Illustration by Bilal Brohi/Spider Magazine
Illustration by Bilal Brohi/Spider Magazine

Pakistan has a whole host of problems. So does every other country in the world. The trouble is that the name Pakistan carries an increasingly negative connotation in more places simultaneously.

This would not necessarily be a problem if Pakistan was a self-reliant, thriving country. The current state of affairs can be attributed to many different things depending on whom you ask, and it involves entirely too much human opinion. However, the majority would agree that there is substantial room for improvement.

Most Pakistani governments are unfit to lead the nation into the business world of today.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship, the parties/individuals in power can self-rationalise all they want about circumstances, wars, inherited problems and poverty, but it doesn’t change the facts; the results have never been there consistently.

The question I want to float for further exploration is: What does Pakistan bring to the global table, and can the tech sector play a role in it’s reinvention?

This is not meant to be backseat driving with useless criticisms. The following is my suggestion to infuse some vitality.

I believe that when governments fail, people pick up the slack. This may be one person, a small group or a mass of people rallying behind an idea whose time has come. NGO’s and the private sector have been doing this for many years sporadically. Their resilience shines through to become the silver lining the future will look for and latch on to.

In my opinion, this can be one of the alternatives to focus on for the present. The government can launch a platform for the people – much like a business incubator – and get out of the way.

To clarify, Wikipedia defines business incubators as: “…programs designed to support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed and orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts”

Shared Workspace

Build or re-purpose an existing building into a cocoon facility which houses all the infrastructure and assistance an entrepreneur might need including accounting, legal, finance, administrative, marketing and human resource help.

Land isn’t in short supply. It’s not like trying to find a 100,000 sq ft. facility in downtown Manhattan.

Advisory Board

There is no dearth of intellectuals or bright minds in Pakistan. They arguably are some of the most gifted people in the world because they not only rise to the challenge, they do so in extremely challenging circumstances.

From academics to business owners, there are hundreds of individuals in the private sector who have used everything from a foreign education to sheer determination to be wildly successful in every facet.

To not leverage their expertise, insight and acumen is an unforgivable oversight.

Education

An ASP.NET developer who doesn’t know what masterpages are might suffice for a private businessman who’s only looking for a web presence because he’s expected to have one, but this is the gateway to a never-ending, self-perpetuating spiral of mediocrity.

In the international marketplace, it’s intolerable nonsense and it tarnishes the reputation of the country.

An intensive bootcamp focusing on specific areas of developmental excellence can be crafted with the assistance of companies and institutions, and amplified with adjunct faculty.

Weekly dinners with visitors, professors, clients, potential customers or peers from other parts of the world could play an intrinsic role in the development cycle. 

Standards

As a result of the longstanding ineptitude and dismal economic conditions, short-term gain is vastly favored in Pakistan. This mindset needs to be changed quickly and permanently. To this end, a system of checks and balances needs to be in effect, perhaps with a tiered compensation model which vests in time.

Tailored tax incentives are another tool to ensure companies continue to strive for excellence.

Less Bureaucracy

Currently, there are associations setup which lobby for legislation and delve in all types of irrelevant nonsense which is one of the reasons why the country’s tech sector can’t keep up with the rest of the world.

‘Software house’ is an obsolete term which conjures up images of a slow, lumbering beast. It might work for a contained setup which handles outsourced calls for foreign businesses, but doesn’t really apply to the agile developer who wants to take a brazen idea global in a matter of months to keep pace with today’s industry.

Turning ideas into high-quality, viable products quickly should be the modus operandi here. The government can become an enabler for such individuals, with the help of the vast, accomplished private sector.

Less Corruption

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Pakistan is corrupt!

This applies to both, it’s government and it’s populace. An incubator program would have government officials asking for kickbacks to accept individuals who would like nothing more than to get a handout. A couple of years later, the entire project would be shelved for lack of results.

Measures can be taken conceptually to circumvent this possibility. Some international incubators and Venture Capital (VC) firms already do so albeit for slightly different reasons. There is no shame in emulating their methodology if similar results are desired.

