Investment opportunities in Pakistan woo leading entrepreneurs

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Pakistan’s vast economic potential anchored on the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, expanding market and promising investment climate make it an attractive place for business ventures, American and Pakistani business experts and leaders noted at a roundtable discussion.
The discussion was organised by Partners for a New Beginning (PNB) Secretariat at the Aspen Institute in New York on the subject of Entrepreneurship and Investment in Pakistan, in collaboration with Morgan Stanley and Abraaj Capital.
Over 75 representatives from the US Government, the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, Consulate General of Pakistan in New York, USAID, OPIC, OPEN, APF, banking and financial institutions, hedge funds and entrepreneurs from the private sector and the NGO community convened to discuss opportunities for entrepreneurship and investment in Pakistan.
There was a clear agreement among participants that while news reports from Pakistan often focus on violence and governance issues, Pakistan has quietly become a potential investment location due to its strong middle class – the fourth largest in Asia – and its energetic entrepreneurial environment.
The conversation highlighted leaders from the private sector, the US and Pakistani governments, and the impact investment community to share success stories and lessons learned for investing in this growing market.
PNB Steering Committee member, Morgan Stanley spoke of the company’s commitment to PNB and its model of engagement.
They gave special emphasis to their Global Sustainable Finance unit, which includes Investing with Impact, an initiative that was launched earlier this year at a US State Department event.
“This event exemplifies how PNB is bringing together the public and private sector to implement the vision of supporting economic development in countries with Muslim-majorities, and creating new connections between these countries and the United States,” said Mahmoud Mamdani, Vice Chairman for the Middle East and North Africa and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley.
“Capital markets can and should play a critical role in helping strengthen communities and providing sustainable economic opportunity,” said Morgan Stanley’s Head of Global Sustainable Finance Audrey Choi.
Focusing on opportunities in the small and medium enterprise sector, Abraaj Capital’s Tom Speechley spoke of why his firm is so bullish on the market in Pakistan. Mr. Speechley, who is the CEO of Abraaj’s small and midcap investment arm – Aureos Capital, highlighted Pakistan’s competitive ICT labor market, its encouraging investor protection track record, and its favorable comparability with other BRIC countries. He also discussed successful projects undertaken so far by Abraaj in Pakistan such as KESC, MSF, and Biogas. Representing the views of the private sector, CEO of NTELX the Hon. Rob Quartel, MIT Sloan professor and founder of the MIT Enterprise Forum Imran Sayeed, and CEO of ConstellationCK/Sofizar Carlos Cashman shared their experiences in Pakistan.
“A business like mine would have been very difficult in the US, but we can do it in Pakistan because the cost is so much lower,” said Mr. Cashman. The people of Pakistan are “natural capitalists,” added Mr. Quartel. Deputy Chief of Mission Asad Majeed Khan from the Embassy of Pakistan remarked at the outset of the event that “the government of Pakistan realizes that the way to our economic growth lies in capitalizing on the entrepreneurial ability and the unflinching resolve of our strong middle class.” From the US government, the State Department’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan/Pakistan Dan Feldman told the audience about the recent economic cooperation between the two governments and how they are excited to encourage private investment in Pakistan. The US government is more focused on energy, economic growth and developing infrastructure in border areas. “The Department sees business leaders as change agents,” Mr. Feldman remarked. Alex Thier, Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at USAID, spoke about thePakistan Private Investment Initiative, a public-private partnership aimed at generating investments in Pakistani companies in partnership with the private sector. Theirs informed about USAID’s Pakistan Private Investment Initiative whereby they have created a fund of $24 million for encouraging investment on one-to-one basis.