Futures Thinking in Action: Insights from Pakistan! Interview with Puruesh Chaudhary.

بواسطة MODAFAR | مظفر

Futures Thinking in Action: Insights from Pakistan! Interview with Puruesh Chaudhary.

بواسطة MODAFAR | مظفر

Season  1  Number 6

Interview with Puruesh Chaudhary

Modafar Shaker

Thank you for accepting that the invitation and joining me at Emkan podcast as you know in Emkan podcast is an initiative to spread the knowledge about the future thinking in the region and introduce a well-known futurist like yourself to our audience and without any further dues I will leave the audience, the privilege to search you up on the Google and Wikipedia on your own Website to know more about your bio, but let me start with this. What gets you into future thinking?

Puruesh Chaudhary

Thanks for that. Thanks a lot. I know this conversation has been a long time pending and I’m so glad we are able to do it now. It’s almost the close of the year and you know, I hope exciting things wait for you and we do, we get to do some exciting stuff together also. So, it’s just to start out, what got me into futures was some of the literature that I read back in early 2000 like people writing about them, but they were reports. They were research reports very little used to be said in terms of what the technique or the methodologies as well. So, it got me thinking like how do people actually determine what trends are? I mean, what drivers of change like what, what makes them sort of start to put together a document which would canvas over a hundred-year strategy, or at least trying to look at where a country or a nation would be going in a hundred years?

So, it wouldn’t have been, I mean, I had at the very early stage, I did recognize that this just couldn’t just be literature review. I mean, you just don’t do qualitative analysis and come up with what the next a hundred years or 50 years or 25 years would look like. There has to be some method to this madness. So basically, it wasn’t until I think back in 2013. So, it was a, it was a 13-year gap. I mean, I’m still reading books, I’m still reading the research work. I’m not getting close to how it’s actually done. It was basically 2013. I was initially during my master’s program at the graduate Institute, I was exposed to rise and scanning. So that a window, I mean, this is, this is the sort of stuff that you get cabinet does within their own department their own unit in terms of looking at what is happening in the environment.

And so, we, we tend to sort of say like, you know, this sort of environmental scanning, for instance, I mean, that is a way of actually canvassing what sort of emerging signals or weak or strong signals are there out there. So that being said, I

mean, that, wasn’t the only part later very early on then got introduced to the millennium project that exposed me to a lot of the methodologies that they’ve put together. I mean, they’re more than 30 different, 35 different methodology that they have able to combine in one place. So not that the master’s degree went for a waste, but, but the fact that here’s this organization, here’s this thinks tank that has made the effort of bringing everything together for someone, for a student like myself, a researcher like myself, to have a very sharp view as to how foresight work, how futures research work actually really happens.

And so, this also gave me the opportunity to interact with people who are coming up with new methods and techniques. And, and so that in, in that, in that spirit I’ve been very lucky and blessed that in the last 10 years or so, I’ve been really exposed to some good work and some very good people like yourself. I mean, hadn’t had not been for a foresight activity with the Asia Pacific, we wouldn’t never been introduced. So, it’s efforts like these that you know, help people to come together and really understand what are the, what are the new stuff that is happening in the foresight sector.

Modafar Shaker

Brilliant, brilliant. And since you mentioned when we met, I think last year in Bangkok at the specific futures network conference, it was when we met during that that conference. But if you remember at that time, nobody spoke about a pandemic. Nobody knew that anything like that, everybody was like, you know, planning for the next conference in 2020, I think Malaysia or something like that. But all the plans went down.

Puruesh Chaudhary

Everything became online.

Modafar Shaker

How it was for you, the pandemic thing from the start to come the pandemic how will change your perspective about, you know, how we are doing work, how you are doing work new potential, maybe tell me about it.

Puruesh Chaudhary

So, I think one of the areas that went complete neglected in the last 15 years of my life was my health. So, this pandemic actually, that’s more on a personal side. So,

this pandemic actually gave me the opportunity and the space to reflect on, you know, how I’ve been missing out on some of the health choices that I should have been making as, as, as a way of life. So that has been a dramatic change. There’s been a dramatic change in lifestyle or together. But that’s on a personal side. The work in terms of work, it has been slow. A lot of organizations are not taking the risk. We understand, but when I remember when I did an updated version of Pakistan, state of future index, we did factor in a pandemic like situation as one of the possible so possible development or an event that could impact on the conditions of the country.

So, I mean, to say that there was, and this thinking was happening back in January and February of 2019. So, when you had this thinking happening back then, I mean, it didn’t, so this pandemic, maybe the response and the reaction of different governments and organizations may have been a slightly misguided in the beginning, but it’s the way how governments also started to shape up their response also in months. Pakistan has been very in terms of just talking about Pakistan. I mean, there are highs and lows, but in terms of how they’re actually managing the whole situation has been very well. The small businesses are actually bearing much of the brunt then as compared to large scale manufacturers and all those other organization. So, what you do eventually, what we did learn digital is the way to go on about it.

Work from home is also an option. So, you cut down on so many costs. So, we just realized how efficient we can become using these technologies. Like for instance, so interaction should happen just as a way of social interaction. So, the interactions have changed tremendously. We spend more time on zoom. We spend less time outside. When I’m talking about health, we see, I see at least around myself, I see a lot more people getting into exercises, eating healthier foods. So, these are some of the changes that has happened at least in the urban landscape as far as how it, how greatly it has affected people who are daily basis in terms of the labor. I mean, it has affected them immensely at least in the construction industries. And you have such sort industry with where you have people working day to day.

So, with that in context, and also what we at the close of year, what we do also see that there is immense joblessness. The opportunities are shrinking. People are being less employable during no, no organization would want to take the risk of actually employing people also. So, there are, there have been layoffs. They have been cut backs. A lot of those things have happened in just the last seven to six months. So, we see that not only the governments, even the organizations are not prepared as to how to manage in certain, in such situations. So, it goes to show the viability of such organization in terms of their own strategic planning. You see a complete void, which actually brings me to a point that it gives to people like us more opportunity to work with such organizations.

Modafar Shaker

Right. Actually, that’s true. I witnessed, like from my side, a lot of let me say a demand on like a future related thinking, especially with more people, more organization now are concerned about, you know, maybe the next pandemic, the next disruptors, and they want to think and be rebellious for that. But let me come back. When you mentioned your you are paying more attention to your health. It’s like across my mind that, you know, the first two months of the pandemic, everyone who were sharing the news about, you know, animals going to the street and your kind of, you know, the healthy atmosphere like it airs itself is now taking care of like they covering, you know, from us like collective pollution and CO2. And all of that. I think this was like a funny analogy because now we can take out or have more focus on our own health as, as well as it’s like another job, like a perspective of what is really we need to focus on. I found it very, very interesting. And you mentioned about the Pakistan’s a state of the future, and this, can you talk a small about, you know the beginning of this this great initiative who were involved in that where are, where are you now at this initiative?

Puruesh Chaudhary

So, I, I started back in 2013 around the same time I got exposed to what Verizon scanning is. I wanted to do a bit earlier, but Bailey, I had very little knowledge and as a subsequent very little skills in order to pursue something on that side. So, it started taking shape in terms of I got a technology partner involved in 2016 to develop the real-time Delphi tool. So, I actually initiated in terms of developing the entire tool where we can connect different universities. So, for the first two years, it was basically trying to get at least the geographical footprint in place. So, we got almost 25 different universities, six think tanks involved in this whole initiative. So, you have to bear in mind that this is very new to Pakistan. I mean, this is so new that nobody really can understand or grasp the full essence of it. So, it becomes a very good advocacy tool. Also. How can you communicate with different universities spread across different geographic areas? What foresight is, what futures research helps you do and how it is just?

