Eminent Pakistani economist Dr. Nadeemul Haq (no relation to Riaz Haq) interviewed Riaz Haq last week for his podcast "Soch Bichar" to talk about the subject of "Digitization in Pakistan" in Urdu. Here is a summary of the interview:
Dr. Nadeemul Haq: How do you define "digitization"?
Riaz Haq: To me, digitization on a national scale is pervasive use of digital technologies in all aspects of life: business, trade, industry, media, finance, government, education, sports, entertainment, military, etc etc.
NH: What is happening in Pakistan on digitization?
RH: Jahangir Tareen, a close aide to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has recently announced the hiring of a woman of Pakistani origin who is currently working for Google in Singapore. He said she will lead the digitization effort in Pakistan from the Prime Minister's office.
NH: Is digitization possible in Pakistan?
RH: Yes, it is possible. Digitization requires digital infrastructure and human capital. Pakistan is making progress on both of these. You could argue that it is not happening fast enough but both are happening.
A lot of fiber is being laid and Zong has recently completed 5G trials. There are about 70 million subscriptions to mobile broadband. Number of smartphones being sold is rising with 1 million to 2 million being sold each month. About 30,000 to 40,000 young people with IT skillsets are graduating from various educational institutions.
NH: What can the government do to help increase digitization?
RH: The government's job is in the policy areas to facilitate it. For example, the government bureaucracy needs to ensure that the required licenses for 5G are issued in a timely manner to make it widely available. The government needs to provide various incentives to promote investment in digital fiber and data centers, etc etc. The government also needs to invest in development of human capital and skillsets needed for digitization.
NH: How can Pakistan promote digital entrepreneurship? Startups?
RH: Pakistan needs to help develop an ecosystem for startups: Legal framework, Incubators, venture capital, etc etc.
NH: Pakistan already has several incubators. What do you think about them?
RH: Pakistan can learn from Silicon Valley incubators like ycombinator. Silicon Valley incubators are created and managed by successful entrepreneurs and startup investors. Pakistan does have a few successful entrepreneurs and investors like Monis Rehman (rozee.pk), Zia Chishti (afiniti.com), Musaddir Sheikha (Careem) and Asad Jamal (ePlanet). Incubators headed by them would be more successful.
NH: What would be your advice to youngsters wanting to do startups in Pakistan?
RH: Pakistan has the world's 4th largest number of tech freelancers. Some of these freelancers have the potential to start up companies if they can get some good coaching by successful entrepreneurs and have access to venture capital. These youngsters can also grow their freelance business and use the proceeds to bootstrap into successful tech companies.
NH: Please explain for our listeners what is bootstrapping?
RH: Bootstrapping is the use of your own internally generated capital to grow a company. The most successful example of bootstrapping is Microsoft. Bill Gates and Paul Allan had developed a rudimentary BASIC interpreter with their own resources when IBM approached them and asked to purchase their "operating system". Bill and Paul didn't have an "operating system". So they bought one from Gary Kildall of Santa Cruz and sold it to IBM for its PCs. The rest is history.
NH: Will digitization in Pakistan hurt employment?
RH: Yes, that is a very valid concern. I remember when there was a Blockbuster video rental store at almost every corner in major American cities and towns. Netflix wiped them out and the franchisees and employees of the these stores lost their businesses and jobs. Similarly, Uber rid-hailing service has hurt established taxi companies and taxi drivers. However, companies like Careem, Lyft and Uber have opened up the possibility for anyone with a car to become taxi drivers on part-time and full-time basis. It's spawned "Gig Economy".
Here's the link to the podcast: