Tech event: Change-makers!

Published November 8, 2015
Moments of relaxation
Moments of relaxation

From a little idea shared over dinner three years ago by Boston-based Pakistanis Asad Badruddin, Azhar Rizvi and Zheela Qaiser, Pakathon, a registered not-for-profit organisation in Canada has grown tremendously to 15 city chapters and four continents.

For anyone who is passionate about leveraging tech to build social impact projects for Pakistan, Pakathon organises a huge platform supported by core team of leaders in several cities including Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Dubai, Melbourne, Chicago, Toronto and Pakistan, alongside sponsors, mentors and partners.

Events, webinars, hackathons and online forums are organised to help people launch their business and collaborate with a global network. A hackathon is an event where individuals from different backgrounds ranging from software to business and design intensively collaborate to launch a venture. “Perhaps, the only organisation in the world that offers hackathons at such scale! We are creating a ‘global Pakistani nervous system’ that helps Pakistanis deepen their relationship to their country, and exposes them to different cultures and perspectives. Pakathon’s flagship event is a weekend hackathon held simultaneously across multiple cities around the globe,” says Asad Badruddin, the president.

This year’s global final is being held at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in November and hosted by TV/film actor Ali Kazmi who feels honoured to be a part of such as auspicious event. “Pakathon is a brilliant initiative which brings together some of the most innovative and avant garde young Pakistani minds from around the world, taking steps to change the world!” he says. “So let’s get the brains storming, the mind machines pumping!” said Ali, using the phrase ‘Let’s get PAKing’ that he coined and has since been used in the promotional material for the finals.


People are coming together from across the globe to bring about a change in Pakistan or as they say to give back to their country


A session in progress
A session in progress

Pakathon works to bridge the gap between academia and the corporate industry and at the same time solve social problems of Pakistan — the goal being to provide developing countries, specifically Pakistan, with sustainable projects and companies and to connect entrepreneurs from around the world to the country. They bring together on one platform a collection of the smartest minds that work together in multiple areas like business, medicine, technology, energy, marketing etc., over the course of a weekend; they are then challenged to brainstorm and come up with sustainable business models that will have a direct social impact in Pakistan. The most promising ideas get up to $10,000 in funding as well as access to over 80 mentors who will help the team in executing their ideas successfully. The mentors include le crème of CEOs, top of the line professionals and company directors in their respective fields.

Saim Siddiqui, one of the success stories to Pakathon’s credit successfully competing in the Boston Pakathon in 2013, moved to Pakistan to launch his own company Procheck, a serialisation solution for drug companies. Funded through Pakathon, Procheck tackles the rampant problem of fake pharmaceuticals in Pakistan.

Prior to the finals, each city chapter organised two to three mini-events focused on a particular subject to bring the community together. These range from mango lassi coding sessions to conversations with mentors, investors and entrepreneurs.

A couple of weeks before the flagship event held last month, orientation sessions took place to encourage networking among participants across the world and mentors. Participants at each location met each other and debated ideas until a well-rounded team of engineers, designers and strategists appeared for each skill set. At the three-day hackathon which was the flagship event held last month, all chapters and university locations across the world connected at the same time!

Ali Kazmi in high spirits
Ali Kazmi in high spirits

Night before the final day, participants were ready on their feet and challenging themselves, brainstorming and debating with mentors to refine their ideas. Mock ups are created for websites, hardware and software, pitches practised, slides finalised. This year the winning teams had the option to pitch in person or send a video for the judges. The judging panel, a mix of vice chancellors, investors and entrepreneurs will select the global winners.

Last year’s winners were Atlanta-based Revolutionary Agricultural Technologies (RAT team) for developing effective technologies used to educate farmers for increasing crops yields. “We got a lot of positive feedback from the judges, mentors and everybody at the event. Pakathon helped us to take our idea to the next level!” said Asif Rana, who led the Pakathon Atlanta Chapter and believes that Team RAT’s dedication to making a physical device, rather than an app, was what made them stand out among the competition, as they proposed an engineering solution.


For anyone who is passionate about leveraging tech to build social impact projects for Pakistan, Pakathon organises a huge platform supported by core team of leaders in several cities


The University of Malakand (UOM) was also helped by Pakathon. “The internet at the UOM is very unpredictable and very slow. Our library and labs close at 3pm and are closed on weekend. We don’t have even five per cent of the facilities that top institutions in Pakistan have and we certainly don’t get the top students. There were other problems as well over the weekend, but despite all these issues, a bunch of students wanted to participate in Pakathon because they felt privileged that they have been invited to join. Normally you don’t get to see students at the University of Malakand after 2pm even for entertainment events,” said Fazli Subhan, Pakathon Coordinator Malakand, in his testimonial on the its website. “For the first time in the history of this university, students have stayed on campus till 2am.”

Brainstorming session
Brainstorming session

On the final day, the atmosphere is charged. Teams get in early and over steaming cups of coffee, they organise participants in multiple cities where their team will collectively pitch from, tweak their business plan and the prototype of product applicable wherever and skype check-ins done. When pitching starts, each team gets assigned a time block to pitch in front of judges. Judges pick the winner from each city or university based on the quality of plan and global collaboration of the team.

“Pakathon has secured a partnership with the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan, which gives them access to $250,000 that will be used for Pakathon events in 50 universities across Pakistan,” says Ramiz Khan, the programme director.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 8th, 2015

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