Experiencing Pakistan at HBS

On the evening of Tuesday, January 29th, in the Spangler Williams Room, HBS students hosted a fundraising event tagged “Experience Pakistan and Help Children Dream.”

A mix of aromas, both sweet and savory, wafted about as people enjoyed delicious Kashmiri chai (tea) and kebab rolls. The soft chatter of old and new friends could be heard against the backdrop of melodious Pakistani rhythms. The occasion: an event tagged, “Experience Pakistan and Help Children Dream,” the first Pakistani event of its kind in the history of HBS.

More than 200 people gathered in Williams Room at the Harvard Business School between 4:00-7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29th. Co-hosted by the Islamic Society and SABA (South Asian Business Association), the event gave all in attendance the opportunity to experience Pakistan’s unique heritage and culture first-hand. Hundreds of items from the villages of Sindh to the beautiful valleys of Chitral were on display, Pakistani cuisine was prepared live by chefs dressed in Pakistani garb, and newly-wed Usman Waheed (ND) and his bride Amina Alavi made a grand entrance in full Pakistani wedding attire. The event also showcased Boston’s renowned henna artist, Sue Murad as well as rising Pakistani artist, Arooj Aftab, whose music has been described by the Boston Globe as “ethereal, crossing boundaries.” Breathtaking photographs of Pakistan, traditional Sindhi throws (called ajraks) and traditional handicrafts adorned the room.

The event brought together students, faculty and alumni from across Harvard (KSG, HMS, etc.), as well as guests from neighboring universities. Members of the broader Pakistani and Asian communities of Greater Boston also attended, including members of PAGB (Pakistani Association of Greater Boston) and OPEN (Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs). The event’s platinum sponsor was Ammana Custom Home Builders, co-owned by a Boston-based female Pakistani HBS alum. TRG World, Servis Pakistan, and Atlas Group Pakistan – all immensely successful and fast-growing organizations in Pakistan (also led by HBS alums) – were gold sponsors.

The event was a collective effort of Pakistani HBS students and their friends, as well as volunteers from both KSG and MIT. The leadership and vision for the event may be credited to a current RC student, Umaimah Mendhro (NJ), who wished not only to share with the community an authentic view of Pakistan, but also to raise funds for an organization she co-founded, called dreamfly: The organization’s first project is to build a world-class primary school campus in the Pakistani village of Akri – a place Umaimah calls home. Umaimah shared with me her remarkable personal journey from the village of Akri all the way to HBS, and explained why she’s determined to change the course of the future for the children of her village.

Q&A with Event Chair and Dreamfly Co-Founder, Umaimah Mendhro

Q: What inspired you to start dreamfly?

A: Akri is my home-village. It’s where my father was born, where I first learned how to ride a tractor and install mosquito nets around hand-woven cots. It’s where my brother and I raced ponies on the dirt roads and rode motor-bikes and bullock-carts to nearby (barren) fields and villages. As I grew older, the differences between me and Akri started to become stark – acutely painfully stark. After being home-schooled in Badin for many years, I made my way to Cornell University, then to Microsoft, and now to Harvard Business School. Akri, however, stayed the same, with barren fields and dirt-roads that lead to nowhere and people who don’t want to go anywhere or become anyone. This is true of all the men and women I have met in Akri.

However, when I visited Akri last year, I found children excitedly relaying to me their dreams – ambitious, imaginative dreams of becoming someone, of flying to places unknown, of curing people, of ending wars, of saving the world! These are children for whom the reality of Akri has not yet set in. More than anything, I wanted to take each child of Akri in my make sure their dreams never die. That’s when I called on a friend from Microsoft and together we founded dreamfly.

We’re engaging with the local community and collaborating with The Citizens Foundation (TCF) who will manage the ongoing operations and management of the dreamfly school.

Q: How did you get started with The Citizens Foundation (TCF)?

A: We decided to collaborate with TCF on this initiative after having worked with them very closely on an initiative out of Microsoft to build a school in the earth-quake affected areas of Kashmir. Microsoft, recognizing TCF for the tremendous impact of its work, matches every employee-donated dollar. Last year I worked at TCF as their Chief Strategy Officer, reporting to the CEO and working very closely with their board of directors, and developed immense respect and trust for the organization. TCF currently manages over 450 schools educating over 55,000 students across Pakistan and Kashmir. The organization has won many accolades and honors for their work particularly for their financial and operations management and transparency.

Q: How are the fundraising efforts for the dreamfly school coming along so far?

A: We have accumulated over $50,000 in donations thus far (including $10,000 collected at the HBS event) and need to raise another $50,000 to complete the project.

Q: How can we contribute to the dreamfly effort?

A: We really hope to partner with and use the brainpower of all our amazing friends and colleagues at HBS. We need help with fundraising, planning, communications management and database management, among other things. If you are able to donate your time or expertise, you can simply email us at or Our most critical need, of course, is the additional $50,000 to complete the school. Donations can be made online by following the “How you can Help” link on We are also set up to take cash and checks. All donations are tax-exempt and go to TCF USA, which is a 501(C)(3) accredited organization.

Let’s together take these children on a surreal journey to make their every purposeful desire and positive ambition a reality. Let’s create positive change wherever we can today – one village, one state, one country at a time.

February 25, 2008
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