  1. Make the initial investment the only investment, and make it small, and make it arduous. Not more than 400,000 – 500,000 PKR.
  2. In order to be accepted into the program, you must either come through the 3 month bootcamp; a fast-paced, intensive training program held at the facility, or have a rudimentary prototype illustrating capabilities and pass a couple of rounds of interviews with the advisory board.
  3. You must spend 3 months refining your product and readying your business to take to market under strict contractual obligation.
  4. The investment is made for equity. Applicants will give up 7 – 10% of their company to the Government’s Incubator Program.
  5. Make the group move to another city for the entire duration at their own expense.
If a person or a group is willing to apply to move to another city at their own expense for 3 to 6 months to gain access to infrastructure, technology, expertise and guidance, then chances are they are not motivated by the 400,000 PKR, but rather fueled by conviction. 

More Transparency

In addition to enlisting the services of a renowned audit firm, the incubator could have an online portal where all capital and operational expenditure can be monitored by anyone. This will ensure that servers don’t cost tens of millions per unit and teabags worth 3 million are not purchased for 50 individuals.

Rebrand a City

What do Bangalore, Berlin, Seattle, San Francisco and Taipei have in common?

They’re known for being technology hotbeds.

Zoltan Acs, Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at George Mason University stumbled across a trend while studying government data documenting the survival of businesses in the United States. The insight revealed that the survival rate for startups was significantly higher in cities with a higher number of startups. Whether this is due to some kind of micro culture, higher levels of receptiveness or some other unknown parameter, it has happened with enough regularity to emerge as a pattern.

Cities reinvent themselves all the time through sustained, synchronised efforts. Brooklyn, NY is fast becoming a cultural capital and a breeding ground for several cottage industries. Portland, OR is gaining a reputation as something of a hippie heaven. Berlin has done the same in recent years with consumer technology.

There is another compelling reason to do so. Forcing people to relocate to be a part of the incubator will add an additional layer of filtering to ensure only the really dedicated strive to partake in it.

I’d like to throw in Murree as a suggestion into the hat. It’s close proximity to the Capital gives it many advantages in terms of governance and access to customers and international visitors and it doesn’t yet carry any of the negative associations of the other major cities of Pakistan.

Customers

Internationally there are small startups catering to very different needs with a varying scope of customers. A single person company who’s product is an iOS app with a global audience.

A private car service which expands city by city.

A small company that rents your car to visitors instead of it being parked in long-term airport parking.

A school going boy looking to reinvent news consumption on mobile devices.

The list goes on. The point is that startups can cater to a local city, a niche market, the whole country, regional businesses or the entire world. Being in close proximity to the capital affords the incubator the opportunity to showcase it’s product offering to many international visitors and partners.

Results

Culminate in a demo day which offers first dibs to private investors in the board of advisors. They win because they get a prime investment opportunity with substantially reduced risk. The participants win because apart from a company with an instant valuation, they get access to training and infrastructure. The government wins because it gets equity in rapidly developing businesses. The country wins because it’s perception will alter if it brings something else to the table. There are no losers.

Using this time frame, the program can be run 2 – 4 times a year with 30 – 50 participants per cycle. 60 – 200 businesses with global potential in 365 days, after being vetted and mentored by accomplished business people and nurtured in a top-notch facility with consistent interaction with like-minded people.

_______________________________________

Is it perfect? No. In a ideal scenario there would be no need to write this post. As they stand today, these suggestions are just a conceptual blueprint to be tweaked and implemented. They are a map between where we are today, and where we want to get to given the limited means, current circumstances and pressing time constraints.

For cemented perceptions to change, there must be a movement with impetus. Then the rebranding efforts can start to take place. Before all that happens, there has to be a coherent strategy. This could be a minuscule portion of one fragment.

 


The writer is based in the US.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments are closed.

