God-sent opportunity.

THE government pines for dollars and thinks of exports all the time. And yet, we have only taken our exports from $24.6 billion to $34.5bn in the last 10 years, while Bangladesh has taken them from $24.5bn to $52bn and India from $448.4bn to $660.5bn.

Since my days as commerce secretary, and even before that, we have been harping on the diversification of our export commodities, but yarn and textiles comprised 60 per cent of our exports 10 years back and is around the same now.

Now an unintended opportunity has presented itself - but we are as usual doing what we do best, ie shooting ourselves in the foot.

Our population explosion (the highest growth rate in the region matching Afghanistan's) has resulted in a youth bulge, where 65pc of our population is below 30 years of age. This young population has been exposed to the miracle of mass communication in the form of mobile phones, leading them to Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.

Our freelance workers are national assets.

Even though mostly uneducated, our intelligent and talented youth, driven by the compulsion to fight hunger, and having been exposed to the world through the internet, is exploring new avenues for themselves.

So we saw on YouTube a farmer from PunAjab giving cooking lessons in rural cuisine, or someone performing stand-up comedy in the local dialect or sharing his singing skills. When, to their amazement, they started to receive hundreds of thousands of hits, they found money pouring into their impoverished accounts through YouTube, etc.

Driven by the success of some, other relatively more educated people were encouraged to explore more venues. Internet connectivity resulted in the mushrooming of internet cafes - initially used for viewing porn, but then going on to become forums for the exploration of simple areas of money-making like logo design, data entry, back office support, etc.

Motivated by success stories doing the rounds in small towns and urban slums, and with access to internet/websites, the opportunities of the world have been thrown at the feet of our poor youth sitting in shacks in their village or small town.

The result has been that from registered exports of $200 million 10 years back, we are up to recorded exports of $1.2bn ($2bn-3bn, according to other sources) by freelance workers. A former finance minister recently said that besides official exports, $3bn in IT export earnings are lying abroad.

In addition to organised software companies, there are...

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