Modafar Shaker

If you can like the idea where, the idea where you got the idea, why you thought that this is important for Pakistan? like you have done like million other initiative, like

more profitable, why you thought at that time or that back then, that this is important for Pakistan. This is important.

Puruesh Chaudhary

Yeah. So, a lot of my, a lot of my, you know, that’s a very good question in the sense that not many people get to ask, like, why would I have done it? Like, okay, so, you know, how different countries get bracketed as a third world or advanced countries or economies of different scale and everything. So, you, I used to wonder like why does it make us third world? Why does it make us emerging? Why does it make them like advanced? I mean, what is the thought that, so the, the, the basic premise of why I started all of this I used to do a lot of, I still do a lot of research work not just on Pakistan, but different sectors specific globally also. What it made me understand and realize that the decision-making process is very weak and the inputs of the decision-making very much they, they, I wouldn’t say they’re not really self-generated if you know what I mean. So, if the inputs are not self-generated and the process is weak, so you have a red really, then you are bound to be called the third world country or the emerging economy or whatever. So, even you see, when you see two elements and this is just as part of my own research work with in any country or any society, when you see two elements which are, which are weakened nature, and which are not self-motivated, which are not driven inherently in your own context, then the output or the outcome is fairly obnoxious at the same time. So, when you, I took a stock of the last 70 years of the country and tried to canvas all the decisions that we made, some were relatively really good decision. Some were not so much because the society never read the benefit of it to the fullest.

So, if you even take our 30-year chunk, if you did the historical analysis in the past 30-year chunks, you would also see, well, I mean, why are we still poor? Why are we still a yardstick to measure poverty? Is anyone less than who’s living under less than a dollar 0.9? I mean, why, why are those, why do those things, how is it that despite being called Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we don’t have the kind of justice social justice system in place that can actually equalize and bring much more equality into the system. So, state of the future index was one of the answers. It’s not the only answer. So, I work closely sometimes with Sohail, I work closely with Jerome and closely with other people who are within this foresight sector, but that, that just to help understand the inputs to the decisions need to be self-generated in the local context, it cannot be artificially bottled from other people, and then made it part of the decision-making process. It doesn’t last, and we’ve seen examples of it not happening. So, a lot of the development programs that even do happen in Pakistan come in for two, three years, does not lead the impact that it needs. So, the flow of money that comes in goes back out. You don’t see them generating enough revenue or enough of the GDP from within the system that being said. So, what we

realized that there is, there is a certain Lapse in the process coming for two, three years does not lead the impact that it needs. So, the, the flow of money that comes in goes back out. You don’t see them generating enough revenue or enough of the GDP from within the system. That being said. So, what we realized that there is, there is a certain lapse in the process and the inputs really need to be understood. And so, the inputs need to be measured also at the same time to understand change. So, we’ve seen that there is a capacity issue within the entire legislature. There is, there is a, there is a capacity issue with also the state institutions. it’s a very tough, I mean, if I’m able to do it, I, I swear if I’m able to do it in Pakistan for me, like, it’s like, okay, it’s not rocket science. I know how it’s done. How many people are interested, get them onboard and get things mobilizing. So, basically those, those elements helped me recognize the issues and the factors that make us enabled us to take certain decisions which may not be good, even in the short-term let alone long-term for the country.

Modafar Shaker

What does, what was the main or the biggest challenge doing? So, is it the mind? Is it the system?

Puruesh Chaudhary

I will tell you what I mean, you work with people that, you know, right? And this option is the people should know you. Right? And so, so with that assumption and with that thought in mind when you’re in an environment where people immediately don’t recognize something, they become afraid, so the fear factor kicks in, what could this potentially mean? So, what could it potentially mean that leads you to some in-name questions that you spend much of your energy in responding to them because they are your they’re your partners? You can’t really isolate. So, the challenges were I I’ve been lucky in terms of like, we have the entire political spectrum from different political organizations and parties on board. They had been extremely supportive, but still at the end of the day even though I did think that it’s too early for the government to even adopt something like that.

