Forbes prize brings drinking water to desert villages

November 23, 2020

Well in Pakistan.
Villagers in Leemon Bheel, Pakistan, draw water from a well installed by Muhammad Miqdad ’19 in partnership with CDRS Comprehensive Disaster Response Services. The well was paid for with prize money Miqdad and fellow team members won when they finished first in the 2019 Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition at the University of Rochester. (Photo courtesy of Muhammad Miqdad)

‘I brought a piece of UR to Pakistan to share with my people’

Muhammad Miqdad ’19, a University of Rochester chemical engineering alumnus and Grand Challenges Scholar, is investing the money his team won in last year’s Forbes Entrepreneurial Competition to install wells for drinking water in remote villages of Pakistan’s Thar desert. 

“These projects will serve over 2,000 people over the next 10 to 15 years and will save them countless hours spent fetching water from sources far, far away,” says Miqdad, who is partnering with CDRS Comprehensive Disaster Response Services, a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) in Pakistan.  “Each of these wells cost $270 per village and were financed by winnings from the Forbes Entrepreneurial competition” which is sponsored by the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship

Wells have been installed in four villages so far, and “four more projects are on the way,” Miqdad says. 

Miqdad and the EZ Water team, whose members have included Afnan Ahmed ’21, a business major; Claude Mulindi ’22 of engineering science; Sara Anis ’20 of biomedical engineering, and Karim Abdelmaqsoud ’22 of chemical engineering, took first place and $5,000 in the 2019 Forbes competition. They presented plans showing how they could change the lives of 80 million Pakistani’s  by providing cheap, reliable drinking water at their doorstep through a network of micropreneurs leveraging a technology to filter, bottle, and distribute water from under one roof. 

“It was operationally very challenging to carry out our old plans due to the fact that the whole team was in Rochester and I have moved to Pakistan,” Miqdad says. However, “we utilized the funds we won to deploy wells in the Umerkot region of Pakistan. It’s a remote area inhabited by Pakistan’s Hindu minority communities in the desert.” 

Miqdad praises his EZ Water teammates for playing a “pivotal role in making this work.”

“This is our gift to the University. I brought a piece of UR with me to Pakistan and shared it with my people.”

Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, says “The EZ Water team’s work will make a difference in countless lives.  We are proud of their creativity, hard work and perseverance to make this project a reality; they have shown how our students really can change the world, one well at a time.”

Miqdad is also working for a health tech startup that’s connecting patients with doctors through a smartphone application at the peak of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Students dedicated to solving challenges

Miqdad, Anis, Ahmed, Abdelmaqsoud, and Mulindi are all graduates of --or currently enrolled in-- the Grand Challenges Scholar program at the University. Scholars design a personalized education program to explore one of 14 societal challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering. The students are required to demonstrate competencies in: 

  • Hands-on projects or research activity
  • Interdisciplinary experience
  • Entrepreneurial or innovation experience
  • Global engagement
  • Service projects

Students who successfully complete the program receive a medal when they graduate and are listed at the NAE website. 

Grand Challenges Scholars “is a community of students dedicated towards solving key challenges around the world,” Miqdad says. “I believe that is the greatest support, inspiration, and exposure a college student can have going forward in life!”

Emma Derisi, the director of Grand Challenges Scholars at the University, says, “It's amazing to see how much impact these students have made across the globe by applying knowledge, skills, and heart to a cause.

“This project is something they can build upon over their careers, making it not only a great accomplishment for now, but a foundation for their life-long story as well an act of gratitude and service.”

For more information about the Grand Challenges Scholars program contact Derisi at