KARACHI: With mobile wallet growth, e-learning, and the gig economy, the stage is set for disruption in the country and “we are at the intersection of a perfect storm,” said Monis Rahman, chairman and CEO of Naseeb Networks, on Sunday at the 021Disrupt event.
Referring to the population time bomb and the youth bulge, he said: “We have got a massive opportunity in Pakistan which can be a liability as well.”
He said Pakistan’s massive youth population is both a bad and a good news. “1.5 million of the 2m entering our workforce do not have the required skills for job market,” he said.
Sharing facts about how traditional banks hinder financial inclusion of the poor, he said: “Wealth creation is not possible without financial inclusion, and with 85pc of Pakistanis currently unavailable unbanked — compared to 48pc in India — the country lacks a basic ingredient for growth”. “But with rising digital payments, along with cashless banking and mobile wallets, things are definitely in the right direction.”
He was quick to point out that it took two minutes to set up a digital wallet and not having Paypal in Pakistan shouldn’t put off anyone from freelancing.
The big spark
As Pakistan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem expands, more opportunities and challenges are coming up as well, with most focused on investments.
Speaking of how venture capital firms go about their investments, Sameer Chishty of SparkLabs said that these professionals always prefer boring hardcore business-to-business startups over the consumer-facing ones. “Boring over exciting, imitating a successful idea over starting from scratch, women startuppers over men,” he said. He further talked about how investors like him prefer companies with a strong work culture and employee focus.
On the occasion, he announced that SparkLabs would be launched in Pakistan in 2019.
One of the most insightful session at the event was ‘Financial sustainability of social ventures’ where socially viable startups shared stories of their success and the pitfalls in the sector.
Seed Ventures CEO Faraz Khan told the audience that his organisation, in consultation with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, is working on a legislation for social enterprises in the country, expected to be tabled by the second quarter of 2019. However, the social entrepreneurs’ growing reliance on structures and processes is possibly hurting their resilience, he cautioned.
Khan and another speaker at a separate panel noted that Pakistan had weak legislation and regulatory framework while the overall policy environment was archaic.
Epiphany’s Samar Hasan noted that there was “very little investment in women-led businesses”.
She repeatedly stressed about picking up a cause and becoming a champion. “There is power in community action”, she said while making a point about collaborative action being important for social enterprises.
One of the most heart-warming startup story was shared by Muhammad Waqas, the cofounder of WonderTree. His startup utilises the power of augmented reality-based games to allow special children in developing and enhancing their motor and cognitive skills. Though Waqas has a background in marketing, he ended up creating a product with his partner with the aim of “leaving a lasting impact”.
The panel highlighted the need for coming up with solutions to everyday problems including health, sanitation and education. There was a consensus amongst panelists that the social enterprise needed to be commercially viable to sustain. Social impact and commercial viability are not mutually exclusive, they all agreed.
The two-day 021Disrupt conference was organised by Nest I/O, a Karachi-based tech incubator and saw the participation of over 700 investors, entrepreneurs, students and bloggers. Leading venture capitals including Lumia Capital, Middle East Venture Partners, Alter Global, Fatima Ventures, Valhalla Capital, Wamda Capital, GOBI VC, Sarmayacar, were part of the event. According to
Nest I/O, the investors’ have a cumulative target fund size of more than a $1 billion.
Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2018