She spent more than half her life outside Pakistan, studying at the world’s best schools and working at the forefront of the global tech industry. But now she is back in Pakistan, ready to lead the country into the digital age.
Meet Tania Aidrus, a former Chief of Staff and Head of Strategic Initiatives on the Next Billion Users (NBU) team at Google, who quit her position a few months ago to head Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative.
In her own words, she wants to “put Pakistan on the map” as far as technology and innovation were concerned.
Tania holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BSc from Brandeis University. Prior to her appointment as a Google executive, Tania co-founded a mobile health diagnosis company called ClickDiagnostics which connected rural patients in emerging markets to doctors around the world.
She was also a leader in the Global Business Organisation at Google in the US and then in Singapore where she was the Country Manager for South Asia Frontier Markets at Google.
During her speech at the inauguration of the ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative, Tania recalled how she had been contacted by the prime minister’s team to head the ambitious project.
“A person I knew told the prime minister about me and he forwarded an email to his reform team to contact me,” she said. “Over the next course of months, I was in contact with Mr Jahangir Tareen and members of the federal cabinet. I even met the president before I met Prime Minister Imran and discussed the project,” she said.
Tania said that the Pakistani diaspora around the world wanted to contribute to the country and serve it.
“I spent 20 years outside Pakistan,” she said. “I went abroad with a very strong message about Pakistan. People say that I am politically connected to some people. That is not the case, I don’t have a relationship with anyone in the government. My objective is simple — I just want Pakistan to succeed,” she added.
Tania said that she had identified five key areas where the government needed to build ‘building blocks’ and centralised strategies from the highest order. She said that the first among these areas was the access and connectivity pillar.
“A soldier posted in Siachen gets one opportunity a week to speak to his family members,” she said. “I want to ensure that whenever he connects to his family via a video call, he is able to do so without any issues.”
She then spoke about the second key area, which was upgrading the country’s digital infrastructure.
“Just like you need the road infrastructure in a country, Pakistan needs a digital infrastructure,” she said. “To advance in the tech world, we need to have a digital infrastructure in place.”
Tania then identified the third key pillar — E-governance. She said that the incumbent government had gotten elected on the promise of transparency.
“The best way to ensure transparency is to digitise government processes,” she said. “Nowadays people have a tremendous amount of difficulty when it comes to land documentation and other processes. We need to digitise these.”
She said that Pakistan conducted procurements of at least Rs3 trillion each year.
“We need to see how much we can save from these Rs3 trillion,” she added.
Tania identified the fourth key pillar of the digitisation process — Digital Training and Skill.
She spoke about how universities in Pakistan were not teaching students about technology. Tania said that by the time students graduated from universities in Pakistan they were unable to compete with the global economic model.
Tania then spoke about the fifth and last pillar the government needed to work on — Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“We need to create an environment where entrepreneurship and innovation takes place,” she said. “The government needs to make it easy for investors and entrepreneurs to invest in Pakistan. We need to attract companies that are worth billions of dollars,” she said.
She had a special message for skeptics in the end.
“To the skeptics I say, it is not a question of whether we will succeed or not. It is a question of how quickly we can,” she said.
PM Imran launches ‘Digital Pakistan’ campaign
PM Imran launched the ‘Digital Pakistan’ campaign on Thursday as a part of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s digitisation programme aimed at introducing the latest technologies for public welfare.
The inauguration ceremony was held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Islamabad.
The prime minister also addressed the ceremony today, saying that digitising Pakistan is crucially important for the progress of the country’s youth.
He said that the world has been progressing while Pakistan has largely lagged behind.
“Digital Pakistan will be the government’s utmost priority. It will unleash the potential of the youth. Pakistan has the second biggest population of youth and it can be turned into strength through digital work,” said the premier.
“Women can contribute to this sector as well and gain jobs,” said the prime minister.
PM Imran said that e-commerce and e-governance can change the face of an institution.