Forging new paths

Saba Khalil, a blogger, digital marketer, content writer and trainer, discusses marriage, career, social pressures and changing family dynamics

As a 20-something Pakistani woman, Saba Khalil is well aware of the struggle for identity assertion, claiming agency, making independent choices and not succumbing to social pressures.

For years now, the country has struggled to keep pace with the rapid digital transformation. When the Covid pandemic hit, Khalil, who had already quit two corporate sector jobs, was sure that something must change for her to excel in a digitally connected world. “My family, like many others, wanted me to sit for the CSS examinations, but I was determined to do something on my own, even if it meant having to explain it to them that all kinds of work can be prestigious.”

Many in Pakistan still view education as a means to secure a well-paid job and not as a recourse for intellectual growth. “It is important that we teach our children to make their choices and be responsible for their livelihoods,” says Khalil.

As a digital content writer, marketer and trainer, Khalil has garnered a loyal clientele of nearly a thousand. She realises that most Pakistani youths continue to rely on their families for financial support well into their twenties.

For two decades, economic growth has been slow. A lack of financial opportunities is resulting in increasing resentment amongst the ever-increasing young population. “We do not have enough options here. Internationally, attitudes about work have changed. Working from home and freelancing have become commonplace, but most of us still struggle to explain this to those around us.“

According to Khalil, innovation and creative enterprise are the way forward for the new generation of Pakistanis.

A number of Pakistani freelancers are working for international platforms and clients, bringing money into the country in the form of remittances. We have yet to realise the full potential of supporting the growth of freelancing and the start-up culture in Pakistan, says Khalil. “All digital freelance marketing platforms accessible to us are international. Focusing on developing local sites can boost business. Pakistani freelancers are well-liked in the global market.”

A commitment to end the digital divide between rural and urban areas can prove beneficial for the national economy. “Young women sitting in our villages have started their YouTube channels.” Khalil says it is crucial to provide support and opportunities to all Pakistani for sustainable growth. Closing the connectivity gaps, providing better internet facilities, building digital infrastructure and tapping local potential should be the focus post-pandemic.

Creating jobs is one of the key challenges currently faced by the government. With millions having lost jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic and dwindling economic growth rate, chances of finding financial stability appear shaky.

There is a need for a paradigm shift, says Khalil. Ideally, every additional level of education should increase a person’s earning. However, this is not the sole determinant of an individual’s earning capacity. Freelancing is not bound by age or a high level of education. A 19-year-old could acquire the skills and become financially independent.

“There is a need undoubtedly to create awareness regarding the potential of content writing and creation,” she adds. The e-rozgar programme is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough to cater to the local youth population. Khalil, who is helping train other youngsters, says that men and women are equally interested in developing e-working skills. As someone who has earned thousands of dollars working in the digital market, she aims to share her success story with as many people as possible.

“I have a supportive family, who have encouraged me to pursue a career online, but it did take some time for them to grasp the idea that freelancing content writing and training can be a full-time job.”

Marriage is high on the list of achievements in a Pakistani female’s life, according to the handbook of societal norms. But with changing times, young, educated women across the country are realising that real agency comes from financial independence and self-reliance. “There are five male and fifteen female students in my training group.” Women are quick learners once there is passion for finding their financial footing. Saba Khalil is one example.

As part of the new normal, fully accepting the ongoing digital transformation and speeding up digitalisation will play a pivotal role in creating a stable source of economic growth. The growth of technology-based freelancing ecosystems is possible through policy incentives and continuous efforts by government and other stakeholders.

The writer is a staff member

Forging new paths