Why Pakistan lags behind the world in Innovation


Bottom of the barrel

One of the primary reasons why Pakistani lags behind the world in innovation is our cultural attitudes. We usually discourage trying new things and want to adopt the path chosen by our predecessors


Innovation is central to the rapid development of any country. Advanced economies of the world are only making progress because they are highly skilled at innovating and developing new products which gives them a competitive advantage over developing nations. The rise of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IOT has been termed the as the Fourth Industrial revolution which will being opportunities as well as challenges and those countries who are not prepared for this next wave of industrial revolution are doomed to fail. Innovation stems from generating new ideas, by making research based products, making or building new business processes and generating new as well as efficient ways of doing the same thing. According to global competitive index Pakistan stands at number 122 out a total of 138 nations which indicates it is a clear back bencher. According to global innovation index, Pakistan stands at number 113 while India stands at number 60 and China stand at number 22. This gives rise to a very pressing question that despite having best brains, why are we lagging behind the world in innovation? In my view these are the reasons for our lack innovative and creative capabilities:

Our cultural attitudes:

One of the primary reasons why Pakistani lags behind the world in innovation is our cultural attitudes. We usually discourage trying new things and want to adopt the path chosen by our predecessors. In Punjab who person tries to do something creative is called sarcastically “a scientist”; one who is experimenting new things and trying to make gold through alchemy and ultimately will get nothing. However, this attitude is now vanishing among the educated middle class. Same is the case for entrepreneurial realm. We prefer to walk on tried and tested paths instead of finding new ones or prefer to do jobs instead of pursuing our own entrepreneurial dream. As the Director of MIT enterprise forum rightly says, Pakistanis have the right talent and determination but they are too timid to dream big and dare, to create a truly global success story. The societal pressure of parents and relatives also discourage us to innovate as innovation is always riskier and the fear of being mocked by friends and family is also what kills the innovator’s dream.

Rote based learning:

The second most important thing is our system of learning. Our system of learning is such that induces rote learning instead of learning and applying the concepts. Innovation which could mean a new sketch of a machine, or understanding a particular problem regarding business or any scientific problem requires clearing the concept first in your mind and then designing the solution. If the concept is not clear, you cannot solve the riddle. And the concepts cannot be cleared by theory based learning. Combining theory with practice is what can make you understand a particular concept but this is not the norm in Pakistan.

Lack of industry academia linkage:

In advanced economies, the pivotal link to innovation is the linkage between industry and academia. Research is being done in Universities but these are businessmen who transform the research based product into a business idea. Developing a research based product is another thing but marketing it and building a business model around it is another thing. The biggest problem in Pakistan is that the universities are not linked to industry. If any research based product is being created in the university, it is not known by the Industry and if the industry wants to develop some new innovative products it does not has the required links with the academia. Another problem, which has again roots in our culture is that most of the businessmen do not want to try new things. They only want to go for tried and tested products. Either they have a fear of failure or they do not know how an innovation can give them a competitive advantage over competitors. If the researcher wants to market his own product then the problem is lack of capital. There are no government funds to support SME’s and New Entrepreneurial Ventures. Banks give loans to only 5pc of the total SME sector. The result is that the product dies within the university. Previously, there were no private institutional venture capital funds established in Pakistan who could invest with these innovators but now there are funds being established focusing on technology based products.

Lack of government and private sector support:

In overall the world, governments spend billions on R&D to increase agricultural and economic productivity but unfortunately the case has been opposite for Pakistan. First the government spends a little portion of the money, then the institutions responsible for research are not held accountable and do little effort to reach the objectives and then the last problem is that the researchers sitting there are more interested in taking their salaries rather than doing any major research breakthrough. Even when there are some major breakthroughs, usually the government institutions do not have a marketable way to market them to the investors. I can tell you from firsthand accounts who have been working in PARB (Punjab Agricultural Research Board) that government is more interested in building roads than spending on research projects. As once there was funding needed for some research based project but when the project went to the P&D (Planning and Development) department for evaluation and they had to allocate the budget between building a road and spending on R&D, the preference was given to spending on road. The result is that in the latest economic survey, it was mentioned that our agricultural, vegetables and fruit exports have been falling because of a lack of surplus available and the lack of surplus is due to a lack of Research and Development. Consequently, we are one of the slowest performing economies in the region and a backbencher in the global competitiveness report and global innovation index.

The irony is that the local private sector also does not seem to be interested in any research and development spending. In the whole world, along with the government, the researchers are hired by leading multinationals with world class perks and privileges to develop new products for them. Companies involved in pharmaceutical business, chemicals, textiles spend billions of dollars on R&D to get a competitive advantage over their competitors. The global spending on R&D was USD150 billion in the Pharma industry. Unfortunately in Pakistan, none of the pharmaceuticals has an R&D section. They prefer to simply copy and paste from the west i.e. take the formula, prepare it and take it to the market at a lower price level than the multinational. One problem why companies do not prefer to spend here in R&D is the lack of IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) or Patent Laws. In USA if develop a new drug, you have will have sole rights to sell it for the next 5 – 10 years and that monopoly for the said period gives the company both the high profits and a stimulus to invest in further R&D. In Pakistan, both laws and their implementation are weak. If you will make a new drug and introduce it to market, the very next day another company will copy the formula and introduce it in the market with a price less than yours and you can do nothing. The lack of patent laws and the failure to implement them, both discourage innovation. According to Global Competitive Index Pakistan stands at number 109 in intellectual property rights protection out of a total 138 nations.

Brain drain:

Brain drain has been always one of the major factors which hinder innovation. The unstable security situation, lack of political stability becoming push factors and higher pays and perk and privileges abroad become a pull factor for the best Pakistani brains to work abroad instead of their home country. According to media reports, around 2.8 million Pakistanis have migrated abroad from Pakistan. UNESCO claims that the highly skilled migration rate of Pakistan has increased more than 60 percent from 1992 to 2000 which is extremely alarming.


  1. Criteria for innovation is misleading? Indian claims to be the smartest people on earth and have the largest number of PhDs, they stand at 60. China has beaten US in patents so why they stand at 22.

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