Like a deer caught in the headlights, that’s how most of 2020 felt for all of us on the planet. Almost 12 months since we first heard news from Wuhan on the virus, today we’re all much different individuals, societies, humans and organisations, and dare I say, better at that. Perhaps this is what makes us human, our survival instinct, combined with the ability to adapt and mould ourselves as we hope for the future.

More importantly, it’s time now that we learn and look at all that we did gain out of these past 12 months and how it prepares us as we look on to the future — for most, it’s been a ritualistic reliance on digital mediums, and that’s what really helped us fast track into the future. The real question lies in assessing if we are ready for the digital evolution that is taking place now, faster than ever.

Pakistan is rightly known as the land of opportunity as it has tremendous and unmatched potential. We witnessed a surge in data usage and digital payments during the past few months and there has been an increase in fin-techs, startups and banking institutions marching towards digitalisation; hence, signalling a boost for economy and society. The recent months following the coronavirus outbreak came as a reminder to transform businesses, innovate new operating models, bridge the digital divide, and build a digitally and financially inclusive society.

Technology-enabled innovation is the major spur to productive growth. Rapid advances in technology are enabling new business opportunities and disrupting current business models. For Pakistan to continue on this digital growth path, it is crucial to invest in people and prepare them for the skillset our future demands.

According to an estimate, 70 per cent of new value created in the economy over the next decade will rely on digital platforms and business models eg digital payments and e-commerce alone are forecast to add $45 billion over the next five years to the country’s GDP. This is bound to elevate the level of exports and create new jobs for the youth of the country. However, the youth needs to be prepared to embrace the new and upcoming opportunities by being equipped with skillset of the future. With digital means of education taking off in popularity especially this year, this trend should continue for our youth to keep exploring new avenues to expand and enrich their areas of expertise.

This year, we were able to fast pace the digital adoption in a few months for plans that were made for the next five years. To keep driving such growth in the country, new technological solutions will have to be brought in to support and develop smart solutions such as integration of Internet of Things (IoT) to real-time monitoring, computing, and establishment of smart factories. The digital world continues to evolve and grow. The digital future is built on collaborative efforts to nurture strong and strategic partnerships to co-create and develop innovative solutions. When the organisations and institutions offer solutions collectively, they benefit the masses exponentially by bridging the digital divide and offering solutions to current problems.

The world has come at a closer proximity due to increased digitalisation and there exist opportunities greater than before. For international players to enter this market, what’s important for them is a stable and conducive business environment that provides ease in setting up their establishments. Encouraging FDI will not only create new job opportunities but will also allow for the digital ecosystem to grow and flourish.

Pakistan’s digital journey is dependent on the key policy and regulatory framework decisions taken today and will have a lasting impact. ICT is the backbone of global digital economy and with a strong digital communication network that is accessible and affordable to all, it will form a strong foundation to keep an upward trajectory of the pace of development. To achieve that, it is important to incentivize digital adaption, simplify the business environment, that is a constituent of regulatory and policy frameworks.

As we look forward to the future, we must look at the past and reflect on it. What Pakistan needs is environmental and social sustainability to ensure growth. Making the country taxpayer-friendly and improving efficiencies by leveraging modern technology is a milestone to be achieved towards a prosperous Pakistan.

The writer is the CEO of Telenor Pakistan, Chairman Telenor Microfinance Bank and ­president OICCI 2018-19. He tweets at @IrfanWahabKhan

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2020

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