In a recent round table conference organised by the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives in Islamabad, the President of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI), Amir Piracha, presented a report titled “Recommendations for Digital Transformation in Pakistan.” Highlighting the potential of digitisation and technological revolution, Piracha emphasised the need for skill development to improve Pakistan’s freelancing sector, which currently lags behind in terms of revenue generation compared to other nations.
“While Pakistan is the 4th largest freelancing economy, the subsequent revenue is low as freelancers work on low hourly rates as compared to other nations.
With necessary skill development, and by utilising competitive advantage, Pakistan needs to identify its strengths and specialise in 1-2 key areas to build upon its digitised economy.” According to the OICCI report, Pakistan’s e-commerce sector constitutes merely 1% of the country’s retail market.
However, by implementing the recommendations outlined in the report, Pakistan could create innovative employment opportunities for its young population, which accounts for 23% of the total population.
The report suggests that these measures could potentially add $60 billion to the economy within the next seven to eight years.
The OICCI report emphasises the urgent need for increased fibre optic broadband penetration, improved 4G coverage, and the formulation of an AI policy to enhance decision-making processes.
The report also highlights the importance of data analytics technologies for government departments such as the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
Additionally, the report emphasises the necessity of an up-to-date cybersecurity law and strict enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights to attract global IT companies to establish their presence in Pakistan.
Comparing the income of freelancers in the United States and Pakistan, JS Global ICT analyst Waqas Ghani Kukaswadia revealed to The Express Tribune that the average annual income of a freelancer in the United States is $42,000, while in Pakistan, it is only around one-tenth of that amount.
Kukaswadia stressed the need to increase the number of active freelancers in Pakistan while simultaneously raising the average annual income to over $10,000, which would result in significant economic benefits.
The disparity in freelancer pay scales is influenced by education and certification, particularly in technical fields such as computer programming, mobile app development, and legal or financial writing.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan and other stakeholders should cooperate and work for an updated curriculum in-line with global standards, one which can help address foreign client needs, he said.
Introducing a strong marketing strategy and PR plan for freelancers will also help with access to international markets and clientele.
Kapeel Kumar, an ICT expert based in Karachi, highlighted that many freelancers lack the resources to acquire the necessary equipment and guidance to enhance their skills and market themselves effectively.
Kumar suggested that the government could provide laptops and equipment through duty-free bulk imports at a low cost, financed by small savings turned into investments in the digital economy.
“This will not only bring in the much-needed foreign exchange but it would also transform our work ethic and work culture, he said.
“The socio-economic transformation spurred by a digital economy can lead Pakistan to greatness,” said Kumar.
However, Nasheed Malik, an ICT analyst at Topline Securities, cautioned that while raising hourly rates may enhance the income of Pakistani freelancers, it could potentially lead companies to outsource work to other countries, such as India or the Philippines.
The OICCI report also identified key challenges to Pakistan’s digitisation journey, including inconsistent policies, a technical skills gap, and deficiencies in policy implementation and execution.
The participants of the conference also emphasised the pressing issue of foreign exchange remittance.
Acknowledging the significance of digital transformation, Minister of Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal expressed his support for the OICCI’s recommendations.
He formed a working group comprising representatives from the ministry and the IT sector to monitor the implementation of the report’s key milestones.
Iqbal stressed the importance of public-private partnerships for the long-term prosperity of the country and its population.
On another occasion, Iqbal on Thursday also set up a Steering Committee comprising of experts from the IT and private sectors to implement measures for the digital transformation of the country and to increase the export volume.
Last week, the planning minister formed a 15-member National Task Force on AI to achieve the required national development goals.
The key objective of the task force is to develop a 10-year roadmap for the accelerated adoption of AI in the business, development, governance, education and healthcare sectors.
The digital revolution presents Pakistan with a unique opportunity to uplift its economy and work culture.