There is this, there is this constant nagging, like, why are you doing this? If the government is not doing? And I was like, I mean as a citizen of this country, I have certain responsibilities, which I feel comfortable in sort of executing. So why not? Should I be doing it? Why should I wait for the government or any state institution to capture this whole thing? And once they do use, they should have the platform, but they should also have the network in place in terms of execution. So, their life eventually when they do take up that decision, their life and the manner in which

they execute foresight research becomes relatively easier than it was for me. So that would be like my gift back to the country.

Modafar Shaker

Yeah. Excellent. So, if we like fast forward to 2030.

Puruesh Chaudhary

2030 is just around the corner, hopefully they should have an ADC, a state of future index in place, for instance.

Modafar Shaker

Yeah. So, if we can like a project 2030, 2040, whatever the future, what is you know your preferred version of the future? How you see things plays out in like, you know, in your utopia.

Puruesh Chaudhary

Okay. So, this is like completely utopian thinking whether it’s not room for any criticism, right? I mean, my idea of a way they, 2030 a good future would be like there is no restriction of movement. So, there is, I’m just speaking about like generally, I mean, people should stop creating barriers for people who want to explore the world. I mean, if you didn’t have people who want, who didn’t, you didn’t have people who are curious, who want to, or you want to see things that they’ve never seen. You wouldn’t have so much beauty in this in this world. So, you want, you want more people to interact. You want more people to travel. You want to make traveling less expensive, thank God for the Airbnb and other subsidized you know, travel experiences that people young people are getting to do this.

So, their priorities and their vision of life is very different from a generation two or three back. And then the, the, the saddest part is that generation still holds on two main decision-making powers. So, we see that transition. So there, there has to be two things I feel very strongly about is freedom of movement and freedom of expression. I think those are the two great human values that we should not really discourage people from exploring into. So those are the two. So, I want to see two of those things actually flourishing more.

Modafar Shaker

Yeah. Actually, you know the cyberspace, actually to provide those even if you’re like virtually you can, you know, take tours now on some sightseeing, but, and you can interact with people in different places, like what we are doing now. And even for like freedom of expression is like somehow in the cyber space it’s guaranteed, but there is a trend that we are witnessing. We call it, you know, the network defragmentation or the fragmentation of the network we have now, some countries without mentioning any, they are closing their internet. You know? there is you cannot access a website or application from out of that state, and this is like a trend and it’s somehow the growing.

Puruesh Chaudhary

Then if you I have a I have this thing when you tried, and this is something that I’ve mostly been, I mostly aboard to banning stuff you know, banning things, because they’re not going your way. it’s a sign of weakness. It’s not something that you know, one should be proud of. And so, I mean, just because you miss the board, you don’t want other passengers to get on the next one. I mean, that’s your problem. You were weak in terms of recognizing the first word, but nevertheless, I mean, you you’re right in terms of fragmentation, because the way trade is going to happen is fundamentally changing. Also, behaviors are shifting and the more you’re going to close down, the more, you know, it’s like a spring effect, the more you try to push it down, the more it’s going to spring back up. So, I mean, for how long, and you’re working with a generation that really isn’t really confined to such ideologues they, they’re very different. I mean, the world 15 years ago, we wouldn’t have imagined talking to one another like this, and that’s just 15 years ago, 15 years from now, it’s a completely different then, the kind of technologies you’re talking about be it work a lot, augmented realities. We’re going to create a different experience altogether.

