Merchant digitization emerges as one key driver for Pakistan’s inclusive economic growth in UN report.

Pakistan (Muhammad Yasir)

A big opportunity for Pakistan resides in ushering its micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) into the digital age, as revealed in a new report by the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance, in support of its member, the Government of Pakistan, and the State Bank of Pakistan.

The fates of small businesses and national economies are intertwined. If one thrives, so does the other. Pakistan’s MSMEs account for 90% of enterprise in the country and nearly half of GDP. Their growth remains perpetually hamstrung by a dependence on cash. This tether to cash means that transactions – and horizons – are inevitably limited.

The adoption of responsible digital payments for merchants, with their proven ability to boost women’s economic participation and deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, represents a tremendous pocket of potential growth. Digital payments can be a pathway to solve some of the major economic challenges the country faces.

Digitizing responsibly boosts financial inclusion and future-proofs enterprises, ensures equitable access to formal financial services, improves workflows, reduces operational costs and mitigates against mobility constraints, especially for women entrepreneurs. Designing digital payments, based on female customer needs, represents a market opportunity of over USD $ 650 million nationally.

“We commend the State Bank of Pakistan for its bold leadership in driving responsible payment digitization for merchants, especially women merchants. Across Asia, digitizing merchant payments has led to rapid MSME growth and, as businesses grow, so do economies. We agree – now is the time to accelerate financial equality for women merchants in Pakistan, and look forward to our continued partnership.” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the UN-based Better Than Cash Alliance

The report indicates that the national adoption of digital payments by 2025 in Pakistan can boost GDP by 7 percent, generate four million jobs and realize an additional USD 263 billion in deposits, as defined by the National Payments System Strategy.

The report also advises active engagement by all key public and private sector actors to work towards building trust in digital payments, make them affordable for MSMEs, incentivize adoption through measures like lower sales rate tax, alongside other key recommendations.

inDrive Accelerates Growth, Expanding to Five New Cities in Pakistan

Pakistan’s No.1 ride-hailing company, inDrive, has now reached to small cities in Pakistan, adding five more jewels to its crown.

Lahore (Muhammad Yasir) In a move set to redefine the transportation landscape, inDrive, Pakistan’s leading ride-hailing service, is thrilled to announce its expansion into five new cities, including Larkana, Kāmoke, Sheikhupura, Hafizabad, and Okara.

This strategic expansion is a testament to inDrive’s commitment to providing seamless, convenient, and reliable mobility solutions to an even broader audience across the country. With this expansion, inDrive is poised to transform the way residents of these cities travel, work, and explore.

The inclusion of Larkana, Kāmoke, Sheikhupura, Hafizabad, and Okara in the inDrive network reflects the company’s dedication to bringing innovative transportation options to both urban centers and suburban areas. The launch of inDrive in these cities marks a significant milestone, further solidifying the company’s position as the go-to choice for modern, efficient, and budget-friendly mobility. “We are excited to extend the convenience and reliability of inDrive to residents of Larkana, Kāmoke, Sheikhupura, Hafizabad, and Okara,” said Mr.Hasan Qureshi, Senior Business Representative at inDrive. “Our mission is to redefine transportation by providing safe, affordable, and accessible rides to everyone. With this expansion, we are not only enhancing the commuting experience, but also contributing to the economic growth and empowerment of these communities.” “Our new service offers city residents the convenience of accessing transport from their homes, eliminating the need to venture out in search of it. Both drivers and passengers stand to gain significant benefits, including time saved and the elimination of challenges associated with street hailing.

This service addresses issues such as locating rides during odd hours like early mornings or late nights,” stated Sidra Kiran – PR Manager inDrive. She further added, “inDrive ride-hailing presents numerous benefits to drivers in small cities, including flexible opportunities, reduced unemployment, supplemental income, enhanced community connection, and positive contributions to the local economy.”

The launch of inDrive in these cities brings a range of benefits to both riders and driver-partners. Residents will enjoy the ease of booking rides through the user-friendly inDrive app, with access to a fleet of vehicles driven by registered drivers. Drivers, in turn, will have the opportunity to tap into a reliable source of income and flexible working hours through the platform, contributing to their financial independence. Now, drivers do not need to spend their time driving around the streets waiting for orders and burning their fuel. Instead, they can accept offers or negotiate the price for the ride through the inDrive app in one click. As inDrive expands its footprint, the company remains committed to upholding the highest standards of safety, affordability, customer service, and technological innovation.

