In February 2015, British Council and FutureEverything joined hands and collaborated on the first ever Global Futr Lab. As part of the FutureEverything Festival in Manchester, the Lab brought together ten participants from eight countries, fostering dialogue and collaborative exchange between various professionals working within the technological and culture sphere, including digital artists, creative entrepreneurs, producers and technologists.

Areeb Kamran, an Information Systems Consultant currently based in Germany represented Pakistan. We caught up with him to hear of his experience.

Let’s begin with you telling us a bit about your background. You’re currently studying Informatics at the University of Munich? For our readers, and perhaps more for us, please do tell us what that means?

I completed Bachelors in Computer Systems Engineering from GIKI in 2010 and then worked full-time as a consultant for four years in Lahore. While working I conducted research work at LUMS as well. Right now I'm studying for an MS in Computer Science at Technical University of Munich (which in German speaking areas is called Informatik). 

Observing the socio-political situation around me, I delved in social entrepreneurship in 2012 - leveraging my experience as a technical business consultant and academic researcher in Data Analysis.  Using what I learnt from both experiences, I created a platform which can be used by big businesses and the community to solve problems faced by both. I believe in the transformative power of information from the people at large, which can provide deep insights and pave way for unique and creative solutions.

You are one of the founders of Noustix, which if I understand correctly, is a platform for Smart Cities that collects and visually translates data sourced from the public online. It’s ingenious. How did you come with this idea?

The story of Noustix is shaped by the time spent in Lahore while facing gruelling load-shedding and a lack of basic infrastructure even - which used to drive me crazy. Hence, out of desperation, germinated the need for a platform to collect information from ordinary citizens, where they could report their problems and issues, leading to the possibility of collective action. However, collecting data alone is half the story; unless it is presented in a manner that makes it easily accessible and understandable, the power of data is seriously handicapped. Visual stories, in this regards, work well in making information approachable and easier to communicate.

And you’re currently working on one for Lahore. How is that coming along?

During this time, I also came across The Hatchery, a social incubator from LUMS which helped in highlighting the social and civic dimensions of the project and revealed the potential of a social business, especially in a developing country like Pakistan. Unfortunately, in my opinion, in the past, there has been a lot of recycling of models from abroad that don’t always take the local social context in account. Hence, keeping the Pakistani audience in mind, Lahore came into focus for the initial projects at Noustix.

So far we have run pilot projects which have had promising results as well as some we can build upon. Let's see where it leads us… 

During the Global FUTR Lab, you were one of ten international participants. What was it like representing Pakistan?

AK: While on one side it's true that Pakistan has an image problem, but on the other side the technical talent from Pakistan is rather well appreciated and has quite a reputation. So, I wouldn't say representing Pakistan was a challenge in this domain. In fact one of the most important things for me was to see other participants trying to solve similar problems in their own countries and observing that surprisingly even the UK is facing similar problems when it comes to the application of tech based solutions to age old issues. It is often an assumption that as a developing country we would be somewhere far behind but instead, maybe due to relatively loose legislation and lack of red tape around this field in Pakistan, I feel we are far ahead when it comes to mass adoption of many digital systems! 

Was the experience useful and has this led to the development of new ideas?

Yes! I’m very grateful to the British Council for this amazing opportunity as the experience was tremendously useful and an eye-opener in many ways; especially seeing the shared problems when mainstreaming the use of tech-based solutions.

Since Noustix is a very generic and universal platform, we tend to focus on user cases and optimise the platform for them rather than a plethora of features. At FUTR lab I got to see and hear about examples of cases people really care about, as opposed to the ones we envision but really don’t resonate at all. The exposure also led to quite a few opportunities for collaboration in the UK and hopefully will now lead to some even adopting the use of Noustix Platform there.