There has been a string of new technology and startup related activities in Peshawar in the recent past, including the first ever TEDx event and the first Startup Weekend. The tremendous response at these events indicated the techies in town needed more. All of this set the stage for Peshawar’s first Civic Hackathon which had a record turnout. i.e. the most in any other civic hackathon in Pakistan.
Successfully conducted, this was the first Civic Hackathon of KP which was arranged by The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IT Board (KPITB) in partnership with Peshawar 2.0, World Bank, Code of Pakistan and University of Engineering and Technology.
For me, this was something great because we all have heard the government talking about bringing a change and engaging the youth in meaningful activities, but had not seen any action on the ground. The time for the government to walk the talk was at hand and I’d say they did a pretty good job over the weekend.
The CM inaugurates!
The inauguration ceremony kicked off on 31st January 2014, which was attended by notable figures including Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak and the Provincial Minister for IT Shehram Khan Tarakai. Encouraging words were expected from both these personalities but it was one particular announcement by Shehram Khan that signified the value of this event. He announced that The Civic Hackathon will be held annually in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which drew an ecstatic applause from the audience. And rightly so, because regardless of what happens tomorrow, such announcements kindles a hope; a hope for a better future where the distance between the people and the government will shorten resulting in a more effective form of governance.
Pitches on Day 1
With 250 applicants applying for the event, some action packed days were in store for us. A staggering number of 44 ideas were pitched on the evening of Day 1. After shortlisting and refining of the concepts, we were left with 21 ideas. There was a lot of buzz as the participants began the team building process but the mentors were equally involved in the energetic environment offering their insights generously. While it was fun watching the team building process and getting to know the mentors, it will be criminal to not mention the wonderful talk delivered by the founder of Code for Pakistan, Sheba Najmi on Gov 2.0. She explained how this concept is different from e-Governance, which mainly focuses on publicly available digital data and increased efficiency and transparency. On the other hand, in Gov 2.0, governments are playing the role of enablers for the citizens to deliver solutions and not mere ‘service providers’. The concept of Gov 2.0 won me over because I have a firm belief that Pakistan is home to one of the most talented people on this planet but our ill-fortune is that we cannot harness this talent due to multiple reasons. Gov 2.0 is a positive step in organizing this talent and utilizing it to its full potential. This concept coupled with Sheba’s influential talk got the audience pumped up for an intensive course of hacking.
The party spilled over on to Day 2 where the teams officially kick-started their hacking. The advantage of having mentors by your side was experienced first-hand by the teams when the mentor, Ali Raza, conducted a workshop on GitHub where he explained the concept of version control and open source code redeployment. I was slightly concerned that the second day might be a bit monotonous but the multiple workshops conducted by different mentors obliterated that concern of mine in no time.
While Ali Raza was busy with his workshop of GitHub and helping the teams in whatever way possible, the representative of Pring, Muhammad Ali and the Co-Founder of Smile SMS, Shehzad Khan conducted their workshops on how the teams can deploy their SMS APIs in the applications that they were developing.
The second batch of mentors from Islamabad namely, Ather Imran, Farrukh Malik, Awais Anjum, Ashok Malani and Junaid Hilal arrived shortly after the workshops and received a warm welcome. By merely holding a short conversation with these mentors, one could tell that they had vast experience and talent in their respective fields and which, fortunately for the teams, they were willing to share. I saw many ideas transforming from ordinary to outstanding, which reflected the profound impact that the mentors had on their respective teams.
The event was turning out to be a great one but I believe a great event should have a pleasant surprise for everyone. And that’s exactly what we got when the team of Google Pakistan, Badar Khushnood and Ahsan Mukhtar showed up. They spent a good chunk of time around and were seen in active discussions with the mentors.
All participants remained super busy into the late evening with their hacking. As food arrived for the night, all mentors, and the guests from the World Bank, were whisked off for a treat. Yes you guessed it right, it was sumptuous dinner at Charsi Tikka. Discussion continued as the tikkas were prepared and everyone had a great time enjoying the most popular local cuisine, which was followed by the mandatory, Qahwah, or green tea!
Crunch time! Demos on Day 3
On the third and final day, things began to heat up even more. With the deadline for noon approaching fast, the teams began to sum up their ideas along with the respective prototypes for one final presentation. The stiff competition made life a bit harder for the judges. The panel of judges included Dr Azhar Rauf, Dr Laiq Hasan, Salman Naveed and Ehsan Iqbal.
One could almost feel the tension that was prevailing in the atmosphere when all the teams had given the presentations and the points were being sorted out. The founder of Peshawar 2.0 Faisal Khan delivered a talk in the end, highlighting the importance of Startups, and how universities, faculty and students bear a responsibility to create a tech cluster (of startups) that can translate their research into society as products and services. He focused on the sorry fact that regardless of over a dozen leading universities of the province, all in a five mile radius of each other, we have been unable to spawn our own cluster that could address our local problems.
The high point of his talk according to me was when he severely criticised the students who boast about their GPAs and do not give back anything to their city. ‘All of that is worthless’ he said. This was greeted with a long round of clapping from the audience. Whether the clapping indicated that the audience had appreciated the blunt reminder of the speaker or if they took it lightly is something only they can tell. Faisal Khan emphasized on having the confidence in oneself to bring a positive change and encouraged the audience to do so with utmost devotion. It won’t be wrong to say that his talk delivered a serious dose of motivation to the listeners because the applause that he received was one of the loudest of the night.
The concluding speeches preceded the awards ceremony. This resulted in a prolonged wait for the awards but these were some great speeches motivating the runner-ups’ as much as the winners. The Provincial Minister for IT, Shehram Tarakai praised the efforts of all the teams and assured the full cooperation of the government with the students who wish to come forward and help in any way possible. The Vice Chancellor of UET congratulated the organizers and the participants for successfully conducting this event and offered UET’s services to the government in finding solutions to the problems that they are facing. In this atmosphere of goodwill and positivity, it was finally time to announce the awards. Following are the awards won by the few lucky teams:
- The Aitizaz Hasan Award for Education: “School Ka Ehtisab”
- Best Disaster Resilience Award: “DSM”
- The Best App for Government Problems: “No Kunda”
- The Best Open Source Redeployment Award: “Roti Kapra Makan”
- The Audience Favourite Award: “Instant Appointments”
- Third Prize: “Rehnuma”
- Second Prize: “Messiah”
- First Prize: “Smart Life Saver”
The event overall was wonderfully organized and something you wouldn’t want to miss. The atmosphere was electric, there was passion and ambition, a hope for a better future and most of all there were wonderful scenes of participants from different walks of life working together with one common goal, which is to make Pakistan a better place for living. The government was cooperative and displayed keen interest. In Pakistan it is not easy to have easy access to the ministers but Shehram Tarakai set a different example by mingling with the participants and the mentors, which I’m sure increased his respect among the people present in that hall.
I believe if such events are frequently conducted in our country, it will provide a solid platform for the government and people to work together and will give rise to outstanding ideas, which could solve long-standing problems that the government alone could not tackle. It is wrong to think that the government is solely responsible for every problem that exists. It is time to share this responsibility and strive towards a better future, together.