Young innovators are what Pakistan is about

Most people around the world see Pakistan very differently from the way that you and I (Pakistanis) do, and from the way it actually is – maybe because they have never been here; maybe because they believe the myopic coverage on mainstream media; maybe because they have never met the hundreds of thousands of amazing people from Pakistan who are striving to make the world a better place. I strongly believe that we should talk about these people, ensure that others know who they are and what they are doing. Some of them are working on mass philanthropic efforts; yet others are working towards improving the economy on a broader scale … and then there are the young ones who are breaking all stereotypes and working on the cutting edge of technology.

FawwadOne such person, who I am fortunate enough to know, is Fawad Ejaz Bhatti, the CEO of Trequant. Fawad is a passionate young man working to improve the lives of people who suffer from tremors.

I first met Fawad last year when he was studying at NUST in Islamabad. He submitted his Final Year Project for the Tertiary Student Award Category at the P@SHA ICT Awards and won. The judges were very impressed not only with what he was trying to do but also with his attitude and his temperament.

The winners from Pakistan at APICTA 2014He went with us to the Asia Pacific ICT Awards in Jakarta in 2014 and presented Trequant to an international panel of judges and was declared a Runner Up in that category, with Osama Maruf – also from NUST – taking the top award in that category for his product Smart Seth. We could not have been more thrilled. The pride we felt at  the recognition that these young men had attained for themselves and for Pakistan, made everything we have ever done to support them, and others like them, totally worth it.

 Many young people work on Final Year Projects at university as just assignments; they take part in business plan competitions and award programs but once they graduate, they lose all interest in the projects that they  had once spent so much time on.

Not so with Fawad and his team of innovators. I continued to be in touch with Fawad on social media and followed what he was doing in the final year of his undergrad education. Last year he became part of The Nest i/o External incubatee program and I connected him with Shehryar Hydri, CMO of Convo who is a fabulous mentor.

TrequantEarlier this year Trequant joined the Plan 9 Incubator in Lahore. I met him and his team again last week when I visited Plan 9 to catch up with some of the teams there. The Trequant team showed me the watch they had made for tremor patients and told me what it could do. Tremors are a neurological disorder in which hands, head or legs shake involuntarily. Until now patients with tremors have found it difficult to get assessed. The Trequant Tremor Quantifying device enables patients to not only self-assess; it also allows the doctor and family members to monitor the patient’s progress. A dedicated application is able to analyze and track the tremor patterns.

Trequant goodiesSounds amazing, doesn’t it? It fills my heart with so much pride to see these youngsters come up with a product like this. Fawad gave me a package while I was there – the package contained, amongst other things, a personalized letter that I didn’t read there because I thought I might become emotional.

The letter is something they have been sending to some mentors and supporters who have motivated and helped them in their journey … and that is indeed sweet and considerate of them. There is a customized portion though and mine said “Dear Jehan, Hope you are well. Thank you Jehan. Thank you for always believing in me from the very first day. Your motivational talks and words of strength are the reason we have reached this far. We admire your work not just for us but for the tech scene of Pakistan. We at Trequant are on a mission to help 300 million tremor patients around the world using wearable technology. Since you have personally believed in us from the start, we are writing to you to give you the updates.” They then go on to provide the updates and end with this message: ” What we need from you is your vote of confidence and Hunaid, Jehan and Fawwadsupport all along our journey. We want to touch the lives of as many tremor patients as possible. Your support can help us achieve that.”

Fawad, there is no doubt that you and your team are on a mission, on a journey that will benefit a lot of patients around the world. It will be a privilege for me to do whatever I can to support you on your journey. You can always count on me to be there whenever you need me. Well done … and God bless you.

October 23, 2015 at 1:56 pm 2 comments

It is that time of year again

1237091_10153283046220327_631662539_nWhen we first started the P@SHA ICT Awards 12 years ago the goal was simple. There were a few of us who were fed up of hearing people say that there was no innovation happening in Pakistan, that there was no talent, no creativity – in fact some even claimed that we didn’t really have an IT industry.

Debating with them was of little use. We knew that we would never be able to talk our way out of that perception. So what could we do? Why not just show them, we asked ourselves – and indeed in the past 12 years we have!

From the very first year – 2003 – we were surprised at the number and the quality of entries for the P@SHA Awards from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. At first we received nominations from only known P@SHA member companidr-shoab-khan-of-care-makes-his-markes but as people found out that our mission was to recognize innovation in IT no matter whether the company was a member or not, the numbers increased as did the diversity in the kind of companies that applied.

