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Digital Pakistan Vision and Challenges

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Pakistan is amongst such fortunate countries where youth Population is 60% of the Total Population. This percentage of the regular users of Digital services such as Digital payments or e-Payments, Internet Access and Professionals in Smartphone usage     Provides infinite  Opportunities to succeed as going digital.

It is the gigantic and innovative initiative taken by Prime Minister Pakistan to upgrade digital  Banking infrastructure and easing the conditions or requirements and exhausting paperwork to avail digital services such as e-payments, online transactions and the issuance of credit cards, and their use at Online stores i.e in-store shopping, Fuel fill-up at stations, online utility Bill payments and Universities Fee Payment  Gateways, but unfortunately, such easy and instant payment facility is currently available to  Elite  Business class and involves too much  Paperwork, guarantees and regulations.

Government needs to overhaul the whole banking infrastructure and encourage businesses, retailers, Fuel Stations, PIA, Railways ticketing, superstores, schools and colleges to introduce payment gateways and banks should offer credit cards to businessmen and especially to government employees since they will use such services when they run short of funds, falling prey to illegal Interest-based lenders who squeeze them financially and socially.

The innovative digital payments will remove their financial constraints and the funds will be utilized based on a credit limit for 45 to 51 days and the bills can be paid through salaries decreasing chances for collateral damage or any default.

It would be great to boost and promote digital services paving the way for International digital bigwigs i.e. Google, PayPal, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Alibaba Group, Alipay, Stripe and Apple to enter Pakistani financial markets specially the PayPal, eBay and Amazon are strongly required by Freelancers and authors to get their Payments processed.

At Present, only Skrill, Payoneer and  Traditional IBAN/Swift code or wire transfers are available to Pakistan which is very costly, Time consuming having inflated fees of 10% to 30% plus  Bank charges of local Bank to process the amount.

On the other hand, our neighbouring country India has reaped the benefits digital world as the world’s best companies i.e. PayPal, Amazon and Google are serving the country with their innovative digital products and services.

By giving access to these  Digital Payment   Giants, Pakistan will open doors for  Foreign Direct Investment and it will also reduce the heavily demanded  Paper currency as  People avoid using cash and prefer to use their credit and debit cards at online stores, in-store shopping purposes.

Even Pakistan’s governance Model may go ahead with modernizing and upgrading  Reporting system, Complain Management, Receipts and Payments, Public Sector spending through an electronic dashboard that will refresh automatically if any  Development related or Public sector transaction takes place. Even governance could improve if governance Model is implemented by imparting pieces of training to  Staff, Officers and Officials at  Federal, Provincial and District level so that proper reporting channel may be built to ease the complicated process and ensure transparency.

ALSO READ:  Pakistan's small businesses hit hard by COVID-19

The Sale and Purchase of properties and estate should be digitized and automated so that revenue records may reflect the history of Property owners to do away with any claim or objection. The Ownership certificates, Heirship certificates, Birth Certificates, Domicile, PRC and all other certificates should be generated online through developing softwares, mobile applications of  Android or ios devices that will reduce the process and improve the productivity of the Public sector Institutes.

The process of employees’ performance evaluation, superannuation and pension may also be automated so that the entire employment record will be available when they reach their point of promotion, superannuation or drawing pensions. The Personal IDs must be opened online through scale-wise Supervisors i.e.  District Accounts Officers, Account Generals of Provinces and Accountant General of Pakistan so that trail may be available to track salary disbursements.

It is a commendable step by law and home departments to automate the Cause lists of the higher and lower judiciary but it must intimate the petitioners and respondents through SMS and email regarding their case status, date of hearing and disposing of the cases.

Furthermore, the process of voter lists should also be automated and Election Commission of Pakistan must make it available to all the citizens to register their vote when they reach at the age of 18 after getting their CNIC/Smart cards or Form B. This will enable district Election Commissioner Offices to enter the data online and consolidate the voter lists.

There should be central directorate of all the departments so that they may have coordination on digital grounds especially the FBR, AGP, Finance Ministry and Departments, Establishment division, cabinet division, NAB and Intelligence Directorates.  Digital Pakistan vision will have a great impact to attract Foreign Direct Investment, strengthening of Rupee against Dollar, stabilization of the economy and discouraging paper currency that usually falls heavy upon rupee and due to substantial pressure, the rupee gets devalued and inflation jumps up.

