Sheba with her award

Celebrating hard work and achievement through awards and recognition is always exciting. But when those accolades involve civic innovation and promoting transparency in government, it signals change from the grassroots to the highest levels. It takes a village and a woman of substance to stir up some magic.

Sheba Najmi is the founder of Code for Pakistan (CfP), a civic technology organization. For those unfamiliar with the term, civic technology is about co-creating solutions with the help of the community and government to optimize public services. Put simply, it changes old ways of doing things, replacing them with new-age digital solutions that are much more efficient.

When I first met Sheba, her radiant smile immediately stood out. Our introduction came via a Google Meet interview as I was venturing back into the workforce after a few years of hiatus. A fading spark rekindled within me when I read the job description for the role 'eager to bring about meaningful change'----. That, coupled with Sheba’s enthusiasm, told me this would be a fun ride.

You seem eager to contribute positively to Pakistan, and that's exactly what we do.

As I learned more about CfP's work, my exasperation with the state of affairs in the country changed. Let me expand on that. CfP is all about getting the ball rolling. The team has this energy and positivity about enabling government culture change, bridging gaps between government and citizens, and up-skilling people to optimize public service processes. From 'no one does anything in this country,' I was learning and writing about government change makers I couldn't believe still existed. At home, my dinner table conversations changed. It was such a breath of fresh air.

After six and a half years at Yahoo!, Sheba joined a year-long public service Fellowship Program at Code for America in 2012. Taking a significant pay cut, she experienced the impact and role technology could play in bridging gaps between government and citizens. Internalizing her learnings, Sheba realized the need and importance of replicating the same success back home.

Sabeen, Jehan Ara and Sheba at Pakistan's first civic Hackathon, Karachi 2013. Image by: Sheba Najmi 

In 2013, Sheba tested her hypothesis at Karachi's T2F cafe with the mantra, 'Lead with people, not problems.' A call to applications set the stage for Pakistan's first civic hackathon. Curious government officials and ordinary citizens made their way up the spiral staircase at T2F. That weekend, maybe for the first time, they worked together to hack ideas to explore new solutions to the city's old problems.

"There were so many people who came to T2F that day. Doctors, developers, designers, and citizens came together to brainstorm about city-related problems and find tech-based solutions. It was a no-brainer... we needed our own 'Code for Pakistan'".

Today, over 500 government officials have benefited from CfP's work, learning more efficient and time-saving ways of working. The fellowship program has upskilled hundreds of ordinary citizens to partake and improve the government's ecosystem. This year, with the launch of the 8th cycle, this program continues to work with the government to address key problems. Civic Innovation Labs serve as a hotbed for innovative solutions to real-world problems faced by Pakistani citizens. Apps like Raabta and Muhafiz are a few of the examples of these citizen-centric platforms being used to leverage technology and build trust and transparency with public services.

As Lao Tzu famously said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step"

Eleven years later, Sheba is riding the waves with the same passion and vision to build better, stronger systems that will change Pakistan's public service delivery perception. There is infectious energy around every project we take on. Sheba continues to inspire a growing number of citizens to join the civic technology movement in Pakistan. CfP's doors are always open to those who wish to make a difference in their communities and bring about meaningful changes to government culture.

HUM Awards 2024 - Group Photo

Sheba at the Hum Women Leaders Awards with President Arif Alvi, CEO of HUM News network Sultana Siddiqui, and women changemakers. Photo by: HUM News Network

For the past five years, HUM TV has championed women's empowerment through the HUM Women Leader Awards. This prestigious initiative recognizes and celebrates the extraordinary contributions and achievements of iconic women from Pakistan and worldwide.

From Ayesha Jalal to Karen Armstrong, Lieutenant General (R) Nigar Johar, and Malala Yousafzai, to Princess Sarvath Al Hassan, the recipients of this award mirror hard work and substance. They've set a high bar that inspires others to believe anything is possible with hard work and determination.

So when Sheba was nominated for this prestigious award, it felt like a collective win for the team! 

For those familiar with CfP's work, watching Sheba walk up to the stage was an incredibly emotional moment. From tears of pride and joy, the congratulatory messages pouring in tugged at the heartstrings. As Sheba walked up to the stage to receive the honor, the entire CfP team erupted in cheers from their living rooms. This collective joy stemmed from an intimate understanding of all the hard work behind her journey.

When digital technologies intersect with civic life, they can impact a small community or an entire nation. It speaks of civic technology's potential as a catalyst for change in government culture and citizen engagement. The journey itself is never glamorous but one filled with many roadblocks that are overcome to ultimately receive recognition. This award recognizes the change women with a vision and the ability to inspire and lead can make to the social fabric of society. Ultimately, it is a win for all of us at CfP. We hope to continue to nurture Pakistan by rewriting the narrative around citizen engagement in public service delivery and empowering communities by connecting them as one nation. One day, we hope to see this award translate into a future where more women can get involved with STEM and civic technology. This one is for the women of Pakistan. 

Inspired by Sheba's story? Watch the awards ceremony and re-live the red carpet-highlights!

Feeling the urge to get involved? We want to hear from you! Drop us a line at info@codeforpakistan.org and become a part of shaping Pakistan's future through the power of civic technology.