In Focus

The Promise of Pakistan

Some, like flying cars and tourism travel to space have yet to materialize. Others, like futuristic communications in the palm of our hands have infiltrated all parts of our world – regardless of society – making the world seem a whole lot smaller. For every cool future feature that remains decades away, there are numerous products and experiences we wouldn’t dare dream about that have become such a part of our lives that we’d feel naked without them.


A country ripe for growth in tourism that could dwarf the growth in IT exports alone from $200 million five years ago to over $3 billion now leaves little debate that the 6th largest population provides something of true value to the world – with the potential to provide even more.


Promise comes down to vision and setting a path forward that enables success and growth. And, never before have we had such technological and educational growth that enables us to see what’s ahead of us so brilliantly. As humans, we need to be invigorated, and often with a cup of coffee and gentle encouragement. So, when offered the opportunity to present an inspirational look at a future filled with developments such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Genetics in Pakistan during its 70th year of independence, we quickly endeavored a little bit beyond in order to discover specifics facing such an intriguing country. Beyond the excitement, the preparation for our visit left us with a mixture of emotions and other very human considerations. Yet, we didn’t want to make assumptions or take anything for granted in relation to what was actually happening in a country that is often not represented clearly – if at all – in the West.



What enthralled us during our exploration through limited sources was the immediate opportunity that was presented – opportunities in the workforce, in investment and most importantly, in culture. Pakistan’s core values – Unity, Faith and Discipline – led us to investigate how are these brand values really being lived out and how they’re presented to the world. We were inspired by the vision held by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his drive to lead the formation of this amazing country. We found enlightenment in clear data that pinpointed some possible imbalances. And, were surprised by some of the feats and developments that had been achieved within the country yet were not known outside its borders.


Because of the immense growth in internet access for Pakistanis via mobile, there’s higher accessibility regardless of gender or socio-economic reality. They all have an educational device in the palm of their hand. If those with decent means can receive an online education from major universities without even moving, why can’t those below poverty lines with the enthusiasm to grow and learn be trained through the technologies available on their handsets?


Pakistan has so much to share, but a lack of information means that we in the West are left to pick through any possible negativity and it leads to a feeling of unrest or a lack of safety – a prime concern for people who could add greatly to the GDP via tourism. There is a growing desire in the West for something authentic, to go off the beaten path, to discover something raw and real… and, importantly to regain some of the roots we’ve lost. Very few places are left for that safe exploration – yet Pakistan is ripe for delivering on such needs through its history, culture and natural beauty. Interestingly, there are several people we’ve met outside of Pakistan who shared amazing stories of past exploits of trekking through the region in their younger days – in the sixties and seventies – and pondered why this is not equally at the forefront of the mind of young travelers today?
Our perspective was greatly enhanced upon our arrival. It was then, as guests of Nutshell Conferences, that we had the first interactions with Pakistan’s strongest natural resource – its people. As described above, we had already found out about numbers, the workforce and relationships to GDP, but the dimensionality of every person we met painted a stronger picture than any beautiful image of Pakistan’s majestic bodies of nature could ever convey. This left us wondering where these faces were in every picture of Pakistan we could come across?
We couldn’t visit anywhere without the warm questioning of our perspectives before arrival about Pakistan’s value in the world. Regardless of representation in the West (which is nowhere as strong as it deserves to be) the value absolutely shows when Pakistan already stands as the 20th best offshore market, has tripled its software exports to $15 billion through the last three years and, after hearing the then Minister of State for Information Technology, Anusha Rehman, discuss the drive to be the first country with 5G, there is no doubt about what we were missing. A country ripe for growth in tourism that could dwarf the growth in IT exports alone from $200 million five years ago to over $3 billion now leaves little debate that the 6th largest population provides something of true value to the world – with the potential to provide even more.


Beyond the excitement, the preparation for our visit left us with a mixture of emotions and other very human considerations. Yet, we didn’t want to make assumptions or take anything for granted in relation to what was actually happening in a country that is often not represented clearly – if at all – in the West.


It’s no accident that we focused on future, tech and workforce during our visit. They’re our core competencies, but we were also unclear of what riches could be explored during our visit. Technology is certainly exciting and in constant flux with bright shiny objects arriving almost daily, with a radical shift towards health and lifestyle fueled by genetic research. Alongside those buzzwords, there’s a clamoring to be “in the game” by investors eager to explore the future for humanity. Even if there were a knowledge of the talents held within Pakistan, the global deal flow is not yet where it could be for Pakistani startups and entrepreneurs. An infrastructure that supports development of such venture opportunities and training that leads to more challenges being solved is required for deeper realization of growth, both individually and collectively.

