A Different Kind of Blast: Techies Go Home Buzzed After Pakistan’s Digital Youth Summit

May 14, 2015


Young people made up the bulk of the audience of the Digital Youth Summit.

Peshawar 2.0

Last week, techies and business experts from all over the world convened at the Digital Youth Summit 2015 for three days of passionate discussions on innovation and entrepreneurship, angel investing, startups, and opportunities to work online. Young students were busy tweeting with their smartphones, tech entrepreneurs discussed latest development in the industry, government officials interacted with the 3000+ youth in the crowd, and the venue buzzed with excitement. This could have been a tech conference like many in the Silicon Valley. But it was taking place in Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in Pakistan.

The province of KP experienced the impacts of several wars in neighboring Afghanistan, and the local security situation has impacted local economic opportunities. This is especially true for KP’s youth, who now make up more than half of the province’s population. Young people made up the bulk of the audience of the Digital Youth Summit, and as they listened to panel sessions on the growing opportunities in the virtual economy, the importance of their location seemed to diminish: the enthusiasm of local youth has overcome the gloomy scenario often painted about Peshawar.

The global virtual economy is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Facilitated by widespread global connectivity and internet and lower costs of computers, the physical location of e-lancers (freelancers working through the internet), housed in traditional office spaces, is becoming less relevant. Instead, project teams can be made up of specialists located from Singapore to Nairobi, or San Francisco to Peshawar. And KP’s youth can also stand to benefit from these opportunities; with the right mix of technical skills, mentorship, and connectivity, the jobs become available.


Young students tweeted, tech entrepreneurs discussed latest development in the industry, government officials interacted with the crowd, and the venue buzzed with excitement

Peshawar 2.0


The Digital Youth Summit has turned into the most important gathering of youth interested in technology and innovation.

Peshawar 2.0

Based on these rapidly shifting realities, the Government of KP’s IT Board (www.kpitb.gov.pk) partnered with the World Bank and Peshawar 2.0 (www.peshawar2.org), a local social enterprise, to hold the 2nd edition of the Digital Youth Summit, with the objective of highlighting these opportunities to KP’s youth, and demonstrating Peshawar’s potential to the world. DYS, as it has become known, has turned into the most important gathering of youth interested in technology and innovation and has fostered links across the country over the future of digital work and entrepreneurship.

The DYS 2015 saw the overwhelming participation of over 100 speakers (including from the US, France, Italy, UK, UAE, Afghanistan, Jordan and Nepal) , 3500 participants, 24,000 live tweets with #dys15, and approximately 1.2 million people were reached via social media. The Government of KP was present throughout, even holding an interactive and candid session between the Senior Minister for IT of the Province and participants on the future of IT in Pakistan.

The DYS is not something completely new for Pakistan. The first edition of May 2014 clearly showed that Peshawar is emerging as a tech hub and, despite the novelty, was the biggest gathering of tech entrepreneurs in the country. This second edition reached new frontiers. In addition to a record number of participants, many more international and national speakers and prestigious sponsors, there were also a number of firsts. The Summit hosted the very first gathering of business leaders interested in establishing an Angel Investors Network in Pakistan that can fund and mentor entrepreneurs; furthermore, two Pakistani-American CEOs that spoke at the Summit not only invested in a local startups that they discovered at the event, but also committed to creating an investment fund leveraging affluent members of the Pakistani diaspora in the US. 

Another first was that DYS provided fertile ground for investment pitches: three investors announced a $65,000 investment (cash and in-kind) in Messiah (www.messiahapp.com), an application to connect victims of accidents or disasters to loved ones and early responders. The Messiah team is a group young twenty year old students from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who first met at university in computer science departments and, encouraged by their professor, they applied to the Peshawar Civic Hackathon (www.facebook.com/kphacks), organized by the World Bank, Code for Pakistan (www.codeforpakistan.org) and the KP IT Board.

Thanks to the support from these three angel investors, the team will be heading to a 100 day accelerator program in Jordan, where they will gain valuable skills in business development and further refinement of their idea to pitch to venture capital investors.

Last but not the least, several investors identified successful freelancers and agreed to source strategic activities of their businesses to Peshawar (for more information about freelancing in Peshawar, you can read this blog post: https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/how-online-work-changing-labor-force-participation-and-fostering-urban-youth-inclusion-pakistan).

DYS 2015 has brought Peshawar closer to becoming a leading tech hub in Pakistan; and this has garnered the appreciation of local youth, academia, business leaders, private sponsors, and the government.

As the Senior Minister for IT of the KP Province announced at the closing ceremony: “Stay tuned for next year; the next summit will be even bigger and better!

…judging by the reaction of the crowd, the World Bank team will need to staff up for 2016!!