We are too excited after Tanya Aidrus and Baqar’s statements during Digital Pakistan Vision launch and they were very confident that their sacrifices of higher paychecks for the sake of the country are highly appreciable but they will be facing resistance from the stakeholders who have been misusing the manual system for decades and it is an uphill task to compel such elements to adopt and use this digital Endeavour which will choke their corruption stream but may streamline things for the common people.

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The other resistance will be from the provinces where PTI is on opposite Benches especially in Sindh and Baluchistan. It will be a big ask and the challenge that the initiated by  IT and Telecom Ministry will achieve its desired objectives given the challenges of shortage of IT Skilled Staff and messed up the bureaucratic structure. The government should make the digital literacy a compulsory part in every ministry at Federal, provincial and district level by setting up IT Skill development centres to train the supervisory and office staff so that digital communication infrastructure may be implemented. There is no dearth of talent in our youth but they need support and sponsorship to do wonders.

Moreover, the Government should establish a venture capital firm to support, incubate, accelerate and fund the Startups that will ultimately develop and accelerate the mushrooming growth of big startups.

The entrepreneurship courses must be introduced with help of  SMEDA, LUMS, IBA Karachi, IBA, Sukkur, SZabist, NUST, FAST, COMSATS, Virtual University and SDPI  so that entrepreneurs may learn to launch their startups successfully to conquer the digital world.

The Startups such as Careem, Bikea, and Rozee.pk are some the great examples of successful Startups. Globally, the Youth after getting their education, start their businesses to create employment but in Pakistan youth after passing Graduation and Masters, start hunting for a job. That is why Pakistan has a high level of Unemployment as youth avoid entering the entrepreneurship since they lack skills, training and financial resources. Punjab IT Board has done a tremendous job by incubating, funding and accelerating startups in public sector under the Plan9 and PlanX programs but it should be followed by all the Provinces so the proper Startup culture could be developed.

Higher Education Commission, IT Boards, Technical Education, Intermediate education boards should promote digital Pakistan vision by introducing governance, payment solutions and fund the Ideas at School and college level.

It is a good sign that  Online shopping Sites have experienced a mushrooming growth but mostly they accept the traditional Cash On Delivery Model (COD) which often causes losses if the customer returns the product or unavailable or Unwilling to receive the product.

Epayments ensure that product is shipped to the target buyer or customer who needs it. Though some Online shopping sites such as Popular Daraz.pk and Yayvo.com have started accepting Credit/Debit Cards issued by Pakistani Banks but still the number transactions is very low owing to hassles involved in getting credit cards from the banks.

At present, Only a few banks are issuing Credit Cards with Online Transactions and Point of Sale (POS) Transactions that include  Standard Chartered Bank, unfortunately, limited to big cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Other one include Bank Al Falah which issues Credit Cards on quick processing lasting for 10 to 20 days.

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Silk Bank is also the favourite bank of many customers who are interested in digital Transactions. Silk Bank offers a wide range of Credit Cards as per Income Levels of customers. UBL is also offering credit cards but it has too many conditions and terms.

Besides, these banks there other banks that are issuing credit cards such as  HBL, MCB, ABL, Faisal Bank, Askari bank and JS banks. The average interest or Mark up charged   40% which is very high as compared to other countries. The government especially state Bank of Pakistan must direct the public and Private banks to lower the markup ratio and ease the conditions to avail this facility especially suited to salaried class and Businessmen.

In Big cities, credit cards are issued instantly by Commercial Banks to the salaried Employees of Government and Companies but in small cities, the untrained and local managers avoid issuing credit cards to customers since it involves risks of recovery or payment of credit Bill.

I have personally visited many banks where I maintain my bank account, but regrettably, all the managers expressed their inability or forbade to get  Credit Cards since it is very costly and you cannot be issued credit cards in small cities.

Well, one will surely experience such embarrassment and inconvenience at the hands of Non-Professional Managers who are picked to only raise the deposits whereas the quality of service is compromised at the hands of such amateurs.

Therefore, Ms Tanya Aidrus head Digital Pakistan Vision and her team at Digital Pakistan Initiative will have to work out to appease the stakeholders to achieve the desired goals set as per the tenure of PTI so that Pakistanis may reap the benefits from this digital world.

To achieve this goal, the portfolio of IT and Telecom ministry must be given to a professional who should be well versed in IT and telecom preferably a Computer science or IT Graduate to pilot this project to achieve the goals in given clear framework.

