It’s probably fair to say that Pakistan often gets a raw deal when it comes to international media coverage, with headlines usually dominated by themes like religious extremism and terrorism, women’s rights or border conflicts. And while these areas are worthy of coverage, this South Asian nation has many more positive stories that don’t see the light of day, such as the incredible pool of young talent pushing boundaries in numerous industries and disciplines.
Despite a challenging environment, young Pakistanis are increasingly looking to make a difference in their country. And they’re likely to be successful, too. More than 60% of the country’s booming population (the sixth-largest population in the world) is made up of young people. That amounts to a workforce that’s youthful, energetic and just may be the generation to bring the positive changes needed.
With seven entries on the 2018 30 Under 30 Asia list, here are some of the names that might just make the next headline you read about Pakistan.
Musician and social activist Momina Mustehsan shot to overnight success after her debut performance on Pakistani TV show Coke Studio. Her rendition of “Afreen Afreen” became the the most viewed YouTube video of Pakistani origin ever, and since then this talented musician has used her fame and social media clout (she’s one of Pakistan’s biggest social media influencers) to speak candidly about issues like cyber bullying and depression.
The 25-year-old is also an outspoken supporter of women’s issues. In a campaign with video network NowThis, she discussed her stance on feminism in Pakistan: “Do we hate our women? I don’t think so. In fact, Pakistan has more women representation in government than the U.S., and we have twice elected a female head of state. Empowering women in Pakistan would mean raising them equal to boys, providing them the same education, giving them the same job opportunities, equal wages and equal respect.”
Some of Pakistan’s most innovative minds are opting for careers in the critically important sector of healthcare, like Muhammad Asad Raza and Abrahim Shaha, both 24, who launched Neurostic. The healthcare startup aims to provide low cost and high quality wearable and implantable medical devices for the developing world.
Pakistan is listed as one of 57 countries with a critical health workforce deficiency by the World Health Organization in a 2006 report, facing a huge shortage of human resources and key skills. Services that Neurostic offers seek to address some of those gaps, including clinical decision support, active, fitness and healthcare monitoring, and data analytics for healthcare applications. Neurostic also provides prosthetic services for amputees in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria — places that have little or no access to rehabilitation facilities.
At just 17, Muhammad Shaheer Niazi is already a full-fledged scientist whose work has appeared in the prestigious Royal Society Open Science journal. The teenager was the first to photograph the movement of ions, capturing the charged ions that create the honeycomb. And while that might sound esoteric, it actually has implications for research in fields like biomedicine.
The savvy e-commerce siblings
Brothers Adnan Shaffi, 28, and Adeel Shaffi, 29, founded PriceOye in 2015, a price comparison platform for electronics in second and third-tier cities in Pakistan. The platform uses data analytics to provide marketing information to retailers while finding the best deal for consumers. While e-commerce stores in Pakistan focus attention on first-tier cities like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, many have forgotten about lower-tiered cities, leading to a 20% increase in prices in those areas. Their website has had 805,000 visits in the past month.
In a country where women’s education isn’t always a priority, Sadia Bashir wanted to help women break into the male-dominated industry of video game production. Bashir was working in design when she cofounded Pixel Art Games Academy. The academy’s mission is to bridge the gap between industry demand and education, by providing training in game design and production, game programming, digital art and animation. Her program tries to address the significant gender gap in the game industry by maintaining a minimum 33% ratio of women, hoping to inspire women in Pakistan to dream bigger. To that end, she’s also created scholarships for women who want to learn video game development within her academy.
The social entrepreneurs giving back
Imagine walking four hours a day, simply to retrieve usable water. That’s the reality for people living in under-resourced villages in Pakistan, where necessities like clean water are often scarce. Hamza Farrukh, the founder of Bondh E Shams (Droplets of the Sun), wanted to change that. His Solar Water project aims to tackle the problem of water scarcity in the most poorly connected areas of Pakistan.
The project has set up two solar-powered wells — the first ever of its kind — to supply clean water to 1,500 residents of a small village in Pakistan. One pump can supply clean water to some 5,000 people every day. The 24-year-old is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Oxford. He works as a portfolio solutions strategist with Goldman Sachs in London.
Also tackling some of Pakistan’s most challenging issues is Syed Faizan Hussain, the 23-year-old founder of Perihelion Systems. Hussain launched his startup to support products that use technology to better the lives of many. Some of Perihelion’s products include Edu-Aid, a sign language translating software; One Health, a disease surveillance and tracking system used to predict outbreaks and alert health institutions to expedite intervention; and Glove Gauge, wearable technology to facilitate professional production processes such as measurements.