Digitally Yours – A Tania Aidrus’s initiative to Digitalize Pakistan

We all heard the courageous address at the launch of the Digital Pakistan Initiative. In case you missed it, we are not talking about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allocution this time. It was the young and energetic Ex-Googler who stood tall in Infront of a large audience which was hoping for a silver lining from the long list of unfulfilled promises made by the current government.

Tania Aidrus has recently resigned from Google Singapore where she held the position of Director. It is said that Aidrus has returned to Pakistan after 20 years. Tania has studied abroad and has done a BSc from Brandeis University which is located in Waltham, Massachusetts. She has also got an MBA degree from MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Pakistan has immense potential in digital world. Untapped resources in the shape of youth have helped the country is earning billions of dollars. The process of digitization requires international organizations coming to Pakistan and opening their offices but this seems a far cry till now.

Aidrus has demonstrated excellence as an innovator too by transforming an entrepreneurial idea into a co-founded company known as ClickDiagnostics. A while ago, in her interview with the Fox Business, she explained what this initiative was about. She described how her startup was trying to provide healthcare to thousands of people who do not have access to medical facilities. In brief, ClickDiagnostics objective was to provide remote diagnostics through cell phone technology to the people living in the villages of the third world countries.

She has also got experience working with renowned companies at prestigious positions. At Booz Allen Hamilton, she was giving consultancy to the Fortune 500 companies. After this, she took the opportunity to work at Google USA from where she moved to Google Singapore and became the Country Manager for the South Asian Markets. Her last position was of a Director for the Next Billion Users (NBU) and Payment Efforts at Google Singapore.

Aidrus’s Chronicle

Aidrus in her speech at the Digital Pakistan initiative said that even though she was out of the country, she never missed any chance of working for the betterment of the country. She quoted that during her stay at the MIT as a graduate student, she availed the opportunity of writing the first-ever case study on Pakistan from the varsity’s platform. Aidrus also added that it was she who first introduced Products of Google in Pakistan while working in Google Singapore.

She always wanted to do more for her country. For her, it was the Digitalization Vision of the PTI government that made her ponder upon coming back to Pakistan. And so, it all began about seven months ago when a mutual acquaintance forwarded an email to the Prime Minister in which she had shown her intent of helping out the Government in the digitization initiative. The reform team then continuously followed up with Aidrus and eventually, Mr. Jehangir Tareen intervened to persuade her to come back and join the unit. Tania also recalled how she took a leap of faith and left everything to return to Pakistan.

What is there to learn from her recent addresses

If you inspect her addresses from recent times, there are a lot of positive things to discern.

At Pakistan’s biggest entrepreneur conference 021 Disrupt event, Aidrus elaborated how countries that once had similar problems to Pakistan have now in a very adequate manner, coped with all these issues through digitalization. She gave the examples of Vietnam and India on how these countries have superseded their peers by just establishing a digital infrastructure.

In her presentation at the Government’s Digital Initiative Event, she highlighted the exigencies of creating promising opportunities for the graduates. Aidrus expressed that for every Pakistani who will retire in the next 20 years, 3 new graduates will enter the workforce. This imbalanced ratio is distressing as not having enough opportunities for tech-savvy people means more frustration amongst the youth and more brain drain. She also added that PM has already cautioned her about this uphill task but there are no two ways about it.

Airdus exemplified the need for a digital transformation with the anecdote of her driver who has to pay a substantial fee from his wage for transferring money to his family in another part of the country.

She also shared the incredible fact that Pakistan has 70 million broadband users making it amongst one of the largest subscribers base in the world. Taking this fact into account, the government can monetize the available data and can make headway in generating substantial economic benefits.

Analyzing the 5 Action Items for the Digitalization Program

1) Access and Connectivity

This will ensure that the internet is available for all and sundry in Pakistan. Aidrus proposed an extension to the ever so famous human rights slogan which then becomes Roti, Kapra, Makan, and the Internet.

2) Digital Infrastructure

Underlying framework is vital as it will enable a common person in completing his or her chores and errands in less time and more efficiently.

3) E-government

Intra-government operations need to be automated and if done appropriately, this will reduce the manually cataloged work and will also optimize the elemental processes.

4) Digital Skilling and Literacy

This aim focuses on revising and improving our current curriculum taught at the universities. It suggests that Science and Technology should be made part of the education system from the grassroots level. We basically have to sow the seeds of technology stimulated courses in primary education so that the refinement of a student begins from a very early stage.

5) Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The objective behind this point is to create a viable environment for the young tech startups so that they can bypass the unwanted hindrances and work smoothly towards their goal. An aura of assurance from the government will nurture the startup companies and this, in turn, will strengthen the country’s economy.

Now, some of you might argue that this whole plan seems to be biting off more than one can chew, but one should pat the government on the back for activating the diaspora and taking contemporary initiatives. Just to conclude, this whole initiative sounds bold but it could be a pandora’s box for someone living elsewhere and does not have the first-hand experience of dealing with problems in Pakistan.

Tania might also get locked into a vicious cycle of boom and bust which many in the past have also gotten into but one should wish her all the best. In the end, what really matters is a collective and a sincere effort and besides, it is too soon to predict what will happen—only time will tell.

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