Friday, 26 August 2016

The three Pakistani startups that made it to Silicon Valley this year

In profile: Sheops, TEDdict and WonderTree – three of the start-ups which made it to the GES this year.

This year, as they have done consistently since 2010/11, a number of Pakistani start-ups will participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) to be held in Silicon Valley. They will also be able to pitch to investors at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) event. Doing so is nowhere as easy as it sounds; GES and GIST are highly prestigious tech events and hard to get into; only 1,000 participants from all over the world may attend and a mere 15 are invited to pitch.

I met three of the entries from Pakistan, and only one somewhat resembled the entrepreneur stereotype of 20-something males with messenger bags slung across their chest. The others? Well, nothing says ‘Pakistani tech entrepreneur’ better than a 38-year-old mother of two, right? Or a trio of CEOs who have never been to school, and of whom, only one can sign legal papers because the other two are underage. No doubt about it, this is one eclectic bunch.


This women-only marketplace happened as a result of a stolen mobile phone. “I went on an online classifieds space to buy a temporary replacement phone and the usual began to happen: crank calls, ‘frandship’ requests, solicitations. It was so irritating because this was such a minor purchase – surely I should not have to ask my husband to handle it for me?” questions founder Nadia Gangjee. That was when she decided to create a harassment-free environment where women could buy and sell from each other. She started with a WhatsApp group of friends who put up perfumes they weren’t using, clothes made for exhibitions, even their kids’ ‘pre-loved’ furniture. In a week the group hit its limit; in 12 days she was running three groups.

Nadia Gangjee, Founder, Sheops
To handle the rapidly increasing membership, Gangjee moved the groups to a closed community on Facebook where only women were allowed, but as before, the group grew too big, too fast and issues began creeping up. “People would cheat or not honour orders so I decided to make a web platform that I could control.”

Her first attempt was a disaster because she was scammed out of ownership of domains and source code for her custom-coded website by her then-business partner. [The business partner has since clarified that the dissolution of the partnership was due to common co-founder conflicts. “The accusations laid out against me are baseless and untrue. She had access to a few assets while I had access to a few. All the source code was with her too. The partnership was mutually ended. I wish her the best of luck for her future endeavours."]

However, with the support of The Nest I/O she rebuilt her community of women and started a new site. After incubation she was introduced to Arpatech, which signed on to invest after a single 45-minute meeting.

How it works: Unlike regular marketplaces, Sheops is limited to women. “She operates, she shops, she opts, Sheops,” says Gangjee. Prospective members are vetted to ensure they are not men or using fake accounts, because apart from the harassment issue, in certain cases women don’t want to buy from men, or have men involved in the transaction. “We offer public stores, which can be viewed by anyone, and private stores which are restricted to members.”

Sheops offers integrated logistics and payment systems to streamline the shopping process. When someone puts in a purchase request for the first time, Sheops representatives call to verify that it is a genuine buyer. A Sheops delivery person picks up the product from the seller, takes it to the buyer and brings the payment to the office. Every two weeks Sheops transfers payment to the seller. “We pick, ship and deliver,” says Gangjee. “The seller has to do nothing.”

Having only recently launched, the start-up is not earning anything other than commissions on sales, which are kept to either a percentage or a cap if the percentage value exceeds Rs 2,000, but Gangjee is positive ad revenue will start coming in soon.

Why Sheops is going to GES: One might wonder what is so special about a shopping portal that it would get a place at GES. In Gangjee’s view it is “because it is not about becoming a billion-dollar business; it is about giving women who cook, craft and create an outlet to sell because they can’t go and ask the local shopkeeper to stock their products. Sheops is going because Sheops is empowering.”


Excitable siblings who chat at the speed of a runaway train, Ayesha Babur, 19, Abdullah Babur, 17, and Asadullah Babur, 15, have been homeschooled all their lives. “We didn’t follow a curriculum. We read books, went to expos and played sports. If a problem needed to be solved, we figured it out ourselves,” says Ayesha, pointing out that all three recently sat for O Level exams.

