Pakistan's Laraib Abid impresses Bill and Melinda Gates Institute with her app

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Laraib Abid presents her digital poster at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada, where her Bridge the Gap by Mashal mobile application on reproductive health won the Idea Award presented by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, on June 4th, 2019 (Image courtesy Laraib Abid)
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Abid's idea bagged the win from over 8,000 applicants from 165 nations. She is one of six winners of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute's Ingenuity Fund. Picture taken on June 9th, 2019 (Image courtesy Laraib Abid)
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The Women Deliver Conference calls on women across the globe to submit solutions to modern-day problems affecting their nations. Abid sees her win as one for Pakistan. Picture taken on June 6th, 2019 (Image courtesy Laraib Abid)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Pakistan's Laraib Abid impresses Bill and Melinda Gates Institute with her app

  • Wins the award from among 8000 candidates from over 160 countries
  • Her app, Bridge the Gap, is now available for free download on Android

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Laraib Abid, 27, won an award presented by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health for her mobile app, “Bridge the Gap by Mashal.” Abid, a social worker, who is the founder of Mashal Foundation, submitted her idea for a competition held by the institute titled, “120 under 40: The New Generation of Family Planning Leaders,” which took place in Vancouver, Canada, between June 3rd and 6th of this year.
The competition brought together innovators under 40 years of age from different parts of the world, helping them share fresh approaches to family planning in their individual nations.
Abid’s digital poster was displayed and chosen as winner among more than 8,000 applicants from over 160 countries. “I submitted my poster after seeing an open call for submissions online,” she told Arab News. “I had no expectation of going in, but the entire competition has benefits such as people in [the reproductive and family planning] field getting to see, understand and ask you questions about your idea. And to win? The biggest benefit was getting to represent Pakistan.”
Abid presented a technological approach to reaching Pakistanis via her proposed mobile application, Bridge the Gap by Mashal, which is geared toward youth and women. The app is an all-encompassing approach to family planning and putting knowledge in the hands of its users, dealing with contraceptive education, pinned locations on maps for where users can go in person to speak with medical professionals and clinics, and even a built-in directory with numbers for psychological support. It is also Pakistan’s first-ever mobile application dealing with family planning.
“My heart was literally dancing when I heard my name and realized I’d won the award,” Abid told Arab News. “I basked in the moment and geared up for what comes next: implementation and follow through. I want the best for Pakistan, I want Pakistan to move forward and for these issues to be tackled. So, to be a part of any first step in that direction feels incredible, making me feel like we are treading the right path.”
“As I continue my career side by side [with this], I want to take Pakistan with me, grow our opportunities and open our minds to infinite possibilities,” said Abid. “Whether it encourages my students to go into entrepreneurship or starting their own NGOs, we can do it and we must do it.”
Born and raised in Lahore where she later got her Bachelor’s degree in Social and Cultural Studies from the University of Punjab, Abid got involved in social work in her early 20s, volunteering and working with a number of NGOs before launching Mashal, her non-profit focusing on women’s reproductive and sexual health in addition to gender equality and education, in 2014.
Abid, who also lectures at her alma mater, told Arab News how social work became a fulltime passion for her, particularly when it came to helping marginalized communities, such as women and transgender persons, get access to health. “Being a teacher means that the opportunities and avenues to broaden the minds of your students are largely in your control and it’s something that I wish my teachers had done when I was studying,” said Abid. “While teaching my social work projects kept coming, whether they were gender-related or focused on reproductive health.”
Abid always considered social sensitivities and local cultural context while working on women’s rights and creating awareness on health issues, making it possible for her to secure funding for Mashal from high-profile sources like the US Department of International Research and Exchange Board. The money helped her assist the transgender community and other minorities with health issues.
Her work in this realm was also awarded in 2017 when she took home the Emerging Young Women Leader award that was given by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies.
Bridge the Gap is now available for free download on Android phones.


Islamabad administration invites beggars, trans people to join campaign to ban plastic

Updated 23 August 2019
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Islamabad administration invites beggars, trans people to join campaign to ban plastic

  • Deputy commissioner proposes that marginalized groups sell paper and fabric bags instead of begging on the streets
  • Local government banned the manufacture, sale and distribution of plastic carrier bags last week

ISLAMABAD: The deputy commissioner of Pakistan’s federal capital has invited beggars and transgender persons to sell paper and fabric bags instead of seeking alms around the city, thus helping the Ministry of Climate Change implement its decision to ban plastic bags.
The Islamabad local government banned the manufacture, sale, and distribution of plastic carrier bags last week, on the country’s independence day, as part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “Clean, Green Pakistan” campaign.
The new ban follows a three-month-long campaign to raise awareness about the environmental hazards of plastic bags, which can kill wildlife, block drainage systems, collect in waterways and cause other environmental and health problems.
“We have invited transgender people and beggars to sell paper bags – or any type of biodegradable shopping bags – in the city,” Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, Islamabad’s deputy commissioner, told Arab News on Friday. “We will neither charge them rental or license fee nor impose a fine on them. They can also set up makeshift stalls after informing us at a location of their choice.”
Shafqaat is spearheading the awareness campaign against plastic bags in Islamabad and said involving beggars and transgender persons in the administration’s campaign against plastic would also help them earn a decent living.
“Our local administration’s new policy has widely been welcomed by the public,” the official said. “This is because our aim is also to help these marginalized segments and make them contribute toward a clean and green country.”
Pakistan is on its way to becoming the 128th country in the world that will end the use of non-biodegradable material made from various types of polymers that are harmful to the environment. It is ranked number seven on the index of climate change.
In an interview to Arab News just days before the ban came into effect, State Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul said: “We want Pakistan to be plastic-free because it is a burden on our environment.”
She also added that Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to the world that it was “contributing to green initiatives.”