INTERVIEW WITH MS JEHAN ARA, PRESIDENT PAKISTAN SOFTWARE HOUSES ASSOCIATION FOR IT & ITES (P@SHA)

KHALIL AHMED
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

July 23 - 29, 20
12

PAGE: TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF:

JEHAN ARA: I am the President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA). I have 29 years of experience in Marketing, Communications and interactive New media in Hong Kong, the Far East, the UAE and Pakistan. I consider myself primarily a communicator, a motivator, an entrepreneur, a social activist and a strong propagator of extending the power and use of Information and Communication Technologies beyond pure traditional business, to empower and enable communities.

POLICY ADVOCACY:

Advocacy through the use of cutting edge technology is one of my passions. Cyber Crime, Privacy and Data Protection legislation and Internet Freedom are some of the things I continuously advocate for.

ACTIVISM & ADVOCACY:

Using Social media - Facebook, blogging, video casts and Twitter - I have tried to highlight the need for harnessing technology to combat social problems, for empowerment of women and to advocate for legislative reform.?One of our advocacy successes has been to prevent the "Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance" (PECO) from being passed into law. We worked with lawyers, activists, women's rights organizations, NGO's, young people and media to create an awareness program on the dangers of this law being passed. It would have given the law enforcement agencies sweeping powers without any safeguards being built in for individuals and businesses. We are now lobbying with the Select Committee on IT to bring in the required amendments.

P@SHA SOCIAL INNOVATION FUND:

Launched with seed funding that we were able to procure from Google. The launch of this Fund has resulted in 300 ideas being posted by young people. These ideas all involve using technology for social good. The first round of funding was announced on October 25, 2011 and the first five grantees are well on the way to turning their ideas into reality. Mentors have been attached to them to guide them and help them to identify milestones. It is hoped that this will spur the use of technology for the betterment of a larger number of Pakistanis. We hope to award another 5 grantees with Rs. 850,000 each in the coming two months.

PAGE : YOUR VIEWS ON THE USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN PAKISTAN:

JEHAN ARA: The Information & Communication Technology in Pakistan is vibrant. It has seen almost 25%-30% growth year on year for the past few years. Many of the companies have built award winning technology products for the world market. More and more young people are running companies and generating revenues for themselves and job opportunities for others. Many of our companies are providing cutting edge solutions to customers around the world in enterprise, business process outsourcing services, risk management, business continuity, CRM, resource planning, mortgage, leasing, insurance etc. E-Learning and Mobile Apps are exciting new areas where companies from Pakistan have been making a name for themselves.

Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) has been a major growth driver for the Pakistani economy in the past. In the last decade the industry has shown tremendous progress and has grown quite rapidly. Even though it has registered tremendous growth, the Pakistan IT industry still forms a very small part of the global IT and Pakistan's position on the Global IT Readiness index is unsatisfactory and has a significant potential for growth in the coming years. Our collective vision should be to make ICT the main pillar of the economy and a mainstay for national development, GDP growth and governance.

In order for ICT to be a key enabler in driving development across all sectors, i.e. Education, Agriculture, Health, Governance, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment, some measures need to be taken in terms of developing a stronger legal framework and infrastructure.

Implementation of 3G, a broad availability of cheap broadband, a strong Cyber Crime legislation, a Privacy & Confidentiality framework, an online Payment Gateway, Data Protection and safeguards for businesses and individuals will be key in making this happen.

PAGE: WASN'T THERE A CYBER CRIME LEGISLATION THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAD PROMULGATED?

JEHAN ARA: The existing Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance (PECO) 2009 which is being debated by the National Assembly Select Committee on IT requires essential amendments in terms of definitions which are vague, in terms of excessive powers given to regulatory authorities and law enforcement and with inadequate safeguards provided for individuals and businesses. This is likely to lead to potential abuse of power and will prevent investment from flowing into the country's IT sector.

P@SHA is preparing to present its recommendations to the National Assembly Select Committee on IT in the coming weeks so that a workable legislation can be drafted that will protect the interests of citizens, of businesses and of the country as a whole as well as provide a base for the positive use of ICT in Pakistan.

A good legislative framework will lead to the growth of business, increase the number of jobs, empowerment of women, increased use of ICT in health, education, agriculture and governance as well as the growth of entrepreneurship, said Jehan Ara, in turn leading to GDP growth.

PAGE: COULD YOU COMMENT ON THE USE OF IT BY THE CORPORATE SECTOR IN PAKISTAN?

JEHAN ARA: The financial sector was the first one in Pakistan to start adopting IT. Then came the telecom sector, the pharmaceutical sector and FMCGs. Some of the large players in the textile sector and the larger hospitals have been using technology effectively to automate their operations but to a large extent SMEs have been slow to come to the party.

We have seen some movement in the retail sector where hundreds of retailers have started buying and using some cost-effective and innovative local solutions but we still have a long way to go.

There is a lot of potential for ICT to be used in governance and for transparency but the public sector has been resisting. Gas and power companies are an exception as is the FBR.

We need a faster and wider adoption of technology by the corporate sector, by industries and by government.

PAGE : YOUR VIEWS ON THE FUTURE OF IT IN PAKISTAN:

JEHAN ARA: ICT has a major role to play in the growth of the Pakistan economy and in the development of the country. It is not restricted to the IT sector alone. It drives and streamlines every sector. We have so many young people in this country. If we can enable and empower them in the use of technology we will have a force that will be the envy of countries around the world.

There is a lot of talent in this country. All we need to do is groom them and channel it.

I have seen young people so totally motivated to take up problems that this country and their communities are currently facing and to work out solutions using technology. Scaling will be the problem and that is where the government has to come in once proven models have been shown to them.

PAGE : WHAT IS P@SHA'S OPINION ON THE NATIONAL ICT POLICY DRAFT THAT THE MINISTRY OF IT & TELECOM HAS RECENTLY OPENED UP FOR STAKEHOLDER INPUT?

JEHAN ARA: The main objective of the ICT Policy is that the Government of Pakistan should be committed to using ICT as a key enabler to drive development across all sectors, with focus on six key sectors i.e. Education, Agriculture, Health, Governance, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment. The new National ICT Policy Document has two themes: a National level theme encompassing all the six key sectors where ICT intervention is required, and an industry level theme that focuses on issues critical to the long term development of the ICT and ITES enabled industry in Pakistan.

At an industry level, the ICT Policy focuses on issues critical to the long term development of the ICT and ITES enabled industry in Pakistan. At a broad level, like all other industries in Pakistan, the IT sector needs affordable, functional space, competitively priced electricity and power, always on connectivity (without interruptions and disruptions), access to finance, a client, investor and business friendly legislative framework, a growing pool of talented professionals and a positive media image.

The National IT Policy document contains actionable milestones and fundable projects, reflecting the point of views of primary stakeholders and the technology industry members of civil society, the technology industry in general, the telecommunication community, the services sector, academia, media and socio-political activists as well as various government entities.

The vision of the document is to make the ICT sector the main pillar of the economy and to transform Pakistan into a regional Information & Communication Technology (ICT) hub. ICT and ITES play a significant role in national development and GDP growth. This Policy Document is therefore both domestic and external focused, driving specific impacts within the Pakistani economy and driving ICT as an enabler within the different socioeconomic domains in the country.

The ICT Policy is aimed at helping to propel Pakistan and the ICT and ITES community together into a new era of prosperity, growth, job creation and recognition.

P@SHA was actively involved with the Ministry in the development of the document along with a range of stakeholders. We feel it is a good base to start from. The Ministry has already said that this will be a live document that will continue to evolve over time and that is the way it should be.