis who don’t know how to read and write even their name. At that time, I wanted to use a $10 phone preloaded with educational content so that people could learn to read in three months, using celebrities as teachers. I wanted to make content that was viral, interesting, and not boring. It didn’t go anywhere at first. Then I met the president of Sudan and he said they have 23 languages. I thought of how to create content everyone could understand, like Mr. Bean or Tom and Jerry. I went to see Mr. Bean three times but couldn’t get through his agent. Someone suggested I do it myself, so I made funny videos like Mr. Bean without speaking. This was before smartphones, 4G, 3G, YouTube, and Khan Academy. Eventually, I went to Singularity University and was inspired by Ray Kurzweil and Peter’s work. I came back wanting to make kids aged 10-18 problem solvers by studying two hours a day. Back then there was Alexa, Google, YouTube, but no AI. I wanted to open a small school for ten people to learn but it didn’t happen. Around two and a half years ago, I bought a school without even seeing it, just looking on Google Maps. The principal and teachers were not computer friendly. I was already running a Digital Literacy School in another town that I started around three and a half years ago. During COVID, we created courses and books on basic digital literacy. COVID was my favorite time because I could create content and had been working from home since age 13. I transferred a guy from the other school to this new one to teach digital literacy to the principal and teachers for six to eight months. It was very hard. They thought I was doing something evil, like a CIA agent. Anything new is always considered bad by humans, just like book burning hundreds of years ago. Last year in January, I started teaching and managed to get 10-15 kids online. I also started saying the school will teach kids how to make 100,000 rupees ($300) a month, since their parents only earn $100. Some families started migrating near the school to educate their kids. One woman brought her four children, a driver brought his six kids and is now a teacher. I also started a project called OLPP (One Laptop per Pakistani) charging $3 a month for an insured used Chromebook. I gave every child a laptop which increased their typing speed and productivity. To teach them computer use, I chose Canva – it’s like giving paper and crayons to paint in nursery school. The task was to make three Canva posts a day and post on Facebook. It took 7-8 frustrating months to get them to do it consistently. Then I told them to interview people, offering 50 rupees (50 cents) per interview, or $1 if in English. My assistant taught them to use ChatGPT if they didn’t understand English – to generate questions, get translations to Romanized Urdu they could read phonetically. The kids started doing great interviews, with the interviewees impressed by the ChatGPT-generated questions. After a hundred English interviews, the kids started understanding 60-70% of what was said. They were taking home 5-7000 rupees ($15-20) a month. I never hired an English teacher – they learned by immersion, like I did watching CNN. The brain learns on its own. Some kids emerged as champions at IT and smartphones. If there’s a new AI website, they’ll make a tutorial for me in 3 hours. Once you have a champion, everyone else follows, like the 4-minute mile rule. We’re all self-limiting creatures. I met more people at conferences in Qatar and London who suggested I open a branch there. In Pakistan I don’t teach STEM subjects, just AI, computers, meditation, yoga. The classrooms look futuristic – like a spaceship or the UN. You immerse yourself and it turns on learning mode. Then I researched the London market and found out education costs ??1800/month there vs $3/month in Pakistan. Even charging 10% of that and getting 20 online students could run my whole school in Pakistan. So I started a London version with a team fluent in English. Now we have an 8-year school program. Kids enter in 5th grade: 1st year: AI fundamentals, ChatGPT, interviews, meditation, yoga 2nd year (6th grade): Pick a “wala” specialty (water, electricity, climate change etc). Earn $100/month – 50% to school, 50% to student. Watch 1 TED talk on your wala daily, explain in English & Urdu, tag the speaker. Do 200 interviews a year, make an AI video daily on the wala. Learn freelancing. 3rd year (7th grade): Same but earn $300/month 4th year (8th grade): Earn $500/month, start a digital startup on your wala. Work on it for 4 years. By 12th grade: Exit the startup for $1 million. If you don’t, stay till you do. The goal is to create 1000 Malalas, Greta Thunbergs, millionaires who solve problems. Right now anyone can become a governor or PM with no training. I want to train future Obamas, Elon Musks etc by having them focus on one specialty from a young age. By 18 they’ll have a brand, name recognition, network, funds. I also started an adult version since I’ve wasted money trying to train adults for 3-6 months. Unlearning takes 1-2 years before real learning starts. So now I’ll have an adult school with the same 8-year structure. Physical locations, 150 students after 2 years, and growing online classes. That’s Rehan School so far. David: It is amazing because it is part of your ability to experiment. I remember meeting you on Facebook where every post was an experiment, some very provocative, like telling Pakistanis to make Indian