Pakistan has been in the news a lot lately, but unfortunately always for the wrong reasons. Any mention of Pakistan in the media is inevitably related to terrorism, extremism or violence. This one-sided portrayal of Pakistan in most media outlets leads many people around the world to believe that this nation of 190 million is merely a battle zone with people constantly killing others or living under the threat of being killed themselves. In talking about the danger of a single story, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” The notion of the belligerency of Pakistan and its people is probably one of the strongest examples you will find of a one-sided story that has affected even a native Pakistani like me.
Even though I was born and raised in Pakistan, deciding to move back home after living in the US for the last eleven years was a decision I spent much time contemplating. After all, it is hard to ignore the daily reports about bombs, prognoses of a “failed state” and concerns of a radicalizing youth. And when you have no one telling you the other side of the story, it is rather easy to develop a pessimistic view of things.
Yet, I became one of the lucky ones to encounter the other side of Pakistan; the side that unfortunately does not get talked about much. This is the Pakistan of ingenuity and innovation, rapidly becoming a leader in the textile and fashion industry. This is the Pakistan of extraordinary economic growth, where the Karachi Stock Exchange has been one of the top 5 performing markets for a number of years, with a 49% return in 2012 alone, and a 300% growth in the last 4 years. This is the Pakistan where the telecom and media sectors are one of the fastest growing in the world. This is the Pakistan whose people are one of the most charitable around the world. This is the Pakistan where food, music, industry and culture thrive. This is also the Pakistan where social entrepreneurs are doing amazing things such as connecting local craftsmen to international markets, empowering women by providing them with employment opportunities, supporting children of the street and much more. The Acumen portfolio in Pakistan alone is an example of amazing innovation in a broad spectrum of areas including agriculture, housing and health.
After moving back to Pakistan, I have been astounded by the prospects and potential I see in the country. The most encouraging signs are the resilience and grit shown by the people here every day. The youth are vibrant, expressive and ambitious. The recently concluded general elections in Pakistan were a testament to this, where against all odds and threats to their lives, people came out to vote in throngs. Estimates suggest the voter turnout to be over 50%; the majority of this was the youth in Pakistan who now realize their potential and are motivated to demand from their government what is their right. Despite political neglect and lack of leadership in the past, I see a hopeful future and signs of progress all around me. The Pakistani economy is ready to boom and Pakistani entrepreneurs are rearing to be at the forefront of this boom. With its investment into the Pakistan Fellows Program, Acumen has rightly taken notice of this potential in Pakistan. The right investments such as this, coupled with the exuberance and ingenuity of the Pakistani youth, is a guarantee to a brighter future ahead for Pakistan.