Why is every new generation more precocious, more jaded, more cynical than the last? Why does it often seem like young people are getting older faster, physically, and mentally? Easy and instant access to information plays a major role in fuelling this metamorphosis. What once took a fair bit of effort to find out in a library is now at our fingertips through Google. Atrocities and tragedies that were once reported through local news agencies and modest information dissemination networks now make global headlines because everything is everybody’s business. Essentially, even if the world has remained an equally ugly place to live in, its horrors have found new avenues to reach us, exacerbating the effects of knowing evil.

Apropos physical ageing, since younger generations are growing up on smart phones and other similar gadgets, watching cartoons is not the only physically passive activity left to indulge in. There are a plethora of online games that can occupy children for hours without fail, which probably do not bode well for physical development. On the upside, cuts, bruises and broken bones from ‘adventures in the park’ – once integral to growing up – are now becoming a thing of the past and when one hears about young boys like Sumail Hasan Syed, a fifteen-year-old of Pakistani origin, who recently won USD 1.2 million, representing an American team at an online gaming championship in China, one is not surprised why. Sumail is a shining example of two things: our departure from channeling adolescent energy into the great wild outdoors; and the far-reaching tentacles of globalization, creating opportunities for individuals willing to venture into cyberspace.

In any case, the deeper we traverse into the latter half of our lives the more likely we are to reminisce about a glorious time that has passed. We are also more likely to moan about the pace of change and the subsequent inability to keep up with that change. To shun that change, however, as many of us do, is to eliminate opportunities the world of information presents. Advantages and disadvantages once linked to changing geographical disposition are virtually nullified for those who are curious about the e-market and are constantly searching new ways to harness its potential.

Two Pakistani companies that make a compelling case for showcasing indigenous talent to the world through cyberspace are Popinjay and Markhor. Popinjay and Markhor sell high quality handbags and footwear online to an international clientele. A major reason why they have done well is because they have a purpose beyond profit and because they have connected an exclusive, premium product, to its most relevant market.

Popinjay employs 150 women in Kot Ishaq, Hafizabad, nearly an hour by car from the provincial capital, Lahore. At Popinjay, women get a chance to learn the art of silk embroidery and the opportunity to apply that skill to generate income. Some of the women earn at par with the men in the community, some earn half as much, and some are the sole bread earners of the family. Regardless of how much they earn, the message they collectively send out to other women in Kot Ishaq and adjoining villages is of the utmost importance: that women can indeed imagine and play roles beyond the narrow confines of tradition; that monetary dependence is not a weakness men can exploit to subjugate women.

And so, it was a matter of time before the stitching talent in Kot Ishaq became the narrative of Popinjay; a narrative any woman with any interest in buying bags will listen to and talk about. Popinjay’s real success, however, was in broadcasting that narrative to an international audience, particularly in the United States where the company’s founder, Saba Gul, had already spent a considerable amount of time getting her Bachelor and Master’s degree in Computer Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Conversely, Markhor did not have any direct physical presence in the United States when it started out, but prior to making shoes, the founders were running a digital media company that assisted small businesses with online communications and provided training to help these businesses expand their market. Very much like Popinjay, however, the founders of Markhor adopted a town close to Lahore – Okara – but instead of cultivating new talent they attempted to resuscitate the dying art of hand crafted shoes. That meant engaging with disenchanted cobblers who were struggling to find income and purpose against the sweeping tide of large-scale shoe manufacturers. After two failed attempts, Waqas Ali, one of two co-founders of Markhor, traveled to the U.S. to study the quality of products competing in the international market. His visit finally gave Markhor the edge it needed. Markhor set a target of raising USD 15,000 through a crowd-funding platform, kickstarter.com, but managed USD 107,286 – 7 times more than what they initially aimed for. According to a news report, 60% of the revenue at Markhor comes through customers in the United States, many of whom never knew where Okara was, let alone its highly skilled cobblers.

Both Popinjay and Markhor have successfully capitalized on arbitrage created through the gap in efficient, low-cost production and heightened purchasing power – a power the local Pakistani market cannot match. Both companies have also capitalized on a powerful human narrative that resonates with people who are keen to make a social impact through their purchases.

The great thing about these two businesses is that they have paved the way for other similar businesses to spawn in Pakistan. It’s a model that works. It promises new income. And the first step to that income is to embrace the digital age. Once we have done that, we can negotiate with its drawbacks.