Modafar Shaker

I totally agree. I think the change will be like, not like a linear, it will be like exponential, especially with, like, as you mentioned, the new generation generations, they are more like open. They want to explore the world. They are they want the freedom. They want, you know, the freedom of expression is of movement. Whatever you are mentioning here, this is like interesting. They want this as like a basic human right. They are not like a privilege or something like that. From there, I want to jump to another topic. I think it’s related with another initiative. It’s like you are focusing on journalism and Pakistan, but how’s that work related to the future, the state of the future and ethics and how you are employing, you know, or

like using a future thinking and that how it’s like, why you are focusing on journalism in the first place.

Puruesh Chaudhary

so, I have a journalism background in terms of my experience. So, I had been in different editorial position with the broadcast sector and we so we recognized a roadblock within the sector or the industry as a whole, that it’s not really growing. It’s not really adapting to different technologies in a way that they should be adapting. We almost, we’ve almost seen the print dying. And the only reason some actually do pick up print newspapers, because they’re so used to, there is some level of affinity involved, but a lot of us, we’re just, we’re just reading stuff off the off our cell phones off a computer. We’re not really much barged about like picking up the newspaper anymore. So, it’s a very different sort of a, and what we realized that there were thousands of journalists being sort of employed with different organization were not given enough training to adapt to these technological changes.

So, the whole training program also plugs in that. How did journalists

❖ number one, make sure their content is ethical.

❖ number two, it’s relevant and it’s globally also relevant.

So, something which has happened in Pakistan could easily be understood by someone who’s probably sitting in Rwanda or South Africa. So, it also, when you, when you contextualize content in such a manner, you see some similarities in different countries also be it because of the social norm or PA because of the cultural affinities and all of those factors. So, technology and journalism in that context played a way, a fundamental role in terms of designing a media development initiative. So that’s a sort of initiative that is still going on. We have more and that goes up, that plugs in with an annual journalism award. So, we’ve been doing these awards for the past eight years, and we have journalists and Judy from all over our journalists from Pakistan and Judy from all over the world who get to evaluate the content.

Now, when you say, what is the link between the poor side and this even the content that is being evaluated is based on certain best practices and benchmark. So, they get accordingly. So, we can also map the trend in terms of what kind of journalistic content is being rewarded the books over the last eight years. So now we are seeing more digital platforms which represents certain journalistic content, big becoming winners in different categories. And we see the traditional, the broadcast and the print sort of shrinking. So, when we see these but this, this has only happened because we created a complete ecosystem around that industry as a whole where we’re recognizing the journalists, we’re recognizing the anchors. We recognize also

what is the most credible news content at the same time, who’s the most credible anchor who’s following the ethical guidelines. When you have all of that mix, you’re able to distinguish with such insight and intelligence, you’re able to distinguish what are the emerging trends and what would be the drivers of change. So, internet becomes that drivers of change for your media industry. As a whole, a lot of things are shifting to the platform and people who adapt more quickly will benefit more.

Modafar Shaker

And I think like having this, or building this ecosystem of around journalism, the profession itself the inputs and what outcomes of this ecosystem, it somehow contributes to the future of Pakistan, right? Like having like this healthy ecosystem, for sure that will push the country forward and different areas in policy making and decision-making even, and transparency and investment coming from outside the trust and the transparency of the country. I think this is like, it is contributing to the future state of Pakistan.

Puruesh Chaudhary

So, so we also like, you know, within those awards, you have like almost 4035 to 40 different categories. So, from sustainable development goals, we also have categories in governance, police reforms, rule of law, climate change, environment and gender parity. So, you have all of these categories where journalists are actually encouraged to submit and nominate their own work. So, you also see what is the capacity level for journalists to even recognize which of their article or news video actually falls in which category? So that’s another good assessment tool in terms of understanding the state of media in Pakistan.

Modafar Shaker

Nice. And I think the leadership, if you will agree with me that the starting point that any futurist or someone who’s interesting in shaping the future should be really in considering the mindset the, whoever like the stakeholders and the initiative or the project undergoing is the mindset, how they are viewing the world, how they are like, you know, doing stuff and to try to develop something that is workable or something that they will understand, and they are willing to engage. And last two questions. I know that we are somehow past our time. And thanks for that. What is your, like your advice for someone who’s getting into like future thinking, especially someone maybe from different background from it, from history, from whatever,

what is your advice? How is they can, you know, use a future thinking in their own area?