Homeschooling meant they paid more attention to conceptual learning compared to peers who studied in regimented classrooms. “We analysed how the brain learns,” says Abdullah. “We did a lot of research on international education systems, emailed professors, and investigated different education models.”

(L to R): Asadullah Babur, Abdullah Babur, Ayesha Babur, Founders, TEDdict.

“And because we wanted to make learning addictive,” says Asadullah, “we came up with TEDdict, for the technology, entertainment, design addict.”

How it works: “Most learning websites focus on teacher-to-student interaction,” says Ayesha, noting that in real life, kids often get together for group studies to learn from each other rather than from a teacher.

Being a gamified environment, there is also an element of competition, which Asadullah says is the reason games like Farmville are so successful. “We use the coin system,” he explains. Every month members receive a certain number of coins which can be exchanged for lessons, meaning exchange isn’t strictly reciprocal.

“I will teach you maths, you teach him physics, he teaches me English,” says Ayesha. “TEDdies don’t barter, they trade lessons for coins. The more help you give, the more coins you get.”

An additional gaming aspect is the use of leaderboards to show ratings. “When you help someone your ratings on the public leaderboard rise,” says Ayesha. “That’s motivation to do more.”

Revenue is generated by issuing progress reports. “Parents and teachers like knowing how well their kids are learning or where they need more help,” says Abdullah. “For between one and three dollars, they can get a detailed analytics report that shows exactly where their child stands.”

Why TEDdict is going to GES: Because “there are hardly any peer-to-peer learning portals,” says Abdullah. Ayesha adds that “meta-learning, or learning about learning is still in experimental stages. Edmodo and Google Plus are kind-of, sort-of the closest you can get to TEDdict.”


As young men who put off finding jobs in order to develop a start-up, two of them faced quite a few challenges from their families. Yet, it was a family challenge that generated the idea in the first place.

“My older brother is a special-needs person,” says Muhammad Usman, 23, Chief Technical Officer, WonderTree. “One day I saw him playing a car game on the console and he was better at it than I was – so I figured why not turn it into a therapy aid.”

The idea won the Karachi Grand Innovation Challenge held by Pakistan Innovation Foundation, Alif Ailaan and I Am Karachi. Soon after Usman and the original developing team graduated from university; two went their separate ways while Usman and Ahmed Bukhari, 24, Chief of Research & Development and Analytics, WonderTree, came to The Nest I/O.

(L to R): Muhammad Usman, Muhammad Waqas, Ahmed Bukhari, Founders, WonderTree.

Usman’s neighbour, Muhammad Waqas, 28, came on board as Chief of Marketing and Strategy. “I had my own digital marketing agency and I planned to carry on with that as well; but one month in I closed shop and turned all my attention to WonderTree.”

How it works: As a therapy aid, WonderTree games help players develop hand-eye coordination, physical movement, reflexes, mirroring, attention retention and decision making. To play, users must download the game for a monthly subscription fee and have a laptop, television and kinect device.

The team works with a panel of physiotherapists, the Institute of Professional Psychology (IPP), Karachi Vocational Trust (KVT), and Network of Organizations Working with People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) to develop the games. “Initially we were quite haphazard,” says Waqas. “Then one of our mentors, Adil Moosajee, advised us to set up a board that we could consult regularly. That really helped.”

In an environment where most games are available for free, WonderTree is confident their subscription model will work. “A package costs $25 a month,” says Waqas. “For Pakistan, that’s 50% less than what you would pay to a therapist annually. From an international perspective, research shows a special-needs child requires $10,000 to 30,000 a year. On our platform the top cap is $1,000.”

Why WonderTree is going to GIST: To qualify for GIST a start-up must be able to impact a whole economy and be globally implementable. On that basis (and because according to their research there are only two other companies in the world that provide a similar product) WonderTree made it through the first round against 1,074 entries. In the second round they had to come up with as many votes as possible to make it to the top 15.

“At first we shared posts to get the word out. We garnered 500 votes. The other start-ups were at 5,000 and 10,000 votes. So we changed tactics; we set up teams in several universities and instead of asking people to vote for us, we asked permission to use their email address so we could vote on their behalf.” Several days of intense voting later they landed in the top 10 and were subsequently invited to present to Silicon Valley investors for funding.

