Umar Saif is a Pakistani computer scientist and entrepreneur, who is known for his work on using ICT solutions for developing-world problems. He is also the founder of Plan9, Pakistan’s largest startup incubator and is often credited as one of the main forces behind the IT ecosystem in Pakistan. In his role as the Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board, his work to introduce technology in government using low-cost smart-phones has had a transformative impact in Pakistan. The World Bank President highlighted this work as one of three global examples of good governance innovations in his landmark speech on governance reforms in Philippines.
Saif holds a BSc. from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and PhD in Computer Science from University of Cambridge, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar at Trinity College. Saif is the founding Vice Chancellor of the Information Technology University Punjab and established one of the first startup incubators in Pakistan, called the Saif Center of Innovation (SCI). 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 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, Saif now joins an elite group of researchers and technologists including the likes of Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
In 2014, he was conferred upon Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence), one of the highest civilian Awards in Pakistan, by the Government of Pakistan in recognition for his services to the country.
Life and education
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  . Saif worked and taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 2001–2005 before moving back to Pakistan. At MIT, Saif 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.
Academic career and research
Dr. Umar Saif was appointed the first Vice-chancellor of the Information Technology University (ITU). At the age of 34, he became the youngest Vice-chancellor of a university in Pakistan. Earlier, Saif received tenure at the LUMS School of Science and Engineering. 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, a Google Faculty Research Award.
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.
His recent work in early epidemic warning systems  and speech-based services for low-literacy users has had widespread impact.
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 Pakistan. Saif 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. Saif is also the co-founder of SMSall.pk , Pakistan’s first mobile social network. 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. Dr. Umar Saif has written about his startups in Washington Post. He is also famous for his work for Dengue Fever.
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 Plan9, Pakistan’s first public-sector startup incubator. Under his leadership, PITB designed the smartphone-based early epidemic warning system that played a central role in fighting the Dengue epidemic in Punjab in 2012, and developed an innovative model for fighting corruption using technology. PITB also led the deployment of the first Automatic Fare Collection system for mass transit in Pakistan and automated the operations of the first Lahore Metro Bus System. Dr. Saif led the development of Pakistan’s first e-learning platform (http://elearn.punjab.gov.pk), making school textbooks in Punjab freely available online, augmented with interactive learning resources. 
In Jan 2013, Dr. Umar Saif was appointed the first Vice-chancellor of the Information Technology University (ITU). At the age of 34, he became the youngest Vice-chancellor of a university in Pakistan.
Dr. Umar Saif has served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Pakistan between 2013-14. He has served on the Boards of several government and semi-government organizations, including Aitchison College, Bank of the Punjab, Technical Education & Vocational Training Company (TEVTA), Engineering Consultancy Services of the Punjab, Urban Sector Planning and Management Services Unit, Lahore Parking Company, Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company and Punjab Educational Endowment Fund.
Awards and recognitions
- 2014 Sitara-i-Imtiaz, one of the highest Civilian Awards in Pakistan
- 2013 ACM CHI Best Paper Award
- 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