friends. You got millions of positive and negative comments but a few would actually do it. You approached the school with the same experimental spirit through various iterations. One reason you could do this is no inspector came with a hundred rules to follow. You were free to experiment, which is what worried you about London with its licensing and regulations. I’m sure over the next 2-3 years, as AI becomes more sophisticated and new tools emerge, the economic engine will support more experiments. You mentioned resistance from families and teachers. Is it true that with sufficient success, you’ll face resistance from regulators too? Rehan: Yeah, I think so. But in London, I found a “free school” system where you can decide 70% of the curriculum, which I didn’t know existed. That’s why I started thinking about London, otherwise it’s too complicated. They don’t want to change and I don’t want to bring a bulldozer. Apparently Sweden has something similar – a whole free school movement where regulators don’t force you to follow 100%, only 30%. That’s what allowed me to try, because places like Singularity University aren’t accredited anywhere for the same reason. We won’t be accredited either, I’m not even going to attempt it. But I found out anyone can do a GED exam, a US high school equivalency degree, by passing tests in math, science, ethics, social studies. You can learn all that with ChatGPT. So we’ve decided to have our students get a GED once they make their million dollars, just so they have some papers. In Pakistan you need that when looking for a bride. The father will ask what you studied, you can’t say nothing. At least that’s needed for getting married here currently. More exciting to me is that these kids will become changemakers. They’ll be well-led, without the typical worries, and will influence others. In my last 10-15 years I’ve been creating influencers to amplify people already doing good work but not using social media properly. I’d give them shout-outs, connect them to grow their impact. Now I’m applying what I’ve learned and making influencers from scratch, ensuring they influence in the right way. The school’s fundamentals are impacting 10 million people positively, becoming an expert in solving an important world problem, and making a million dollars so this path becomes fashionable. Fashion is what most follow, not wisdom. If we produce a few millionaires, everyone will line up. Even if students start making $100 a month there will be more demand. We’ve had a few do that so far and one make $300 this week but haven’t seen the cash yet. Waiting excitedly. David: I totally agree with you. The technologies we’re building and rapidly deploying globally should enable everyone to enhance their humanity and relationships. The world will change very rapidly driven by AI accelerating other technologies. Many will struggle to adapt and find purpose when their skills are automated. I’m building platforms to help people design lives of purpose and dignity in an AI transformed world. How do you see your work evolving in this scenario? Rehan: In my bubble, I see people moving from degrees to skill-based learning. But that’s already obsolete because by the time they learn Python or web design, it’ll be outdated. The one thing that won’t be is relationships and networks. We don’t hire people just for fantastic skills but because we trust them, know what they can and can’t do, believe in their ability to learn. If you’re going to climb a mountain with me, trust is essential. People start companies with friends based on perceived capabilities, not skills alone. I think we should skip the obsession with skill-learning. Yes, you need to learn to drive but that’ll be obsolete. Same with a bit of Python. The challenge is most don’t realize 10 years ahead will look like 100 years of change. 3 years will be like a decade. A single year could bring decade-worth advancements. We have stress and frustration due to lack of trusted networks. We fear others taking our piece of the pie, but not usually our family and close friends. We can go to them for help when needed. Learning happens quickly if we don’t let ego be a firewall. To be good at something, do it hundreds or thousands of times. We stop ourselves thinking it’s too big a goal. To really learn, go back to atomic and tiny habits – the brain struggles to unlearn and relearn after a certain age but it’s possible with micro-actions. Takes trust and love, trust most of all. Networks are built on it. When we met, part of why I came was to build more trust between us, to go from a small street to a highway or motorway of trust enabling greater data flow. Less trust is like a small pipe. The skill zone is gone while we’re still focused on it, already obsoleted. I’m excited about the future, though I was fearful until a few years ago, looking for a place to go die thinking Terminator was coming. Yes, 10% of the time things could go very bad, but that’s true when driving, flying, eating – I could choke at a restaurant. Doesn’t mean I should stop doing those things. It’s a risk of life. What humans need to unite on is building trust ASAP. Like how Chris Anderson and Yuval Noah Harari discussed China uniting around the Yangtze River, I think AI can bring the world together. We just killed 30,000 people each in Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia following outdated rules of war from 1000-2000 years ago like Sun Tzu’s Art of War. But now we have