As each start-up team speaks about their experiences with The Nest I/O, it becomes clear that the most valued support received was not the (admittedly important) free space and free internet; it was the mentors, the guidance and the wholehearted sharing of knowledge.

“A lot of people dissed Usman’s idea at first,” says Waqas. “But here we found selfless encouragement from people who had nothing to gain in return from us.”

Gangjee points out that she only discovered her ex-business partner’s scam after she came to The Nest I/O and began to understand how websites worked.

As for the TEDdict kids, through The Nest I/O they went to Sri Lanka and won silver at the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) Awards. Now they are going to the heart and soul of tech development in Silicon Valley. With unabashed enthusiasm only teens are capable of, they cheer, “It’s like we hit the lottery!”

UPDATE: The winners of GIST Tech-1 Pitch, Start-up Stage, were announced on June 23 and 24, 2016. WonderTree placed third to win $3,000. First place was won by Monkey Junior, Vietnam, for an interactive reading application. Second place went to HiGi Energy, Malaysia, for converting invasive water hyacinth and agricultural waste into an environmentally friendly, smoke free cooking fuel.

-Aurora DAWN

Pakistan Army wins international sniping competition in Beijing

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan Army soldiers have won an international sniping and shooting competition in Beijing, said the Inter-Services Public Relations on Thursday.

The team representing Pakistan Army secured first position in all individual and team events.
Naik Arshad was declared the best sniper in the competition, which was attended by 21 teams representing 14 countries.
In July, a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) C-130 Hercules transport aircraft won the Concours D’ Elegance trophy at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) Show 2016 at Royal Air Force Base Fair Ford in the United Kingdom.

More than 200 aircraft from 50 countries participated in the competition, with the Pakistani contingent stealing the show and winning the trophy.

Last year, a team of Pakistan Army won the gold medal in the premier patrolling event of the British Army - Exercise Cambrian Patrol - beating around 140 teams from armies across the globe.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Meet Maryam Atta Malik, the Pakistani who topped the Bar across Commonwealth

Maryam Atta Malik is nothing short of genius.  She was only 13 when she decided to become a lawyer.

Not only is she a barrister today, she is also the recipient of Lincolns Inn’s Joan Denning Prize for topping the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) across the Commonwealth. The Joan Denning Prize is awarded to a student who obtains an ‘outstanding’ in the exceptionally demanding BPTC.
During an interview with The Express Tribune, Atta who recently got to know her result says she still hasn’t fully grasped it.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I was expecting a good result, but not this,” she adds.

Elaborating her experience, Atta says she had not anticipated how difficult the course was going to be. However, within the first week of starting university she realised how extraordinarily demanding the course was.

Recalling her schedule she says she used to wake up at 7am, have black coffee, attend her earliest classes, eat something, head to the library, head home, relax for 15-20 minutes, have more black coffee and get back to studying. She says she couldn’t enjoy weekends because she had to study. “I used to spend most of my time in the library…I’ve spent nights there,” Atta says.

Atta’s affiliation with law began after she came across a documentary on rape which highlighted the number of unreported rape cases and the outcomes of those that made it to court. She realised there was a dearth of people fighting for women in Pakistan.

Recently, after appearing on a radio show, Atta says she was surprised to find how little women in Pakistan know about the rights granted to them under the Nikahnama. She wants to work to educate people about their rights. “People need someone to explain their rights to them. It’s not one person’s responsibility, it’s the responsibility of the state,” she adds.

Furthermore, Atta particularly wants to work towards establishing ethical practices in the legal system by introducing a code of conduct.

For students who want to follow in her footsteps, perseverance is key. “There are going to be times when you feel like everything is falling apart. But you have to push through,” Atta says. She recommends having a short-term and a long-term goal and then finding a way to achieve it. She also stresses the importance of being organised. “ You can’t be lazy,” she adds.

Do you have a role model? I ask her. Her answer is short.

