The Leaders in Islamabad – Business Summit, organised by Nutshell Forum under the energetic leadership of Muhammad Azfar Ahsan was held over two days at the Serena Hotel last month. This was the first edition of an initiative Nutshell hopes will translate into a bigger regional event that will be held in Pakistan. The objective, says Ahsan, is to attract global leaders from various industries. “Our focus is Pakistan’s image marketing as well as sharing best practices and knowledge with our human resources.”
In keeping with Ahsan’s mission to promote a positive image of Pakistan (see The Man Who Would Re-imagine Pakistan – Aurora November-December 2016), the April event was largely upbeat, with the content loosely framed around the context of CPEC in terms of challenges and opportunities.
In this regard, as expected, both Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Planning, and Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman, Joint Parliamentary Committee on CPEC, spoke of the benefits of the project for Pakistan, while acknowledging that this was “work in progress” and a great deal of the detail still needed ironing out. Addressing the same subject, speakers from the private sector called for a vision that went beyond the mere building of roads and power plant infrastructure. Apart from the need for clarity in terms of the cost of servicing these projects, the emphasis was put on creating the required training opportunities by the Government, as well as on actively linking the new road networks with populated cities.
In this respect, by far the most interesting address was given by Rashid Bashir, Partner, Deloitte Middle East, who spoke about making Gwadar (unhampered by legacy infrastructure) into Pakistan’s first ever connected city. At the heart of this debate was whether CPEC would translate into merely a strategic asset for Pakistan or an economic one as well.
Among the keynote addresses, Professor Dr Atta-ur-Rehman, Founding Chairman of the Higher Education Commission, spoke of innovation in science and technology and the consequent need for an education policy to enable Pakistan’s young to harness and become part of these innovations. Perhaps the most interesting observation came from Kimihide Ando, CEO, Mitsubishi Corporation Pakistan, who coined the acronym DDT (Democracy, Demography, Talent) to describe Pakistan. In his view, the opportunity is not the fact that Pakistan has a population of 200 million; it is the fact that 70 million form part of a growing middle class with 130 million more aiming to join it. Seen from that perspective, he observed, everything seemed more promising and manageable.
Strategic Leadership, Managing Talent, Digitisation, Power and Energy and Financial Inclusion provided the basis for the other sessions. Speaking on Digitisation, Irfan Wahab Khan, President and CEO, Telenor Pakistan, pointed towards the need for more and better collaboration within industries; in his view, it would have been better if from the beginning, the telecom companies had collaborated in building their towers across Pakistan, as in the long-term, this would have proved much more cost-effective for all players, allowing them to concentrate their respective efficiencies on product features and customer service.
Perhaps the two most interesting sessions were the ones that were so to speak “off topic.” The first was the Dialogue on Culture. Chaired by Hameed Haroon, CEO, The Dawn Media Group, and with a panel that included Professor Salima Hashmi, artist, art curator and educationist; Arshad Mahmud, Director Programmes, National Academy of Performing Arts;
Dr Musadik Malik, Minister of State, and Tahira Abdullah, activist, this session, surprisingly, proved to be a hit among the audience. The other session was the concluding one, and had cricketer Wasim Akram in conversation with Veqar ul Islam, CEO, Jaffer Business Systems; Akram, speaking about lessons learned from a life in cricket and Islam then pivoting the lessons to a business context. Finally, came PTI’s Imran Khan in conversation with John Andrews, Contributing Editor, The Economist. Andrews balanced the discussion between Khan as former cricket captain for Pakistan, and Khan the leader of a major political party – and the audience loved it.
All in all a good initiative by Nutshell, who to their credit, managed to bring to Pakistan a respectable number of foreign speakers to the conference, added to which the audience participation was good – a total of 800 participants over two days, according to Nutshell. The conclusion at the end of the Summit was that Pakistan was experiencing “a moment of opportunity.” The hard work is to convert the moment into a long-term ground reality.