Pakistan is moving towards a digital revolution. But is it ready to reap the benefits?

Published November 25, 2018
World Economic Forum article highlights factors that show rapid growth in Pakistan's digital sector. — File photo
World Economic Forum article highlights factors that show rapid growth in Pakistan's digital sector. — File photo

As Pakistan climbs out of the war against terrorism, it is well on its way to development, both economic and digital, according to a recent article that appeared on the World Economic Forum (WEF).

With a current economic growth rate of 5.8 per cent, investor confidence in the country has improved, the WEF report says. Earlier this month, Google's Head of Large Customer Marketing, South Asia, Lars Anthonisen suggested entrepreneurs to consider expanding their campaigns to Pakistan because the country was on its way to "produce one of the largest digital audiences in the world".

Apart from an improvement in the security situation, Pakistan's digital growth is also triggered by China's investment in various sectors, including infrastructure and technology. Recently China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba bought Daraz.pk, Pakistan largest online shopping platform.

Ant Financial Services, that is China's biggest online payment service provider, also bought a 45 per cent share in the Telenor subsidiary, Telenor Microfinance Bank "to bring mobile payment and inclusive financial services to individuals as well as small and micro businesses in Pakistan".

Apart from business investments, the Chinese government is also investing in the country under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of President Xi Jinping's grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Considering that China is ahead of most countries when it comes to developing future technologies, it is not a far-fetched assumption that development of digital connectivity will be a part of BRI.

Exclusive: The CPEC plan for Pakistan’s digital future

CPEC is not only focusing on improving connectivity through proper infrastructure but also on developing the digital sector in order to ensure that the initiative is successful. For instance, one of the projects that is part of CPEC is the laying of 820 kilometres of fibre-optic cable, that will connect more Pakistanis to the digital world.

The WEF article notes that the Pakistani government is ensuring that the investments benefit its people by making the CPEC deals more transparent.

Considering that a majority of Pakistan's huge population is under 30, developments in the digital sector will help unleash the previously untapped potential of the country's youth. They will also help bring the youth into the financial fold.

The impact on the economy can also be significant. According to the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) development authority, about 90 per cent of businesses in Pakistan are SMEs that have a 40 per cent share in the country annual gross domestic product. Developments in the digital sector can help SMEs reach more consumers and achieve growth.

The catch here is the lack of internet penetration that currently stands at 22 per cent. According to the WEF article, however, populations with large technological or digital divides do not take much time to adapt to technology.

Take a look: Why Pakistanis are among the least innovative in the world

Pakistan will also have to improve its ranking in innovation and financial inclusion on the WEF's Global Competitiveness indices — where it currently ranks at 89 and 75 respectively — if it hopes to reap the benefits of rapid technological advancements in the country.

Though, digital advancements offer endless possibilities, they will only be realised if Pakistan's workforce is equipped with necessary knowledge regarding the developments that are being introduced.

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