“No. My future self is my role model”

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

“I’ll either be a very successful lawyer or a high court judge,” she says with confidence.

Towards the end of the interview, Atta expresses gratitude to her tutors, friends and parents. She makes a special mention of her father, who was initially averse to the idea of her becoming a lawyer. He is now her greatest supporter.

-Express Tribune

Pakistani chef Usman Khan reaches World Sushi Cup final

TOKYO: Pakistani chef Usman Khan reached the finals of the World Sushi Cup sponsored by Japan’s agricultural ministry on Friday.

The 32-year-old chef working at a branch of the prestigious Nobu restaurant chain in Cape Town, told AFP that “it’s not an easy competition.”

Some 27 chefs came from France, Brazil and the US to Pakistan, to the showcase their skills. Khan was beaten by a Brazilian chef in the finals.

The annual contest was first held in 2013 and Khan, who has competed twice and made it through to the finals this year, said it was a good challenge. Khan first encountered sushi after he moved to South Africa from Kuwait 13 years ago. “

I couldn’t believe people could eat raw fish,” he said. “I was disgusted initially but I got intrigued.”

-Express Tribune

Pakistan win 2016 World Team Junior Squash Championships in Poland

KARACHI: Pakistan won the 2016 World Team Junior Squash Championships after beating defending champions Egypt in the final by 2-1 on Wednesday.

The tournament was held from August 7-16 in Bielsko-Biała, Poland.

“My heartiest congratulations to the entire Pakistan team, Pakistan Squash Federation and above all to the entire nation for the great victory,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said.

He attributed the victory to the vision of President PSF Air Vice Marshal Syed Razi-ul-Hassan Nawab, guidance of squash legends and to the dedication and hard work of the players.

“Inshallah (God willing) with the prayers of the entire nation, Pakistan squash would once again achieve its rightful place,” Nawaz said.

According to the details available here, Israr Ahmed gave Pakistan early advantage after beating Egypt’s Saadeldin Abouaish in the opening match by 3-0.

Youssef Ibrahim Abdallah of Egypt then levelled the match 1-1 as he came over Pakistan’s Ayaz Ahsan 13/11, 11/13, 11/5, 11/6.

In the decider, Abbas Shoukat beat Egypt’s Marwan Tarek Abdelhamid by 3-0, securing the title for Pakistan.

It was Pakistan’s fifth title in World Team Junior Squash Championships.


This woman from Pakistan turning rubbish into homes

Latif has been using plastic to create shelters, reservoirs and mobile toilets. Now, she wants the world to take notice.

Karachi, Pakistan - Nargis Latif lay on her hospital bed dying. 

The doctors had given up on her. Her children and husband were at her side, crying. Shouts of "she's going, she's going" and "mummy, don't die" filled the room.

Latif had experienced complications during labour and, despite being admitted to a reputable hospital in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, the doctors there couldn't diagnose what was wrong with her, although they suspected it might be blood cancer. 

"I can't even start to tell you how much pain I was in; it was unbearable," she recalls in vivid detail almost three decades later.

"It was at that time that I reached out to God and asked him to either kill me or to save me, [but] not [to] leave me hanging in the middle. I started crying, and it seemed as [if when] the first tear dropped on the floor, my prayers were answered."

Latif's condition gradually started to improve. And she, in turn, started working on the promise she had made to God in the hospital that day - to do something to make the world a better place.

Dedicating 'my life to it'

Burning rubbish is a common sight in Karachi, a city that produces 12,000 tonnes of it a day.

"I used to get very mad when garbage was burned," Latif explains, remembering a street sweeper who used to burn it in her neighbourhood.

So, as her condition improved, Latif started to research ways of making use of that rubbish. 

After a year of research, she created the Gul Bahao (flow the flowers) project.

With her "team of environmentalists", Latif devises ways of using rubbish to create houses, water reservoirs, fodder for livestock and instant compost.

"This hasn't been easy," she says. "I realised I had to dedicate my whole life to it. Once you commit, you can't back out."

"It was also a difficult decision because my father was against it. He told me not to get into this, otherwise, I will be destroyed."

The chandi ghar [silver house] was used as a shelter for those affected by the 2005 earthquake [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]
But Latif remained adamant that there was life left in the rubbish that was being disposed of, particularly the plastic.

Gul Bahao started off 22 years ago with an "army" of more than 70 boys from Uzbekistan, who helped Latif collect plastic, vegetable and fruit peels, and other material from all over Karachi.

In 2004, Latif established a research centre on government-owned land in front of some shack homes. She recalls how trucks and minivans would roll out of it in those early days.

Now, the centre is full of unorganised stacks of plastic - and a chandi ghar, a type of shelter that has been used to house those displaced by the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan as well as family members of patients at the Civil Hospital Mithi in the deprived Tharparkar district of the country.

Latif says that since 2005, more than 150 of these structures have been made and delivered all over Pakistan.

Then there are mobile, foldable toilets that she says can cater to those travelling long distances on buses as well as to villagers who may not have toilet facilities in their homes.

Everything the project creates - from shelters to tables, chairs and toilets - consists of waste plastic inside a thermopore shell. The plastic - "virgin", as Latif calls it to differentiate it from other rubbish - is mostly confectionary wrappers that factory owners have rejected due to printing issues. They form "bricks" that are then tied together to create the finished product. For the pillars of the shelters, the bricks are tied with wooden poles which are fitted into a roughly two-foot deep hole in the ground.

The chairs are sold for 70 rupees ($0.70) while the shelters fetch Gul Bahao around 300-400 rupees ($2.90-$3.80) per square foot.

But, Latif explains, the project is "not a commercial venture, but a research one".

"We spent over 10 million rupees on this project in 2006 alone. Since then, the expenses have gone down."

Most of the funding has come from Latif herself or from grants the project has received along the way. 

'Beautiful structures'

Sitting inside one of the chandi ghars, there is a constant flow of air from the early morning breeze. The structure seems sturdy, but it's hard to tell how well it will withstand the midday summer heat.

Tables and chairs made of plastic wrappers within a thermopore shell [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]
"You can make beautiful structures using rejected material. Houses, swimming pools, water reservoirs in areas where there are water issues, little dams even," Latif explains. "I'll be damned if people don't use this to their advantage. One extreme is a wedding banquet, the other a poor man's hut.

"The plastic inside is not a filling, it's a technique ... You can only make it if you learn how to," she continues, leaning forward and wagging her index finger. "If you make such bricks, it's bye-bye to pollution, climate change and the melting glaciers.

"Because you've stopped burning garbage and plastic. It will stop getting stuck in drains as well as prevent flooding of roads when it rains."

Latif is enthusiastic about her work. She has three workers helping her in the research centre - "They will complain to you they don't get paid on time," she says - and a manager.

There is a bed made out of plastic waste on the premises where the helpers can relax. For Latif, there are no fixed working hours. If she's not at the research centre, she is at an exhibition promoting the shelters or at a meeting seeking interest or grants.

But not everyone shares her enthusiasm and the organisation is struggling. The 70-person team she once had is no more. Now there are just seven left. Over the past two decades, Gul Bahao has spent $90,000. Latif doesn't say how much it has made.

Convincing the public that the construction material is clean has been difficult, Latif explains.

"People say this is made from garbage, and we don't want to live or sit on garbage. But this is clean material, especially the plastic. It's difficult to remove that thinking and perception," she says.

Finding funding is another problem, and Latif must spend much of her time looking for the money to keep the project going.

"Nobody is willing to give us funds because nobody thinks highly of research here. In the past, companies used to give us paper, plastic, oil, cardboard and metal and we used to sell those and fund this project from the money we got.

"We never got a lot of cash funds, but mostly [get paid] in kind favours."

'An environmentalist's dream'

The Chandi Ghars are also aimed at the nomads in Pakistan's Tharparkar district, which suffers from extreme poverty, a shortage of rainfall and inadequate water supplies.

"Those families, instead of living in mud houses, can benefit from these shelters. Once the water runs out, they can easily pack up and move with their livestock to a place with water and farming facilities. They won't need to construct their mud houses from scratch. This would also reduce infections and diseases that spread because of dirt and mud," Latif explains.

As Latif excitedly prepares for a presentation of Gul Bahao's work, she insists that this technology "will revolutionise the world, just like the steam engine and the mobile phone".

Those are big ambitions that have yet to be fulfilled, but Latif is adamant that her ideas can benefit the world - where the annual consumption of plastic has increased from around five million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100-million tonnes now - and, in so doing, help her keep the promise she made to God from her hospital bed all those years ago.

"It's an environmentalist's dream," she says. "The world will be clean of pollution and plastic bags because we're putting them to good use."

- Al Jazeera

Pakistani student tops international LLB exam

A Pakistani student came out on top at the University of London LLB examinations, scoring the highest aggregate marks this year.

“We have nine first class awards this year. In terms of countries, Malaysia and Pakistan are joint equal; each have three firsts. In terms of individual students, Pakistan comes top, Ikra Saleem Khan has the highest aggregate marks this year,” the University of London said in its website. The university offers distance learning opportunity to students from many countries around the world.

Ikra Saleem Khan, a student of University College Lahore, attributes her success to “persistence, hard work and dedication” and those “whose tireless efforts helped me on my journey”, particularly her teachers.

Further, two other Pakistani students, Rubab Tariq Khan and Muhammad Kazim, also earned a first class degree, becoming two of nine students from around the globe to earn a first this year.

Rubab, who studied at Pakistan College of Law, describes studying the LLB degree as “a roller coaster ride” and herself as “a product of the hard work of all my well-wishers” including the prayers of her parents. She is already busy working at a law firm and has been offered a teaching position with Pakistan College of Law for the module of International Protection of Human Rights.

Kazim, also from Lahore, studied at The Institute of Legal Studies and credits his success to hard work and offers this advice, “[T]here are two types of people: intelligent and hardworking. But in my experience, hard work can triumph over intelligence any day.” He is the only male student to achieve a first this year.

Malaysia and Pakistan are joint equal as each have three firsts. Students from Jamaica and Sri Lanka are also among those nine high achievers.

-Express Tribune

Monday, 22 August 2016

Manwa Sisters: Pakistan's first female qawwal group to release debut song

They may have formally launched their group just a while ago, but the sisters have been singing together ever since they were young. PHOTO: FILE
LAHORE: Claiming to be the first group of female singers to take up qawwali as a profession, Manwa Sisters are set to release their first video song Allah Janey.

Comprising Saba, Fauzia and Zille Huma, the band has been moving from strength to strength ever since its arrival in Lahore. Hailing from Faisalabad, the sisters belong to the qawwali singing family of Kerala gharana that has produced numerous renowned musicians in the past.

Apart from qawwali, the sisters are also into film music and frequently perform popular numbers of their idols Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Noor Jahan. Allah Janey is their first attempt to put out an original song.

Talking to The Express Tribune, the group’s front woman Saba said their family has had a long association with the trade. “Indian superstar Dilip Kumar would frequently invite our grand uncle Rasheed Faridi at his place to listen to him. After our grandfather’s death, no one was interested in continuing with music.” Perhaps this is what spurred the girls into action.

When asked why they named the group Manwa, Saba laughed, saying, “We chose the word Manwa because that (literal meaning of the word in Urdu) is what we want to do. We want to get our talents recognised.”

They may have formally launched their group a while ago,  but the sisters have been singing together ever since they were quite young. “We have been singing at family events and private functions for a while. It wasn’t until three years ago that we finally decided to start our group and take music up as a profession,” she added.

Honing their skills under the tutelage of many masters of Indian classical music and qawwali ever since, the girls decided that in order to advance their careers, they will have to move out of Faisalabad. “We thought moving to Lahore would be a great idea. We will get to perform at bigger events and find more career opportunities,” Saba said. For the past 12 odd months, the sisters have been residing in the provincial capital.

