According to our research, around 5,000 university graduates return every year to Pakistan from the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. Once they’re back, Returners who are interested in establishing and growing startups encounter unexpected roadblocks. It can be challenging to find a network that is supportive for entrepreneurs, and getting funding or mentorship is also exceedingly difficult. Similarly, overseas Pakistanis who want to work on projects in Pakistan often find their job searches stunted because of limited positions available for their education and expertise. Returners who want to contribute to the betterment of Pakistani society are also exceedingly reluctant to look for opportunities in the government sector or the civil service. According to an Express Tribune article published last year, the country’s best talent is attracted to the private sector, and they are more likely to be interested in the startup scene.
That’s why it’s no surprise that university students and professionals within our Pakathon community, who have been living in Canada or the US for significant portions of their lives, were drawn to the aspect of starting social enterprises back home. As a relatively young organization, we’re always inspired when we see how committed and dedicated Pakistani expats living in cities like Washington DC, Toronto and Boston are about solving some of Pakistan’s most pressing problems.
When we hosted our very first hackathon back in 2013 with a brand new team and a developing vision, participants flew over to Boston from across the continent to pitch their ideas at our Global Finals. Saim Siddiqui, who had the winning business proposal, moved to Karachi from Toronto to work on his company ProCheck. Three years in the running, the company is now valued at over $4 million and it allows 50,000 patients access to authentic medicines. More recently, Israa Nasir and Kamil Shafiq attended the local hackathon event in Toronto in November, 2015, where they pitched their idea for Ammi, the first-ever voice-based messaging service that educates and empowers expecting women in Pakistan. After winning first place at Pakathon's Global Finals at Toronto's Aga Khan Museum in 2015 for their team's pitch featuring Ammi Service, they moved from Toronto to Pakistan to further develop the company. Both Israa and Kamil are hard-working, talented professionals who wowed judges with their vision. After quitting their jobs in the fall, they are now working on Ammi Service through invest2innovate's accelerator program under the mentorship of Kalsoom Lakhani.
In response to this trend, we launched the Returner's Program, which is designed to help Returners in the first phase of their journey. Our goal is to reverse the brain drain in Pakistan by helping skilled Pakistani expats move to Pakistan and launch social ventures.