Have you ever heard of hackathon? No, it is not a convention where you sit and hack other people’s email accounts. Rather, it is an event at which computer programmers and software developers collaborate to work on software projects.
Karachiites Zheela Qaiser and Asad Badruddin, who are now based in Boston, are planning to host the first ever ‘Pakathon’. As the name suggests, it’s a hackathon for Pakistan which will commence over the weekend on September 13 and continue till September 15.
While catching up with her friend Badruddin, who is an activist and technologist and is currently working for Twitter, over dinner, the two friends felt the desire to do something for their county. “We started with a discussion on how we always talk about problems, but rarely take any action to end them,” begins Qaiser, a graduate of Yale University and now a designer and entrepreneur. “As a result of our conversation, the idea of Pakathon was born, which will serve as a medium to engage young people and allow them to use their abilities to try and make an impact,” she added.
At the weekend-long anti-conference — an unconventional and creative setting for people to meet and network — teams will form and pair up with mentors. Pakistani and non-Pakistani participants will have 40 hours for chalking out software solutions to battle Pakistan’s problems. “Acting as a bridge between Pakistani students at home and abroad, Pakathon will provide access to the resources of universities in the US, as well as facilities and mentors for those working in the country,” elaborates Qaiser. “A lot of this cross-collaboration has been happening in Africa and beyond, so this kind of project can be the first step in producing this synergy.”
“At the end of the day, it is a competition whereby the winning ideas and projects will be developed into applications and proper solutions,” explains Qaiser. “People will submit their ideas on our website and teams will be formed, based on common interests.”
With one member of each team present in Boston, the organisers are encouraging virtual teams and encouraging alliances with other Pakistani students and professionals in the area. The event is being sponsored by Open (Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs North America), Discretelogix, Hack Reduce, the Pakistani Student Organisation at MIT and the Harvard Pakistan Group.
“It is a common belief amongst many in Pakistan that young adults who are sent abroad by their parents for education and jobs lose touch with their country and do not contribute,” adds Qaiser. “Here we have an association of young Pakistani professionals setting out to make a difference in a way they know best — technology.”
An online link that has details of the event, http://pakathon.eventbrite.com/, says mentors and Judges include musician and humanitarian Todd Shea, the head of Pakistan portfolio at the Acumen Fund Shuaib Siddiqi, senior lecturer in Tech Innovation at MIT Sloan, Imran Sayeed, and product manager at Nokia, Saad Fazil, amongst others.
What kinds of problems will Pakathon try to solve?
Pakathon has six tracks — health, violence, energy, education, disaster relief and agriculture. Some of the starting points are as follows:
• How can we use technology to connect skilled doctors to patients in rural areas?
• Can technology help stop a suicide bomber or a car bomb?
• How can cell phones be used to increase the reach of virtual courses?
• How can we crowd source information to know what the greatest needs of affected areas are?
• Is there a way technology can reduce power theft or bring a more transparent billing process?
• Can you relay information about price fluctuations to rural farmers through an SMS service?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2013.