Fouad Bajwa writes of an unusual deal between the Pakistani government and Microsoft, on the s-asia-it mailing list:

To all members of the IT Industry & Technical Community,

Everyone is well aware that global financial recession has hit even the Tech Giants where companies like Microsoft and Intel have being saying goodbye to thousands of their employees. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting better but interestingly our Pakistani National ICT R&D Fund is thinking about helping Microsoft in Pakistan and we from the industry feel that it is sad that instead of supporting local Hi-Tech Start-ups and struggling IT Entrepreneurs [they are]  funding the usual “Non-Useful” activities like conferences [and] so-called accelerator programs for Pakistan…

To be fair, they have funded a number of open source projects, and funding for conferences and other networking activities is always in short supply for those without a significant marketing budget.

I have come to know through my friends in the IT Industry that the National ICT R&D Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft to fund the Microsoft Developers Conference and something called an “Innovators Accelerator Program”. The funds haven’t been disbursed yet but it definitely annoys me and many of my friends in the IT industry that our government should fund Microsoft initiatives which is already a global giant. I have heard that around 5 million rupees [about USD 60,000] or thereabouts for the innovation accelerator program which will involve Microsoft training, entrepreneurship training and connecting with Microsoft partners and similar amounts related.

I also find it strange that Pakistan would choose it invest money in Microsoft at this time, despite their obvious experience and competence with open source. Others come to the Fund’s defence, saying:

ICT R&D Fund is one of the few institutions in the country that are doing an excellent job… [it] is the role of a funding agency to encourage collaborations for promoting research cultures and provide help in bringing the best minds closer.

But nobody has denied that the Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft, or argued for its benefit to Pakistan. Fouad also writes:

When will our national institutions support its people, the vulnerable, not the already empowered? Why doesn’t it support the local entrepreneurs, the ones that don’t have large companies or university backings? Why does it have liabilities to include universities whereas it knows what the state of R&D in universities has been except for a few handful? Why doesn’t it include this money for Social Enterprise and created a NATIONAL INCUBATION AND ACCELERATION CENTRE where people like me or you or anyone can walk in and build their ideas and companies?

Ashiq Anjum replies that “No funding agency can build incubators for industry, probably this is outside of their scope.” But the Fund’s stated goal is “To transform Pakistan’s economy into a knowledge based economy by promoting efficient, sustainable and effective ICT initiatives through synergic development of industrial and academic resources.”

It sounds entirely reasonable on this basis for them to assist university graduates in gaining skills that are useful in the knowledge industry, and in setting up their own companies in the knowledge industry. Indeed, another stated goal is to “make Pakistan an attractive destination for service oriented and research and development related outsourced jobs.”

We can establish centres like http://www.socialinnovation.ca/
and help local entrepreneurs in business development and social innovation with the same amount of money[.] That helps and benefits our people and companies directly as well as innovate for local and international markets.

I agree that all countries should support local development, training and entrepreneurship as much as possible.