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Partners in progress

Sometimes the most powerful forces of change are the ones that can barely be seen. Such is the case with the transformative role of private sector investment today. In Pakistan, as in other parts of the world, businesses help to improve health care, educate and train students, and transfer technological know-how. They provide energy solutions for millions of Pakistanis. They establish lasting business relationships and goodwill with other countries around the globe.

They are impelled by a deep belief that some of the most vital ingredients in a country's economic development will not come from above, from aid agencies and government officials, but from within. Progress will come up from the ground, as Pakistan's own inventive private enterprises innovate, adapt and collaborate with both local and international business partners.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which I represent, has invested in and alongside Pakistani companies for roughly four decades. As the development finance institution of the US government, we have the tools and resources to provide investors with financing, guarantees, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds.

Our mission is to invest in projects that create jobs, improve lives, and help communities. It is also to invest in ways that uphold and foster solid business practices and the highest standards of transparency. We believe that private ventures that bring together local Pakistani businesses with US investors and capital, catalysed by OPIC financing, can achieve those development goals in a sustainable way.

A key difference in our approach is that we do not aim for economic success and merely hope for a public benefit. Our projects seek from inception to generate specific outcomes - such as new jobs, improved health care, and critical new sources of power or cleaner water - for Pakistanis.

One vivid example is in Karachi where the Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College Foundation is being expanded with the support of an OPIC loan. The funds will go toward adding ambulatory, neonatal, and pediatric care facilities, all of which will create hundreds of jobs and deliver both immediate and long-term economic and health benefits.

At first glance, the facility is a model of modern, efficient healthcare that features state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment. Yet what is happening within the walls of this enterprise enticed OPIC too. The financial structure - a private-sector hospital - allows the hospital to provide free healthcare to low-income patients, who often have critical and recurring needs.

Today, we also have a significant investment in a 12-megawatt electrical power generation plant in Sindh Province that will be fuelled by agricultural waste from sugarcane and rice crops. We have active investments in an office tower with world class information technology in Karachi, in water treatment facilities, in wind power, in expansion of cellular telephone service and microfinance programs. All of these investments are long-term mutually beneficial partnerships between US and Pakistani investors. All embody high-quality transparent business standards, and all are designed to provide private sector answers to Pakistan's development needs.

The public sector has an indispensable regulatory and leadership role - it must create the conditions to allow the private sector to grow. But the private sector is the perpetual engine of broad-based economic vitality.

The diversity of OPIC's investment portfolio in Pakistan is both a strength and an affirmation of our core investment philosophy: listening and learning from local partners. One of my most important goals as I visit Pakistan this week will be to listen to investment ideas of all types - large or small; high-tech or low-tech, urban or rural.

Today, American and Pakistani businesses are increasingly linking up and succeeding together, and those successes will lend the transformative power to help our nations and people for generations to come.

(The writer is President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013


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