live-streaming, social media, we can talk to enemies directly. People should demand that of leaders unwilling to negotiate. With today’s tech like Starlink we can communicate from caves, no need to bomb. All of Afghanistan was destroyed to find one guy – that’s wrong with modern capabilities. The Russian and Ukrainian leaders should talk daily on Facebook. Replace leaders who refuse. In the past, battle champions would duel to decide the victor. It should be like that now – talk it out, don’t kill armies because two guys won’t communicate. That’s a failure of humanity, wrong when we have the means to connect. David: The Economist used to have a great debate platform that I liked – an Oxford style format with a statement, one side for and against, debating over weeks. The winning side was the one that changed the most audience minds. I don’t know why they closed it, but I found it very useful. Establishing shared facts and hashing out differences to find common ground is crucial for building trust. It takes effort but technology should enable that effort to achieve results, allowing us to communicate and build trust globally. It’s amazing and beautiful. Another important component is empathy – understanding our shared humanity, challenges, fears, failures that we hesitate to show others. Realizing our similarities makes learning easier too. Repeating something hundreds of times to master it means being bad at it initially. We need an environment to share mistakes without mockery, just encouragement to keep going because others went through the same. Rehan: I totally agree. And I think if you’ve tried Perplexity, and now in ChatGPT, it prompts you with questions without asking. As it integrates with our bodies, watches, email, it will prompt – “Why don’t you ask me this?” Just like we prompt kids or parents use the Socratic method. We can program it to ask us questions to find our ikigai, our purpose. I made GPT prompts to help people make a million dollars and find ikigai. It can emerge as a super-brain as it connects to Alexa, cars, our health data, what we eat, our TV watching. Live translation will be everywhere. The most exciting thing is for the first time ever, we’ll all have the power to know everything, equally accessible. No more excuses that someone is rich because of external factors. PhDs and all knowledge is in our hands. It’ll be worth it for humanity to understand this power. I was talking to your wife and she’s not happy with social media, but I think if she understood how it could help with the children and life generally, she’d want to learn because it’s so powerful. A genie in our pockets. It pains me to see poverty persist when we have this tool. I wish we had ads 10 times a day so it hardwires into us to ask ChatGPT before anyone else, then discuss – “This is what it said, what do you think?” I’d ask Peter Diamandis to put an X-Prize for that. David: In the late 90s when speech recognition was emerging, people would call me wanting to buy a PC for their daughter to dictate her thesis, thinking that would mean producing more content than typing. I’d caution them that speaking more assumes you have more to say, which isn’t necessarily true. Maybe being unable to type fast enough was an excuse to not realize you didn’t have much to say. Shifting to speech recognition meant confronting that. Similarly with ChatGPT, people may realize that what’s missing is their ability to ask the right questions, not just about the world but themselves. If we can improve that skill of introspection and inquiry, it’ll be a huge leap. AIs will be great at knowing and explaining facts in context, giving reasons, and importantly, knowing themselves. I hope we won’t be jealous but inspired to attain the same level of self-knowledge, with AI as our sparring partner and trainer in that journey. Rehan: I totally agree. I think as Perplexity and ChatGPT start prompting us with questions, integrating with our devices and data, watching through cameras, it’ll say “Hey David, don’t throw that in the trash, here’s an eBay buyer who’ll pay $10 for it.” That’s possible today by connecting AI to CCTV and online marketplaces, showing the buyer instantly. We have this 21st century collective intelligence but we’re not using it fully. In Pakistan, 70% of tomatoes rot because farmers don’t know they can sun-dry and sell them for 10X the price of fresh. They don’t know to just put it on Amazon. We have free sun and cheap tomatoes. That’s why I’m passionate about educating people to use this AI. What you said about trash having value somewhere – someone willing to pay for it – I’m saying the same for the tomatoes. The farmer grows them but doesn’t know he could add value and make more money, creating abundance. He’s sitting on an opportunity but unaware. That’s what hurts me – 99% of the world’s problems have solutions in ChatGPT but people don’t know they have the intelligence to ask. What provokes humanity? Beauty, money, food. If we say you could upgrade your Toyota to a Porsche or eat better by doing a bit extra, they’ll be eager to learn how. Since it’s AI, it can suggest starting with 1% improvements. We’re in 2024 with collective intelligence at our fingertips. You could make a device to watch through your camera and instantly say “Don’t trash that, sell it on eBay for $10.” Connect it in milliseconds, making a marketplace for trash. So easy yet we’re not doing it. As we connect and talk more, having different perspectives and problems, this collective intelligence can constantly guide us to evolve into a balanced planet. It’s unfair that someone in New York and someone on a farm in Pakistan both work 18 hour days but have vastly different productivity – $200K vs $20 a month. Sad when we have internet, phones, and AI everywhere. The awareness of how to use it is missing. In schools they don’t allow phones or computers, Googling answers, or sitting with ChatGPT to solve problems. That’s why I built my school. I want this superhuman power from age 8 to 20 – the most creative time without adult worries and responsibilities, the peak of humanity. We don’t give them the opportunity to play and be creative with these tools and a facilitator. Pakistan has 2 million teachers, 1% of the country, wasting time. I know 1500 unemployed PhDs looking for $500/month jobs who don’t know how to use AI. I tell them after 30 years of learning if you can’t produce $500 a month, that’s sad. Let’s move on from outdated systems to the different world we’re in now. We all have Amazon, eBay, PayPal, cell phones. 25 years ago in Pakistan you needed the Prime Minister’s help to get a landline. Now they’re pushing phone lines. It’s a different time but we’re not taking advantage of it. If we could change this one thing, these phenomenal schools in every city would be real growth spaces. Elders and youth working together is where magic happens. Our national poet Iqbal said over 100 years ago “Free thought from slavery, make the young teachers of the old.” It’s their time. My school trains kids as specialists – the “walas” I described. Some teachers struggle with online freelancing because they can’t even Google. They have skills but can’t communicate. As part of schooling, every kid now teaches for an hour daily on Facebook and YouTube Live. They’re not making money yet but teaching is the best way to learn. They teach Fiverr, Upwork, remote job hunting. In 12 months I’ll have 20, 30, 40 amazing teachers because they didn’t have the AI, internet, digital literacy before. The 1400 PhDs sitting idle in Pakistan and other countries just need to use LinkedIn better. I’ve been trying to make a human search engine for 7 years. If you say you need an editor, there are plenty of people looking for someone like you needing editing. We need an AI bot to connect those dots, to link you to an editor looking for work. That’s how Rehanwala connects people seeing similar things. We connect each other based on those similarities. David: The traditional clear separation between students and teachers becomes more complex, stimulating and rich, with both learning and teaching. It’s like how marketing and communications changed. Company information used to only come through PR departments with press releases. Now with social media, anyone can speak, ask questions, analyze data about a company. What’s inside or outside the company isn’t clearly separated. I look forward to the mindset shift you described spreading, with decisive but peaceful breaking down of resistance. The faster that happens, the better for all – students, teachers. They should embrace the inner child, the creative years you highlighted. Humans have a quality called neoteny – retaining childlike features into adulthood like curiosity, risk-taking, questioning authority. A rapidly changing environment favors neotenic people and populations. They’ll map it out quickly rather than distrusting and avoiding the unfamiliar. Being able to be silly, to play, to take oneself less seriously – these should be rewarded by society. In the past, a more stable world may have valued seriousness and rigid authority. Now we need to embrace silliness instead. Rehan: I don’t know how to do it, but I keep trying, you keep trying, we all keep trying. I hope the world doesn’t explode before we figure it out. David: One hopeful perspective is that video game players are now adults. They’ll recognize arbitrary rules and reward systems in the real world like they saw in games. They’ll happily play to see what works. I want to thank you and congratulate you again for winning the BOLD Award for Rehan School. And thank you for coming to record this in my home. Rehan: Thank you. To all the listeners – I’d love to connect on social media. And if you or your children want to ignite your inner child and curiosity, please join our school. We play games an hour a day to bond, talk, see what’s happening. The kids love it. We have fun and want to solve the world’s problems. It won’t be solved quickly as David said. We need to rethink what we consider normal. Once at a newspaper interview, the photographer wanted me to pose seriously. I said no, if that’s what you want I don’t want my article published. I want to smile and be happy, not somber. We want to live in the 21st century, not the 20th. The past was amazing and gave us the present, but I heard someone say – what if 21st century tools landed in the 16th century? They wouldn’t know what to do with them. That’s happening now. We have these amazing tools and aren’t realizing how powerful they are, how beautiful humanity can become. For the first time ever we have knowledge everywhere, equally accessible in every language. This is heaven. If we don’t take advantage, humanity sucks. David: I’m sure there will be variable adoption rates, but I’m an optimist like you. Thanks again, maybe next time we’ll record in Pakistan. Rehan: Welcome anytime.

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