Neha Shahid Chaudhry – Walk to Beat
Neha Shahid Chaudhry is a 24 year old Pakistani social entrepreneur based in Bristol, United Kingdom. Her invention of Walk to Beat, a walking assistant for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease is what brought her work into the spotlight, and her story is going to leave you in absolute awe.
Coming from Lahore, she can trace her origins to East Punjab. Her father is an electrical engineer who shifted to Saudi Arabia for work, after serving in WAPDA. As a result, her schooling was split between Beacon House School System in Lahore and Al-Majid International School in Saudi Arabia. In 2010, she moved to the UK for further studies and enrolled in the Product Design Engineering at University of the West of England, Bristol for her undergrad.
“I basically picked this course because I had interest in both, the technical and creative side of products and found this course to fulfill all my aspirations. It actually allowed me to enhance my skills of how products are made and how they work.”
Walk to Beat came into being as a product of her final year research project. Students had to pick a research subject of their own choice. The only condition was that it had to be a real life issue. Neha lost her maternal grandfather to Parkinson’s disease. He battled the disease for eight long years and she had witnessed his struggles first hand.
“I thought that when I have an opportunity I might as well try to find a solution. I wanted to do something that would actually make a difference in people’s lives even if it was at a minimal level.”
She started her research with the assistance of her University and National Health Services in UK that helped her connect with the right professional help. After going back and forth, Neha ended up with thirteen briefs from which one need to be picked. This ended up to be the walking assistant design, which was fine-tuned by feedback from the patients and the encouragement of her tutor to apply for funding. After completing her undergrad, she started working in the Robotics Lab, concentrating fully on developing the product.
It was during this period that Neha understood that in order to launch her idea as a proper product, she had to take the entrepreneurial road. This notion, along with her desire to take her education to a post-grad level, she enrolled for her MSc degree in Marketing.
“During my MSc degree I had started my business and was applying whatever I was learning to my business as a case study and it gave me a very practical hands-on experience.”
Her company is now listed as Walk a Beat Ltd. At the moment the walking stick is conceptually ready and will be undergoing clinical trials. At the same time, her team is now working on other applications that could be used as a bracelet or anklet. Along with that they are collecting data on the patients’ walking patterns, something that has not been done before.
Talking about identifying with a specific place, Neha responded that at heart she is a pure Lahori. However, experiencing three very different cultures, she credits her time in the UK for giving her confidence and a sense of value for making a contribution towards the society.
With reference to the recent political environment and how it impacted her or her work, Neha shared that in her experience, despite all the negativity that we get to see, if one is honest and true to their work, in the long run things work out. Recently, when she had to convert her visa to a business visa, a small formatting mistake in the paper work resulted in the rejection of her visa. She was overwhelmed to see the support of the community and the media. The patients she had been working with wrote to their local MPs, the media published her story and it resulted in a reversal of the decision.
“I hope that my works helps to build a better image of Pakistan. Many individuals are doing great work, there is so much talent in the country but it is overshadowed by stereotypical negativity due to some people’s actions.”
It is important that we ourselves help project a balanced image of our country and people.
“You guys are the first ones to cover my story from Pakistan. I had interviews with BBC and then India actually covered my story showing that I was from India; I couldn’t do much about it because no one from Pakistan actually volunteered to do it.”
We were intrigued to know about Neha’s inspiration, and she said that it was her paternal grandfather. She credits him, as well as her father and siblings, for where she stands today. He was someone who left his town to pursue his education and encouraged his children and grandchildren to follow suit. He had to live alone in Lahore for two decades just to see them discover their life goals.
In closing, Neha shared that even though we have come a long way, our society still needs to defeat stereotypes about the definition of happiness and success for their girls. It should not be limited to getting married at a specific age! There is so much talent in the country, but platforms are lagging to support and promote them.
Neha’s long term plan is to look for similar assistance products for other degenerative diseases and wants to collaborate with medical organizations in Pakistan to help create awareness about these issues and contribute in finding solutions. She has made us proud; more power to her. We’ll be following her future endeavors for sure.
Interview by Anum Nawaz | Written by Fatima Arif | Edits by Minahil Amin