There is also a big concern regarding inflated Taxes levied upon the business community which need to be reduced if they use Digital currency since Digital Currency will enable FBR to track payments and appraise the financial strength of the Individuals.

The e-Currency spectrum will help reduce the  crime rate, tax evasion, hoarding of money as  People will use credit cards and digital wallets such as  PayPal, Ali Pay, Google pay  those  can easily be tracked and monitored through digital systems,

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TIKTOK’s global  growth and expansion : a bubble or reality ?

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Social media has offered amazing tools and apps that have revolutionized the lifestyle of people. Social networks always keep you connected with your friends, colleagues and family. Some creative apps have become very popular in recent times especially among the enthusiastic youth who create funny clips with the help of  TikTok. 

Tiktok is the greatest platform for creating short mobile videos. These videos contribute to inspire creativity and bring smiles on the faces of people even amid pandemic and lockdowns. The app has become very popular even in Pandemic and as some of the best informative and educational content went  Viral. 

 Tiktok is the subsidiary of  Grand Tech Startup  Byetdance -a leading  Chinese Startup with mushrooming growth. TikTok has always been expanding its reach worldwide due to its aggressive expansion programs. At present, Tiktok has offices in  Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, and Tokyo.

Tiktok was founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming. Video sharing is the most popular segment among youth and the company has tapped tremendous growth. The Company is also called douyin in China but its global version is called Tiktok. The continual growth empowered it to acquire its American rival app  musical.ly. The  Company has expanded its outreach globally. 

New Dimensions  i.e. Online Education

The covid-19 has affected the Education badly throughout the world and the online digital education has been getting ground. Most of the Schools, Colleges, Universities, Coaching centres and Academies have anchored to Online Education such as live lectures, quizzes, Presentations and Webinars. Tiktok has announced to enter the online  Education in India as some of the content uploaded on Tiktok related to Education and learning has become viral earning millions of views and generating great revenue prompting  Tiktok to enter the world of  Education. 

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Tiktok has already interacted with content creators and firms in  India to Provide innovative  Learning material as all the educational institutions are closed for an indefinite period and  Tiktok finds it the perfect time to enter the world of Education. 

According to statistics that social Media app used by more than 200 million users every month in India and Tiktok will cover the range of  Science and Math related topics to help students learn from this service. 

 It has partnered with tech startups Vedanta,  Toppr,  Made Easy and Gradeup that will produce educational content for TikTok. It is also collaborating with social enterprises Josh Talks and the Nudge Foundation to mentor 5,000 people across India.

Continuing Growth  amid Pandemic

According to reports of Forbes and Bloomberg, Byetdance surpasses  Uber growth as it has become the top  Startup with value at $78 Billion. Byetdance is the parent company of Tiktok that runs various services. Byetdance has made  London as its strong base owing to trade war of the US with China in the aftermath of the Wuhan covid-19  outbreak. Trump Administration has imposed limitations on Chinese companies to pressurize China to accept US’ demands. Byetdance has attracted many professionals from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple to establish a strong hub at London to expand its outreach in Europe. 

Hiring than Firing amid Pandemic: A big surprise

It is really surprising that when the biggest companies and Franchises are constantly laying off their employees owing to prolonged lockdowns due to Covid-19, The Parent company of  Tiktok, the Byetdance has gone on a hiring spree and plans to recruit 10000 professionals in engineering, software and marketing fields that has stunned the world as even tech giants Google, Yahoo, Microsoft have laid off their staff and closed their offices over the covid-19 outbreak advising their employees to work from home.

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“Hiring spree on the part of  Byetdance amid pandemic is a pleasant surprise for the entrepreneurs, Tech giants and Experts globally.  “

Increasing Visibility of Byetdance Globally

With the ambitious journey of growth and reaping the enormous benefits, the company has no more remained a secret for the world as its subsidiary  Tiktok has broken all the records of usability and popularity exploring new frontiers with successful footprint. The recent leap of Tiktok to launch its Education initiative in India will further its grip in the  Asian markets. 

Will the bubble burst or Sustain Market Shocks?

The Byetdance has established footprints in Asia and Europe building strong basis and marketing its services, it is estimated that it can sustain the jolts of pandemic and will retain its position as some reports regarding bubble reputation will fade away forever as the popularity graph of the company maintains upward trend and keeps going.

The majority of the world population is youth so if  Tiktok focuses on youth-related interests by adopting  AI practices, it has already achieved the milestone. 

