Hundreds of my fellow alumni of Pakistan's NED University of Engineering and Technology (NEDUET)
gathered in Silicon Valley
for tenth annual North America convention for three days starting Friday, October 10 through Sunday, October 12, 2014. They traveled from dozens of US states
and Canada. Many, including NED University's vice chancellor Dr. Afzal Haq, came from as far as Pakistan.
The Silicon Valley convention featured keynote speeches by IBA director Dr. Ishrat Husain and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and NED University alumnus Dr. Naveed Sherwani. In addition, there was an interesting monologue by NED alum Aftab Rizvi which offered a fictionalized account of an NEDian rise from a Karachi slum to a lucrative career. In this post, I will focus on the innovation panel which I found particularly interesting.
The topic for this panel was "How to promote innovation in Pakistan". Distinguished panelists included Dr. Afzal Haque, Vice Chancellor of NED University, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Dean of Karachi's Institute of Business Administration, Dr. Khursheed Qureshi, Chairman of DICE Initiative to promote innovation, Dr. Abdul Ghafoor, Chairman of Manufacturing Engineering Department at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Dr. Mumtaz Hussain, first Vice Chancellor of King Edwards Medical University, Tanveer Malick, NED Endowment - ALEF and Professor Ali Minai, Panel Moderator.
After listening to the panelists for almost an hour, it became very obvious to me that the panelists were talking about imitation rather than innovation in areas such as automotive engineering and personal computing. Dr. Khurshid Qureshi and Dr. Ghafoor talked about designing and building an automobile engine entirely in Pakistan by assigning major parts of the project to various engineering departments at universities working with the local auto industry. Then Dr. Khurshid Qureshi brought up working with some Silicon Valley alums to design and build a laptop in its entirety in Pakistan.
It was a relief to finally hear Dr. Ishrat Husain clearly articulate the fact that the panelists were essentially talking about doing what others did decades ago. He said it's not really a bad thing to begin with and cited the example of the imitation and absorption of Green Revolution technologies in Pakistan.
He went on to explain that imitation, absorption and diffusion of existing technologies can greatly benefit Pakistan and set the stage for real innovation in the long term.
Post WW II success stories of the Japanese and the South Koreans and other Asian Tigers
have shown how this process has helped them develop and prosper by industrializing rapidly. Beyond imitation, real innovation requires a culture that promotes questioning of widely accepted conventional wisdom. Discouraging questions from children kills their natural curiosity and hurts innovation.
Moderator Ali Minai illustrated this important point with the following poetic lines:
yaqeeN kee baat mayN kuchh bhee naheeN thaa/
naye pehloo huay paidaa gumaaN say ( by late Saleem Ahmad)
(Absolute faith offered little/ doubts have helped open up new possibilities)
vo harf sach tha ke ahl-e yaqeeN naheeN samjhay/ dimaagh-e kufr se kyaa kyaa haqeeqatayN nikleeN (by late Aziz Hamid Madni)
(People of faith did not comprehend the truth/ Agnostics' mind revealed many truths)
Dr. Mumtaz Husain of King Edwards Medical University added that there is nothing in Islam that discourages questions and critical thinking. In fact, the Quran repeatedly exhorts people to think, to ponder, and to go as far as necessary to seek knowledge. He particularly cited repeated Quranic exhortations like "Afala ta'qilun" (Why don't you reason?), "afala tatafakkarun" (Why don't you think?), "afala tubsirun" (Why don't you see?), "afala tadabbarun" (Why don't you find solutions?).
Here's a video clip of Dr. Ishrat Husain's presentation on innovation at the NED Alumni Convention 2014 in Silicon Valley:
Innovation Panel at NED Alumni Convention 2014... by riaz-haq
Dr. Ishrat Husain succinctly stated some of the key points which I had brought out in a blog post titled "Promoting Innovation Culture in Pakistan". It's reprduced below for those who didn't get a chance to read it:
Efforts to promote innovation in Pakistan are being spearheaded by several different groups including DICE Foundation
and Pakistan Innovation Foundation
. Both DICE and PIF focus almost entirely on higher education institutions.
Before assessing the situation and making recommendations on promoting innovation in Pakistan, it's important to understand the history of innovation by studying the examples of major innovations since the industrial revolution.
James Watt (1736-1819) is credited with the innovation of the steam engine which is believed to have enabled the Industrial Revolution
in Scotland. Watt only had high school education. He never studied at a college or a university. His invention enabled a wide range of manufacturing machinery to be powered. His steam engines could be sited anywhere that water and coal or wood fuel could be obtained and provided up to 10,000 horsepower to run large factories. It could also be applied to vehicles such as traction engines and the railway locomotives. The stationary steam engine was a key component of the Industrial Revolution, allowing factories to locate where water power was unavailable.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), the man who invented the light bulb, was probably the most prolific inventor since the Industrial Revolution. He had no formal education. He was a tinkerer who worked with his hands to come up with many devices and was awarded over 1000 patents by the U.S. Patent Office. His innovations were transformational in their impact: electric light and power utilities, sound recording, and motion pictures, all established major new industries world-wide. Edison's inventions contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications. These included a stock ticker, a mechanical vote recorder, a battery for an electric car, electrical power, recorded music and motion pictures.
