Saudi-Pakistan Digital Collaboration

On 6 March 2023, Prince Fahad bin Mansour Al Saud formally launched a new platform entitled Saudi-Pakistan Tech House (SPTH) focused on generating bilateral collaboration between the Information Technology (IT) firms of the two states. The launch took place in Islamabad at the Saudi Embassy while the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, was the chief guest. The initiative was first introduced at the Future Fest 2023, the largest tech event in Lahore, Pakistan, back in January to promote ease of business between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and to catalyse growth and greater collaboration between the two Islamic countries. The tech house will be headquartered in Riyadh and have its first branch in Lahore.

The founding firm of SPTH is the tech giant ILSA Interactive which was first set up by Salman Nasir from Pakistan in 2019 and co-founded by Prince Fahad from Saudi Arabia. The company has regional offices in Lahore and Riyadh. Prince Fahad, President of the Saudi G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA), made the virtual announcement of undertaking the joint venture. He is a trailblazer in carving start-up policy and has wide experience as an initiator of multiple ventures. He is the person behind the NGO Entrepreneurship Vision and founder and CEO of the social platform Fayvo among others.

The news regarding SPTH first started doing rounds in January. During the Future Fest 2023, a team of Saudi start-ups visited Pakistan. Entities, including Invest Saudi and Digital Cooperation Organisation, which operate under the aegis of the Saudi Ministry of Investment, also took part in the event. The gathering allowed the Saudi venture capitalists to interact with the technology stakeholders and enterprises in Pakistan. Riyadh got to discover the opportunities to invest, recruit, and partner in tech and undertake relevant acquisitions.  At the inaugural event, Prince Fahad bin Mansour reasserted the Saudi willingness to carry out more than 300 projects worth at least USD 100 million. Within the ambit of SPTH, he underscored the plan to generate more than 1000 jobs in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and globally within the next five years. Highlighting global confidence in Pakistan’s manpower and start-up ecosystem, he reiterated his trust that the collaboration would intrinsically overhaul the IT industries in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The tech house will allow Saudi Arabian enterprises to use Pakistan’s efficient quality assurance and technical resources and dependable user experience.

Saudi enterprises believe that the tech house will be a knowledge-sharing avenue encouraging the cross-border interchange of human capital and ideas and facilitating the building of IT infrastructure.

Saudi enterprises believe that the tech house will be a knowledge-sharing avenue encouraging the cross-border interchange of human capital and ideas and facilitating the building of IT infrastructure. Besides, it would cater to the economic interests of the two sides by enhancing mutual trade of tech goods and services. Though technology partnerships between the two Islamic nations have already been underway, Saudi firms would like to outsource their operations to their Pakistani counterparts in even larger numbers.

The initiative is one of the numerous manifestations of the Saudi Vision 2030 strategic plan under which the kingdom’s technology sector has seen a significant boom. Per Prince Fahad, the credit for the tech house is also due to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who laid the foundation of Vision 2030. Under the Saudi Vision, Riyadh plans to establish similar tech houses across the world. An intrinsic aspect of SPTH is furnishing Saudi Arabia access to the universities, IT firms and big companies in Pakistan. By extension, the objective of the recent platform is to enhance the business ties between Islamabad and Riyadh.

As a part of the bilateral commitment to exploring opportunities for technology collaboration, numerous technologists and representatives from Saudi digital enterprises paid a high-level visit to Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) head office at Arfa Software Technology Park (ASTP) to discover prospects of investing in various technological avenues in Punjab.

Likewise, Pakistan’s thought leaders and digital enterprises have been focusing on growth in the tech sector, and given the recent Saudi policy trajectory, Pakistan is exploring pathways to mutually beneficial engagements. For instance, IT delegations from Pakistan have showcased their expertise and services in Saudi Arabia at both LEAP 2022 and 2023 in Saudi Arabia.  LEAP is a 3-day annual technology conference conducted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This year’s LEAP was the most-attended technology event in the world.

Saudi companies are very appreciative of manpower from Pakistan, maintaining that the country is a “potential market for a lot of things”. Besides, since both markets are looked at as emerging, the knowledge-sharing opportunity will allow for greater learning.

Pakistan is already among the largest providers of technology freelance services internationally. SPTH will allow Saudi Arabia to access the best of Pakistan’s technology resources. While numerous tech firms in the country are operating in Saudi Arabia and contributing to its tech development, the recent initiative will be a unique addition. The platform will ensure ease of business, bringing all stakeholders to a single podium.

Fareha Iqtidar Khan

Fareha Iqtidar Khan is Associate Editor at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She is also Visiting Faculty at the International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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