Dr. Shahbaz Khan On Benefitting from the Digital Economy

In our conversation with Dr. Shahbaz Khan, Managing Director at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board – KPITB, here is what he had to say about the essentials required to benefit from the opportunities that the digital economy offers.

The KP Digital Transformation Policy is an important milestone for taking the province into the future. Tell us more about how it was developed?

It all started with the discussion when we started looking at some of the key indicators of different countries – Pakistan stood at 143rd position on the e-government development index. On the ease of doing business, we currently stand at 36th position out of around 90 countries, while India is at 77th position. A lot of these indicators pushed policymakers and government to take action towards making a very comprehensive digital policy that would set the direction and foundation for development of the government. Digital transformation will help us in improving our ranking. That became the motivation to develop a digital policy in KP. Along with this, the government also wanted to promote aspects like digital/financial inclusion, gender inclusion along with increasing the efficiency of all government organizations. This is sort of the background – we took a number of players on board including the development sector, we’ve got 13 different donor agencies that are consultants and donors, we also have partners from academia, telecom sector, agencies from private and public sectors. We had various rounds of discussions – we were very fortunate to have the Pakistani diaspora, which contributed very well in bringing key insights that have now been incorporated in the digital policy. During the first 100 days of the PM’s government, we were able to get this approved from the cabinet.

The Digital Youth Summit has been an important annual event that has been happening in Peshawar for the last few years. Tell us about this year’s theme?

The Digital Youth Summit is planned around 4 main focus areas. We will have sessions on digital governance; key insights from the lessons we have learned from our digital skills programs and Durshals. We also have specific panels discussing digital access, the direction we should be heading in in terms of financial inclusion through digital innovation. This year’s conference is going to be bigger and better.

In your opinion, what are the essentials required to benefit from the opportunities that the digital economy offers?

The first and foremost thing is to focus on the digital skills talent pipeline because we believe that without digital skills, it would be difficult if not impossible to derive the dividends that the digital economy offers. In order to proceed with that, we have formulated a long-term approach, focusing on young school going kids who are sixth and seventh graders – we’ve taught them block programming, which is part of the MIT curriculum. We have also introduced another program focusing on a wide range of digital skills, which is essential for young people coming out of universities. When this comes together with Durshals and a bit of seed funding, affordable and reliable Internet, it becomes easier to reap the benefits of the digital economy – all of these ingredients are important for benefitting from the digital economy. This is why we have the four components of Digital Access, Digital Governance, Digital Skills and Digital Economy as part of the policy. We are also starting ‘Work Around’, which will offer seats for over 300 workers who will also hire other people. Some of the infrastructure projects we’re currently working will also enable the digital economy – the government has also expressed interest in reducing taxes for people working in the tech and digital sector to enable them to thrive.

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