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Tech firms asked for earthquake relief

Pakistani business groups in United States call on high-tech industry for donations in aftermath of catastrophic earthquake.

Donations for victims of the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan over the weekend are trickling in from the U.S. high-tech industry, but so far most contributions are from workers of Pakistani descent rather than corporations.

The earthquake struck northern Pakistan on Saturday. Officials estimate that more 20,000 people have perished in the disaster and that millions will be left homeless. The 7.6-magnitude quake killed thousands in India as well.

Hidaya Foundation, an aid organization in San Jose, Calif., is collecting donations for earthquake victims and is organizing relief. The group has raised more than $100,000 in online donations so far, much of it from Pakistanis working at U.S. tech firms, including Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, eBay, Oracle and Siebel Systems, said Hidaya founder Waseem Baloch.

But no businesses have offered any contributions yet, said Baloch, a Pakistani native who worked as an engineer at Unisys and 3Com before starting Hidaya. "I am surprised," he said.

The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America (OPEN), a professional association, is having slightly better luck getting high-tech companies to contribute. Qualcomm and Intel told the group they each plan to match employee donations up to a certain amount, said Dilawar Syed, secretary general of OPEN's Silicon Valley chapter. The group hopes to convince another 50 tech companies to do the same and is tapping its 3,000 or so individual members for relief funds as well, pointing them to its online earthquake relief resource center.

The group is pleased with the high-tech response so far given all the disasters the industry has already helped with this year, Syed said. "We are very aware of the fact that folks are tapped out, if you will, because of Hurricane Katrina, Rita and the tsunami," he said.

Another reason companies may be slow to respond is that Monday was Columbus Day in the United States, a holiday for many firms, said Syed Asif Alam, president of the Association of Pakistani Professionals in New York.

That group is also urging its 600 or so members and U.S. companies to donate funds, offering a list of aid organizations on its Web site. It is currently negotiating with blue chip computer firm in the United States to donate $1 for every worker the company employs, Alam said. The company, which he declined to name, also plans to set up a call center in Pakistan to help coordinate rescue and rebuilding efforts, Alam said.

Like India, but on a smaller scale, Pakistan has become a center for offshore software development and computer services in recent years, with U.S. firms farming out tech work to the area and bringing Pakistani workers to U.S. shores. A total of 350 software companies in Pakistan pull in up to $100 million in revenue annually, according to the Pakistan Software Houses Association.

NetSol Technologies, a publicly traded software company in Calabasas, Calif., is one of them. With 450 employees in the Pakistan tech hub of Lahore, the company is one of the biggest software firms in the country. Fortunately its offices are far from the earthquake's destruction, so the company's operations have been largely unaffected.

Nonetheless, NetSol's founders, who are Pakistan natives, spent the weekend helping raise funds for relief organizations there. The company itself has donated $100,000, said Najeeb Ghauri, NetSol's chairman.

"I think we're getting a lot of support," Ghauri said of the corporate response the disaster. "We need more."