Innovating Against Odds: How a Province in Pakistan is Transforming Itself

September 24, 2015


The Digital Youth Summit has become a premier tech event in the country, drawing crowds locally, nationally and internationally to discuss entrepreneurship and innovation. 

DYS 2015/World Bank

  • In a region affected by regional instability, the World Bank is working with the government of Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) to help realize the aspirations of its young people through technology.
  • The Digital Youth Summit, one of several local initiatives, has become the country’s premier tech conference.
  • Young entrepreneurs are already using these platforms as springboards to create successful businesses. One group has received funding for their Messiah App, an alert messaging program.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) seems like an unlikely place for a tech revolution. This northern province of Pakistan has faced a myriad of challenges over the last decades with regards to security, governance, and limited opportunities. Young people are especially affected by this instability, as limited economic and employment opportunities stifle their transitions into adulthood.

Around 53 million Pakistanis are under the age of 30, (60 percent of the population), and these young people present a unique opportunity to unlock potential growth and development through social and economic inclusion of its youth. The tech sector is one area of increasing possibilities, both to generate employment and to harness the creativity of young people to develop tech driven solutions for common business, social, civic and political challenges.

The great thing about technology is that it transcends geography. Global connectivity and a growing digital economy mean that KP’s youth can connect to jobs available online. And a greater number of free courses and online training means budding entrepreneurs can be found just about anywhere. 

In 2013, the Government of KP, in partnership with the World Bank, devised a strategy to focus on linking its youth with global employment opportunities and to promote the empowerment of tech entrepreneurs. Two years later, Peshawar is emerging as one of Pakistan’s tech hubs and its image and the image of local youth is changing.


Events like the Digital Youth Summit have also become a space for local youth to express pride in being from KP and participate in running one of the provinces only premier tech conferences.

DYS 2015/World Bank

How Peshawar’s image changed in two years 

At the heart of the new strategy was a focus on people. It started with asking who are the youth who are coding and building apps? What are these young people saying about their own futures? It started with hosting a few events, working together with local partners to get the word out and to convene young people and begin building communities.

One such activity is an annual tech conference that creates opportunities for networks, community building and vibrant discussions on themes of innovation, entrepreneurship and freelancing. The Digital Youth Summit (DYS), co-organized between local partner Peshawar 2.0, the KP IT Board and the World Bank, is now becoming one of Pakistan’s premier tech conferences. Every year, the summit features a startup expo, hands-on training and workshops, and gathers world-renowned speakers from the business startup and tech communities to discuss how to promote the digital economy in KP and beyond.

What started as a movement “by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs” now brings together 500 people, and reaches an estimated 1.2 million people through social media channels. The positive image of Peshawar goes a long way in rebranding KP and instilling pride in its local youth.  

What’s next? 

While events bring visibility and raise awareness, these activities need to be part of a broader strategy to generate employment opportunities and the growth of innovation and entrepreneurship for its youth. Community building is an important first step, but this community must be fostered through support to innovation, entrepreneurship and financing.

DYS has served as a catalyst for change. For example, it created a platform for Peshawar’s local business leaders to establish an angel investor network, committed to investing in local youth. Peshawar 2.0 recently launched an incubation program “Revolt” to foster local talent. This is just the beginning.