Dilip Kumar would frequently invite Manwa sisters’ grand uncle Rasheed Faridi at his place to listen to him

Making ends meet
During their many TV and stage appearances, the girls performed Lollywood hits and even folk and semi-classical tunes. However, they feel their forte lies in qawwali. “We have tried to adopt the qawwali style because it comes very naturally to us. It is in our blood,” Saba said.

Zilla Huma pitched in by saying that they are aware of the trends in the music industry. “Besides qawwali, we also sing light stuff and will continue to release such singles in the future,” she added.

Leading a proper qawwal party is no easy task. For industry amateurs, it is quite a challenge from a financial standpoint. “At the moment we are not making a lot of money so we cannot run a whole party and hire all the musicians. How will we pay them?” asked Saba.

For now, the Manwas have decided to stick to keeping the band small. Meanwhile, they are still working on their vocals with a training programme at Alhamra. In order to keep the stove burning and afford the challenging career that they have taken up, the sisters also give private tuitions to schoolchildren in their locality. “All three of us completed our graduate degrees while in Faisalabad. Things are expensive here in Lahore so tuitions just help with that,” Saba said.

Once they establish themselves in the city’s entertainment circuit, these girls want to be known solely for their qawwali singing. When asked if the three ever have any disagreements over who will lead or who will sing a particular part, Saba said, “Not at all. There’s unity among us. In fact, we find it difficult to sing with anyone else, such is our understanding.” The sisters have already been approached by numerous artists to join their bands. “For now we want to stick with our own group. In the future we might consider collaborations.”

Family first
Often referred to as the Manchester of Pakistan, thanks to its industrial estates, Faisalabad was introduced to the world by its prodigal son Nusrat Fateh. Nusrat’s name was taken forward by his bright nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. While the city is famous for its qawwals and the many families associated with music that still live there, Saba said getting help is not easy. “No gharana is willing to help us. They don’t want to teach anyone,” she said.

On the other hand, their gender, too, is a problem. “Girls, in the past, haven’t normally ventured into qawwali singing and we hardly come across a proper female qawwal in the Indian subcontinent,” said  Zille Huma. “The challenges are there but we are committed. We have been doing it for three years now and have been appreciated for our work. Wherever we go, we get a very heartening response.”

-Express Tribune

Scholar wins innovation prize in Sweden for doing what Pakistanis do best

Governor of Gävleborg County, Per Bill presenting SKAPA Development Prize 2016 to Usman Haider at a ceremony held at Gävle Castle, Sweden PHOTO: Embassy of Pakistan, Berlin
Say what you want about Pakistanis, we do know how to take care of our elders. It comes as no surprise, then, that a Pakistani PhD scholar has been internationally recognised for making a device which aims to help keep the elderly independent and active for as long as possible and reduce their reliance on care workers and care homes.

Usman Haider has been awarded a prestigious invention and innovation award, SKAPA Development Prize 2016, in Sweden for his device called PhaseX Hip exoskeleton.

“Usman Haider, a PhD scholar from Pakistan has been awarded the most well-known invention and innovation prize in Sweden, SKAPA Development Prize 2016 for his product, Exo-Skeleton, a helping device for the elderly and persons with less mobility,” Embassy of Pakistan in Berlin said in a Facebook post.

The 32-year-old, who is currently based in Sweden, was presented a cash prize of 15,000 Swedish Krona by Governor of Gävleborg County, Per Bill on May 25 at a ceremony held at Gävle Castle, Sweden. Haider won the award from his region Gävleborg County. In November this year a national winner would be chosen from regional winners and the winner would be awarded 550,000 SEK.

“Our project is aimed to develop assistive non-medical lower body exoskeletons for elderly persons to help them perform daily living activities such as walking, standing, which we use in everyday life such as cooking, shopping, using the toilet, etc,” Haider said while speaking to The Express Tribune.

This is the first time that an exoskeleton product has been tested as a non-medical assistive device anywhere in the world with ethical approval from the Ethical Board, Haider shares. Further, the product is not limited to elderly persons and can be used by healthy adults as it can provide them assistance in doing similar activities and they can be less exhaustive by the end of the day.

