Mobiliti’s Quest: Building a Better more Abled World
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
By Nisha Oswal, Youth Co:Lab,
Seyyam shuffles down the lane to bowl, three fingers grip the seam of the cricket ball, feet skipping, body arching, he releases the ball spinning in the air, it lands left then darts right staying low, as it hurtles past the bat and pad of a baffled batsman and cracks into the wickets, sending the bails tumbling to the ground.
That was vintage Seyyam in his prime, an offspin bowler, a supreme athlete, and a potential prospect for Pakistan’s storied cricket team. But stories have a way of taking untold twists.
His friend Abrahim Ali Shah tells the tale that Seyyam, is unwilling to narrate even today, clinging to his privacy, and not wanting his last name used.
Abrahim and Seyyam were enrolled in the engineering program at the National University of Science and Technology, in Islamabad. As a fun project they decided to work on an automated gym trainer that could monitor Seyyam’s muscle activity, who they jokingly called a ‘gymaholic,’ due to his passion for fitness.
At the same time, 20-year-old, Idris Bhai who had lost both hands to electrocution, joined the engineering department as an assistant. Seeking a challenge, the two decided to engineer a prothesis for Idris’s upper limbs, using the same idea as the gym trainer.
They did not know it then, but it would turn out to be pivotal decision. While they worked on developing the prosthesis, Seyyam kept playing cricket and tutoring younger students. One day while travelling back from the tuition class on his motorbike, his younger sister riding pillion, they met with an accident.
While his sister escaped unhurt, Seyyam was injured badly, and had to be rushed to the hospital. When Abrahim saw him next in hospital, his left leg had been amputated.
What started out as a challenge to help an office boy with his disability, would morph into a mission, to make the best prosthetic for Seyyam, and lead to an entrepreneurial venture called Mobiliti.
Idris bhai with upper arm prosthetics
The WHO says, 80 percent of the world’s 40 million amputees live in developing countries, with little or no access to services.
Imported prosthetics are expensive, and as a result only 1 in 10 have a prosthetic device, leaving 80 to 90 percent unable to work, dependent on their families, and incapable of living normal lives. According to news reports, accidents and illnesses such as diabetes cause 200,000 amputations, annually.
According to studies, persons with disabilities are the most marginalized group in the Asia-Pacific region.
Women and girls with disabilities are most excluded from society, and disabled children and youth face overwhelming barriers, to participate in education and skill development programmes. And while most disabled persons are poor, few poverty alleviation programmes include provisions for their participation. Many are hindered by social, economic, cultural, and physical barriers, constraining movement, and the ability to fully engage in society.
In those early days after the accident, Seyyam was simply another statistic. He spent months hunting for a good prosthetic, says Abrahim. The only one that he could afford was the Sach foot - a basic prosthetic made of rubber and wood that still caused him to limp. His dreams of a cricket career dashed, Seyyam also dropped out of college.
He then suggested to Abrahim and his friends that they try to make him a better lower limb prosthesis. It would become their final-year engineering project.
As the friends worked on designing the prosthesis, they also began to realize the challenges faced by the disabled, in Pakistan and across the world. The products available in the market provided limited flexibility.
That’s when the project transitioned into a business idea. They called it Mobiliti. Its goal: to build affordable, high-quality prosthetics that could help transform the lives of disabled people and help them reintegrate into society.
They dug into the high-tech sensor system they were developing to measure Seyyam’s fitness in the gym, with the aim of developing high-tech, sensor-based, motor-powered, prosthetic solutions. The models were more efficient, says Abrahim, and 10 times cheaper than their competitors. Still, they were too expensive for most people.
So, the team switched to making mechanically intelligent, state of the art prosthetics that are “affordable, efficient, and enable people to achieve their full physical potential,” says Abrahim. The business model focuses on a ‘holistic approach’ and uses a sustainable manufacturing process to produce high performing prosthetics, using carbon fiber waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
To get Mobiliti up and running, the team tapped into a support network of friends and family and used prize money earned from competitions. Today, it is the first and only indigenous prosthetics manufacturer in Pakistan, that meets international standards and produces a unique Bionic Prosthetic Foot. The bionic foot that costs US $700 in the west, is sold by Mobiliti for less than US $100.
“Every time we roll out a prosthetic foot from our factory, we know it will change people's lives,” says Abrahim. “It's not just about the user it's about the people around them, their friends, their family, their parents, because when a person loses a limb an entire family loses a limb.”
As the company grows, it keeps creating jobs. It is supporting the highly skilled, local cottage industry in the city of Sialkot, enabling local artisans to adapt their sports equipment manufacturing skills to make prosthetics. So far, the company has filed 4 patents for rehabilitation devices designs, a testament to the innovative abilities of the team and its dedication to the cause.
Mobiliti’s business’s values are reflected in its workforce. About 20 percent of its staff are differently abled and its goal is to increase that number to at least 40 percent. It has forged partnerships with organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local hospitals, to serve even more people.
To date it has treated more than 1250 patients, and Abrahim says, their products have helped increased household incomes of users by up to 320 percent. They have used over 200 kilos of carbon fiber waste and generated revenue of about US $180,000, he adds. The aims it to bring at least 6000 disabled people out of poverty by 2022, and reach one million users by 2026, rehabilitating them so that they can gain better jobs.
Mobiliti’s success has resulted in Abrahim receiving the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia award in Healthcare and Science. The startup has been a part of several internationally renowned incubators and accelerators including the Accelerating Asia Flagship Programme, and Seedstars.
Among the top 5 winners of Impact Link: Social Enterprise Challenge 2020, Pakistan, Mobiliti is now receiving support in form of mentorship and incubation from the Springboard Programme of Youth Co:Lab, an initiative co led by UNDP and Citi Foundation.
With prosthetics from Mobiliti, Seyyam Nasir now plays cricket again. He also went back to university and completed his degree. Today he works as a junior engineer and teaches at one the most prestigious schools in Pakistan.
Abrahim jokingly calls Seyyam Mobiliti’s “lab rat” Every time they create a new version of a prosthetic foot, they test it on Seyyam. His disability given him a profound understanding of design problems, and as an engineer he provides insightful solutions and improvements. He is now using Mobiliti’s latest foot, the Anchor.
Mobiliti’s goal is the break the wall of disability, says Abrahim. “We don’t want to call people differently-abled, we want to be among the people who differently able them, because a better world is a more abled world.”
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.