As I walked into 021Disrupt, held on November 10 and 11, 2018 at the Mövenpick Hotel in Karachi, the sound of excitement (a combination of buzz and a joyful xylophone) welcomed and engulfed me. One could almost taste the excitement, a little like the sun-gold toffees one would anxiously await as a child to relish. Every room, every corridor was filled with men and women, boys and girls – all engaged in animated conversation.
Over two days, 15 plus sessions and workshops were held, centred on technology and entrepreneurship and featured nearly 30 speakers from Pakistan and overseas; in every room, people (including students, techies, entrepreneurs and advertising and media professionals) listened intently, and it felt like every word was captured and penned down.
Two of the favoured sessions by attendees were Influence is Power (which had a star-studded panel featuring Danish Ali, Muzamil Hasan, Mahira Khan, Amna Niazi, Ali Gul Pir and Mooro and was moderated by Zarrar Khuhro) and Design in the Age of Devices (which featured creative powerhouses Samya Arif, Hasan Habib, Faraz Maqsood Hamidi and Hira Mohibullah and moderated by Gulraiz Khan.)
Gulraiz Khan, speaking to Aurora said: “There are a lot of young people here, and this is the most gender-balanced tech conference that I have ever been to. It is a really healthy sign to see a lot of women here, because if tech is to succeed, it can’t be a Boy’s Club. This is a sign that the future is different.”
Shehryar Hyderi, the secretary general of P@sha added: “I have never attended a better event in Pakistan about tech and design. Now in its second year, it has become a must-attend event for the community; it has the ideal mix of local and international speakers. You don’t find this kind of quality and quantity of audience and decision makers at any event.”
The experience was equally enriching for the speakers. Misbah Naqvi of i2i Ventures (a panellist in Where is the Money?) said: “The speakers were well chosen and each one brought a unique perspective to the fore. The moderator was well-prepared and while it was a large panel (consisting of six people), he did a good job of keeping the discussion engaging and moving forward.”
People often talk about branding Pakistan and the government has always struggled with portraying the real image of this country. Over a matter of a few months prior to the event, #021Disrupt #TheNestIO and #Pakistan were visible positively across social networks. Several people flew in to participate from London, the Far East and the UAE because the conference popped up in their newsfeeds.
Hira Mohibullah, who recently spoke at the National Design Conference in Islamabad and was a panellist at the Design in the Age of Devices, said: “The energy and positivity was contagious! 021Disrupt has truly thrown the spotlight on how much talent we have in the country and has finally put Pakistan on the world’s radar.”
Jehan Ara, the architect of the magic of 021Disrupt said the diversity of gender and expertise amongst delegates, start-ups, and investors was far greater than the year before, and she feels perhaps a new benchmark has been created.
“People often talk about branding Pakistan and the government has always struggled with portraying the real image of this country. Over a matter of a few months prior to the event, #021Disrupt #TheNestIO and #Pakistan were visible positively across social networks. Several people flew in to participate from London, the Far East and the UAE because the conference popped up in their newsfeeds. The fact that our entire community was involved with the people who flew in – and took them around the city without visible security – to places like Empress Market, Zainab Market, Jodia Bazaar and Waheed Nihari, gave visitors a sense of what a vibrant city Karachi is. That in itself is an achievement.”
She added that conferences like 021Disrupt should extend beyond Karachi and held in smaller cities; this, she feels, will bring onboard “raw talent” from these cities, who are often ignored.
“What is exciting is the possibility of local products and services starting up from such conferences, where people who have money are looking to invest in people with talent and ideas.”
Ultimately, for many people, the biggest takeaway of the conference was the fact that there is a ‘hunger’ for such events, which have unlimited possibilities.
Naqvi perhaps sums up the 021Disrupt experience best when she told me: “Being with fellow investors, start-ups, entrepreneurs and influencers made me feel like we were part of a real community. It was wonderful that players from all aspects of the start-up ecosystem were together, engaged in dialogue about what is happening and where we are headed. Deals were made, alliances announced, experiences shared. There was an energy at 021Disrupt which is missing in so many conferences these days. It felt real, not manufactured.”
Alia Chughtai is Senior Interactive Producer, Al Jazeera English.