By Wasim Khaliqdad
â€œUnless we nurture a culture of innovation in the country and make innovation as part of the DNA of our nation, it is impossible to compete with other countries in the rapidly changing world. Developed countries have used innovation as a tool to generate wealth for their nations and the same model is the only option for the developing nations.â€
These views were expressed by Dr. Khurshid A. Qureshi, the main architect and initiator of the Digital Innovation Competition and Exhibition (DICE) while talking to News and Views. Dr. Qureshi was recently visiting Pakistan in connection with the DICE 2011 held at University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar.
A visionary leader and a true patriot, he has been working hard to create a culture of innovation in Pakistan. Working closely with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and universities in Pakistan for over 12 years now, he has been very instrumental in bringing free high-tech software worth millions of dollars to several major universities.
â€œCreating a culture of innovation is our long-term vision, which requires revolution at all levels including not only universities but also colleges, vocational institutes and high schools.
This is not something unique we are doing, every developed nation of the world has adopted the same strategy,â€ says Dr. Qureshi who is a renowned Systems Engineering Expert based in USA and is currently working for a technology company as a Senior Technical Fellow. Prior to that, he has worked for Ford Motor Company as KBE and Systems specialist for more than 12 years. He has a PhD from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor USA, MBA from Xavier University USA and is a graduate of NED University and IBA Karachi.
Giving the example of USA, Dr. Qureshi emphasized that it is only because of innovation culture that the country has been ruling the world in almost every field of life.
â€œInnovations in mass production in automotive industry, like Ford and General Motors, resulted in generation of tons of wealth for the nation. Similarly, through innovation, they brought revolution in aerospace and defense sectors. Then In the mid of 20 century the computer revolution started and US also took a lead in that area. Yahoo, Apple and Google, are just a few other examples, which have been generating tons of wealth for the nation through innovations. But the question is why these innovations donâ€™t come from somewhere else.â€
He said that the power of innovation is such that you make one new product and the nation can become self-sufficient, but that is impossible until a culture of innovation is fostered and that too systematically. â€œThen we must also remember that this process of innovation needs to be speedy because nations around the world now know its significance and are putting their best efforts to take the lead. And for that, use of digital technologies, instead of traditional techniques, is indispensable.â€
Elaborating the history of DICE in Pakistan, Dr. Qureshi said that first time it was held at the College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, NUST in 2007.
â€œThough we managed to attract o nl y a f e w universities and the i n d u s t r y participation was also limited, still I would say it was a good event to begin with.
In 2008, DICE was organized at NED Karachi, where participation from universities improved.
However, 2009 was the pivotal year of DICE success when it was held at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Lahore. Over 35 major universities from all over the country participated and 65 projects were exhibited.
Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry came on board and even some of the media channels wanted to become strategic partners. The 2010 DICE at Institute of Space
Technology saw a significant representation of the industry and several MoUs were signed.â€
â€œLast but not the least, 2011 event at UET Peshawar was also a big success in terms of university and industry participation. Governor KPK inaugurated the event and appreciated the concept. Even politicians and bureaucrats took great interest in the whole activity. So I think that the inertia has broken and things have really moved on since our humble beginning in 2007.â€
He said that during 2011 event, a separate fund was allocated to support the top projects of the exhibition every year, which will help faculty and teams to develop their concepts into commercial products. â€œDuring his visit, Dr. Sohail Naqvi also appreciated the projects and committed HECâ€™s funding for the top innovative projects.â€
Meanwhile, DICE chapter was also formed at UET Peshawar to provide universities a platform for local events.
â€œWe will have chapter events every year, most probably in April or May and the mega event will be held around December. We are planning to create more chapters so that academia-industry linkage is promoted at regional level.â€ Another exciting initiative of Dr. Qureshi is DICE Innovation Portal, which he will soon be launching in collaboration with COMSATS (CIIT) Islamabad, who have developed the Portal. It will be a virtual match making forum for industry and academia, and a directory of research projects being undertaken in different universities throughout the country.
â€œAll students and faculty members may become its members.
They will be able to place their projects online. Industry from around the world will be able to become its members. Initially academia participation will be limited to Pakistan so that the country benefits ultimately.
Using portal, industry members will be able to send queries, which will be routed to appropriate members from academia, specialized in that field. Hence university researchers will be able to know and work on real industry needs. So we are holding events to create an innovation culture and then bringing in tools to facilitate its implementation.â€
Dr. Qureshi said that the UET Taxila will hold DICE 2012 while the University of Gujrat has reserved its place for the 2013 event. Starting 2012, in addition to engineering, DICE will be open to all domains and disciplines such as social sciences, physical sciences, medical sciences, arts and humanities.
â€œThough we are far from true academia-industry linkage, still I can say with certainty that we have got on to the right track and things have begun to change.â€