BY MEHAK JAMAL
I’ve been thinking for over a year now, to write my own piece but everytime I’d get to writing down, I wouldn’t know where to start from. However, what prompted me to write today was an innocent question and answer game I often play with my niece and nephew. It helps me understand their mindset. So my 10 year old nephew’s question was, “Why is the perception of our country so negative around the world when I see you working so hard to make this country a better place?”
As I explained to the 10 year old how the world works, I realized this is what I want to write about. According to an estimate, every Pakistani citizen, has an external debt of 66,000 PKR. The total debt of Pakistan is 65.7 percent of the total GDP of the country. The debt to revenue ratio is usually limited to 350 percent for a state, beyond which it wouldn’t be sustainable for any country to repay the loans installments. Unfortunately, the current debt to revenue ratio of Pakistan stands at an alarming proportion of 270.1 percent, which is increasing annually.
Pakistan’s unemployment rate is 5.9% which makes it fall into the middle quartile when compared with other countries but in a country with the 6th largest population in the world, that’s about 11,800,000 people still unemployed.
To top this, every year, more than two million young people enter the job market in this country. How can you absorb so many new job seekers when not just your country’s economy but even the global economy is growing so slowly?
Clearly, in this environment, Pakistan needs to rely on the strength of its own policies to generate more growth and jobs, and to join the group of dynamic emerging markets.
So how can we take Pakistan out of these state of affairs?
Work towards a resilient economy.
First of all, we need a resilient economy. For a start, we need to immediately place debt on a downward trajectory for which action is needed on both revenue and expenditures.
On the revenue side, Pakistan today still only collects little more than half of what is estimated as a feasible amount. This means the government needs to put a lot of effort in bringing more people into the tax net and ensuring that all pay their fair share. Moreover, we need to reduce public enterprise losses that can enable a scaling up of growth-enhancing investment in physical and human capital.
We must increase Private investment in the country. Only 10% of Pakistan’s economy is accounted for by Private investment which is way below the average that an emerging economy needs to achieve. To add, an emerging economy’s exports must be around 40% of the GDP whereas that of Pakistan, as of now is only 10%.
Another way of catalyzing growth is by improving business climate. Pakistan ranks 117/168 countries in perceived corruption. In order for our country to prosper, we NEED to strengthen governance and enable the private sector to thrive. Even a perception of corruption deters private investment and impedes efforts to promote sustainable and inclusive growth. Increasing transparency and accountability and removing red tape can help.
Last but not the least, we NEED to make more and more businesses to emerge that not only contribute to the economy of the country but help increase employment opportunities. Moreover, as a nation we need to introduce self employment models to fill up the unemployment gap as much as possible.
Make growth more inclusive.
Our state needs to focus on education and skill development at large. Access to education remains a key concern for the Pakistani citizen. We must increase public investment in education from 2½ percent of GDP to emerging market average — around 4 percent of GDP — in order to prepare the workforce with the necessary skills and make Pakistan more competitive on the global market. After all 60% of our population is under the age of 25.
Where we need to focus on an educated youth, let’s not forget the role of women in the economy. Closing gender gaps in economic participation could boost GDP by up to a third. These are non-trivial gains.
Vision and belief
So when I decided to join Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) a few years back, little did I know the worth of all we’re doing at the entrepreneurial wing. Although, I knew what I’m getting into is important but frankly I also wanted to explore how real all of it is. I entered the system as the Asst. Program Manager of a public co-working space called TechHub Connect (a space working dedicatedly for freelancers) where I came across the amazing work being done by the freelancing community of Pakistan. It was all unheard of before I became a part of the system. The space had been operating since 2 years and the synergy of freelancers coming together to form companies happened naturally. What we were lacking at that point, however, was the supply. Not sure about the acceptability of freelancing in our society, we ran a mini experiment where we arranged a 3 hour session on Freelancing 101. We opened the registrations for 3 days and we got flooded. Where the experiment ended successfully, it was a start to something bigger. We decided to initiate a 6 week long program where the freelancers of our space were to teach budding freelancers the art of freelancing.
In our first cohort we interviewed about 150 people who applied, out of which we felt only 20 could be trained into top class freelancers. This made us realize the need to convert the program into a regular one. We called it the “Foreelancing Workshops”. It was important for us to train people in freelancing and not just let them jump into it as it could adversely affect Pakistan’s position in the freelancing world. The program started rolling on a regular basis and the turnout started increasing. We gradually started getting requests from other cities to start the program in their vicinity and that is when the idea of eRozgaar Training Program came into existence.
What is eRozgaar Training Program and why is it important?
eRozgaar Training Program is our effort to minimize unemployment by training university graduates how to earn money online. We realized how we have more number of graduates and very little number of jobs. Where our sister project Plan9 Tech Incubator and so many incubators that have mushroomed across the country are working hard to make entrepreneurs, we realized how we need to still pace up the employment scenario of Pakistan. In order to cater to as many of these approximately 11,800,000 unemployed individuals, we cannot JUST rely on the local industry.
The number of jobs online is infinite. All we need is to equip graduates with the right skills and connect them to the world of internet. At eRozgaar with the help of universities, we are setting up centers in 36 cities of Pakistan. These centers will be training facilities in the morning and co-working spaces in the evening for participants of the program to sit together, work on projects and if not immediately, eventually come together to form companies.
This shall not only minimize unemployment but help foreign economy to flow into the country as well. This shall also increase the drive in our nation to start their own businesses as the next step for freelancers is usually working on their own products.
Where our mission at eRozgaar is to fill the unemployment gap and channelize the energies of our young and brilliant minds positively, it’s true that a lot of work still needs to be done by the government to have a strong tax structure in order for this money to be used to pay off the debt of Pakistan. However, we believe this industry can be a game changer for our country and lots of case studies can be found around the world of how nations changed their fate through freelancing and entrepreneurship, already (Estonia being one of them).
Where Pakistan needs a major face lift in front of the world, being a citizen of the country, I see hope and light with youngsters taking more and more ownership of the country. The time is not far when the 60% of the youth that is under the age of 25 will become office bearers of the country. That is when the magic will happen and if you zoom in, it has already begun to happen.