Comments (49)

Rahul
January 2, 2013 4:33 am
Well written article. Pakistan has not to see beyond india to feel inspired and seek the mantra of success,eg in IT. The government should open and assist private partcipation in Technological parks for employement and harnessing the skill of its people. Engagement with India could pave a way for its development as a nation.
Rao
January 2, 2013 7:35 am
Dr. Tahirul Qadri seems to be the only moderate politician on Pakistan's horizon, who unequivocally denounced all forms of terrorism....Hope Pakistanis of all shades support him in his quest to make the moderates voice heard.
Different View
January 1, 2013 10:16 pm
I like your enthusiasm. There is hope and a lot of room for improvement in Pakistan. There is no stoping for Karachi to be like Bangalore. I have never been to Pakistan, but I read Pakistani news. I don't know what the majority Pakistani think of western countries/people. I don't know what they think of Indians. But what I have read in the news, they don't have positive opinion. There is suspicion in the Pakistani people's mind about outside world. This paranoia is, I think, the biggest stumbling block for the Pakistani progress. Of course, you can't trust all the countries and their people blindly. But you should open up your minds. If you can travel, go to other countries, learn their systems, understand the people. You will see the world isn't that bad. And there are people who will help you change. There is famous quote of M. Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” In your case, Pakistan is your world. Have a open mind and explore. Good luck!
RP
January 2, 2013 11:00 am
please dont give us lecture, we all know how pakistanis treat women.
Babu Khan, Lucknow, India
January 2, 2013 5:41 am
Truth hurts
Md Imran
January 2, 2013 2:38 pm
Fareed, we already have 170 million brothers and sisters across the border. Inshaallah, soon we'll have 1.2 billion brothers and sisters ! AoA!
Tayab Hasan
January 2, 2013 8:02 am
This talk of changing the infrastructure, having radical change, solving security issues, establishing security is the problem inherent to the status quo (the way things are done right now). Entrepreneurship is not about starting a business - no, that's just called business. Entrepreneurship is about changing the status quo, innovating and finding new ways of doing things. Pakistan is on its way to form an E-Government, a government that relies on computers - now computers don't know how to offer bribes ;). My point is that don't sit with your hand on the other, Pakistan has bright minds and very soon they will brought together to create amazing things. This is an age of Technology Entrepreneurship, not industrial business. It is the difference between the two that must be understood.
Tayab Hasan
January 2, 2013 8:04 am
Agreed Badar. I am visiting in two weeks and hope to start my work in Islamabad - we are about to see a new wave of entrepreneurship.
Md Imran
January 2, 2013 2:41 pm
I love the idea of "weekly dinners" being suggested by the author
AB
January 2, 2013 1:21 am
I am Pakistani Christian residing in USA I have no problem accepting the Fact we have many Pakistanis who come to western countries my personal experience only in USA. Working with Indians hotel owners, I found them Die Hard Criminal they re pro in exploiting American social system, Indian Business owner re way ahead of Pakistanis in corruption only advantage they have, they re Indians and come from Secular Indian country and can get away with it on other hand Pakistan is an Islamic state and we have many bad apples because of their religious fanaticism every Pakistani suffers. But in reality Indian Pakistani re same in Corruption it,s honest opinion not coming from Pakistani Sunni Bhai coming from Catholic Pakistani.
Aqil Siddiqi
January 1, 2013 11:43 pm
istani first have to put their house in order. They will go no where, with the current situation or may I say problems. Who wants to invest in a coutry, where there are daily bomb blasts and killings soree is the order of the day. The writer failed to mention this as the biggest hurdle Pakistan is facing today. Aqil Siddiqi
Aqil Siddiqi
January 1, 2013 11:46 pm
Hahahahaha. Good Luck my friend. First get rid of these murderers and terrorist groups, then talk.
Md Imran
January 2, 2013 2:50 pm
Ragu, i work in US too, and have many Indian colleagues. Honestly, i think intellegence wise, or when compared with logical analysis, us Pakistanis are light years ahead of Indians. We just need better governance thats all.
Akram
January 2, 2013 12:17 pm
somewhat better than the bus drivers of Delhi eh?
Shubs
January 2, 2013 12:23 pm
Here we go again. A decent productive discussion completely hijacked...
farid
January 2, 2013 3:10 am
Long live India Pakistan friendship. We are same people who lived together for more than 5000 years.
farid
January 2, 2013 3:11 am
Pakistan's mail problem is the politics of inheritance. Give Imran Khan a chance.
Kiwi
January 2, 2013 2:44 am
you must be an Indian. Please go away.
noor
January 2, 2013 2:42 am
your rant could not be further from the truth. I wish you peace and happiness in 2013 and beyond. A Pakistani
Md Imran
January 2, 2013 2:36 pm
Ramesh, we Pakistanis too love our brothers and sisters across the border. We need a "vision" for south asia, and that vision was layed out by his highness prophet Mohammed (PBUH) centuries ago. You'll see the day is not far when the entire subcontinent will embrace Islam and we can all live in peace...
Badar Munir
January 2, 2013 1:41 am
You are correct. There's no shortage of entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Sialkot and Faislabad are living examples. However, overall system is very corrupt and suffocating. It needs to be .radically changed.
babu
January 2, 2013 12:46 pm
hokishe, we are all humans,
Khanm
January 1, 2013 1:01 pm
You have said it all in your article; we need to set our destiny our goals before we choose our path. Even the journey to the moon starts with the first step. Take the first step and that step has to be from the masses. The people have to rise up for the occasion.
Kashmiri
January 1, 2013 12:58 pm
I think Pakistan is in bad people...... I don't understand why people support them
Arshad Ali
January 1, 2013 12:59 pm
An excellent article. I wish it could be implemented in Pakistan.
PeopleInGlassHouses
January 1, 2013 9:35 pm
Times of India "India, dubbed 'the melting pot of cultural diversity', is also home to the world's 11th largest population of 'Internally Displaced People' (IDP). These people are forced to relocate fearing religious, ethnic or other persecution in conflict-induced situations." Times of India"Two women raped in India every hour" Times of India"50000 female fetuses are aborted every month in India" I thank you for worrying about Pakistanies but suggest your worry about the Rape-pubilc of India first before lecturing other countries.
Hokishe Ao, Nagaland, India
January 1, 2013 8:59 pm
But, us people in the north east, have nothing in common with Pakistan.
Zurez
January 1, 2013 8:42 pm
We're on it, bro. Check out the plan9 initiative of the punjab government in collaboration with Dr. Umer Saif. Although, im not directly involved with the project because im busy with my own tech startup, i do follow their progress periodaclly and in my opinion they are doing a splendid job. Additionally, I feel like your article could be their mantra in writing!
Reader12322
January 1, 2013 8:30 pm
Security, good input resources (read a strong education system and diaspora) and good infrastructure are key to building knowledge industries The author has obviously focused on the infrastructure but unless security situation improves and the pakistani society makes investments in education....any such initiatives will not have scale and hence deter most large investors. Best of luck!
Imran
January 2, 2013 8:39 am
Pakistan's conception is old news now. Gotta move on. Just accept it.
Ramesh
January 1, 2013 12:54 pm
I am a British citizen of Indian origin, I have been working on Software development for almost 2 decades. Would love to work in Pakistan as I met quite a few people from Pakistan in UK and they happen to share the same ethics and social outlook. Love you all brothers. Wish I could make it to meet you all in Pakistan. By the way, I am born as a Hindu but do respect Islam.
Badar Munir
January 1, 2013 12:51 pm
This is an excellent article on a well needed topic. There's no shortage of ambition and talent in Pakistan.
Tayab Hasan
January 1, 2013 2:00 pm
As a technology entrepreneur from London's University College London, I will be heading to Islamabad this month to work on entrepreneurial efforts in Pakistan. The Start-up approach is the best approach to empower people and really kick start the economy.
FactCheck
January 1, 2013 2:09 pm
Nothing will work until there is leadership in the government. Other then messing things up everyone else and getting themselves rich, there are no plans or long term strategies put in place to reverse the course. Good Luck.
raw is war
January 1, 2013 12:32 pm
Pakistanis become pests where ever they go. Examples like Anjum Chowdury is a rule rather than exception. Pakistanis migrate at a very fast rate than anybody else in the world. They go to many western nations as illegal immigrants and stay put in those countries. Later on they refuse to work and take the welfare route for sustenance. Nothing serious so far. But the problem comes when they start using the systems of this countries to propagate their hatred and religious bigotry. I saw many Pakistanis in debates abroad. They are abusive towards the host nations. I can go on and on. But I feel Pakistanis should strive and become better humans.
