Dr. Umar Saif is a computer scientist and entrepreneur, who is known for his work on using ICT solutions for developing-world problems. He has established one of the first start up incubators in Pakistan, called the Saif Center of Innovation (SCI). Dr. Saif’s work on grassroots technologies received the MIT Technovator Award in 2008 and he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010.
In August 2011, the MIT Technology Review named Dr. Saif among its list of the 35 "World’s Top Young Innovators for the year 2011." The list recognises the works of the world’s top young innovators that are radically transforming technology. It was also the first time in the past decade that a Pakistani had been featured. By featuring in the list, Dr. Saif now joins an elite group of researchers and technologists including the likes of Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Dr. Umar Saif attended Aitchison College, Lahore, Pakistan. This was followed by three years at Lahore University of Management Sciences where he studied for his BSc in Computer Science. He received his PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge when he was only 22 years old. Dr. Saif worked and taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 2001–2005 before moving back to Pakistan. At MIT, he worked at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory where he was part of the core team that developed system technologies for the $50 Million Project Oxygen.
He also managed the $5 Million collaboration between University of Cambridge and MIT, funded by Cambridge-MIT Institute, on Pervasive Computing technologies. Saif’s work on Pervasive Computing received the prestigious Mark Weiser Award in 2008.
Dr. Saif is a tenured Associate Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and Engineering. The university is modeled along the lines of the world's leading tech universities such as MIT and Caltech and is expected to produce a new generation of scientists and engineers, to help transform the economic and technical landscape of Pakistan. At LUMS, Saif runs the Dritte Initiative, focused on using technology to solve the problems in the developing-world. Saif’s research in ICTD is funded by a Microsoft Research Digital Inclusion Award and a grant by the US State Department in collaboration with the TIER group at UC Berkeley.
Dr. Saif and his students developed BitMate, a BitTorrent client designed for the low-bandwidth clients in the developing-world. BitMate has been downloaded more than 30,000 times by users from 173 countries. BitMate doubles the performance of low-bandwidth clients while drastically improving their fairness (upload capacity) by enabling low-bandwidth peers to help each other download faster.
Dr. Saif has co-founded several startups at his incubator SCI. Two of his startups have played an important role in supporting civil society during political turbulence and natural disasters in the recent times in Pakistan. He has co-founded See 'n' report, Pakistan’s first citizen journalism service, during the political turmoil and subsequent media bans at the tail-end of the Musharraf era. Amidst media bans, See`n`report was used by civil society activists to report eyewitness accounts, using their cell-phones, during the historic lawyer’s movement.
See`n`Report’s platform is now used by leading news and TV channels in Pakistan and elsewhere to run citizen journalism initiatives, including Geo TV (GeoDost) and Samaa TV (iSamaa). See`n`report was used by reporters and NGOs to report events live during the massive floods in Pakistan in 2010. Dr. Saif is also the co-founder of ChOpaal.pk, Pakistan’s first mobile social network. ChOpaal (now called SMSall) is one of the fastest growing SMS networks in Pakistan, used by hundreds of thousands of people to stay in touch, coordinate relief efforts and enable mobile communities. Over 4 Billion SMS have been sent using SMSall in Pakistan.
In Nov 2011, Dr. Umar Saif was appointed as the Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and Secretary IT of the Government of Punjab, Pakistan. In this role, Dr. Saif is responsible for all public-sector IT projects in Punjab, including e-governance, capacity-building of the IT industry, IT-enabled citizen services and IT R&D in universities in Punjab.
During his tenure as Chairman of the Punjab IT Board, Dr. Saif launched several initiatives aimed at improving citizen services for police, high-courts, city district government and health. He also led the development of Punjab Innovation Policy in collaboration with Google Inc and launched Plan-9, Pakistan's first public-sector startup incubator.
Following are Dr. Saif's Awards and Recognitions:
2011 Google Faculty Research Award
2011 MIT TR35: World Top 35 Young Innovators
2010 Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum
2008 MIT Technovator Award (Grassroot Technologies)
2008 IDG Technology Pioneer Award
2008 IEEE Percom Mark Weiser Award
2006 Microsoft Research (MSR) Digital Inclusion Award
2001 Fellow, Cambridge Commonwealth Trust
1998 National Commonwealth Scholar, University of Cambridge