As the number of  TEDx (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks in Pakistan grow, it’s a great time to start actively thinking about how technology and development can overlap to bring about lasting social change.

Thanks to International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), I was thrown into the conversation last Thursday during a panel discussion on the interplay between youth and cutting edge social media. I was wowed by two of the panelists, Jorge Soto of CitiVox fame and Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy labs and co-founder of DCweek.

The next day, Benjamin Berkowitz (@benberkowitz) also visited IREX to present on his wonderfully handy tool, SeeClickFix and how it can be used internationally to encourage citizens to report non-emergency issues and become active citizens in their municipality (FYI, you can report various maintenance issues in your neighborhood in Pakistan and sign up your local district official, provided he has an e-mail address, to receive the notification. I’ll definitely encourage you to play around with it).

On the home front, thanks to my friend, Madeeha Ansari at Empowerment thru Creative Integration (ECI), co-founder of the ‘Development Dhaba’, I was excited to learn that there has been a push towards ICT4Dev in Pakistan as well.

The ‘Development Dhaba’ is a knowledge-sharing platform hosted by ECI to promote dialogue among development stakeholders on different themes. In January, ECI hosted a dhaba on “Technology and Innovation for Effective Development”, which comprised of formal presentations alongside information kiosks through which different presenters shared communication material with the attendees.

Considering the fact that I’ve been hearing a lot about what’s going on in this sphere in the US, a conversation with Madeeha and a look at Development Dhaba’s agenda helped me get up to speed (to some extent) with some interesting initiatives taking place in Pakistan.

For starters, I finally learned about UNESCO and Mobilink Foundation’s mobile-based literacy initiative that aims to address literary problems among female youth through SMS. Also on the lines of mobile technology, Pakistan Urban Link and Support (PULS), an emerging social enterprise will create a “Linkedin” for the mobile to tap the market at the bottom of the pyramid.  The Holy Family Hospital also presented at the event, showing how it’s using its Telemedicine Rural Support Program to provide health care to the rural community.

In the area of communications, White Rice Communications which uses animation to tackle sensitive issues received great feedback at the event.  The company presented selected modules of “Aflatoun”, a 14 episode animated series that blended educational content and information in an engaging manner. At this point, I could not help but think of Gawaahi.com again and its use of “digital stories” to bring to light suppressed or ignored narratives.

Although the technology and innovation space here is still constrained due to limited financing opportunities, low internet penetration and poor literacy levels, it’s exciting to see how a motivated group of innovators have taken the first step to make the space work for Pakistan.

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