And what a ride it has been so far! Each year we continue to be absolutely amazed
at the quality of products. Some of the same innovators continue to develop new products but each year there are new companies that emerge. Companies from Peshawar and Hyderabad have also started participating and in some cases, 1233464_10151608297625759_1747260324_nwinning! That is a wonderful sign. Pakistan is a large country with talent galore. All we have to do is give people a chance – and there will be no limit to the kind and quality of products that we will continue to see each year.

Celebrating innovation in the Pakistan IT industry is one of my favorite things to do. There is so much to celebrate, so many young people (and some older ones too) who prove again and again that we are a country brimming with talent and creativity; where people with wonderful ideas start companies and transform their ideas into dreams and faisal-khan-gets-gender-diversity-awardproducts that conquer markets, create impact and win awards and accolades.

Has your product ever been recognized? Maybe that’s because you haven’t submitted it to the Awards judging committee. Each year dozens of judges adjudicate and pick the best out of the best.

If you happen to be in Lahore or its vicinity on Monday evening, don’t forget to register to attend the P@SHA ICT Awards.  There is no registration fee but registration is essential I hope to see you there!Invite - PASHA ICT Awards 2015

 

 

October 9, 2015 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

So much to be thankful for …

The day started off well – an hour of focused work at the office before heading out to meet a startup entrepreneur for breakfast at The Pantry on Zamzama. Delicious Norwegian Eggs Benedict, strong coffee and a really interesting conversation ended with a photo to document our ‘date’ ;).

Got back to the office to carry on with work. A little while later Faisal Kapadia dropped in for a chat regarding the enhancement of the social media campaign for P@SHA and The Nest. I listened to him interact with my team as I continued to go through, and compile the results, for the P@SHA ICT Awards. FK’s advice is always useful and leads to a lot of brainstorming followed up with action so I was delighted that he had taken the time to drop in. He then went on to teach some of the startups from the new batch content planning for social media. I could see them through the glass door of The Media Lab hanging on his every word.

Something happened later in the evening that led me to feel hurt and demotivated. I guess I was tired – and feeling at my most vulnerable – and something someone wrote, which I felt was totally unfair and unjustified, made me burst into tears and feel really down in the dumps. It happens to the best of us I suppose.

From the moment I posted how I felt as a status message on Facebook – yes I am one of those people who do such things – don’t judge me! ;), my community started to come alive boosting me with cheerful messages, some even offering to “fix” the person who had caused me to be sad. Hey no violence please! 

Messages included:

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”

“Haters gonna hate😎, it just means you’re doing it right!”

“That’s not the Jehan Ara we all know and love !!”

“Ignore them and eat ice cream instead”

“Demotivate you?? hamaara to phir Allah hee haafiz hai…”

There were phone calls from friends and colleagues in various cities reminding me of instances when they had been going through rough times and I had drawn them out of it with a cheerful word or smile. “Come on Jehan,” one of them said “You’re our cheerleader. Don’t let them get to you!”

The cherry on the cake was an invitation to “not be alone”, leave work and join a couple of friends for home-made pizza and banana milkshake, chocolates and fruit (an offer too good to refuse). The food, the caring, the heart-to-heart chat all helped immensely.

How in heaven’s name is one supposed to wallow in depression amidst all of this? Thanks everyone for showing me that I have so much in life to be grateful for and that no matter what one does, or how well-intentioned one may be, there is always the odd person who is perhaps so miserable in his own life, that he needs to bring everyone else down with him. All we can really do is pray for their well being and offer them our love and understanding.

This isn’t the first or last time that I will feel depressed – it’s part of life – but knowing that the world consists of people who genuinely care about putting the smile back on my face and the cheer back in my heart, makes me feel like one the luckiest people in the world. God bless you and bring tremendous joy into your lives and the lives of your families. You know you will always find me in your corner.

 

October 4, 2015 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

Dreams in the making …


The Nest i-o logo cropped“You have no idea what this place has done for me Jehan,” said Amar, a young man who was part of The Nest i/o First cohort. “I used to be a very sad and lonely person. This place has brought me back to life, has reminded me what happiness is, introduced me to people who have become friends, comrades – almoThe birds with Knavixst family.” I looked directly into his eyes as he shared this, and it dawned on me that there were stories at The Nest i/o that were still waiting to emerge – stories not just of entrepreneurial success but of people who had rediscovered themselves, rebuilt their lives and started their journeys anew.

In a status message on Facebook today, Amar wrote the following: 

When I decided to be an entrepreneur and launch my tech startup. I could have never imagined that I would discover myself again and in the process meet some inspirational people that would guide me all the way.

