One evening at dinner, an executive of Pakistani origin, part of a supranational organisation (one of the IMF, World Bank, UN trio), observed that barely a single countryman was in sight when it came to C-suite boardrooms in comparison to scores of certain immigrants.
His comments seem to be in line with the National Bureau of Economic Research’s projection that India and China are to become the world’s top economies. This is also reflected in the economic success of their immigrants.
Yes, there have been success stories resulting from the Pakistani diaspora — representation in UK politics, successful businessmen or simply our immigrants earning more than the average American. Pakistani skilled professionals have made their mark in their own right.
There is also a substantial network for Pakistani professionals abroad. For example, the US houses at least 11 solid networking organizations like TCF, APPNA and ISNA. Pakistani immigrants have also forged extensive social networks, and educational circles have also paved the way for many. Some influential educational networks have been the Aga Khan University and Lahore University of Management Sciences.
But there is a lot of potential for growth and positive impact that come with the development of Pakistani skilled professional networks abroad.
Foreign remittances are a vital lifeline for Pakistan’s dwindling economy - a good 8.5 per cent of the overall GDP in 2022 according to the World Bank.
A further decline in remittances
Unfortunately, remittances from Europe, UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have experienced a decline during the first six months of the current financial year which we simply cannot afford with the current state of economic havoc in the country.
The bad and the ugly truth
The cracks in the skilled Pakistani diaspora network emerge as you explore the issue further. It starts with commonplace scenarios:
If there is a brown woman with a child who looks stranded on the road, a Pakistani will be one of the few ethnicities to stop and inquire if assistance is required. On the other hand, a Pakistani will be the last to acknowledge another at a high-end store like Harrods.
These eccentricities also play out professionally, “We are very behind other communities like the Indians or Chinese in terms of networking and hence we are not resourceful,” says Pakistani Immigrant Laila Zaheer* (name changed upon request) who currently works as a general physician in the UK.
"I have barely seen Pakistanis assisting each other in their career or any kind of professional development, especially compared to the Indian community. They do not even need to be from the same profession but they still help and support each other.”
In fact recently amidst the numerous tech layoffs in the USA, Indians have been banding together to help their peers with temporary visas to find jobs so that they can stay in the country. “They are sending encouraging messages, flagging job openings and tapping into personal networks to bring immigration lawyers, recruiters and jobseekers onto common platforms to offer solutions,” cites a recent article by the BBC.
The Pakistani professional networks do not even come close to organising this quickly or to this extent for a similar cause. “As Pakistanis we tend to be very standoffish and even if we do try to help we do not get the same help back,” claims Zaheer.
It is not because of lack of ability.
It is a combination of lack of motivation and activism that can sometimes effect how the host country can view us. A 2018 YouGov survey in the UK gave Pakistanis a net rating of -4 or in other word’s an unfavorable opinion of our contribution to the British society. Lack of volunteering and interest in the host country’s government policies also tend to exacerbate the issue.
January foreign remittances at 31-month low, clock in at $1.9bn
Finally, a dose of humility can also prove to be beneficial. You will barely see financially well off Pakistanis acknowledging low-income countrymen especially in the Middle East. This lack of social mobility is also apparent on social media where the most prominent Pakistani origin content creators only seem to mix with others from the same socioeconomic groups.
Lessons from the neighbors
The power of our neighbors’ immigrant networking has been studied extensively.
For instance, Berkeley professor AnnaLee Saxenian whose research claims that Chinese and Indian immigrant networks aided the vast clustering of high-tech entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley. In fact, networks have been used to help immigrants psychologically. Most recently, Chinese immigrants have been advised in news outlets to turn to other members of their diaspora after a recent suicide earlier this year.
According to a Chinese National in the USA, their citizens make connections via social media like Weibo, Douyin and especially their links to WeChat. WeChat is known as the “everything” app for China and its groups facilitate information exchange about jobs and education. In 2021, Joe Biden lifted the ban on WeChat which created quite the disruption for the Chinese diaspora.
Putting politics and our antagonistic relationship with our other neighbour aside - there is a lot to learn.
Faisal Ali (name changed on request), an Indian CEO who has worked in the Middle East and Asia regions, attributes the economic success of his countrymen to strong alumni and career specialized networks as some of the factors that have been a boost. For instance, a chartered accountant will be able to obtain extensive professional and personal development through the organization’s regular meetings.
Strong role models across sectors whose stories are widely published serve as big inspiration. In addition, the risk appetite to take on roles in earlier difficult geographies like Vietnam, Nigeria etc, has often been a springboard to more senior executive roles. He recommends a shared sense of destiny rather than chasing individual goals and equipping local Pakistani institutions to groom talent for overseas.
There are some similarities between us and India - family-oriented and a focus on education. But again, whereas Pakistanis may spend more on rent, Indian spend more on education.
There are numerous factors that have contributed to the economic success of skilled immigrants in India and China, notably, politics, education, maybe even the scourge of terrorism on muslim countries after 9/11. But it is also essential to tap into power of networks - especially in today's world.
Pakistan is a beautiful country and it is about time we showed the world the greatness of our people.
The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners
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