Ragu
January 1, 2013 2:43 pm
I agree; I work in the USA and enjoy working with my Pakistani brothers and sisters; they are very talented, dedicated and have great work ethics. I would consider it an honor to work with them any day. Only through 'pockets of excellence' can any developing nation develop and not by waiting for all of its problems to be resolved.
BRR
January 1, 2013 6:17 pm
As long as Pakistanis are hell bent on proving they are better muslims than everyone else, and better at leading the Ummah, and believe in their superiority and in becoming another Mohammed Ghory, etc. nothing will improve. The last thing a west hating person does is learn lessons from the west. Islamic technology is all they want to learn - jinns and combustion engines run by from water, etc. Well, who will invest in Jinns and water as a fuel for cars?
Nina
January 1, 2013 5:56 pm
This article is not for obsessive compulsive haters like you. If you have nothing useful to say here, please keep shut.
Cyrus Howell
January 1, 2013 4:29 pm
Ambition and talent equals Zero without freedom, and protection from criminals
arfan
January 2, 2013 3:49 pm
Pakistan is only 65 years old, a long time for me and you but not so for a nation! Give it a chance to shine and show its true colours! The best is yet to come inshallah..
fareed
January 1, 2013 4:59 pm
Thank you Ramesh - you didnt have to say that, all indians are our brothers.
look at your glass house
January 2, 2013 1:29 pm
well the source you are stating says all, that we indians are paying attention to the wrongs in our society and at least trying to move in the right direction.
Vijay Kaul
January 1, 2013 4:47 pm
Pakistan's problem is the "basis "on which it was conceived by Iqbal , demanded by Jinnah and nurtured by the subsequent governments. Most thinkers know the root cause but are afraid to say like the subjects of the story Emperors new clothes. .
Seedoo
January 1, 2013 4:27 pm
I live in the US and have a small IT company which I started just 2 years ago. I have engaged a development company from Karachi for several projects for my customers in the US. After some introductions, my developers from Karachi work directly with my customers. over Skype. The model has worked out great, even though it is not perfect. My customers see the value in working directly with their Pakistani counterparts and truly appreciate their dedication. If something is not right the first time, they will stick with it till it becomes right. Pakistan has talented people and they just need hope and direction, and the government who is on their side in terms of controlling law and order situation, curbing corruption, spreading education, making it easy to do business, and simply getting out of the way.
Akram
January 1, 2013 1:18 pm
some interesting ideas, however the age old problem in Pakistan is the government has no money to invest in such ventures. My personal experience tells me its probably better to do this type of thing through the private sector, rather than public. Any time you involve the state, people wants bribes, local politicians want you to give a top job to one of their incompetent idiotic nephews. In the private sector you can move quickly and little interaction with the useless politicians. Even in india lets remember the progress has happened not with state intervention, but despite the similarly incompetent corrupt state, it has been the private sector which has led the way.
MK
January 1, 2013 3:52 pm
@ raw is war. You clearly show your bigotry and racism in your comment. This Anjum character is not a Pakistani but British. He is a minority albeit a vocal one. There are Pakistani such as Edhi and Abdus Salam who reflect Pakistan's true spirit.
Akram
January 2, 2013 7:16 pm
Partition happened. you are not going to get Pakistan back, because it never belonged to you, it belonged to the people who live here. Get over it
Nina
January 2, 2013 9:48 pm
Have you even read the article? Its got nothing to do with women. Whats wrong with you?
Ali Khan (@KhanAli)
January 5, 2013 8:25 am
Excellent article, Yasser. Indeed, startup incubators are all around the world and if government takes such a step – I am sure it will have a high success rate. Models like ‘Startup – Chile’ etc. can be mimicked or get inspiration from. TiE Pakistan and other organizations sometimes organize a session on entrepreneurship etc. and that is helpful because that raises awareness about startups – but next step is to actually conduct incubator programs, or startup in 7 days kind of programs etc. This will be followed by bringing VCs to Pakistan etc. Anyway, its good to see an article in Dawn talking about something which is really needed in Pakistan (small businesses which can give a boost to economy) but only seldom talked about.
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