Team Pakistan goes to Chinese Taipei.
I promise this is my last APICTA post. No more. Everything else at work has been on hold since mid-November and this whole APICTA focus needs to shift to the other 99% of my life and work — so cross my heart, last post, this year, promise.
The best stories tell themselves. Sure a box of Mars, a few gallons of hot chocolate and coffee help with storytelling but the best of them, the very best just roll out of the box ready to be told.
And so it was with Team Pakistan’s participation at the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) Awards in Chinese Taipei last week. I have been very fortunate to be a part of the APICTA delegation for a decade now and my one big challenge every year has been to figure out a way to show the world what we achieve at APICTA. The atmosphere, the high’s and lows, the competitiveness and brilliance of the participants and the generosity of our hosts every year in making sure that the 4 days we spend at APICTA are often the most memorable days of that year. Of how big a deal it is that a handful of technology teams, young men and women, improve Pakistan’s image and perception every year in the power corridors of Far East.
I had always wanted to show the world the trans-formative impact of APICTA on our companies and teams. Of a journey filled with hope, with effort, with heartbreak, friendship and pride. While the teams and faces change every year the stories remain the same.
This year we came prepared.
We were lucky to have Abrar ul Hassan from Morango films and 60 second film festival as a participant in December 2016. Abrar did an initial briefing for the team where he explained how we could use our cell phone cameras to shoot HD quality clips that could later be used in short documentaries. While sound is an issue with standard phones, one could still shoot parts of the B roll with the phone. I was surprised to learn that a number of news channels including BBC were now using iPhones in the field to shoot broadcast quality footage.
We took slightly different routes to Taipei but Abrar kept on shooting the trip and on the way back after seeing him in action we did too. A lot of the really cool footage you see in the documentary wouldn’t be possible without Abrar’s efforts, briefings and encouragement. Thanks to Abrar this is the first time in a decade that we can actually share a flavor of what it is like to be at APICTA. To let you see the reasons why we think the event and our participation in it is special.
The 2016 APICTA Awards were also special because this is the year where young startups showed up in strength in the qualifying rounds and then later for our wild card entries. The closest we had been to this level of participation was in 2010 in Kula Lumpur where we came back with 7 silvers. Of the 28 teams representing Pakistan this year more than half comprised of products and businesses that were less than three years old. Seven of the nine winners for Pakistan were young students, entrepreneurs and startups. Our youngest delegates this year were a team of 9 and 11 year olds from Lahore in the School Projects B category.
The footage shot by Abrar ul Hassan and Amin helped. The onset of flu and wheezing the day after we landed didn’t. The long weekend made it possible to fill in the empty canvas with four full days of story boarding, editing and cutting till I had something that I could screen for the family. But even after the first raw cuts were screened it took three days of finishing touches, retakes and additional shoots before the story came together. From beginning to end, 7 days is the fastest turnaround I have ever been able to do for a film of this length. With 7 sleepless nights behind my back, a three year old creaky laptop as the primary editing and rendering machine and Pinnacle Studio crashing after every 3 minutes during the final cuts, I turned into a raging manic psychopath. To prevent permanent brain damage, despite me being unhappy with it, the cuts had to end and the print had to ship.
Here is the really interesting bit. Everything you see in the film, PASHA’s APICTA initiative for the last 13 years has been privately funded by the industry association. Privately funded by our sponsors, our well-wishers and partners; believers who have always backed up and stood by us whenever we have needed them. This has not been a state sponsored, subsidized or funded initiative. It should have been but it is not.
Through sponsorship for the annual PASHA ICT Awards we raise money, we run the awards in a different city every year in Pakistan. We also use the proceeds to partially subsidize the trip for our winners and participants across all APICTA categories. Many delegates and a number of judges pay a large part of their expenses on their own. But PASHA’s partial subsidy is no way compensation for the effort they put in as part of the preparation process. As Jehan says again and again, no amount of thanks will be enough to express the gratitude of the industry to our flag bearers.
Over the years we have learnt that the best exchanges between economies at APICTA happen when we don’t just take nominees but also judges, economy coordinators and Exco members with us for the event. Our judges make it possible to get feedback on the performance of our entries from other judges. Exco members help set direction for future competitions and cement the impression made by our entries. Economy coordinators ensure that we put our best foot forward both in interacting with the host economies as well as with meeting the needs of our delegation. Remember it’s not just winners who make an impression. Every single team that represents Pakistan plays a part in how Pakistan is perceived in the Asia Pacific. Even when our teams don’t win, their performance is often discussed in the head judges meeting on the final day. Judges commend outstanding performances and make it a point to highlight efforts that fell just short of the winning goal post. There is no way to describe the pride we feel as judges when a fellow judge praises our teams, products and companies in front of other head judges and Exco members.
Economy coordinators also play a pivotal role in coordinating mentoring sessions with judges, with logistics and with our presence in events happening on the sidelines of APICTA. The APICTA experience comes together when we are able to build bridges with other economies, when we do introductions, connect and facilitate exchanges between like-minded companies on all sides. When we arrive as strangers and leave as friends.
Win or lose the experience changes you. We have always know that travel and international exposure changes and transforms lives. Entrepreneurs, startups and technology companies are no exception. Forget other teams, the awards create an atmosphere of being part of something special and the teams that share the competition and the journey leading up to awards night come back different — more savvy and mature, more driven and hungry.
Shooting, editing and cutting a documentary is one thing, naming it is another battle.
We walked around Chandni, Chand Tarary, Sitaray and Moonbeams. We liked Moonbeams — the soft light of a full moon that makes us wonder and romanticize about the source. Very similar to the impact our delegates and participants have far away from their home on their own, changing perception and image in new cities every day. But the name is still open. If you can think of a good one, please feel free to share it. For now the documentary remains nameless.
While I start with loving all of my work, by the time I am close to shipping it, I am ready to cancel the entire project. Nothing is ever good enough to ship or share with the world when it comes to creative expression. The film was no different.
I haven’t been able to do justice to Team Pakistan in the final cut. The big issue has been time on my side. Despite the effort put into the documentary and the coverage it was difficult to get hold of everyone in the last free day we had in Taipei. I really wanted to get hold of the three core judges that have done so much for team Pakistan over the last few years but we managed to exchange just a few words in our five days in Taiwan. Same thing goes for the two young stars from Lahore.
Stolen moments between rushed lunches, judging and mentoring slots are no justification. It was easier in Karachi but then I had to wrap up the shoot and get started with editing before the next scheduled trip took me out of town this Friday. The big misses are the two NUST teams, our merit winners in security with the IT Threat assessment platform and UBL Fund managers with imPro in Financial applications, our judges and the youngest delegates that represented Pakistan in Chinese Taipei. And that is not counting the one full stop, the two awkward lag and the inability to clean up the sound in some of the clips.
As always, the final cut is my responsibility. This is not the official documentary since Abrar ul Hassan at Morango films is working on that with the PASHA Social Media team. Any issues with expression, focus or sentiment are my issues.
Also remember feedback is a gift, no matter how awkward, blunt or painful it is. Please feel free to share it.