We’re filled with energy by promises to augment and simplify our lives – enabling longer and healthier ones. While some markets currently lead in such development, there’s really nothing precluding Pakistan from becoming a major player – if not a leader – especially when considering how the entrepreneurs we encountered are intrinsically focused on creating opportunity and wellbeing. Amidst global projections for the year 2030: placing 500 billion connected devices globally; robots in 33% of our homes; carrying out manufacturing and logistics entirely with robots; and, full automation of ports and shipping, we don’t look to the future in fear of diminished employment or crowded lifestyle but wonder about our release from mundane drudgery and unearthing new potential. Again, we ask “Why can’t these products be ideated, developed and manufactured in Pakistan?”
All this links to capitalizing on built-in opportunities. One such example is found in Pakistan’s geographic positioning. Its beneficial location is already being leveraged as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China’s broader goals within the BRI. Partnerships like CPEC contain their fair share of peculiar benefits or challenging beneficiaries, but CPEC’s framework can truly benefit both businesses and individuals through streamlined connections that can enable respectful exploration by visitors. 
Geographically, Pakistan has always seemed to be in this beneficial position due to its comparatively good weather within the region. Its hills that always seemed a bit greener than in the countries around it led to agriculture being the key component of GDP at the time of independence. But, when evaluating agriculture differently, we see a huge resource gap. In 1947, 53% of GDP was supplied by the agriculture business. Last year, it accounted for less than 20% of GDP yet maintains 42% of the workforce! Could this be why 40% of Pakistan’s population remains below the poverty line? 
Some may argue that the agriculture sector has seen growth over the past few years and the status quo can suffice. But that reasoning doesn’t stand when considering the impact of technology, education and efficiencies developed within agriculture. In 1947, each farmer fed an average of 19 families. Now, a farmer feeds an average of 155 families. Sure, there’s many more families to feed, but given the 50x growth realized in agricultural efficiency globally, by shifting those human resources into new roles within the economy through training and the introduction of new industries perhaps we’ll see these individuals transform tourism and celebrate their cultural identities as only locals can, due to access because of infrastructure advances.


There’s a tremendous possibility for tourism freelancers to share their pride through the offering of experiences – just as Airbnb Experiences has enabled elsewhere. We had a tremendous time visiting Islamabad and hunger to see more – yet information of things to do and see are radically lacking, even within the premium hotels.


There’s huge power in the hands of the Pakistani individual, for they are the owners of the SMEs that make up around 40% of Pakistan’s GDP. With 80% of the country’s non-agriculture employment coming through these various integral businesses, there already exists a hot platform to be supported and celebrated. 

A large component of SMEs is the growth of freelancers. The gig economy has begun to take hold around the world, and Pakistan is on its way – with over 1 million freelancers and counting. As we found (and repeat constantly) it was the people that made the trip sensational, we realized we were being brought to numerous in-the-know locations that made the visit and the experience with our hosts that much more dynamic and special. There’s a tremendous possibility for tourism freelancers to share their pride through the offering of experiences – just as Airbnb Experiences has enabled elsewhere. We had a tremendous time visiting Islamabad and hunger to see more – yet information of things to do and see are radically lacking, even within the premium hotels. 
While SME ventures have historically been in the service industry, their forthcoming influence on global technology is immeasurable. We have yet to understand the full impact of technology and how far it will take us forward as a civilization. If Napoleon could disparage England in the 1800s as a Nation of Shopkeepers and lead to the Industrial Revolution, why can’t Pakistan’s currently vibrant Nation of ‘Shopkeepers’ lead the way to Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 will integrate: fully-connected automation; cyber-physical systems; augmented reality; security; the Internet of Things, and will forever change production, management and governance while raising income levels and our general quality of life. It is not about technology replacing, but rather stimulating and augmenting humanity – it dares ask, “why walk or run when you can fly?” Of course, much of this promise is yet to be delivered upon, but with proper infrastructure and support, Pakistan is primed to play a strong role.
We had the honor of visiting Islamabad’s National Incubation Center (NIC) and were moved by the energy and intelligence coursing among its founders and staff. We can only imagine that strong platform for business development and growth is repeated across the other NIC venues, but the country requires resources to support the next big idea or the next great opportunity wherever that might come from. The real challenge for the country is to be open to, and supportive of, your next champion.
Where Will Your Champion Come From?
The best way to find him or her is to establish a long-term vision and infrastructure that enables all to engage. Other countries found themselves in similar positions: South Korea overcame mass illiteracy by investing heavily in education, built out an incredibly strong connectivity infrastructure and became a global technological powerhouse; Malaysia was too dependent on agriculture and mining so they embarked on a multi-focused plan to invest in banking, elevate tourism and bolster electronic device exports leading to their becoming one of the most competitive economies in Asia. All of these required a vision that leapt over the competition.

