Pak re­sources em­pow­ered by e-com­merce boom

The Pak Banker - - NATIONAL -

In the Hindu Kush moun­tains craftswomen painstak­ingly stitch flow­ing scarves, skilled ar­ti­sans who were un­able to sell their prod­ucts be­yond the re­mote re­gion un­til mo­bile in­ter­net came to Pak­istan and dropped the mar­ket into the palms of mil­lions of pre­vi­ously marginal­ized peo­ple.

The women of north­ern Chi­tral are among the un­likely prof­i­teers of an e-com­merce boom since 3G and 4G In­ter­nets ar­rived in the coun­try in 2014, sud­denly able to mar­ket and sell tra­di­tional prod­ucts with­out leav­ing their vil­lages or in some cases even their homes.

"The on­line plat­form elim­i­nates the mid­dle­man," says Nas­rin Sa­mad, the en­tre­pre­neur be­hind the ar­ti­san brand Kai, which works with women across the re­gion. Now, Chi­trali women "have ac­cess to a global au­di­ence," she says. Kai prod­ucts are sold on polly & other sto­ries (pollyan­dother­sto­ries.com), which launched late in 2015 to con­nect tra­di­tional ar­ti­sans like those in Chi­tral with con­sumers hun­gry for "au­then­tic" prod­ucts.

"Years of work­ing with lo­cal com­mu­nity and craft groups had shown us how dif­fi­cult it was for lo­cal small busi­nesses, even the most tal­ented, to ac­cess main­stream mar­kets or con­nect with buy­ers, both within Pak­istan and abroad," founder Am­neh Shaikh-Fa­rooqui told AFP. To bridge the gap, says co-founder Ange Braid, the pair built a web­site to give "small, cre­ative busi­nesses, many of them led by women or young stu­dents, the chance to mar­ket and sell". Op­por­tu­ni­ties like this in a coun­try like Pak­istan are "huge", says Adam Dawood, head of on­line mar­ket­place Kaymu.pk.

In the first quar­ter of 2015 smart­phone ship­ments to the coun­try soared by 123 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Pak­istan Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Au­thor­ity's an­nual re­port, one of the fastest growth rates in the de­vel­op­ing world. Broad­band sub­scribers have topped 26 mil­lion peo­ple, the Min­istry for In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy said in Fe­bru­ary, with broad­band pen­e­tra­tion go­ing from three per­cent to more than 15 per­cent.

The min­istry cited World Bank stud­ies show­ing that a 10 per­cent in­crease in high-speed in­ter­net con­nec­tions can boost Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) by 1.38 per­cent, adding the ar­rival of broad­band in Pak­istan is set to have a "very pos­i­tive im­pact on eco­nomic growth". Dawood echoed the re­port's op­ti­mism. "There are tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one to start sell­ing and buy­ing in­stantly and earn money," he said. Women are see­ing the ben­e­fits, but e-com­merce presents po­ten­tially an even greater op­por­tu­nity for young peo­ple in a coun­try where roughly two thirds of the pop­u­la­tion - - of around 200 mil­lion -- are es­ti­mated to be un­der the age of 30.

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