On 16th December, I was invited to speak at a policy event titled ‘Perspectives on Economy of Tomorrow’ organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Lahore. The topics I had to shed light on were ‘Provincial Economy, NFC Reforms and Social Sector Development’ and ‘Balance of Payments, export competitiveness and trade with special reference to SGP’.
After spending an entire evening listening to some eminent economists including Dr. Hafeez Pasha and Mr. Javed Jabbar along with other policy experts, it was felt as if Pakistan presents a very bleak picture in terms of its economy. The major causes of this pessimism lies in uncertain political times, mass rural migration to cities due to unemployment and lack of facilities and ‘bureaucratic hurdles’ in managing international and domestic labour and monetary commitments.
I will keep the focus of this post on my own interventions at the event. Since I was asked to speak on the social sector development with special reference to the GSP Plus status, and innovative models to approach the problem, I focused my talk on social enterprise development in Pakistan.
On one hand, the NGO sector is suffering in Punjab due to the recent wave of stricter restrictions and regulations of NGOs, a fact which the Social Welfare Department also acknowledges. On the other hand, the informal economy of Pakistan has little or no role to play in the mainstream economy of the country. More than 50 % of the country is under the age of 25 and exploring more alternative avenues to empower more youth towards economic activities is the need of the hour.
Since my area of expertise is social enterprise development, I felt that the discussion would have been incomplete without shedding light on the mater. In a nutshell, social enterprises could pave the way to engage the 50% population of women in more business activities geared towards community benefit. Women tend to be more suited for the role of social enterprises in any case. However, the government is not paying close attention to this area which remains untapped. Some of the questions that I was posed with during discussions with government departments have revolved around what social enterprises are, how many social entrepreneurs are there in Pakistan and why I am pressing for a separate legal recognition of these entities. This shows that much work still needs to be done to promote social enterprises as a model of conducting business as well as contributing back to the social sector.
Left to right: Ms. Shanze Anwar, Dr. Vaqar Ahmad Executive Director SDPI, Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik Founding Director ISW Think Tank and Mr. Ali Khizar from Business Recorder.