The innovative spirit of Pakistanis never ceases to amaze me.
Burhan and his team at the Punjab Information Technology Board built a smart-phone based monitoring system that lets the government track its dengue prevention efforts in real-time using location based pictures.
Sidra and Muhammed founded an internet e-commerce service last year and started selling handmade leather shoes to the world from a warehouse in Okara (they now employ 11 people); Qari Khalil from Rawalpindi uses Skype to teach Quran to students in the US and Farasat Iqbal, another Punjab government employee, makes clever use of Internet enabled phones to work out when rural health clinics need more medicines.
What do these people have in common? They’re overcoming the odds; making creative use of technology to grow the economy and make a positive impact on society. They’re our innovation heroes. They work through electricity shortages, infrastructure deficits, and regulatory barriers.
Next week we’ll launch an Innovation Punjab campaign, with the support of Google Inc, to put innovation and technology on top of our agenda. The aim of the campaign is to shape Punjab government policies across key governance issues.
It’s a clarion call to Pakistanis at home and abroad to help us enable thousands more heroes across Pakistan make use of technology to boost our economy, drive social innovation and improve society.
Working across sectors with government colleagues, entrepreneurs, industry and civil society, we can harness our tech-savvy youth to drive the development of an information technology ecosystem that is optimised for creativity and originality.
The campaign, to be launched on August 16 in Lahore, focuses on how the government can automate business processes, facilitate access to fast and cheap internet and e-payment mechanisms to open new avenues for entrepreneurs, seek feedback from citizens to improve service delivery and identify corruption, open a data platform to bring transparency to the government; work with industries and universities to cultivate the high-tech industry and create real-time access to the latest market prices to improve the livelihood of farmers.
We’re doing this because it shouldn’t be too hard. We want to lower the barriers to entry to enable all citizens of Punjab to benefit from technology.
Today, there are too many barriers. One barrier is cheap, widespread and fast access to the internet; another is the lack of an easy-to-use online payment system.
A good start to improve the regulatory framework for innovation is simply to highlight the barriers that are discouraging innovation and bring them to the top of the policy agenda.
Our vision for Punjab is for there to be many more people like Mohammed and Sidra, who are not only selling handmade shoes around the world, but also driving our economy and promoting Pakistan.
Dr Umar Saif is associate professor of computer science at LUMS and is currently working as the chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB).
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2012.