Why am I excited for the next digital youth summit?

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Visit website to sign up:  http://digitalyouthsummit.pk/

This year, perhaps even more than in previous years, I am very excited to come to DYS for two main reasons.

First, since its inception in 2014, the Digital Youth Summit has become one of the premier technology conferences in Pakistan. Back in 2014, we got some skeptical responses to the idea of holding a tech conference in Peshawar. National speakers were hesitant to make the trip to Peshawar. Security restriction on international travel were in place for KP up to a week before the event. Several international speakers dropped out because of difficulties getting visas.

But in 2014, the first Digital Youth Summit came on the tech scene, redefining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as an emerging digital economy. The event brought together local and international participants (some attending their sessions by videoconference) to deliberate on supporting the growth of nascent ecosystems. Local youth showed up, curious about how the internet is shaping jobs of the future. I met one young woman who had traveled on an overnight bus with her child and sister just to learn more about what it means to work online. She told me excitedly that she could not wait to begin her new internet based career. And for the international speakers who made it, the hospitality and warmth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reshaped their views of Pakistan.

Fast forward three years to DYS 2017. DYS has become an established event in Pakistan’s tech community. It has provided an international platform to showcase the vibrancy and enthusiasm of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as it embraces the digital economy. And while it continues to identify with its core objective—to raise awareness among youth—it has also become a platform for Pakistan’s tech community to deliberate the growth of tech entrepreneurship, the future of digital payments, and how to promote Pakistan’s digital transformation. The commitment and presence of the Government, as well as participation of a wide range of international experts, complements each panel discussion. But it is the enthusiasm and excitement of the youth that gives the event its signature energy and vibrancy.

It has been an honor to be a part of the growth of this Summit, to see it develop into a recognized platform for engagement, and to continue to meet youth from all over KP and all over Pakistan to see, understand and get excited by opportunities in the digital economy.

The second reason that I’m particularly excited for DYS 2017 is this year’s lineup of speakers. Each year, it is a challenge to bring together a group of accomplished and established global tech professionals, but this year, the panelists and speakers promise to deliver on some really great conversations. This year we will have tech stars such as Elmira Bayrasli and Dilawar Syed, both internationally recognized speakers with vast experience on growing entrepreneurship. We will hear from experienced professionals in building digital jobs across the globe:  Carl Espositi with his partnership with the Government of Malaysia in their e-rezeki program, and Todd Jensen, who has over twenty years of experience in digitization efforts. Sam Bretzfield and Dan Clarke are transplants to Asia, working in emerging economy contexts as entrepreneurs. We will have speakers focused on digital payments, like Katherine Budd, and angel investors like Rabeel Warraich from Sarmayacar. We have speakers coming to share how to open community spaces such as Max Krueger, who helped co-found a maker space in Lahore, Illiana Montauk, who opened Gaza’s first co-working space and accelerator, and Ajmal Paiman, who has opened a community space in Kabul.  And finally, we will have people speaking to digital inclusion efforts, such as Digital Opportunity Trust’s Country Director for Tanzania, Eliaguard Dawson.

These speakers will complement the vast experience of high level speakers from Pakistan, including Nadeem Hussain, of Planet N, Yusuf Hussain, CEO of the ICT R&D fund, Jehan Ara, President of P@SHA, Khurram Zafar of the LUMS Entrepreneurship Center, Syed Ismail Shah, Chairman of PTA, and Danish Lakhani, CEO of Cybernet. The conference will also bring in Government representatives, like Farah Hamid Khan, Mr. Qureshi, and Mr. Muhammad Tariq, Secretaries of Industry, Transport and Tourism, respectively, as well as Akif Khan to speak about new initiatives planned in digital governance.  And let’s not forget Haroon Rashid, successful singer turned entrepreneur! There are so many other amazing established entrepreneurs, digital rights activists, freelancers, and successful local youth to round out the panels. Check out the full list on the website. Panel discussions will be complemented by hands on workshops and smaller “ask me anything” sessions with specialists, allowing local youth to learn the most from their experiences in understanding the successes, as well as failures, that entrepreneurship and tech innovation entails. The conference will be powered by Jazz, who will run its incubation program over one full day for interested local participants.

This year’s DYS expo will also be a place for local startups to showcase their businesses, as well as an academic cup, for students to pitch their early stage ideas to investors. Throughout the three days, a mini maker faire will expose local youth to the concepts of makerspaces. And best of all the expo is free and open to the public!

This year’s DYS will culminate in a Startup Cup, with participants pitching to investors, followed by several key announcements on concrete steps the Government of KP will be making over the current year to facilitate the digital economy. As for me, I’m excited to come and see the diverse offerings at this year’s DYS, and to participate in making history in Pakistan’s digital transformation.

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Anna O'Donnell

Lead Social Development Specialist

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