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Monday, June 25, 2012

Google's Chairman's Mystery Visit to Pakistan

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, Meets Pakistani Prime Minister

Sans any media campaign, Google's Chairman (and former CEO), Eric Schmidt, visited Pakistan in mid June for a 2 day trip. He met now-ousted Prime Minister of Pakistan in Islamabad and a selected group of people from business and technology sectors. 



There is no official word from Google explaining the purpose of his visit but the Pakistani government did have an official word about the discussion that took place. It's said that the Prime Minister discussed Google's support in tracking cross-border movement between Afghanistan and Pakistan; 


Isn't that very different from Bill Gates visit to Bangladesh a few years ago?


In his post titled "Pakistan and Its Image Problem", shared across Google+, Eric Schmidt writes
In meetings last week with the senior General, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they made the case for a new and updated image of Pakistan: one of the largest democracies in the world, with a vibrant and open press, an upcoming demographic dividend of hardworking young people, and a highly educated elite leadership of the country.  Islamabad and Lahore, where we visited, were relatively safe and certainly safer than Afghanistan.  It was clear to us that Pakistan has an image problem.
He also met a selected group of technology and business related people over a dinner at an undisclosed location. This group also included Mian Mansha [1], officially the richest man in Pakistan as well as Hussain Dawood [2] (of Engro corporation) and Amin Hashwani [3]. 


Left to Right: Amin Hashwani, Muhammad Mansha and Hussain Dawood
This group of 20 or so professionals also included

  • Lars Christian Iuel, CEO, Telenor
  • Dr. Adil Najam, VC LUMS
  • Dr. Umar Saif, Chairman Punjab, IT Board
  • Mussarat Misbah
  • Jehan Ara
  • Badar Khushnood
  • Haris Nadeem

As I said earlier, there is almost no apparent reason for Eric Shmidt's visit to Pakistan. He was certainly not here to set up a development centre or anything. The widely held opinion is that he was in Pakistan to get first hand experience of the country, its systems and its people. Perhaps, he is more knowledgeable about the country than any other billionaire CEO's in the US. In such a social gathering, he could boast that he has personally visited the country and his experience is a first-hand one, and thus, he would be more imposing and impressive in his talk!


The more I think about his visit, the less sense it seems to make.

But there is one thing in Eric's post on Google+ that hints me that he was there to see if Google could go beyond solutions for individual and corporate web users, and provide solutions at government level. The second paragraph of his post at Google+ says, 

Pakistan also has a power problem, as in electric power.  Power is now off two hours out of three all day and all night.  Estimates are that the country has enough generation capacity (hydro and oil based) to handle all the load, but corruption, power stealing, poor payment rates and the classic mistake of underpricing power compared to its real generation cost means that industrial production is threatened.  Everyone of means has a UPS, and the air-conditioning seldom works on a 45 Celcius day.   Our meetings often were literally in the dark, a common enough occurrence that people did not even remark about it.
Google PowerMeter
He mentions power problem right after the opening paragraph! This could certainly be an area of interest to Google. Has anyone heard of Google Power Meter? It's now a retired project but certainly somebody in Google thought of it to be the next big thing: 

PowerMeter included key features like visualizations of your energy usage, the ability share information with others, and personalized recommendations to save energy. We partnered with device manufacturers and utilities around the world.

Google has invested almost a billion dollars in the renewable energy sector. Countries like Pakistan could certainly benefit from that!


Well, this is just one of the areas where Google might like to go beyond enterprise solutions for corporates towards enterprise solutions for Governments. Well, there is already a Google Federal and Google Apps for Government!


[1] Mian Muhammad Mansha
[2] Hussain Dawood
[3] Amin Hashwani