Leaders in Islamabad Business Summit 2023 call for big rethink to drive digital transformation in Pakistan

Leaders, policymakers, and industry experts convened in Islamabad for the highly anticipated 6th Edition of the Leaders in Islamabad Business Summit, organized by Nutshell Conferences Group and Martin Dow Group.

With the theme “The BIG Rethink”, the summit aimed to ignite discussions on sustainability, progress, and the need for disruptive thinking in Pakistan’s business landscape.

The event, held in partnership with the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Unity Foods Limited, kickstarted with a captivating first day featuring thought-provoking addresses, panel discussions, and engaging conversations, setting the stage for reimagining the future of business in the country.

Sustainable and stable future

Day 1 of the Leaders in Islamabad Business Summit commenced with an inaugural session featuring Prof. Ahsan Iqbal, the Federal Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiatives. Iqbal emphasized the importance of streamlining policies and fostering collaboration to create a sustainable and stable future. “We are looking at education, health and population control as our drivers and are targeting 20 poorest districts for an accelerated development program to end disparity,” he said.

Five Es: At the summit, he outlined five key elements for progress, known as the five essential Es:

  • Exports
  • E-Pakistan (digitization)
  • Environment (water and food security)
  • Energy (transition to renewables)
  • Equity and Empowerment

Energy: Another notable speaker, Khurram Dastgir Khan, the Federal Minister for Power, shed light on the indigenization of Pakistan‘s electricity generation, driven by the disruption caused by the Ukraine war. “We will have five sources, out of which four will be domestic and one will be semi-domestic,” he said. Khurram highlighted the shift towards domestic energy sources, including the Thar Coal project, and the efforts to maintain the base tariff for electricity despite significant devaluation.

Business leaders urged to embrace BIG Rethink

Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, the founder and CEO of Nutshell Group and former minister of state and chairman Board of Investment (BoI), delivered a welcome address, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive rethink to drive progress. He identified education, health, and digitalization as crucial pillars for Pakistan’s advancement, citing the ASEAN and Central Asian Republics as models to expedite development.

Ali Akhai, Chairman of Martin Dow Group, focused on the importance of embracing transformation in a rapidly evolving world. He urged leaders to adopt an open mindset by embracing the BIG Rethink with open minds and hearts. “Together, we can defy the norms, envision a brighter future, and seize the infinite opportunities that lie ahead,” he said.

Dr. Zeelaf Munir, Managing Director and CEO of English Biscuit Manufacturers (Pvt) Limited, passionately called for a collective rethink in the face of Pakistan’s collective failure. Drawing an analogy to a ship, she inspired the audience to rise together like a phoenix from the ashes, harnessing the power of the nation’s hands and hearts.

Digital Transformation

The summit also addressed the urgent need for digital transformation. Faisal Rehman, Managing Partner Middle East at SoftBank Investment Advisers, praised NADRA’s role in this regard and stressed the importance of leveraging unique data for economic growth through analytics.

Kaan Terzioğlu, Group CEO of VEON, highlighted the significance of transforming data into valuable information that can drive value-added services. He advocated for Internet access for all Pakistanis and emphasized the need for 4G connectivity for everyone, rather than restricting access to a privileged few.

The day also witnessed a soft launch of Dr. Ishrat Husain’s new book, ‘Economic Challenges and Solutions for Pakistan.’ In a subsequent session, Dr. Husain, accompanied by Sajjeed Aslam, Regional Lead of Public Affairs – Asia Pacific ACCA, discussed the consensus on the need for stability and accountability in Pakistan. Dr. Husain emphasized the pivotal role of STEM education and the facilitation of STEM teachers as game-changers for the country’s progress.

Disruptive strategies and innovation

Panel discussions throughout the day brought together distinguished figures from various sectors. Topics ranged from leadership in the age of disruption to addressing food insecurity and sustainability through disruptive strategies. The esteemed panelists shared insights and perspectives on financial partnering, the role of renewables in curbing energy costs, the importance of innovation, digitalization, and the potential for privatization to drive progress in the power sector.

Other speakers included Pakistan’s former national security adviser Dr. Moeed Yusuf, President and CEO of HBL and Chairman of Pakistan Business Council Muhammad Aurangzeb, President and CEO of Engro Corporation Ghias Khan, President and CEO of Jazz and also Chairman of Mobilink Microfinance Bank Aamir Ibrahim and InfraZamin Pakistan CEO Maheen Rahman.

During the summit, Maheen Rahman expressed her concern over the dearth of innovation in various sectors, stating, “Despite operating for 50-60 years, companies in Pakistan have failed to innovate their processes.” She called for a paradigm shift and a renewed focus on fostering innovation within the country.

Jazz CEO Aamir Ibrahim highlighted the significance of Internet access for all citizens. He cautioned against Internet shutdowns, emphasizing that such actions would hinder progress rather than propel it forward. Ibrahim cited the success of RAAST, an initiative showcasing the potential of digitalization in Pakistan. He called for a transformative approach to cross-border trade, harnessing the power of digitalization to drive economic growth and benefit the nation as a whole.

Yousaf Hussain, President & CEO of Faysal Bank Limited, highlighted the transformative journey of the bank toward Islamic instruments as a testament to the power of rethinking and reimagining.

The panelists in the third session titled ‘Leadership and Strategy in the Age of Disruption,’ included CEO of Telenor Pakistan and Chairman of Telenor Bank Irfan Wahab Khan, Global Vice President of ACCA and Founder & CEO of Plaintive Ayla Majid, Founder of CalmKaaj Samina Rizwan and Managing Director of S&P Global Mujeeb Zahur. They emphasized the importance of empowering teams, embracing failure, and adopting a long-term perspective that spans generations rather than just a few years.

In the subsequent session, the dialogue on disruption continued with a new set of panelists, including CEO of Systems Limited Asif Peer, CEO of Procter & Gamble Pakistan Adil Farhat, Regional Managing Director of Acumen Dr. Ayesha K. Khan, CEO of K-Electric Limited Syed Moonis Abdullah Alvi, and Managing Director of Mondelez Pakistan Limited Sami A. Wahid.

They unanimously agreed that Pakistan is facing an existential crisis and highlighted the necessity of disruption to address food insecurity and sustainability. Asif Peer emphasized the need to recognize that disruption takes unfamiliar forms and underlined the importance of adaptation to combat it.

Moonis Alvi stressed the significance of privatization, citing the example of K-Electric and its lack of contribution to circular debt. He proposed that privatization in the power sector could bring about disruptive changes, and a non-exclusive distribution license would shape Pakistan’s future in this domain.

The summit concluded with a closing address by the Ambassador of France to Pakistan Nicolas Galey, who highlighted France’s expertise in innovation and expressed France’s willingness to support Pakistan’s journey towards green energy. He emphasized the importance of collaboration and stronger ties between the two countries.

The 6th Edition of the Leaders in Islamabad Business Summit served as a platform for robust discussions, encouraging leaders to rethink traditional approaches and embrace disruptive thinking for sustainable progress.

Salma Khan
Salma writes on topics ranging from education to technology to business. She can be reached at Twitter and Facebook.

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