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Reversing Pakistan’s brain drain

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    If you’re a Pakistani living abroad, you might get really frustrated by your inability to contribute to Pakistan apart from donating money to a charity. Two young Pakistanis – Asad Badruddin and Zheela Qaiser – are now trying to turn this paradigm on its head by connecting expatriate Pakistanis with locals to create innovative projects for social, entrepreneurial and economic uplift in the country. Not that there’s anything wrong with giving charity but for those that want to do more than donate, Asad & Zheela have designed a breakthrough model for social contribution.

    Let’s hear their inspiring story in Asad’s words: “After high school in Karachi, both of us came to the US for our undergraduate degrees. I went to Tufts and Zheela went to Yale. After graduating, we were both working in Boston, when over dinner we discussed how frustrating it was that if you were outside of Pakistan the only way you could contribute to the country was through the limited prisms of a charity model – you could donate money for a school or food kitchen. But there lacked a mechanism where we could contribute our skills and work with existing practitioners in Pakistan. We drew up a plan for what would go on to become Pakathon – a mechanism by which anyone could contribute and make an impact in Pakistan regardless of where they were based.

    We organize a global competition/hackathon and a mentorship program focused on Pakistan for distributed teams – teams that have members in multiple cities – that are working on projects and startup ideas. There are startups in Pakistan that need access to US markets but do not have the right partners. There are Pakistanis abroad who want to move to Pakistan to start their business. One of these was Saim Siddiqui, founder of Asli Goli, who came to our Boston event last year and moved to Pakistan to launch his company – which would enable Pakistani consumers to tell the difference between real and counterfeit medicine. Through our programs we connect distributed teams and provide them with the resources they need to start a company or project.

    We started in Boston in 2013 with two people and over the course of a year we have grown our organization to 85+ volunteers across 15 cities. We had our second annual global hackathon in 14 cities simultaneously around the world with 10000+ participants and 140+ teams on a single weekend.”

    What’s most fascinating about these two young Pakistanis is their attitude that problems are a ‘good thing’ because they enable you to create solutions to them, as Zheela likes to argue. Another interesting element is that they’re not just engaging well known universities and institutions in Pakistan but also reaching out to places like the University of Malakand (UOM), which came second in their global competition. We wish Asad and Zheela all the success in growing Pakathon even bigger next year!

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