Puruesh Chaudhary

I think, I mean I started from a degree in business and a background in the corporate sector. So, you one has to be interested and curious enough to understand how this whole thing works and then be open to a lot of criticism that is going to come your way at the time, be open to how different people are doing it around the world. So not be limited to a particular way of looking at the word, but so openness comes in a lot handy when you’re doing foresight work. So, I would encourage people who are trying to get into foresight on futures thinking is to be as open as possible because the minute you actually put limitations in your own thinking, then you shut down the canvas of actually having a baby broader view of the future and have a very myopic view as to, like you said, then its things become linear. Then you don’t affect it in many of the surprises that could possibly occur. You don’t anticipate changes that have not occurred to occur. So, those are the sorts of changes and, and sort of things that you as a foresight practitioner, one would need. And then there are so many different organizations, you know pick up one way of doing it. So, then you can grow from there.

Modafar Shaker

excellent. That makes sense. So be curious openness and you know engage with different like activities out there. Maybe that will lead me to my last question. I know that mashallah, you have a lot of initiatives, a lot of projects engagement that you are involved in. What’s next? What is the bigger project that you are doing or planning to do?

Puruesh Chaudhary

I mean I have been working on how to look at Asia in a manner that, you know a lot of these constructs, the foresight constructs are very Western oriented. And then when you, when you try to use a Western framework in terms of understanding, you know this area is thousands of years old. I mean, there are people who understand the history and they’re not so narrow as like just a hundred, 200 or 300 years or so. There’s a very different mindset. So, in terms of when, when you see, like I’ve been to a lot of conferences where you say, like, people say the West is this and Asia is rising and I’m like, wondering like, okay, Asia is rising. I mean, if China is getting the if, if China is the flag better, or if India is a flag there or any other country, which

could be a flag better in, in the process, we need to understand that Asia is more connected in terms of its geographical boundaries.

And how do you, so long story short, like how do you look at Asia? So, from a, from even a Western perspective, how would one want to look at Asia? Would it be through a civilization foresight, or would it actually be through a very nation centric foresight, both models are available? So, my work is my work. Well, hopefully my work should be focused on what kind of lens would one need for the European markets, for the North American markets, for the Latin American markets in terms of its insight into Asia. And so, you get the trade going, you get the freedom of movement going, you try and understand different forms of expression all over the world and the limitation therefore, and so you, you are building more bridges rather than burning more ships.

Modafar Shaker

Yeah. Yeah. Sounds interesting. And I couldn’t wait to, to see the fruits out of this. I think it’s, it’s needed in the overall, like, you know, global dialogue, this I am aware about, you know, the world economic forum, they have an initiative called the great reset where they are now trying to promote by, in JTB prosperity index or metrics, you know when you mentioned that like third world or developed or developing countries, it’s all based on the GDB at the end of the year.

Puruesh Chaudhary

then recent report, they have let go of that. They’ve let go of this age. I mean, so that is an encouraging sign. So, everyone gets an equal start, maybe not the equal opportunity, but an equal playing field.

Modafar Shaker

And in addition, you need to you know, different aspects on when you are looking up to know how developed at the end of the day, what is the outmost goal is, you know, the wellbeing and the happiness of your citizens. And that’s not like okay, it’s related to the GTB, but there’s other factors that could play a role there. So, I think this is important. I think also important that this open dialogue between, you know, different countries, different cultures is also important. And yeah. I wish you good luck with your initiatives, with your projects. And as I told you, I couldn’t wait to, to see it coming out. So, thank you again Puruesh. It was a pleasant and hopefully we’ll catch up on.

Puruesh Chaudhary

Thank you. You hopefully we see each other soon.

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