Islamabad: After two decades learning at the world’s best schools and working for leading technology companies, Tania Aidrus is back in Pakistan to lead the country’s transformation into a digital society.
On Thursday, when Prime Minister Imran Khan formally launched the ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative, the hall was filled with awe and inspiration as all eyes were on Aidrus, who had just quit her job at Google to serve her homeland.
The tech consultant, who has been living abroad for over 20 years, said when she was contacted by the Pakistan government to lead the project, she promptly agreed.
“I came back to contribute to country’s development because I want to see Pakistan prosper,” she said.
“This is the first step towards [our] digital journey,” she announced identifying five key pillars of the programme: access and connectivity, digital infrastructure, digital skills and literacy, e-government, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The programme aims to ensure access to the internet for every Pakistani as a fundamental right, and to create a digital infrastructure to make everyday tasks easier, faster and secure.
Other objectives include to digitise government processes, invest in digital education and create an enabling environment for start-ups and investors.
Who is Tania Aidrus?
Tania holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BSc from Brandeis University. She joined the tech arena almost 10 years ago when she saw the internet as a powerful force that has the ability to reduce information barriers, and “ability to change lives and economies.”
Until recently, she served as the director of product management and payments at Google’s Next Billion Users (NBU) where she facilitated emerging countries to shift from cash to digital payment.
Earlier, she was the Country Manager for South Asia Emerging Markets in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, at the Google headquarters in Singapore. In 2017, she cofounded a mobile health diagnosis company called ClickDiagnostics to connected rural patients with health experts.
Why is she eager to lead ‘Digital Pakistan’?
Describing why she is enthusiastic to work in Pakistan, Tania said: “More than 100 million people are below the age of 25 which means that for every Pakistani who retires in the next 20 years, three young Pakistanis will enter the workforce.”
Young tech-savvy Pakistanis, a growing middle class, talented tech force and 70 million internet users, can facilitate growth as “there is an opportunity to build billion-dollar companies” in every sector. All the government has to do, she said, is create an enabling environment, make digital building blocks, and policies that promote innovation.
‘I just want to see Pakistan prosper’
Addressing the audience, Tania said she came back to contribute to her homeland because PM Imran Khan’s government gave her and Pakistani expats the confidence to work for the country.
“I believe this government cares about the common people,” she said. When people ask her about her political agenda, she says: “My agenda is simple, I just want to see the progress of Pakistan.”
Government’s focus is now digitisation: PM Imran
Speaking at the launch event, PM Imran Khan said, after attaining the economic stability, Pakistan’s government would now focus on effective digitisation of public services.
“The Digital Pakistan initiative has been designed for the government and the private sector to work towards a digitally progressive and inclusive Pakistan,” he stated.
The digital transformation was vital, he said, to create jobs, spur local entrepreneurship.
“It would unleash the true potential of Pakistan’s youth population,” and benefit women. The initiative also aims to introduce digital payments, simplify administrative processes, curb corruption, and promote transparency.
Addressing the event, State Bank Governor Dr Reza Baqir said digital payments was one of the key components of the initiative that would facilitate the entrepreneurs to launch new companies and the common man to make transactions through mobile phones.
Minister of IT Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said that Pakistan would have to focus on building the digital infrastructure to join the race of artificial intelligence and 6G technology and create an enabling environment for some 25,000 IT graduates annually.
What is Digital Pakistan initiative?
With the launch of the initiative, Pakistan has laid the foundation of e-governance ecosystem to digitise public services, simplify and modernise administrative processes to connect people all across the country to government services with a single tap. The program aims to transform lives and economies by making processes smarter, easier and efficient with the help of smart phones. The potential for development and growth is massive for Pakistan that has 170 million mobile users and 75 million broadband users and produces 25,000 IT graduates every year.
5 Goals of Digital Pakistan:
1. Access and Connectivity to ensure every Pakistani has access to internet as a fundamental right
2. Digital Infrastructure that makes everyday tasks easier, faster and secure on smartphones
3. E-government that digitises government processes and services for citizens and businesses
4. Digital Skills and Literacy that enables tech graduates to secure relevant jobs
5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship to provide an enabling environment for start-ups and businesses
170 million mobile users
75 million broadband users