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How Telenor Pakistan is encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset among employees

Updated 19 Jul, 2017 04:03pm

Entrepreneurship and innovation are buzzwords that have gone on to inspire hundreds of Pakistani millennials in recent times.

In the past 5 years alone, we have seen a number of homegrown Pakistanis and their startup success stories making rounds around the globe.

Several private and government initiatives have also been launched across all four provinces to empower entrepreneurs with mentoring, training and seed funding.

Innovation, however, is not just limited to startups and entrepreneurs in the country.

Can you work 9-5 and also have a startup dream?

Many forward thinking organisations in Pakistan have adopted innovation as a culture, striving not just for a sustainable, technological future for the public, but also as a means to empower and encourage its employees to explore and take risks.

“Telenor Pakistan has always been at the forefront when it comes to introducing innovative products within the Pakistani telecommunications industry, and the same goes behind the scenes when we work as a team,” says Knut Olav Nyhus Olsen, Chief Human Resource Officer Telenor Pakistan.

“We have introduced a series of workplace practices, activities and dedicated projects that give our employees a chance to pitch ideas and strategies that can impact millions of lives,” Knut said.

According to Sigve Brekke, President and CEO of Telenor Group, Telenor's operations have for years been consistently ranked as a top – if not the top – employer in Pakistan and is sought after by Pakistan’s best young talent as one of the best places to work at.

Also read: How Telenor's policy allows female employees globally to take salaried leave for six months during the maternity period

Encouraging their employees to take risks, explore new avenues and think creatively outside the box is not just a local, but a global part of work culture at Telenor.

Why does an organisation need an innovative landscape?

The need to have innovation at the core of the organisational structure is not only imperative to the success of these individuals, but also the overall growth of the company.

Photo by Telenor Pakistan
Photo by Telenor Pakistan

“Being at the forefront of innovation can only be possible if we create an ecosystem where people do not hesitate to pitch their ideas and suggestions within the workplace,” says Irfan Wahab Khan, CEO Telenor Pakistan.

“At Telenor, we believe in having an open culture so that our employees or anyone with an idea is given a platform and sustainable support for their ideas to take flight.”

Also read: Meet Sana Khan, head of digital transformation at Telenor Pakistan

Why are young people shying away from 9-5 jobs?

One reason that a lot of people cite as a negative in a corporate routine is monotony and lack of experimentation and exposure.

People may get bored if they are working on the same type of projects for a long time. This also limits their ability to enhance and grow their skill set.

As an HR practice, enabling innovation can be pivotal in driving motivation and providing employees a creative role in the organisation.

Regular training and workshops are therefore, extremely important to keep the workforce engaged and constantly evolving, helping them grasp new skills that can in turn open new avenues of their growth in the company and beyond.

"Training at Telenor is a delight; the participants are always interactive, dynamic and inspirational rather than passive recipients of trainer guided slideshow sessions," says Athar Hameed, an academic and learning consultant for Telenor.

"At Telenor, innovation is not just limited to their commitment in staying ahead of the market technology curve. They consistently endeavor to embed it in their culture, in the manner people approach everyday issues at work, develop solutions, understand markets and approach life in general," said Athar.

Also read: Telenor Pakistan and Beaconhouse break Guinness World Record and show solidarity to the cause of 'Internet for All'

How are companies like Telenor implementing innovation at the grass roots?

Innovation doesn’t always have to be that one billion dollar idea that can change the world. It can also be a progressive trait that lets employees think out of the box, realise their strengths and weaknesses, and work together as a cohesive team to refine their ideas and skills.

To encourage this on a regular basis, Telenor Pakistan organises an 'Innovation Day,' where employees work in teams of 2 or more on a startup model and come up with an idea which they pitch to a panel of judges who provide feedback for improvement and implementation.

Photo by Telenor Pakistan
Photo by Telenor Pakistan

“I always had a few startup ideas on my mind but never had a chance to try and see how they pan out in the real world,” said Muhammad Umer Jaffer, winner of Innovation Day at Telenor Pakistan.

“I needed some sort of a sandbox to learn, through trial-and-error, the essentials of digital entrepreneurship. Innovation Day gave me that very opportunity and by teaming up with the best at Telenor, my own weaknesses and strengths stood out more clearly for me.”

Encouraging entrepreneurs in a corporate environment

To take entrepreneurial spirit to the next level, Telenor also has two specific programmes, the internally focused Ignite and the open-for-all accelerator Velocity, that are targeted towards startup founders in Pakistan.

Ignite is a three month programme with workshops in Singapore and Oslo. It focuses on idea and market validation through user research, analysis, prototyping and experiments.

The most promising products that come out of Ignite are either set up as new internal product teams on global or BU level, or spun out as external companies.

With Ignite, Telenor encourages its own employees to take their startup ideas to the next level, and have them implemented on a global scale.

“It was a truly worthwhile experience working with and learning from the best of Telenor’s global chapters on the Ignite platform,” said Maham Ejaz, Ignite finalist.

“Thanks to a series of workshops, field work, and continuous expert mentoring under the incubator, our idea became a working reality with many other digital ‘intrapreneurs’ also fulfilling their dreams.”

Telenor Velocity, on the other hand, is the first of its kind Digital Startup Accelerator in the local market that is open for any startup to enter.

Velocity aims to provide Telenor Pakistan’s scale and assets to startups, apart from a co-working space, mentoring by experts, online payment solutions and a chance to pitch for seed funding.

Photo by Telenor Pakistan
Photo by Telenor Pakistan

Alumni of the Telenor Velocity programme include Pakshine, a small device that converts a normal UPS into a hybrid SolarMax that can power homes using sunlight, Micropowerlabs, a startup with a customer base in 35 countries, and doctHers, an app that is bringing female doctors back in the workforce through remote tele-medical consultation services.


Telenor Pakistan’s contributions to developing and promoting a digital ecosystem in the country also include being the first mover of IoT (Internet of Things) and introducing innovative IoT products such as Companion Watch and Automate.

Telenor also introduced Programmatic Marketing in the country for the first time which is a next-generation demand-side-platform (DSP) that enables advertisers to programmatically purchase ad inventory through multiple ad exchanges using audience targeting. With customers being the heart of Telenor’s operations, the organisation beefed up its customer support utilising various social and digital channels such as Facebook, Twitter, as well the official website.


For more than a decade, Telenor Pakistan has continued to innovate and disrupt in the local market with introduction of products like Easy Paisa mobile financial services, M-Agri automated services for farmers, and Internet of Things applications like Telenor Companion Watch, a communication gadget that enables parents to stay in touch and keep track of their children when they are not with them. Telenor strongly believes in sustainable innovation in various fields and continues to foster innovation internally & externally.


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