The Tech experts argue that TikTok has foreseen opportunity amid pandemic when the entire markets have crashed, Offices, Business, schools, colleges have been closed and stock markets crashed, even in such circumstances, if a company keeps hiring that means it established its strong bases so the bubble is not going to burst likely in post-Covid-19 World provided that it adheres to its policies of customer retention, market intelligence and the most important Artificial intelligence to explore the interests of users and offering more relevant content.

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 Besides profits, Tiktok pledged a huge amount for Vaccine development for  Africa under its Tiktok for Good endeavours. 

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Freelancer.com Q1 FY21: Record breaking-quarter

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Freelancer Ltd., the owner of Freelancer.com, has reported a 39% rise in gross payment volume to $192.9 million (AU$249.7 million) in Q1 2021 and a 32.1% rise in net cash receipts year-on-year to $12 million (AU$15.6 million). Both figures have set record highs for the Sydney-based company. 

Freelancer Ltd. includes both its freelancing marketplace and Escrow.com, an online escrow service founded in 1999 in San Francisco and purchased by Freelancer.com in 2015.

Freelancer.com’s Q1 gross marketplace volume (payments to freelancers) totaled $25.9 million, up 23.6% y-on-y, and its cash receipts set another record at $10.1 million, up 31.4% y-on-y. The group reports that 72% of its revenue is in USD and 4% is in AUD. 

Freelancer (FLN) has traded on the ASX in Australia since 2013 and in March 2021 it began trading in the US on the OTCQX Best Markets under the symbol FLNCF, upgrading from the Pink market. At the time of writing, FLN shares were up 8.81% and FLNCF was trading at $.65, up 3.26%.

Freelancer Enterprise, the company’s virtual workforce management system, grew its gross marketplace volume by 83.4% y-on-y and the average spend by key accounts is up 2.3x y-on-y. In addition to financials, Freelancer.com reported reaching 52.7 million registered users and 19.7 million jobs, with 1.9 million users and 519,000 jobs added in Q1, and a 105.7% increase in website traffic y-on-y to 16.4 million users.

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Social Media and polarization of society

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Social Media has witnessed a mushroom growth that has impacted the discourse of political, cultural and religious systems by providing the equal opportunity of freedom of expression and of sharing an opinion or viewpoint on any issue.

Social Media has played a greater role in rightwing politics that paved the way for populist politicians to reach out to their voters.

Though Social Media has connected the people around the world, at the same time, it is causing division or disintegration and facilitating the social media lobbyists to polarize the communication so much the people support the arguments or opinions or political tirades against leaders without fact checking.

The world has been rocked by social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube because the users of these social networks have already surpassed millions and are growing, but due to the limited regulatory framework, fake news, cyberbullying, extremism and terrorism has reached new heights.

The influencers’ interactions with social media users have polarized the political and social circles that led to the formation of online echo chambers, a tactic of social media recommendations by politicians to influence the users to strengthen their narrative regardless of facts that whether it is right or wrong, but it is knit in a manner that echo chambers appear to be normal for the people thus changing the way of thinking and increasing the supporters base.

The echo chambers post such content that we enjoy a lot while reading, while keeping us away from the content that may stir a debate or arguments or expression of our disagreement over certain social, economic, religious, cultural or policy matters.

The echo chambers keep ideas flowing on a regular basis to the one side –the positive side of the argument, while its negative side is deliberately concealed to hide the facts.

This is the big issue that might be discussed with students, who should be informed and taught at school, college or degree level so that positive and constructive use of this digital medium could be ensured.

Social media connectivity around the world is undoubtedly amazing but the problems it created for both people and students are very dangerous, and need to be addressed and regulated.

Digital media, especially social media, for a long time remained unbridled to post any content that may fall in the purview of hatred, racism, bullying, derogatory remarks, character assault, rebellion, or anti-state elements instigating people to create chaos using the olive branch of social media. Since it was not monitored given the type of content being circulated and the information of people posting such content, including their motives behind such content as may have a constant flow of information that is recommended by the users pretending to be professionals, experts and mentors.

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Alarmingly, people without fact-checking go on sharing the content and thus creating hype for such an issue as does not have a basis and was the result of a conspiracy to exert pressure on some person or leaders to get some favours.

The schools and colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of social media.

Sometimes, the active echo chambers or volcanoes erupt over such issues as may be beneficial for the wider circle of society, but this finds serious criticism masterminded by people with an individual approach. They term it detrimental for them since it did not serve their interests, though it might have been beneficial for general people.

