Pakistan’s startups and technology sector witnessed unprecedented growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 was a record-breaking year, with technology startups raising $350 million, while over $227 million was raised in the first half of 2022; Pakistani startups have raised $322 million in 2022 so far. Additionally, Pakistan’s information technology (IT) services sector has emerged as the largest net services exporter in the country, with IT exports more than doubling from $1.19 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2019 to $2.62 billion in FY 2022.
Another key component of the country’s technology sector is freelance work, where individuals provide technology services to global clients through platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr. This talent pool has experienced a tremendous increase in their earnings during the pandemic. While exact data for cumulative freelance earnings is not available, Pakistan is ranked as one of the largest freelance markets in the world. The national government has set a target of earning over $3 billion from this sector by 2024.
However, a tightening global macro environment coupled with increasing domestic political instability is a cause of concern for the sector, especially the domestic startup economy. To understand the risks and opportunities facing the technology ecosystem, the Atlantic Council’s Pakistan Initiative interviewed several experts within and outside Pakistan. The analysis below highlights the current state of the ecosystem and the impact of ongoing economic and political instability in Pakistan. It also outlines recommendations for key stakeholders including policymakers seeking to further globalize Pakistan’s technology sector to unlock both export earnings and foreign investment opportunities.
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