The brave Pakistani woman who changed video gaming landscape with her startup, GRID

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June 9, 2015
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Stories beyond the border is a TechJuice’s exclusive feature in which we will be interviewing and getting insights from some of the exceptional Pakistanis from abroad, who are making us proud through their work.

“The only game you should make is a cooking game.”
“You are delusional if you think you can change the gaming landscape.”

She was shocked at this blunt response for her startup idea, Gaming Revolution for International Development (GRID) and being a strong-headed Pakistani woman living in Washington DC did not help her case either. However, she was raised as a confident independent woman which helped her face social pressure with resilience. She has already achieved two additional feats since TechJuice conducted her interview a few weeks ago. She has graduated with her 2nd Master’s degree from George Washington University and she has won the Andrew Rice Award for “passion, commitment, creativity and impact in the international development field”. She did all this while working on her startup, GRID. She is a real life example of her favorite quote, “Why can’t ‘run like a girl’ mean win the race?” She is Mariam Adil, founder of GRID.

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Mariam was among the top five finalists who were selected from around 700 teams and 1000 students at Clinton Global Initiative. She felt overwhelmed as she presented her idea on stage in a room full of influential personalities including the Clinton family. Mariam took out time early morning on a weekend to share the story of GRID with TechJuice.

GRID Clinton Initiative

Mariam Adil (extreme right) on stage alongside Bill Clinton and other four finalists at Clinton Global Initiative 2015.

When Mariam applied for Clinton Global Initiative last year, GRID was just an idea for developing low-cost digital games that invoke social and behavioral change among users. Additionally, GRID was a way to help simulate the challenges faced in designing, implementing and monitoring of the development projects. This year, GRID has grown out of the idea phase gaining plenty of traction from digital media.

Mariam works with the World Bank as an Economist Consultant with the Africa Education team. She has been involved in various developmental projects over the past years. She recognized the ineffectiveness of the development projects and believed that there is a communication gap between project managers and the target audience like in India, citizens were using mosquito nets as bed nets for fishing. Somehow, the development projects in India were not communicating the benefits of mosquito nets properly.

There was a problem at hand but what was the solution for it? Mariam had a very simple answer for it – video games. She explained that gaming has been used for learning purposes for quite a while now but using the same medium for behavioral change is a relatively new idea. Video games have a negative stigma associated with them since they have a bad reputation for invoking violence and objectifying women. But at the same time, video games can act as a powerful change element for development projects in different regions around the world.

This is how GRID came into existence. Randomania was the first game designed as a training tool for development workers of the World Bank. This was not released commercially but was only meant for training in various World Bank projects.

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Stereowiped is the second game developed at GRID which was meant for a wider audience to break common stereotypes around us. A player needs to match two options based on popular stereotypes and then the app displays the true facts regarding the misconception. For example, if you matched girls with pink color then you will be surprised to know that most girls prefer blue color. The game breaks the stereotype mentality of the user. Mariam told TechJuice that she will also bring out sequels of Stereowiped related to African-America and Pakistani-American people.

Clinton Global Initiative was a turning point for GRID since the startup received media coverage and acquired four major projects under the domain of social development through games. Mariam explained the projects briefly saying that they intend to develop games for low-cost Android devices for the poorest of the poor nation. All projects will aim at developmental change e.g. science and math games for young kids in Gambia, proper toilet usage in India and games designed to eliminate corruption and bringing law & order in Pakistan etc.

Mariam feels proud to have a diligent team working for her from Islamabad as she continues to grow her network in USA. She believes that earning in US dollars and spending in Pakistani rupee has helped her build GRID on an international platform. Currently, GRID is bootstrapped with her own income and the prize money from various business plan competition that her startup has won. The startup was awarded “Best Social Venture” prize at George Washington Business Plan Competition and The George Washington University Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning. She has been offered investing opportunities but she has not yet gone for any investment or equity options yet, but she may consider it in a long run.

GRID has won many accolades in a very short period even when one of its product has not been released commercially while the other one was a recent launch on iTunes. Therefore, it will not be the right time to judge the popularity of the startup among a wider genre of the audience. We believe that GRID has every reason to be successful, but then there exist many startups who came and went in a flash. We will have to wait for another year or so to truly judge the potential of the startup.

As we signed off, Mariam encouraged Pakistani entrepreneurs who are living abroad to leverage opportunities for talented Pakistani youth back home. She suggested Pakistani women to choose a mentor whether male or female who can guide on their path to entrepreneurship since having the right support helps in dealing with unfavourable situations.

If you know any Pakistani living abroad and making us proud through tech entrepreneurship, feel free to refer, we will cover on TechJuice.

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