Monday Jun 21, 2021
While the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is full of talented scientists, researchers, investors, and innovators who deserve to be lauded for their achievements, as far as the stereotype goes, it's a man's world. But despite the challenges associated with gender imbalance in STEM fields, women from across the globe continue to come forward and make a mark every year.
One such name is Mariam Nusrat, a Pakistani entrepreneur who is using the power of video games to inspire social change. Nusrat has made it to the Forbes Next 1000 list, a year-round initiative that showcases the ambitious sole proprietors, self-funded shops, and pre-revenue startups in the United States — all with under $10 million in revenue or funding and infinite drive and hustle.
Nusrat is the founder of GRID (Gaming Revolution for International Development). Through her startup, which is in its sixth year, she successfully leads an interdisciplinary team of Pakistan-based game developers and designers.
Her inclusion in the Forbes list is not only a moment of pride for herself and her family, but the Government of Pakistan has also appreciated her achievement, calling her the "Pride of Pakistan."
Geo.tv recently got a chance to catch up with Nusrat, who currently lives in Washington DC. Here are a few excerpts from her interview in which she talks about her background, the idea behind GRID, how it all started, the importance of women's equal representation in STEM fields, and her plans for the future.
Nusrat founded GRID at the age of 28 to unleash the power of video games and use them to educate, engage, and empower people.
"Having grown up playing games such as Sim City, I knew games leave an impression on our brains that transcends the boundaries of the virtual world," said Nusrat, who holds a master’s degree in economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) as well as from the George Washington University in the United States.
"I always thought if games related to building cities could teach urban planning, then why can't they be used to promote awareness about issues such as climate action, women’s rights and equality, education, and animal welfare?"
According to Nusrat, GRID is all about changing how video games are created and used. Video games are powerful communication tools, she says, so there is an opportunity to leverage this tool for a purpose beyond entertainment.
Nusrat added that purposeful video games — those that have a goal beyond entertainment — have immense potential to influence industries like education, marketing, and training. However, the world does not see that happening very often.
"That's because making video games is costly, complicated, and clunky. But for the last seven years, GRID has been building low-cost mobile games to inspire positive behavioural change."
Under its not-for-profit arm, GRID has developed a total of eight portfolio games in four languages.
"We have created games on reproductive health, climate change, pandemics, animal welfare, and STEM learning. Some of our games are in the pipeline to raise awareness about child abuse, financial literacy, and skills for the future," she revealed.
On the other hand, under its for-profit arm, GRID is currently building Breshna — a platform that creates video games with "no-code, at low cost, and lightning speed."
Explaining her choice of word for the venture, Nusrat said that the term 'Breshna' means lightning in her mother tongue of Pashto.
"Breshna empowers anyone, with no coding or design experience, to create their video games for educational, marketing, and training purposes. Whether it is a teacher making a history quiz, a not-for-profit leader making a brochure on animal compassion, or a founder making a pitch deck, everyone could leverage Breshna to create fun and interactive video games to engage their audience. Say goodbye to that quiz, brochure, or slide deck and say hello to purposeful video games!"
GRID has raised $75,000 of pre-seed funds from 11 Tribes Ventures, a Chicago-based venture capital and private equity firm, while the startup is also backed by Ocean Accelerator.
"We are continuing to raise venture funding as we build GRID into a unicorn!" Nusrat enthused.
Shedding light on the importance of women's equal representation in STEM fields, which is still, for the most part, dominated by males across the world, Nusrat said that she is a big proponent of greater diversity in STEM fields.
"Women belong in all walks of life and it breaks my heart to see many of them self-selecting themselves out of STEM fields," said Nusrat.
"We have to address our imposter syndrome upfront. Questions like 'Am I good enough?' or 'Do I belong in this industry?' espouse feelings of self-doubt, which compels women to shy away from unleashing their full potential in their professional careers."
"For all such women, I have two words: You belong!"
When asked about the challenges she faced before her hard work bore fruit, Nusrat said that her journey towards success was not easy as there were several hurdles in the way. However, the entrepreneur said she doesn't believe in giving up.
"As a woman of colour with a non-tech background and being a solo founder trying to enter the video games industry, I had the odds stacked against me," she said.
"And while these odds are significant, they don’t disqualify me from the race and that’s what matters! As long as I’m in the arena, I believe passion, purpose, and perseverance will get me closer to my goals."
She said her favourite quote is: "Why can’t ‘run like a girl' mean ‘win the race’? We owe it to ourselves, our country, and our future generations to win the race!"
Nusrat said that she attributes her success to many people, including her family, friends, collaborators, investors, and the GRID team.
"[I am] especially grateful to my brother and the company's Chief Operating Officer, Rizwan Nusrat," she said.
She, however, said her father, Nusrat Ullah Khan, had always been her biggest inspiration.
"I was ten when my baba came back from work and sat me down for a little talk. He wrapped his fingers around mine, made a fist, and told me...the world is in your hands. While I have received (and forgotten) my fair share of parental advice, there was something about the certainty in his tone that stuck with me. Throughout my life, I have truly believed that if I put my entire passion, effort, creativity, and existence behind something, there is no goal that I cannot reach (Insha Allah)," she said.
Sharing the experience of being included in the Forbes Next 1000 list, Nusrat said that she is "immensely grateful and humbled" for the opportunity.
"Moments like these are a testament to the passion, purpose, and perseverance that my team and I have poured into GRID but they also serve as the perfect refuelling stations along the entrepreneurial journey," she said.
"It’s a time to pause, celebrate the win, and then return to our mission, with renewed commitment and conviction. This is just the beginning and we are thrilled about the potential of our journey."
According to Nusrat, the vision of her startup is to unleash the power of video games to bring forth a positive change.
"We are launching Breshna on July 16th with a game jam that anyone around the world can participate in for free!"
Here is the link: https://breshna.gamingfordev.com
"Shoot your shot!" said Nusrat, when asked if she has a message for fellow females, particularly Pakistani women, who aspire to become tech entrepreneurs.
"Ideas are plenty, execution is what sets apart the doers from the thinkers!" she said. "If you have an idea to solve a pain point that you see in the world, the only scenario where you 'fail' is the one where you do nothing about it."
She also suggested women stopped allowing their gender, educational background, income status, or the colour of their skin to hold them back from becoming the best version of themselves.
"All successful entrepreneurial journeys boil down to passion, purpose, and perseverance!" she reiterated.
If you are interested in GRID's work, follow it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook: @gamingfordev