August 1, 2010

TEDx Lahore

Collective Genius.

Tedx Lahore. Collective Genius.
Yes, that was the theme for TEDx Lahore. And they pulled it off, quite literally. TEDx Lahore was an eye opener. It really was. It made me rethink everything about how I view my country and its people, and its problems. It made me realize that while I sit and crib quite relentlessly on my blog, and in my personal life, there are people who have realized that this approach is wrong. So what did they say that I should do? Well, the answer is DO. Anything.

There was a UET graduate as one of the speakers. He started teaching kids who wanted to learn but could not afford it. He started donating blood with the thought that it might help save someone’s life. And his message, the belief in D3. Do, Dare, Dream. And he’s done it, he’s done all of it. And quite brilliantly actually. His name is Mudassir Zia, and his school’s name is Ghulam Muhammad Grammar School. He inspired us to bring out our collective genius, because our problems are ours. And their solutions, need to be ours too. And he left us with the quote:

“The only helping hand, is present at the end of your arm.”

But that’s not all; there was Arif Hasan, the genius architect/researcher and God knows what else, who talked about the social angle to our present day mess. He talked about how the Seraiki speaking people settled in the Punjab after the independence, and the Urdu speaking people settled in Sind. He talked about how present day research shows that these two distinct ethnicities led to a conflict, and consequently that conflict evolved into religious fundamentalism. But he was inspiring too. He talked about how the Green Revolution ended up creating a capitalist cash economy, which was further strengthened when the Suzuki Ravis, and the Toyota Hiluxes were introduced. The question that really pricked the conscience was, what effect has that had on the societal values in Pakistan? Globalization, market economy and what not, has affected us all at an individual level. We do not have the same social values that we had previously. Community based collective efforts have stopped. Greed and individualism has replaced the “collective”. He even said that we are backwards because we don’t have skills. What does that mean? It means we have doctors, not paramedics. We have engineers, not supervisors.

Then there was this guy, Omer Sheikh who is a digital cartographer who has heavily leveraged Google’s open mapping tools to literally put Pakistan on the map. So all of you who decide to buy the Honda Civic with the sat-nav now know who to thank. Omer Sheikh helped to provide accurate mapping data via Google Maps of the Attabad lake disaster. He worked in collusion with NASA, NDMA and Google to make changes to the map in real time as the data continued to roll in. But the irony is that while the foreigners were so forthcoming with information, our own government refused to entertain his requests for information. But the mark of a true Pakistani is that he never stops; and Omer Sheikh did not either. He has been contributing to the Google Maps project ever since, and has helped map Lahore. Tip for everyone, you too can help map Pakistan. All you need is a Google id, which is the same as your gmail address! Omer Sheikh also told us about something else, that according to the Constitution we are allowed by law to have access to information. That is Article 19A, 18th Amendment.

But the show stopper was Dr. Zeeshan Usmani. A Fulbright Scholar who has created a bombing simulation software that can identify who did the bombing, how many people can be expected to die, what sort of injuries can be expected, and blah! It was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Dr. Usmani was the man of the day. He wanted to create a Facebook type social networking site, but ended up creating something so brilliant that if our insensible government were to utilize it, it would help save the lives of many, and end up apprehending those who are responsible.

The theme of collective genius works then. We are the collective genius. We do not have to depend on foreign aid in the words of Mudassir Zia, we have to depend on local aid; the kind of which ranges from super creativity, to innovative ideas that can change the world, and that is plenty in this country.

The following is the complete list of speakers for TEDx Lahore:

1.       Arif Hasan
2.       Omer Sheikh
3.       Ajmal Kamal
4.       Dr. Tariq Rehman
5.       Saima Zaidi
6.       Beena Raza
7.       Noor Zehra Karim (Sagar Veena Solo Concert)
8.       Dr. Nadeem ul Haque
9.       Majid Nawaz
10.   Zeeshan Usmani
11.   Mudassir Zia
12.   Zubair K Bhatii
13.   Dr. Aamir Khan
14.   Dr. Aasher Hasan