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Are Pakistani people innovative? This is a million-dollar question the answer to which lies in the analysis of our behaviors and our approach towards problem-solving. A centuries-old phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” offers some direction in this regard.

We, as a nation, are deprived of numerous basic necessities and quintessential commodities. This deprivation is thoroughly visible across our demographic classes and geographic diversity. There is a plethora of details to substantiate the earlier statement, and therefore I am reasonably certain that with some qualifications most people would agree. Our society which is facing conundrum of deprivation in one way or the other should have an innovation momentum that is proportional to its own challenges. If only human society was this linear.

Another factor to be considered here is the innate inertia which, originating from the colonial mindset and coupled with rent-seeking approach developed over the decades of independence, is still prevailing in our society. In my opinion, this mindset has been passed down through generations and it is the key reason that we see our best talents wasted in perusing public sector jobs and becoming doctors/engineers instead of aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors. I have witnessed firsthand that the objective behind the design of most of our higher education programs is to create a homogenous breed of graduates fit to challenge for the limited jobs the economy has to offer. The result is catastrophic, to say the least.

Every day I see people with unique abilities, struggling to blend with a job that isn't compatible with their intrinsic mental model. Does this mean that we are the least innovative people on the globe? Certainly not, however, this provides an insight into the gross imbalance between the desire to innovate and the complacent attitude of the masses.

In a nutshell, all our innovation is reduced to short term solutions that are unable to address the root causes of problems natively known as “jugaar” (work-around). This ranges from making triple SIM jackets for mobile phones to making compressor cooled water containers to 3rd and 4th-grade copies of expensive watches. The list goes on and on and it results in an uncharacteristic and unsustainable industry that crumbles with the slightest of pressures internal or external to our economy.

The amount of respect we have for our entrepreneurs in the society and households is one of the factors that contributes massively towards the nourishment of this industry. The bulk of the population that has access to quality education and other basic services resides in the urban areas of the country. The central northern parts of the Punjab province, urban areas of KPK, and urban Sindh are the areas where we have the best of our educational institutions and the culture in all these areas is very diverse.

Urban Sindh was once the federal capital and to date, Karachi is the only commercial port that our country has. Karachi is considered the economic engine of the country and it is a canvas of cultural spectrum painted over centuries. The most astonishing revelation to me was the fact that although these diverse ethnic groups have called Karachi home for decades yet they still manage disassociate themselves to be individually identified as a certain community rather than one large flock of Karachiites. Where this diversity has caused problems for the development and political polarization of the city, it has also restricted many avenues for newer generations to excel and explore industries that may host the ideal ecology for their development.

In my opinion, due to this ethnic division, most young people who would have choose to become entrepreneurs would limit themselves to conventional businesses in turn limiting their prospects of growth. The absence of synergy amongst the society results in limiting the space for collective effort & wisdom and hence the vision of entrepreneurs.

Feudalism is dominant in Rural Sindh and Baluchistan. The common man in these areas has to go through lots of trials and tribulations to achieve independence in decision making. On the other hand, the feudal lot is content with the dominance it has and would not want to risk it by trying new things that may loosen their grip on their estates and the people living within. At the same time, elite capture is dominant in urban areas, where disparity of wealth and distribution of basic facilities can be visibly seen within different areas of a city.

In Punjab & KPK we have a completely different problem. Almost all of south Punjab is struggling to get representation and its due share in terms of resources, whereas rural KPK is struggling with the gender disparities and Jarga systems. This prevents the creation of an environment where such a debate about entrepreneurial ecology would be possible.

That leaves us with north Punjab and urban KPK, a place rich with fertile land and natural wealth. The areas of north Punjab and urban KPK lie on one of the oldest trade routes that mankind has used. For centuries traders and conquerors from Central Asia and other Western areas have passed through this region in order to access Middle East and the greater parts of India. Today in this region most people who call themselves natives are settlers from around the compass who found this area more habitable given its geographic riches.

Presently the majority of the people in these areas do not consider taking any kind of risk when it comes to their land and wealth, which led to a rent-seeking culture. This wealth is comprised of either land or the control of a particular section of the market. Since the wealth acquired by successive generations, who transitioned from settlers to natives, was hard-earned; it came at a high personal cost to most of these people. The sense of insecurity in relation to this wealth has also been passed from generations.

The colonial-era served as the perfect catalyst to this insecurity, instilling a further tighter grip by wealth owners on their estates. Under no circumstances people who have wealth, that can be turned to investment, would be willing to risk it in any unique and risky ideas. All these factors have provided the circumstances for the feudal system to survive right under the light of democracy. These feudal powers have managed to keep the lesser fortunate sectors of the society dependent, away from education, and deprived of any sense of security. This leads to the stagnation of these sections of the society in the vicious circle of poverty and dependability.

The only way that these members of society can change their social status is either through getting their children land in good public jobs (power) or send a family member (predominantly male) abroad to work (money). In the given economic climate, it becomes really difficult for any person, from any social class, to defy this reality and to start something new or to provide an alternate solution to the everyday problems of the masses.

The picture painted in the aforementioned discussion gives us a very grim outlook. There is an alternative reality to this picture. The fact that the returns on investment seen in the startup and entrepreneurial sector are far greater than the ones witnessed in the traditional business and agriculture. There are instances where the greed exceeds security and people tread the treacherous path of a risky investment.

When there is a negative and poisonous environment around this industry, it is rarely seen that such investments made in the shadow of insecurity would give desired returns. The level of patience that the investor has, fades sooner than the entrepreneur would expect. An investor who made investments out of sheer lucrativeness would panic at the first sign of losses or difficulty that the business would face and their internal fears and insecurities would take over. I have the utmost respect for people who have built unique businesses that qualify as innovative in this environment because ours could one of the most poisonous ecology for such organizations to thrive.

We live in an age of information technology and modernization and the proportion of youth in our society provides the hope that we need. All those who are continue to pursue entrepreneurship despite all the hardships, would be the unsung heroes of the future. This industry will thrive on the energy of the few that have taken the initiative in the past and are doing so today. We as a society need to stress the importance of this sector in shaping our future.

This industry has the potential to flourish despite the powers and narratives that oppose it at the moment. The inertia that our society shows towards this particular change would turn into a momentum of identical proportion if the educated class and well-wishers of our society incubate the essence of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. At an academic level, we need to stress the culture of credible research that makes it into the practical world. This can be done by providing the enabling environment for right kind of research to take place and incubators that bring it to streamlines.

We need to overhaul the educational institutions at all levels. The corporate greed embedded in education sector is responsible for the addition of numerous job-seeking graduates to the labor force without understanding the economic climate. We may be far from the ideal ecology for entrepreneurial progress but we are closer to social initiatives that would lay the foundations for such ecology.

The common man of the future is the youth of today. This same youth is challenging social barriers in almost all aspects and will definitely flood the traditional beliefs of insecurity and colonial slavery with uniqueness and originality. Once this originality becomes the guiding light of the common man of the future, nothing can stop entrepreneurship to thrive and guide us towards the enlightened future.

Adnan Malik

The writer is an entrepreneur and an educator and can be reached at '[email protected]'