It was the year 2016 and I was in my last semester at NUST, Islamabad. I was penning down thoughts on what to write in a research paper based on the Theory of Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) which is one of the oldest social science theories. DOI was developed by E.M Rogers in 1962 and it explains how an idea or a new product (innovation) gains momentum and diffuses (spreads) in social system. The process of diffusion leads to people of the social system adopting a new idea, behavior, or product.
I was unable to connect any dots but during a Google search came across the words innovation and entrepreneurship. That was probably the first time I had heard the term entrepreneurship. As I searched further, I realized the presence of a Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) inside NUST. Upon my visit to CIE I was also suggested to check out the work being done at Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and incorporate the working methodologies of their entrepreneurial projects specially Plan9, for my research paper. Upon my visit at PITB, I found out about the interesting work the startups were involved with at Plan9. In conjunction with PlanX – Pakistan’s largest technology accelerator – both projects have successfully helped approximately 200 startups till date. These startups have a gross valuation of around 75 million USD and most importantly they have created over 1000 jobs.
That day I also realized that PITB is a whole new world all together. Along with running Plan9, PITB has fundamentally transformed many government departments and processes. From the last six years, it has completed over 300 projects in the fields of health, law and order, education, agriculture and citizen services.
With the efforts of PITB, all 714 police stations of Punjab and their records have been digitized and now more than 878,000 files have been registered in the system
Even the 117-year-old stamp paper system has been digitized with the introduction of e-stamps. These e-stamps have a unique verification number which means that fake stamp papers cannot be issued. Till date, over 75 billion rupees worth of e-stamps have been issued throughout the province.
PITB has also taken concrete steps for the education department. PITB educational projects have eliminated ghost schools from the province and have increased education standards by introducing a school monitoring system. This has significantly improved attendance of school staff and the overall education standards. Moreover, PITB has developed a smartphone based dengue warning system. The Anti-Dengue app has successfully conducted more than 21 million surveillance activities since March 2012. Along with consultation of the health department, PITB has introduced E-Vaccs that makes sure that children get proper immunity vaccination. Till date more than 2.75 million children have been vaccinated. PITB’s efforts in ensuring proper vaccination to children across the province have been timely.
Along with the different public sector projects housed at ASTP also has a state of the art public sector university called Information Technology University (ITU) that is modelled on the lines of world’s leading technological universities.
ITU has also partnered with several international organizations to bring big projects to life. Among these are MIT Tech Review Pakistan, the country’s premier science and technology magazine that reports on cutting edge research.
A core theme running through most PITB and ITU projects has been the focus on Pakistan’s youth. To me, this has by far been the greatest achievement. Pakistan’s youth bulge accounts to 64% of the total population, and an organization that not only recognizes the importance of such a segment, but also continually works to incorporate it through its activities, is something to be admired and emulated.
It was just one piece of academic literature that introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship and a single visit to ASTP made me realize I wanted to work within the startup ecosystem. Today in August 2018 as I write this I have successfully completed more than a year at ITU. In the whole process, I have also realized that developing countries like Pakistan may be behind the more developed countries when it comes to innovation and digitization but it is through initiatives like PITB and ITU that we can hope for and work towards a better and prosperous Pakistan.