Thank you The Nest I/O for the opportunity …

A special thanks to Jehan  for helping me find my soul again. I can write, sing and smile after 10 whole years, all thanks to you. Wow! That is huge! Thank you Amar – all we did was open up our hearts and allow you to become what you already are. 

Group graduation shot cropped

What Amar said reminded me of another young man who had, in one of our heart-to-heart sessions a month or so earlier, told me that he had lost confidence in himself and faith in the integrity of human beings and in relationships, due to past experiences. “Being at The Nest has given me a new lease on life,” he said.

jehan with weddingplanit team in rickshawTwo things happened as I listened to these amazing young men who have come so far and proven so much in the short space of four months. On the one hand, I felt shattered at the things that they had endured so early on in their lives. There was a seething anger within me targeted at the people who had caused the pain and disillusionment.

On the other hand, I felt overwhelmed at the responsibility that we carry on our shoulders as these young people walk through the doors of our technology incubator with hopes and dreams that they think we will enable them to fulfill. They look to us for much more than just guidance and mentorship  – and we better be able to deliver!

JAF talking to the team at the entranceWhen we first started discussing the concept of the haven we wanted to create, we knew it would be an oasis for entrepreneurs. We knew we would put heart and soul into it because none of us were looking at this as an initiative. It was the culmination of a dream that many of us had had and we were going to make sure that it was the beginning of something phenomenal.

The past months have been a roller coaster ride of emotions, of passion, of energy and excitement, of sharing dreams and being involved in helping turn some of those dreams into businesses that will have enormous impact.

Shahjahan talking about Customer DevWhat I have learnt over the past months and years is that when you put your heart into something that you believe in, you tend to attract a lot of wonderful people. From the day we announced that we were starting The Nest i/o, the phones haven’t stopped ringing, the volunteerism hasn’t stopped, the offers of assistance just continue to grow. I have always been an optimist, a believer in the intrinsic goodness of people and each day proves to me that I wasn’t wrong in my assumptions. The people who come to The Nest i/o to help and guide, to inspire and motivate, to just listen and provide direction when and where they can, do so because it makes them feel good, it re-energizes them, it brings out the dreamers in them. They are the ones who are helping us build an eco-system that will enable many young aspiring entrepreneurs to imran on big dataturn their dreams into reality. I am just along for the ride.

This will be the first of many blog posts on The Nest i/o – of people, of experiences – stories that will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs who will embark on their journeys to change the world. Embark on this journey with us.

 

September 14, 2015 at 7:45 am 5 comments

Coming home …

Whenever I travel, whether domestically or internationally, I always look forward to coming home to Karachi. It is the city where I was born and where I have spent the last many years. Each time I land at the airport it is as if the city is opening up its arms and welcoming me back with a warm hug.

And then I come home and I can’t help feeling the heartbreak of not having Ammi and Abbaji here to welcome me. Whenever I went anywhere, no matter how frequently, I always came back to them. They would be waiting to ask how the trip had been, to hear the many stories I had to tell, to share in my excitement, my achievement or my disappointment. Although they never expected anything, I always brought home something special for them because I wanted to see the joy in their eyes, the smiles on their faces as I handed over my gifts. Abbaji, ever the banker, would always say “Why did you bring this? I have everything I need. You shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money like this”. Ammi would just smile, make a fuss over my gift, give me a hug and then settle down to hear all about my trip.

Walking into the house now is difficult because although they are everywhere in spirit as are the many special memories that I am lucky enough to have, I walk in the front door and immediately turn to look into their room (force of habit) knowing that they won’t be there, that they have gone forever. I know I was fortunate to have them with me for as long as I did but whenever you lose your parents, it is too soon … and you never really get over it.

Today is one of those days when I returned home and missed them terribly. I unpacked my suitcase and looked at the things I have brought back from Sri Lanka – but that special excitement, the thrill of taking things out and showing them to Ammi, of just chattering away without the fear of being judged – that was missing and I felt lonely. It is the kind of loneliness that will never go away no matter how many people I have in my life.

 

 

 

August 16, 2015 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

Ammi we hope we can be a small reflection of you

Ammi and Tiggu 4The depression had already started setting in yesterday evening. I got up very early this morning knowing that it was Ammi’s death anniversary. The fact that she has been gone 12 years is hard to come to terms with.

It seems like only yesterday that she was lying on her bed and smiling as I walked into the house after work – warm, loving, welcoming and anxious to hear about my day. That is what I miss most about her. She was such a calm and loving person, such a great listener. One could talk to her about anything at all without feeling judged. I know my siblings all felt the same way. She was our closest friend – someone who was the repository of all our wildest dreams and our greatest fears.

As time passed I thought her loss would become easier to deal with. But it hasn’t been easy at Ammi and Tiggu 3all. I try to focus on the happy memories, on her gentleness, her love and her great sense of humor. It brings her closer to me when I do that but the emptiness is something that is still hard to bear. Living in the same house and not having her nor Abbaji around is not easy at all. I am glad we valued them when they were alive, that we let them know how much we loved and cared about them.

I went to the cemetery this morning to lay flowers on their grave, to say a prayer for them both and to tell them how much they were loved and missed by each and every one of us. Sending food to an orphanage in their memory is something that has become a standard thing I do every year. Ammi had a soft corner for orphans.

I have been thinking about supporting an initiative in the healthcare area because I know that both Ammi and Abbaji worried a lot about the pain that people who were ill went through and the lack of adequate access to healthcare for a large number of people who suffered from a variety of illnesses.

Ammi, you were such a wonderful person, such a great mother and friend. We all loved you so much and we still do. We admired you for the great human being you were. May God keep you in His care. We know that He rewards those who were kind, generous and compassionate – and you certainly were all those things!

As we go through life, we hope we can all be a reflection of you. You taught us so much. We will forever be grateful.

April 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm 3 comments

Has it already been a year?

Abbaji with Jamil Nishtar and HSBC headAs I sat on his bed this morning exactly a year after my Abbaji breathed his last, memories engulfed me of times gone past – of Ammi and Abbaji watching cricket together praying for Team Pakistan to win, of jumping with joy when the team won and forgiving them when they didn’t. Memories of them listening to mushairas, qawwalis and ghazals together or doubling up with laughter while watching Moeen Akhtar, fifty-fifty and other comedy shows on television. Or just watching the news and discussing political issues. That companionship lasted so many decades. It was no wonder then that when Ammi died in 2003, Abbaji no longer had the will to live. But he survived and lived and functioned for another 11 years –  never quite the same man. It always felt like he was waiting to rejoin her in her heavenly abode.

They tell me time heals all wounds. I am not too sure that’s true. I think over time we learn to accept that our dearly departed are no longer physically present but their spirit, their values, their memories live on in us and the happy memories give us comfort as we continue with our lives without them.

Today as I pay homage to my father, I remember what a great man he was, a wonderful human being who was always there for so many people – family, friends, colleagues, even strangers. It seemed to me that it gave him joy and satisfaction to be able to help people. He never rested. He was always on the go. He worked long hours but always found time to visit friends and relatives especially when they were ailing or in need. We often wondered how he did it, where he found the energy. He just loved people and networking was an intrinsic part of who he was – connecting people, getting things done – the word ‘impossible’ did not exist in his dictionary.

Fostering community spirit was another thing my father did well. He headed many organizations during his life time – he was Chairman of the UAE Bankers Association, Chairman of the International Islamic Society in Hong Kong, President of the Pakistan Association in Hong Kong, he was on the committee for the rebuilding of the Kowloon Mosque in Hong Kong just to mention a few.

Associations tend to be very political and there are always egos at play but my father somehow managed to keep everyone happy and get them to work together for causes that benefited the community. He was also a natural at fundraising. He convinced numerous people to donate to causes that he felt strongly about – and he collected millions of dollars for the Kowloon Mosque reconstruction, for the survivors of the Iran Earthquake, for the Society for Special Children in Pakistan, and for many education and health related social causes. People so easily trusted him. Some gave him large amounts of money on a regular basis to contribute to whatever charities he thought were doing a good job. He kept a detailed account of every cent contributed by anyone and made sure they knew what their money was being given in aid of.

Abbaji and James CallaghanDuring his banking career, Abbaji met and interacted with a lot of high profile people all of whom were greatly impressed by him – one such person was the former British Prime Minister James Callaghan who signed this picture “Brothers-in-arms”. He treasured all these pictures and if you ever made the mistake of asking him where such-and-such a picture was taken, you would be entertained with stories of amazing encounters.

Large dinner parties and house guests in every room, were a normal occurrence in our household. I remember very few times when we didn’t have someone staying with us. The house was always full of people. Abbaji loved to entertain. It made him happy. I am sure he is throwing one grand dinner party after another in his heavenly abode. Rest in Peace Abbaji. We love you and miss you very much. Give our love to Ammi. Both of you continue to live in our hearts and in our memories.

 

 

 

 

 

January 17, 2015 at 8:37 am 2 comments

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