Pakistan’s leading corporates are developing a new think tank to explore unique ideas and solutions to the challenges facing Pakistan’s economy. The objectives of this think tank are; to identify the issues that hamper the growth of the national economy, pool intellectual and financial resources, and generate novel ideas and solutions for the country’s economic ailments.
Read more: Pakistan: A country caught in complex economic downturn
Global Village Space has learned from reliable sources that while the idea of setting up a think tank has been around for several years, it has finally started to take shape. In August 2022, when renowned economist Hafeez Pasha was invited to a gathering of top corporates and decision makers of Pakistan in Lahore, an extensive discussion ensued on the challenges faced by the economy of Pakistan along with a deliberation over the possible strategies to overcome these challenges.
Further sessions took place with discussants, including the former Governor of State Bank of Pakistan Mr. Reza Baqir and founder of the JS Bank and Pakistan’s Ambassador for Foreign Investment Ali Jehangir Siddiqui. The fourth session was on 20th September with IMF’s Resident Representative to Pakistan, Esther Perez Ruiz. So far, all the think tank sessions have taken place in Lahore, where some of the most influential business leaders and corporate heads were assembled to listen to these experts. The talks given to them were followed by detailed question and answer sessions. The presentations will be converted into policy papers that the speakers will share for further feedback to generate effective solutions to the discussed challenges.
In the coming weeks, notable experts, including the Country Director of the World Bank for Pakistan Najy Benhassine and US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome, will address the upcoming sessions of NEBF. Dr. Ashfaq Hassan Khan, Dean and Professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology, is also expected to speak at this forum. While all the sessions of the forum have so far taken place in Lahore, future sessions are expected to be organized in Islamabad and Karachi too.
How did this journey start?
Global Village Space has learned that the idea for this think tank initiated around 2016, the same time as the process of professionalizing APTMA (All Pakistan Textile Mills Association) began. This was the year when the former member of the Planning Commission, Shahid Sattar, who has a vast experience in the government of Pakistan, joined APTMA as COO (Chief Operating Officer). At that time, it was decided to shift the head office of APTMA from Karachi to Islamabad. APTMA’s head office was set up in Karachi in the initial days of the creation of Pakistan since Karachi was the capital at the time. Shifting APTMA’s head office to Islamabad was the need of the hour for it to effectively engage the government in policymaking and enhance professional engagement so as to keep the government aware of the challenges being faced by textile manufacturers and exporters. APTMA started to maintain a Secretariat to formalize research, policy planning, and engagement with the government, political circles, the diplomatic community, regulatory authorities, and development bodies. It was a milestone in the organizational history of APTMA. A similar process is also being planned for Pakistan’s Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD).
Global Village Space learned that four corporate leaders of Pakistan played a key role in the process of professionalizing APTMA and conceptualizing and launching this think tank. These four corporate decision makers are; Gohar Ijaz—former Chairman and current Patron in Chief of APTMA; Farooq Naseem—CEO and Chairman of Gree; Fawad Mukhtar—CEO of Fatima Group; and Mian Ahsan—Chairman of the US Apparel & Textiles, premier denim manufacturers and suppliers with more than 40,000 employees and $500 million of denim exports to North America and European markets.
The transformation of APTMA has seen at least three crucial decisions; the creation of the Board of Governors (BOG), the creation of the Board of Trustees (BOT), and the creation of the APTMA Advisory council. The BOG comprises 24 elected members with two boards, one for the North and one for the South of Pakistan. There are 14 members of APTMA North (KPK & Punjab) and 15 of APTMA South (Karachi & Sindh). APTMA’s Board of Trustees has about 12 trustees; going forward, the number will increase to 20. Once the number reaches 20, the eldest person will start retiring from BOT. APTMA has also developed an Advisory Council, which is comprised of the past Chairmen of the Association.
‘National Economic and Business Forum’ (NEBF)
In this backdrop, the prominent corporate leaders, with the help of APTMA’s head office, ABAD, and other businesses, have conceived ‘National Economic and Business Forum’ (NEBF). It is being supported by the top ten business decision-makers of Pakistan, along with ten technocrats from the fields of economics, policymaking, government, and the military.
The think tank has been tasked with addressing issues related to; policymaking, increasing agricultural yield, import substitution, boosting exports, improving investor confidence, deepening capital markets, currency stabilization, and human resource development.
Examples of how this think tank is proposing solutions can be taken from the IT sector. It has been identified that Pakistan has many students being trained in the IT sector, but their ability to compete in the international market is inadequate. To solve the issue, it has been suggested that there should be centers where master trainers of international standards should be appointed. Former Dean of LUMS, Dr. Suhail Naqvi, has been hired to create an IT research and training center, which is underdevelopment and is expected to kickstart its work by December 2022. The center will provide 3 to 6 months of training programs in Information Technology. This IT research and training center is being developed on the model of the Plaksha University of India.
Another example of the work and benefits of this think tank is the textile value addition through the empowerment of women who are being trained in four districts of Punjab. One thousand women in each district are being trained in international standard stitching for the export garments. In this initiative, the Bangladesh model has been followed, where women were identified as sources of revenue for families to change and transform society. The objective of this particular program is to empower women in the industry of textile, which is mutually beneficial for the women, their families and the industry.
Note: A slightly different version of this article appears in the 2022 September Magazine.