This expansion follows inDrive’s mission to connect people and places, while also contributing to the growth and development of the people in the region. inDrive is Pakistan’s premier ride-hailing service, and is revolutionizing the way people travel. With a commitment to providing safe, affordable, and reliable transportation, inDrive offers a seamless experience through its user-friendly app, connecting riders with the drivers nearby. With its expansion into Larkana, Kāmoke, Sheikhupura, Hafizabad, and Okara, inDrive is set to bring its exceptional service to even more communities, enhancing mobility and empowering individuals across Pakistan.

Malnutrition Early in Life Sets Stage for Poor Growth and Death: AKU researchers find

Better nutrition during pregnancy and childbearing years is critical in protecting children in their most vulnerable first 1,000 days, study finds.  

Malnutrition affects babies much earlier than thought, and more nutritional support is needed for mothers to-be and their newborns to prevent disease, impaired cognition and death, according to new findings by Prof Zulfiqar Bhutta, founding director of the Institute for Global Health and Development and the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health (COE-WCH) at the Aga Khan University. 

In a trio of papers published by the Nature’s Ki Child Growth Consortium, which comprises of researchers at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley, Professor Bhutta examines how malnutrition affects growth in the first two years of life, underscoring a devastating reality for millions of children in the Global South, particularly Asia. Stunting, or being too short for their age, indicates chronic malnutrition, while wasting measures acute malnutrition The global health community uses both indications to monitor progress toward ending malnutrition. 

The analysis involved an international team of more than 100 researchers that examined data on nearly 84,000 children under two years old from 33 major studies that began between 1987 and 2014 The cohorts came from 15 countries in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.  

It was discovered that in 2022, more than one in five children around the world – nearly 150 million – did not get enough calories to grow normally, and more than 45 million showed signs of wasting, or weighing too little for their height. More than a million children die each year as a consequence of wasting and more than 250,000 die from stunting. “People who experienced stunting and wasting in childhood may also experience worse cognitive development, which translates into worse economic outcomes as adults”, remarked Prof Bhutta while discussing his breakthrough research. 

Appreciating the monumental findings by Prof Bhutta and his team of AKU-based researchers, President AKU, Sulaiman Shahabuddin said, “AKU is stepping up on the global stage to share its portfolio of accomplished researchers and analysts who can help formulate robust policies in child and maternal healthcare. The COE-WCH deserves its due appreciation in contributing generously to this global effort.” 

The report also finds that the effects of malnutrition are seen throughout lower resource settings, but the burden is starkest in South Asian countries like Pakistan, where 20% of children were stunted at birth and more than 52% had experienced wasting by their second birthday, according to new estimates provided by the study. This is also attributed to seasonal changes, such as rainfall, that drive seasonal food insecurity, which, in turn, leads to wasting and stunting in infants.  

“Infants who developed growth faltering when they were less than six months old had up to eight times higher mortality before the age of two and to also developed severe forms of growth failure. Poor growth this early in life strongly underscores the critical need to assess underlying prenatal factors including maternal intestinal health and a need to invest in women”, said Dr Sana Syed, a paediatric gastroenterologist whose research focuses on gut health and inflammation. 

The scenarios are far deplorable in the rural areas of Pakistan, where rising effects of climate change and poor civil infrastructures can cause food insecurity to skyrocket, but the researchers are hopeful their findings shall get the ball rolling in the right direction. “The research is a remarkable step towards designing cost-effective and accessible nutritional interventions on a global scale, especially for countries with rural populations like Pakistan”, said Prof Syed Asad Ali, Professor of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the Aga Khan University. 

The report further suggests prompt healthcare monitoring and interventions in the pre-natal period, in order to stabilize infant health before they turn six months old. Moreover, nourishment plans, supplementations, and medical accessibility may also help the mother and the child in eliminating the possibility of malnourishment, which could bring down the overwhelming number of stunting and wasting cases in South Asian communities like Pakistan.