Humans have an intuitional inclination to communicate with like-minded people or the people with the same choices on social media, thus the echo chambers get even stronger. The discourse that discourages dissenting voices always comes under fire from the thinkers and intellectuals of the nation since it is tantamount to concealing the facts from the people.

The world is coming closer after the covid-19 pandemic that engulfed the entire world, bringing misery and economic crisis. The social media debates go with biased and unbiased approaches regarding getting the vaccine. Some optimists termed it great, while some pessimists or biased approaches raised questions.

The echo chambers try to influence their opinions and win support.Similarly, echo chambers of both Democrats and Republicans only canvassed for their candidates but the leaders instigated the masses to attack Capitol Hill through social media and emotional speeches using their influence on social media, especially Twitter .

Some researchers have found that echo chambers influence people to win support but social media influencers have a follower-base of millions, and may polarize the public and politics, since influencers share success stories like internet marketers compelling you to buy their products.

The opinion leaders and experts reveal that for the last two decades, the percentage of American people having consistently holding liberal or conservative beliefs— rather than a blend of the two, which is the case for most people— has increased from 10 percent to over 20. Beliefs about the other side are becoming more negative creating an alarming situation.

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Since 1994, the number of people who see the opposing political party as a threat to “the nation’s well-being or security” has doubled, which heralds how deepening polarization has predictable results raising eyebrows.

The government shutdowns, violent protests, scathing attacks on elected officials, the capitol Hill incident –all indicate that social media have been polarizing the political system and divided the nation each passing day due to echo chambers of both mainstream parties regarding the issues of health, security, human rights, employment and environment.

According to evidence from empirical research conducted on US politicians, politicians following extreme ideologies attracted a larger public audience than those who were moderate, which is the real example of echo chambers.

Usually, messages containing extreme thoughts, emotional instigation, patriotism, or criticizing the opposition received a warm welcome on social media platforms than those messages reflecting merely information.

The polarization of issues and political ideology will have serious repercussions in future that should be addressed on a timely basis so that societies could be saved from further isolation and disintegration.

The issues could be resolved through educating the people and creating awareness about the fair and professional use of social media channels for advocacy for winning support for legislation, an issue, a policy or employment.

Instead of showing the dark side of the issue, we have to educate people regarding both pros and cons of matters of importance for the general public rather than misleading the people with biased approaches to oppose the initiative of the government, community or civil society for the general benefit.

Social Media network operators are the bigwigs and the most influential in this.They cannot be controlled but only  be regulated by framing such laws that  may ensure fair use of this digital platform and are careful so that users may not face any legal issue by discussing sensitive issues such as desecration of holy places, religions, personalities, anti-state tirades, rebellion, terrorism, extremism and so on. The sensitive issue may stir protests and cause legal proceedings, if the cyber-regulatory laws are implemented to discourage the influence of one-sided opinions or campaigns.

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We cannot deny the importance of social media platforms as they provide equal opportunity to people to express and share their thoughts or opinions, but safe and thoughtful use of these platforms will encourage healthy discourse and prove pivotal in promoting dialogue to discuss social, economical and cultural issues peacefully without hitting the sentiments of other communities.

Thus, echo chambers will be less powerful to build a narrative that is appealing but the readers will be engaging themselves in the debates that need interaction.

Undoubtedly, social media platforms have changed the political and social approach of the people and enabled face-to-face digital interaction through video and audio conference calls, so their fair use will mitigate their cons manifold.

The social media networks apply algorithms to connect you with like-minded people but it is up to you whether your engagement in communication is either unbiased or biased.

Social media should be promoting positive discourse to explore the political and economic solutions to the problems of people by reflecting the two sides of the coin so that the discourse be constructive and problem-solving. Social media has given a voice to marginalized people and governments are compelled to resolve the issues of people on a priority basis due to trending topics of social media.

Even the populist leaders may face resistance from social media as the public makes the most of the freedom of expression and criticizes the role of politicians for their failure to address the issues of the public.

In recent times, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been creating history in highlighting issues of both public and national interest but at the same time such platforms have been taken by storm by those influencers who continue to feed the news about their vested interests and create psychosocial hype for any issue that may jolt the power corridors of Government.

The politicians always take to Twitter for their precise viewpoint and policy debate and are usually followed by millions of followers. Even the print and electronic media take the tweets as policy statements or the narrative of some party or group.

The schools and colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of social media.

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