Monday, October 13, 2014

NEDUET Alumni Talk Innovation For Pakistan in Silicon Valley

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.



Innovation Panel:

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:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x27up3a_innovation-panel-at-ned-alumni-convention-2014-in-silicon-valley-ca_news


Innovation Panel at NED Alumni Convention 2014... by riaz-haq


http://youtu.be/-NTy66ey6vc?list=UUkrIDyFbC9N9evXYb9cA_gQ





Promoting Innovation:

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:

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 Edison:

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.

Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs (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:

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.

Maker Movement:

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.”

Out-of-the-Box Thinking:

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.

Summary: 

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:

http://vimeo.com/58856985


Visiting Robotics Labs, Private Limited in Karachi, Pakistan from Ali Cemendtaur on Vimeo.


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.
Related Links:

Haq's Musings

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


2 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Platform for learning: #3D printers lab inaugurated in #NED University in #Karachi #Pakistan

http://tribune.com.pk/story/1022539/platform-for-learning-3d-printers-lab-inaugurated-in-ned-university/ …


A 3D printer lab called ‘MakerStudio’ has been inaugurated at NED University of Engineering and Technology.

At the inauguration event organsied by Office of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation (ORIC), NED vice-chancellor Dr Muhammad Afzal Haque said this was the first ever 3D lab that was established in the university. Addressing the audience at the ceremony, Haque stated further that this lab is not only for university students, but outsiders are welcomed here too.

3D printed model of heart helps doctors in Britain save two-year old’s life

ORIC commercialisation associate Arsalan Waheed said that it was about a year ago when they decided to establish a 3D lab in the varsity. While giving a presentation on how the MakerStudio will work, Waheed said that every student and staff member will have access to it and the lab will become the platform for informal, project-driven and self-directed learning.

Waheed further said that such labs are needed by the institute where over 10,000 students are enrolled. “Bringing creative professionals under the same roof allows members to learn from each other,” he added.

While giving a demonstration on how the 3D printers work, Xplorer 3D CEO Tayyab Alam said that the printers can very easily be used by a layman.

French boy gets ‘superhero’ 3-D-printed prosthetic hand

He added that these printers are assembled in Pakistan and their organisation also invited NED university students to experience the procedure of how the assembling is done. These printers are not just for the engineering students but are also for visual studies students, Alam added.

“It will be an amazing experience for all the students as it will introduce us to new technologies and will train us,” said Murtaza, a NED student, while talking to The Express Tribune.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's Federal Government grants #Karachi's #NED Engineering University Rs 900 over 3 years for big projects https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/138117-NED-to-get-Rs900mn-from-Centre-in-three-years …

Ahsan Iqbal inaugurates Advanced Material Testing Laboratory at NED’s Department of Earthquake Engineering

Karachi

The federal government will provide Rs900 million in the next three years to the NED University for completing new mega projects being initiated at the university, said Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal on Wednesday while inaugurating the Advanced Material Testing Laboratory at the Department of Earthquake Engineering, NED University of Engineering and Technology.

He said the federal government had adopted an important policy to upgrade all engineering universities of the country and different projects had been initiated at these universities across the country.

According to him, the government has allocated Rs1500 billion to achieve the target while the federal government has also doubled the funding to improve higher education in Pakistan. “From the year 2010 to 2013, Rs100 billion were granted for the higher education. But when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz came in the power, the grant was increased to Rs2015 billion from the year 2013 to 2016.”

Quoting the figures of increase in grant, he said the increment showed that the party was working in the right direction and following the indicators set for its vision 2025, through which it wanted to establish “knowledge economy”.

“The majority of the country’s population comprises of youngsters and that is why we want to provide them the best education and access to technology to produce high quality human resources in the country.”

Ahsan Iqbal expressed that he was impressed with the standard of education being provided at the NED University and believed that its students could participate anywhere around the world.

He congratulated the faculty and staff for preparing students to face challenges in their lives.

The PML-N leader also assured the government’s support to universities which would play any role in national development.

The federal minister claimed that all efforts would be carried out to eradicate terrorism from the country.