Muhammad Waqas: Improving the lives of children with special needs

Healthcare

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“When I leave, I want to leave the world slightly better because of my existence, knowing that the lives of children and their families improved because of what my team and I did at WonderTree,” says Muhammad Waqas, Co-founder and CEO of WonderTree; an organization that makes interactive games for motor, academic and cognitive development plus education of children with special needs using augmented reality.

What makes a great leader?

The question probably can only be best answered by those whose lives they impact. To give an instance, here’s a piece on one such revolutionary leader in the healthcare industry, Muhammad Waqas, who has promptly placed himself high up in the marketing and advertising world, and is a topliner in turning startups into success. He is known as an ardent pizza lover and growth hacker among his peers and employees, who also believe that he is the best chief they could have asked for as he always makes sure that everyone’s spirit is in the game. Outside work he is a gamer and loves to engage himself into physical drills such as running, swimming and working out. He shares, “Whenever I get a chance, I like to play football (soccer). I also love reading books. I carry a kindle with me wherever I go and try to read whenever I get a chance. The best book that I have read is Lord of The Rings. It is a work of fiction but it has taught me a lot about honor, friendship, facing adversities, and sticking to your purpose no matter the odds.”

“Our vision is to make special education and therapy accessible and affordable for every child in the world. I am lucky to have such a talented and dedicated team, and the fact that they all want to make the vision of the company a reality.”

Indeed the quintessential as a leader of an organization reinventing the conventional ways of physiotherapy and special education. Waqas notes an estimated 90% of the children with special needs do not have access to education or developmental facilities. The global opportunity cost of excluding these children from society is $1.3 trillion annually. It is due to this reason why the work of companies like WonderTree matter.

Necessity Leads to Innovation

Waqas was brought in on this project by Muhammad Usman, the co-founder, and CTO of WonderTree. Usman was inspired to start the WonderTree initiative after seeing his older brother (born with special needs) enjoying playing a game on his PlayStation. At the time, Waqas was running a digital marketing agency and already felt a bit unsatisfied with the work he was doing. He always wanted to contribute something more real to society. He shares, “As luck would have it that was the exact time when Usman approached me. It was a hard decision- leaving my marketing agency behind that I had built from scratch with a lot of hard work. But now that I think about it, it was a very obvious choice.”

Muhammad Waqas, Co-founder & CEO, WonderTree​

Muhammad Waqas, Co-founder & CEO, WonderTree

However, the idea of leaving a thriving business and starting all over was not met with warmth and excitement. His friends and family members advised him to stick to a paying job. “And the fact that I went broke soon after I started WonderTree only reinforced their message,” reminisces Waqas. From finding the right team to getting enough funds into the company and keep it operational; the struggle was immense. He tells Aspioneer, “Having little to no funds forced us to think differently and resourcefully. We learned how to bootstrap and be resourceful; a skill that we are thankful that we learned and still use.”

Gamifying learning

Today, Waqas finds himself incredibly blessed to be able to do what he loves and to be able to make a living and make a life doing it. Founded in 2016, Karachi based WonderTree is deployed in five cities across Pakistan. It’s the only company that uses technology to meet the special needs of the marginalized population of Pakistan and engages 3300+ active users in 36+ schools. WonderTree’s games are uniquely designed to enhance therapeutic and educational programs and make them enjoyable, accessible and effective at the same time. The games can be customized according to a player’s skill/needs and feature a reporting system to monitor their progress in terms of cognitive and/or motor skills development. Each game is developed with psychological research to record certain metrics such as attention span, hand-eye coordination, muscular movement, etc with the help of technology. The metrics may be analyzed for tracking performance and decide the future course of action in education, therapy and/or rehabilitation. Waqas exclaims, “Pakistan doesn’t have much going on when it comes to people with different needs and in this environment, having specified games for special children makes WonderTree unique in itself.”

WonderTree is also working meticulously to expand its operations in the Middle East, South East Asia, Nigeria, and Switzerland. Built as a team of young adults with a dream to change the world and energy to go along with it, WonderTree is rigorously working on enhancing their support, adding tutorials and making the user interface more convenient and operable to minimize incorrect usage of the games. In order to decrease the hardware requirement (and obsolescence), they are also working on embracing AI technology for human body detection which will enable their users to play the games using a normal webcam or mobile phone. Waqas adds, “This will make our games more accessible and affordable. And we will be able to scale globally”.

To understand how WonderTree affects the lives of these children, one must pay attention to how it’s being utilized. Waqas asserts, “It is a tool and like all tools, the application and outcome of the tool ultimately resides with its user. We always recommend that the children should play WonderTree games through the facilitation of a parent, teacher, medical professional or a facilitator to make sure that our games are only making a positive impact on the children playing them.”

Waqas truly admires the effort his team puts in every day. He emphasizes, “Our vision is to make special education and therapy accessible and affordable for every child in the world. I am lucky to have such a talented and dedicated team, and the fact that they all want to make the vision of the company a reality.”

Going forward, WonderTree’s future endeavors involve a lot more AI and even more fun. Waqas mentions, “Working with AI has really excited me. It’s because of the fact that we make our games so much more effective through it. In the next few years, we see ourselves expanding globally. We have already started selling our product in UAE and Nigerian markets.”

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