We are about to enter an era where the forms of business execution and growth will be turned on its ear – leading to prosperity that we’ve not yet experienced. Built upon products like chatbots, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, genetics and blockchain, we’ll be pursuing medicine, banking, socializing, trading, manufacturing, travelling, financing… living differently. It’s a lot to think about, and even more to prepare for. How are you going to do it?
Again, we go back to the importance of infrastructure. Pakistan’s people need to be reached and served – but more than that, they need to be encouraged to share in success. Technology and education are not mutually exclusive. Because of the immense growth in internet access for Pakistanis via mobile, there’s higher accessibility regardless of gender or socio-economic reality. They all have an educational device in the palm of their hand. If those with decent means can receive an online education from major universities without even moving, why can’t those below poverty lines with the enthusiasm to grow and learn be trained through the technologies available on their handsets? 
So, it is all about the vision of our future – specifically to benefit those upcoming generations. It’s not about cutting corners for a quick return. It’s about working toward the greater good – even if we will be unable to enjoy that phenomenal future ourselves. It’s about embracing Pakistan’s beautiful people, culture and diversity. Those are the things that provide industrial defensibility, because they can’t be replicated. Why keep the beautiful and vibrant colours and spices of life – from fashion and cuisines – to yourself? Why keep your best assets – your people – a secret when there is a world hungry to experience something new and exciting? Consider this a time for a new metaphorical silk road that enables you to become open and share your riches with the world that they may in turn share theirs with you.
We offer a different interpretation of Pakistan’s values than what was probably intended, so we’ll respectfully refer to these as our Industry 4.0 Version:
Have Faith and believe in yourselves to bring great things to your community, country and the world. Others have. There’s no reason it’s out of reach for Pakistanis. Become the salt that seasons the world.
Unity cannot just be for the top. It must be for the whole nation together lest everyone will be dragged down and left behind in a fast world. May the ideas germinate in the hearts of the people that can in turn inspire leadership.
Discipline is the most important value in this industrial revolution as you have no idea where the next great idea is going to come from or by whom or at what pace – but one thing for certain is that is deeply rooted in an enhanced humanity. Due to the need for humanity and the requirement of empathy, we’ve pondered a replacement value as Tolerance – for others and yourselves. You’ve got to remain open intellectually and empathetically to opportunities that present themselves. The key is determination to find the right direction, follow-through and never give up.
It’s unfortunate that, in the West, we aren’t introduced to Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his history because there’s obviously much we can learn from his story. What resonated with us most was that his path to becoming the Father of the Nation was not a linear one. There were a series of progressions and disappointments and many opportunities to walk away or give in to other pressures, but his vision and resolve for Pakistan was steadfast. That he was able to leverage opportunity to reach those ends yet was only able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for a year endeavors us to be optimistic of the possibilities as Pakistan moves toward its 100th year of independence. 
Thirty years will pass in no time. We are eager to return and explore often until then – when ‘Emerging’ has fully transitioned into what should be known as Powerhouse Pakistan, Insha Allah.


JONATHAN TAVSS
The writer is Co-founder and Director of Kaleidoko, Professor in Media Ventures at Boston University and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. Based in Los Angeles, he is a global leader in marrying storytelling, business strategy, consumer insight and technology to lay the foundations for operational growth and success.
E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: @JTavss
DEAN DONALDSON
The writer is Co-founder and Director of Kaleidoko and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. Based in London, he is a visionary and initiator, evangelising about cultural advancements, industry convergence and shifting consumer behavior to help leaders navigate the inevitability of change. 
E-mail: [email protected], Twitter: @DeanDonaldson

 

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