(1955-2011) invented Apple personal computer. Jobs revolutionized several industries from computing and personal electronics to publishing and entertainment. Jobs, a highly prolific innovator, attended college briefly but did not complete college education. Jobs, too, was a tinkerer who worked with his hands to create things.
These examples clearly establish that some of the most prolific innovators have been people who had little or no college education. It is therefore not wise to limit promotion of innovation to just the college level.
In fact, it is much more important to start promoting innovation during early years in primary and secondary schools. It can be done through inquiry-based learning and provision of tools and training at the K-12 school level. Some examples are as follows:
Inquiry-based learning is a method developed during the discovery learning movement of the 1960s. It came in response to a perceived failure of more traditional rote learning. Inquiry-based learning is a form of active learning, where progress is assessed by how well students develop experimental, analytical and critical thinking skills rather than how many facts they have memorized. Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) and The Citizens Foundation (TCF) are beginning to promote inquiry-based methods
to encourage more active learning and critical thinking at an early age in Pakistan. These skills are essential to prepare Pakistani youngsters to be capable of facing the challenges of living in a highly competitive world in which the wealth of nations is defined in terms of human capital and innovation.
The Maker Movement is a technological and creative learning revolution underway around the globe. It has exciting and vast implications for the world of education. New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials, and programming languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace. The Maker Movement creates affordable or even free versions of these inventions, while sharing tools and ideas online to create a vibrant, collaborative community of global problem-solvers.
Maker movement is helping spawn facilities in many different cities around the world. These places have a wide range of both hardware and software tools and classes available to help people to create and "make" things with their own hands.
The only possible example of "makerspace" that comes close in Pakistan is Robotics Lab
that was launched in 2011 in Karachi. It was founded by two friends Afaque Ahmed and Yasin Altaf who had previously worked in Silicon Valley. They bought a 3D printer for the lab as a tool to help children learn science. The founding duo is now looking for ways to expand its audience.“Our goal is to push this science lab to TCF schools, a nationwide school network covering about 150,000 underprivileged students,” says Ahmed. The project, however, is currently pending because of funding constraints. “We have asked them to find some big donor for this purpose. Currently, we train these children only through field trips to our labs.”
The key to innovation is not necessarily advanced education and training in a certain field. It is out-of-the-box thinking. Major innovations have often come from people working in unrelated fields. Recent examples of such innovations from people of South Asian origin include Zia Chisti's Invisalign
and Salman Khan's Khan Academy
. Both Zia and Salman came from investment banking background before they revolutionized the fields of orthodontics and education.
Encouragement of the culture of innovation should begin during children's formative years in primary and secondary schools. Innovation requires free out-of-the-box thinking. History tells us that some of the biggest innovators were tinkerers with little or no formal education in the fields of their biggest and most transformative innovations. Groups and foundations promoting innovation in Pakistan need to increase their outreach to the school kids. As a start, they can expand inquiry-based learning
and build more makerspaces
like Karachi's Robotics Lab
in partnership with private industries and foundations in major cities.
Here's a video of my friend Ali H. Cemendtaur's visit to Karachi Robotics Lab:
Visiting Robotics Labs, Private Limited in Karachi, Pakistan
from Ali Cemendtaur
PS: Since I first published this blog, Dr. Khurshid Qureshi, Chairman of DICE, has communicated the following to me:
While I was reading the article, I wondered that may be I failed to fully explain what DICE is all about. My apologies.
I would like to mention few point to clarify our mission.
1. As I mentioned earlier we have been arranging mega events for last 7 years and that is to bring all innovative ideas from all domains disciplines to one platform in an effort to bring Innovaiton culture in Pakistan. We have seen innovations from increasing iron content of Basmati rice 10 times, fertilizer which works on saline land, design of low cost sugarcane planter to pain measurement device (if we are succesfful in creating such a device - that one innovation can have a potential to take Pakistan out of misery. At DICE we have been bringing 100 humdreds of such innovations on surface for the last several years.
2. When we talked about automotive and laptop, idea was not to say that we should not work on item 1 above, it is just that there are certain strategic areas where we have to fix the baseline first (we are far behind), before we can reasonably come up with some thing really innovative. And from my perspective even Pakistan having its own low cost car (indigenous design) with our own engine is highly innovative.
3. I always cite example of Shan Masala (one of the greatest innovations), and also ultimately having a Innovation market place such as Jumma Bazar of Innovations where people can market their innovative ideas and projects (does have to come from colleges / Univ).
So as I mentioned earlier, I am fully aligned with what you are saying that Innovation can come from anywhere - doesn't require degrees.
I thought I should try to clarify our position at DICE - we are not there just to imitate (which btw is also an innovation), we are truly after changing the culture of our nation.
Pakistanis in Silicon Valley
NEDians in America
Promoting Culture of Innovation in Pakistan
Asian Tiger Dictators Brought Prosperity; Democracy Followed
Industrial Revolution Power Shift
Steve Jobs' Syrian Father
Inquiry-Based Learning in Pakistan
3D Printing in Pakistan
Zia Chishti's Innovation in Orthodontics
Human Capital Growth in Pakistan
Khan Academy Draws Pakistani Visitors