Explaining the product, the young researcher said the technology works by using normal sensors which can detect intentions of the person to move. “We developed lower-body assistive non-medical exoskeleton which assists at hip, knee and ankle joints and is worn by the user. Extra power or energy is provided by the exoskeleton to user to perform these activities. We researched and investigated to develop a low cost non-medical solution such that it is easily available from normal shops and is affordable by wide range of people.”

The SKAPA Development Award was initiated in 1986 in memory of the famous inventor Alfred Nobel to provide assistance to inventors and innovators so they can transform their products/services to commercial opportunities.

Haider has been working as a researcher in University of Gävle on various European Union funded projects. He is also an off-site PhD student in University of Polytechnic Cartagena, Spain as well as CEO of PhaseX AB which he founded in 2015 with two other partners.

Explaining their decision to award Haider, the SKAPA award jury said his product has an ever-increasing demand, “With world class technology and ability to combine it in an innovative way has led to a revolutionary assistive aid. Making it easier for disabled persons to fend for themselves, it has an increasing demand and a rapidly growing market.”

“The product has a global potential and has already attracted international interest and put the company and the city of Gävle on the global map,” the jury added.

Haider is planning to launch the product in Sweden by end of this year or early next year and later expand to EU and beyond. He has already received a 700000 SEK investment.

Here are a few videos from their end user trials in the project EXO-LEGS.

-Express Tribune

Bioniks provides 'Iron Man' arm to Pakistani child

Imagine being forced to make do with just one hand. Now imagine living with a partially developed arm from the perspective of a five-year-old and the psychological trauma that accompanies it. Mir Bayyaan Baloch was one such kid, born with a partially developed arm. Now, with the help from engineers at Bioniks, Bayyaan has the distinction of being the first child in Pakistan to receive a 3D printed prosthetic arm.

Bioniks, situated at the NED University of Engineering and Technology, is a subsidiary of, a 3D Printing Equipment & services provider and authorised representative of Xplorer 3D Printers in Pakistan. The concern is the only firm producing 3D printed prosthetics in the country.

“There’s a story behind everything. When we were contacted by his father, his story moved us and we decided to help him,” Anas Niaz, a mechatronics engineer who has been heading Bioniks, said. We tried to replicate his normal arm but with a “super hero” touch, Niaz said. On why they tried to create such a limb for the child, he said, “When he first came to us, we asked him about his favourite super hero and he told us it was Iron Man. So we tried to create something similar,” he said.

On how long it took to create a 3D printed prosthetic arm, Niaz said it hardly took between two to three days to print the arm; it was the measurement that tended to be time consuming. “It has to be of precise measurement so it matches the other arm.” Sharing how excited Bayyaan was to get his ‘super hero’ arm, he said the first model they made was not perfect, so they decided to create it again. But the child was so excited that he took part of the model and placed it on his arm. Explaining how the arm worked, Ovais Qureshi—who heads Bioniks along with Niaz—said Bayyaan could move his fingers with the help of his elbow movement and hold things.

However, the arm is not built for lifting heavy things. The 3D printed arm is quite light in comparison to other prosthetics. It has been designed in such a way that it weighs less than one kilogramme, Niaz said, adding that it was hollow from inside. This, he said, made it lighter and easier for children to wear.

“The next model we are creating will be a motorised one. The arm that Bayyaan got was a manual one but the newer model will be equipped with a motor to help the wearer lift heavy objects,” Niaz revealed.

“You can create anything with the help of 3D printing, all you need is inspiration,” Qureshi said. For now, Bayyaan is happy with his “super hero arm” that even shoots a light beam like his favourite Iron Man. But he’ll need a new arm in a year or two as he grows, he said.

Since Bayyaan’s case came into the limelight, Bioniks has been inundated with requests. “We have received two requests each from Nawabshah and Karachi. We even received one from Bahrain,” Qureshi said. He said Bioniks had already started working on them.

Bioniks has been planning to provide five individuals with 3D printed prosthetics in September.

Bioniks said they are grateful to NED and its Vice Chancellor Dr Afzal Haque for providing a peaceful environment on campus to work and having faith in them.

-Express Tribune