IT’S an old chorus: Pakistan is passing through a critical phase of its history; Pakistan is stuck in old grooves; Pakistani society is backward and lagging behind the international community. Apparently, it seems true but an in-depth analysis of changes in Pakistani society paints the picture otherwise. Change is the only constant force in universe and it does happen to affect people of Pakistan that is, often, pictured bleak. Will Pakistan ever become a global turnaround story?
Well, we have a compelling story of Brazil’s development. Brazil, today, is one of the top outscoring offshore destination for IT sectors but a couple of years back nobody even knew whether Brazilian IT market existed. Before 2004, not Brazil but other less developed countries like Costa Rica, Ukraine and Vietnam were frequently mentioned as the emerging IT outscoring destination. Brazil, not even in industry research and analyst reports, was hardly ever identified as an upcoming IT destination. Why Brazil was ignored? Brazil had a clear image problem. To change the narrative, Brazilian government along with its exports promotion agency, Apex Brazil, launched a nation branding campaign, Brazil IT.
In tandem with Apex Brazil, the Brazilian government focused to promote IT services and products as better suited partners for the American IT companies seeking differentiated services at their doorsteps. They focused on Gartner Group, key opinion maker institution in the USA. APEX also decided to work with several Brazilian companies working in the USA to develop a national plan. It also worked with several Brazil IT clusters, domestic and abroad, along with Brazil Information Centre, a non-profit organization, that promotes Brazil exports to US opinion makers and consumers. They launched Brazil IT campaign on traditional print media, social website, internet – BrazilIT.com – and trade show competitions. Is there any similarity between Pakistan and Brazil? Many, actually. Like Brazil, Pakistan’ IT sector is not recognized well in the world and its share in global IT sector is only $2.8 billion. But Pakistani’s freelance IT programmers and app developers have become one of the most hired persons by American, British and Australian IT companies. These freelancers were hired through freelance hiring sites where these companies bid to hire for small app projects and software. This online hiring network worked because traditional concerns about Pak security, otherwise could have blocked this opportunity, didn’t apply. Pak IT market has been ranked third for supplying freelance programmers.
On Upwork, freelance hiring site, it has been ranked among the top-ten earning countries alongside Ukraine, India and Canada. Pakistan has a great potential in its IT industry: 1500 registered IT companies and 10,000 IT graduates enter Pakistani IT market every year. These talented graduates and competitive companies have exhibited their skills in IT fairs, expos, summits, IT associations and soft power houses at national level. Some of them participated in these events at international level and got appreciated worldwide. Should Pakistan launch a nation branding campaign like Brazil? Pakistan has already launched a nation branding campaign. For the first time, government of Pakistan initiated a soft power campaign by leading from front instead of asking the Foreign Office to improve the image of Pakistan.
In August 2015, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal launched a Nation Branding campaign, Passionate Pakistan. He said, “the time has come to work toward building the national image of Pakistan and initiating a brand for country.” This initiative reveals that the government has realized the importance of nation branding which is one of the newly emerging strategy of gaining and sustaining soft power.
Pakistan government should work in tandem with export promoting agencies to convert these individual services and products into a coordinated competitive market network. If this campaign is launched earnestly, it will certainly help improve the image of Pakistan.
— The writer teaches at National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad.