Why is Pakistan Bad at Innovation? | Arfa Software Technology Park
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In Pakistan “chalta hai” attitude should be eradicated. Those who subscribe to patriotic gibberish may not approve of this but Innovation requires a different combination of creative and logical thinking. If you consider the logical fallacies and where most Pakistanis face challenges, We’d say ‘Ad Authoritatum’ comes quite top on the list. In a place where the speeches of Business leaders (or Politicians & Movie stars for that matter) are consider the “Word of God”, it is considerably difficult for them to question “Why is Pakistan Bad at Innovation?” and challenge the conventional wisdom.

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action; Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

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The Educational System

There is a need for a transformation in the education system, and also in perspective of analysing a problem. The education system at school level itself has to be changed for encouraging creativity and innovation rathe than the traditional rote memory based system.  This is bound to be a pain area for Pakistan as long as they retain their outdated educational model. The system never made any sense to us while we were at school. In case anyone is wondering, the main focus of school is to help students memorize volumes of books and spew the memorized content on the exam papers. Rote learners are good students according to Pakistani teachers but students who fare badly in academics are treated as duffers/retards. This system of education need to change.

Entrepreneurs are people with a vision who don’t have the mental restraints imposed by over education. They are able pass their vision to others who are able to support with engineering and finance and so a strong team with a winning ethos evolves. Many entrepreneurs did badly at school as they didn’t fit the system. In the UK small businesses are supported by government grants and private investors to allow that early growth. Domination of local markets by huge companies tends to suppress innovation as the small guys are crushed before they can flourish. 

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Students nowadays focus only on getting a good job mostly because of an outdated infrastructure in our education system with faculties of conventional mindsets..also going for a research activity needs sacrifice and risk taking which most of the students avoid due to their materialistic nature and lack of innovation and creativity…this can be changed if we stop running for entrance coaching and marks, instead focussing on creative side of students starting from early school life….i.e, we need to strike a balance between logical and innovative thinking. In our view beyond education system, if we can remove the western world influence in oir youths mind then our first step towards innovative Pakistan is accomplished because innovation is never a copy paste.


A Risk-Averse Ecosystem

Necessity is mother of invention. We can change it to say if there is a market innovation follows, if we leave aside innovators like Steve Jobs whom markets follow. In Pakistan it is a hard-sell, as people are not enthusiastic to use innovative products unless there is exceptional utility (for example mobile phones) or status value (iPhones and all kinds of luxury items. People buy things more as a status symbol than for utility. How many people would have gone for cheque-reconciliation software if it was created first in Pakistan. But as people we have had lot of innovations, traditional practices that indeed innovative for example in agriculture. We have had innovations that evolved and transmitted across generations. We have had best-in-class crafts. Yet when it comes to common man today or businesses fewer are willing to pay for it. Even hotmail was adopted because it was free.

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Pakistanis have the tendency to tag science & research activities to ROI. Another serious problems is, with no offense to anyone, is the copycat mentality. Most of the business houses & technocrats are interested to bet on winning horses, rather than taking risks with research & innovation. Titantwister did an experiment a couple of weeks back. Forced to run a formal test during an innovative training program we were running, we administered the test sans any supervision. Test takers were all under grads - sub 20s. While a few took advantage of the ‘freedom’ and copied and consulted one another (no surprise there) what intrigued me was some of the best were willing to ‘help’ the others who sought it. (No force or threat there.) It was a ‘fellow feeling’ and the inability to say a firm ‘no’ that led these smart students to take part in subverting the system. It was the ‘stupidity’ involved in such a behavior (like standing a on a weighing machine with another friend to get one’s weight readout!) that stumped me! Unless there is a paradigm shift in the mindset from ‘looking good’ to ‘becoming good’, excellence in the true sense of the term is out of reach for most of us - even the young ones.

Government Investment in Research

In a poverty stricken country, earning the daily bread is the first priority. Risk Averse Ecosystem is not the only root cause it is a symptom of a deeper socio economic issue. We should look at why Pakistan has a risk averse ecosystem? What is needed to increase risk appetite ? Good part is, its improving, though may be at a slower pace than we would like to be. Humans need roof over their head and healthy food. There is a certain amount of private role but as on date to create a sustainable model for research on private funding would be difficult as private funding would result in product development that would be for private companies only… may not benefit the common man, funding in govt organizations is on the rise… results will take some time. Then creativity and thoughtfulness should come along. We need thought provoking leaders … we will get to this goal of innovation too.

Administrative policies

Lately, we have being treating Pakistan as if the nation is for the purpose of business & citizens to serve its commerce. Achievements require to qualify the business benchmark. We today are a nation being manipulated by traders and trade unions, the trader is accredited a much higher value than the producer, entrepreneur or the researcher. There is more hype than its substance. There is no co-operation between technical people and industry. Innovation is a way of thinking, a belief and mostly what you see when you look at a situation based on the information available, and that cannot be taught in class. You have to go back and ask yourself the system of education all the people who have changed our lives went through. The other aspect is the goals. Until the time when the goals will be aligned to the world absolute figures, there will be no reason to take innovation seriously.

Innovation thrives in a wholesome ecosystem plus the author is right in pointing out that the system is heavily benchmarked. Significant Pakistanis have been behind the scenes driving force behind several innovative companies. Unfortunatley, due to lack of fundings at a later stage, “Jugaad” is the only way with which modern day entreprenuers find solutions for problems with extreme resource constraints. Its Commercialisation of Innovation that is lacking. We lack the support systems to help take innovations further, to successful commercialisation. In limited cases where support does come in, a lack of long term pragmatic vision and planning and adherence to strictest quality standards scuttles possibilities; blame it on our scarcity mindset and penchant for “jugaad”.

Human Capital

If we glance around, we can see lots of inventions die out due to lack of encouragement. The start up culture is in nascent stage and their contributions to inventions and discoveries in daily life of common man is immense. We are unaware, because of the lack of financial aid these start ups gets from Pakistan. So they approach a VC or Angel investors who are not Pakistanis. Many Conglomerates takes the idea in cheap cost from the brains here through many “contest “and “challenges”. The outcome is, we ,the real inventors are shoowed off from the lime light and the product is launched under a big foreign banner. Unless some effort is taken from the government or the Industrialist here in this scenario this will continue.

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There is one more reason that impacts more - constant brain drain. People around you may not appreciate you for your creativity & innovation, but people not surround you would appreciate it. Keep doing the best no matter how much you are doing the best. The problem with the “Per capita” numbers is the size of population. Comparing welfare-driven low-population states like Norway and Finland to Pakistan, is a gross mistake. Just to clarify per capita implies per person. This is done precisely to take out any distortions due to the total size of population. This way we can compare the stats of a populous country like China with a tiny country like say Bhutan. If next generation Pakistanis can keep there originality intact i.e. kids focusing on education than with help of millennial parent’s better prosperity (economic circumstances) innovation is not far. It will happen as we see that spark in there younger generation and open parenting of millennials compared to their’s.

IP Protection 

China and Pakistan are known for standardisation and not for innovation… innovation projects are least funded here so is IP and patenting… more economics than attitude… IP laws are difficult to enforce in Pakistan. Seeking “proper guidance” is a stark contrast to seeking innovation. The whole point of innovation is to break out of the guidance of others and what’s been established. And in America every other person wants to file a patent on how to eat cereal without moving your hand. Compare this to fitting a sink in a kitchen in Pakistan… You will need custom development in everything and the lack of precision engineering will add to your problems in custom building. Conclusion: Western world had standardised many thugs which save time when you try to innovate. Students feel IP as boring topic, so neglect it. It is required to create interest among them. This is the only way we can work out with awareness campaigns.

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Innovation is something invented something from scratch. Missile technology used for Pakistani Detterence Defence is Solid-propellant rocket based, which Pakistan didn’t invent, but we used an existing technology to make our rocket, not newly invented. For innovative thought individuality culture in society is very important, but current Pakistani society is like prototypes and every one merely follows society tends. We think the eco-system to enable innovators is definitely a need but the comparison of western world or what problems needs innovative solution are all lòoks like giving directions to a potential innovator. An innovator will find his or her own directions and get the solution needed on their own. Innovation needs freedom of thinking and execution for people with the backing financial eco system. Rest will fall in place. 

Quality of Research 

Research is often plagiarised - suicides used to track earlier gave up when data overload. We, as Pakistanis, are only doing the learning part (to a certain extent) but we stop at creativity. Deep-rooted mindset of having a ‘Formal Degree’ rather than thinking ‘out-of-box’ notion discourages people who want to ‘Chase their dream-Venture’. Therefore, we can’t innovate if we don’t encourage creativity among our future generation.  The risk taking is really missing in our country. We need to go beyond doing proven things. We have seen people taking safe side (in career) and end up in becoming part of general crowd even if they have extraordinary qualities. Parents should give freedom to their children at least in deciding their career. 

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It is a matter of culture. Even in the western world we face more and more difficulties with innovation because companies tend to be overregulated and there is lacking room for individualism. We personally got the impression, that most asian cultures do not foster egocentric behaviour. To be innovative an individual has to follow his own path and cannot be always in harmony with all the others. There is a rebellouse nature in an innovator, who is often at odds with reality. Asian people are most often busy to comply to expectations put on them instead of fullfilling their own dreams and ideas, no matter the costs. For us, it is not a question of ability, it is a question of willingness. Are people ready to break traditions and as a consequence walk on thin ice.

Pakistan bad at Patents and Taxes

IP is a quagmire of special / conflict of interests. Many of the reasons listed result in it, along with that of social pressure that focuses on cash than ideas, stable job over research thesis and the many instances where other countries are just faster in getting a patent than Pakistan. Because we are not ready to come out of the colonized mind set. Colonizer physically left but Pakistani brains are still colonized. If incentives are good, how badly would the gross tax matter? But yes, they should cut the rates. Those MPs/MNAs who have not even 12th passed of graduate they are running the show. It’s not only Pakistan - so many governments dont realise the value of incentivising companies to invest more on R&D.. We are sold out on the value of naturing a vibrant innovative R&D minds for any country or company.

We think there is more to market economics than just Innovation. Chinese companies are in Highlight because of cheap labor and machinery cost not Innovation. Japanese companies are in highlight not because of Innovation. Cars, Planes etc were invented in Europe. Their success lies in mastering an Art and offering it at a price and quality which cannot be matched. Most of the American and European countries are already tired of dealing with China and they know Pakistan is an answer to their frills. Pakistan needs to take lead and offer competitive prices and quality products.

Pakistan bad with R&D Incentives

Also, we should not forget that lack of funds and focus on R&D and innovation driven education is largely due to corrupt and apathetic political will. It will take a really spirited and committed governance to change this and that looks like a huge challenge. We will be surprised to see that Pakistanis have outsmarted others in innovating from time to time. But either they are residing in other parts of the world or working for MNCs. The sad part is all these patents accounted for USA. Pakistani government should create such environment and incentive schemes to retain talents in Pakistan and to work for Pakistan.

Patient and Risk-Taking Capital

First look at the inventions, after the computer had came. Only nuclear bomb or some missiles or space shuttles have been developed, all other innovations are round around the computer, and the probability of successful research is around 0.01% or even much lesser. The risks of failing in a relatively poor country like ours being higher than in a developed one with strong social security systems.We feel not being able to take risks in youth is one of the prominent factors pulling Pakistan back. Lack of innovation culture has its nemesis in Maculisation of our education .. we need to come out of that … how many of us hire someone who took risk in his last assignment but failed.

We would like to add that innovation comes as we move up the Maslow’s hierarchy and until we reach the state of self actualization… also instead of 60 years, we should consider 1991 as the base year… in past 25 years we have made good progress. To innovate you need to fail rapidly, tweak and move fast. Innovation was a thought process which either had repeated failures inside our mind or had in a lab or life. When it was shown to outer world it was refined. So don’t be afraid or make fun on failures, instead look to it to learn and innovate!

We need visionaries who will dare to be path-breakers in their respective industries/domains. And we don’t just need a handful - we need tons of them. Until we find them, one of the best things we can do is to work at excelling in our respective talents. Try to raise the bar for our own selves. As for Pakistan - if individuals commit to working on excelling, hopefully, within a few decades, Pakistan will be a transformed country. In a nutshell, if Pakistan wishes to have innovators in the future generations, they will need to cast off the conventional mentality they were brought up in. And if schools ban the terrible phrase of “why aren’t you like the other kids in your class”, we’d say they are on the route.

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