Jeremy Higgs sits down with Ahsan Jamil, CEO of the Aman Foundation, to discuss the Foundation’s recent work and the future of impact investing in Pakistan.

Ahsan Jamil Portrait

I recently sat with Ahsan Jamil, CEO of the Aman Foundation, to have an informal chatabout their current and future work, and the direction social entrepreneurship and investing are likely to go in Pakistan. According to Ahsan, the Foundation has focused on implementing its strategies without raising much publicity, as “the right to speak is something that you have to earn.” Yet, admittedly, the Foundation is reaching the stage where it is getting ready to share its challenges and failures, in the interest of learning from and improving upon mistakes.

Established 2 ½ years ago, the Aman Foundation’s aim is to bring about sustainable, scalable and systemic change in three areas:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Capacity-Building

Healthcare: 2626 Ambulance Service

The Aman Foundation’s primary and most visible initiative in the area of healthcare is the 2626 Ambulance service – the bright yellow ambulances on Karachi’s roads are immediately recognisable. Since March 2009, more than 120,000 emergency calls have been answered by the 100 ambulances and 1000 staff on board (with a doctor, nurse, driver and state-of-the-art equipment in each ambulance).
2626 Ambulance

According to Ahsan Jamil, the service operates on a “Robin Hood” model, charging more (1500 rupees) to those going to private hospitals, and relatively less (400 rupees) for a public hospital. This differentiated pricing is designed to make the service affordable for all, regardless of socio-economic background.

Yet, 2626 is not without its challenges. The service is not yet at a break-even point, with each ambulance dispatch currently costing 4000 rupees. Two approaches are being taken to make the initiative profitable: reducing the cost of each dispatch and providing additional services, such as subscriptions, to bring in additional revenues.

Education: AmanTech Vocational Training Institute

AmanTech Vocational Training Centre

AmanTech, located in the Korangi Industrial Area of Karachi, was recently founded to provide much-needed vocational training in 5 skill areas. Recent years have seen the emergence of a number of vocational training institutes. Where AmanTech distinguishes itself is in the skills and the job opportunities. All students at the institute not only undergo training in their chosen skill area, but also in soft-skills, in order to “to be able to integrate better into the work environment.” Secondly, the aim is to place graduates in positions overseas, where their earning power is greater.

As a new initiative, there is a long way to go, with the emphasis now by the Aman Foundation to prove a concept, and later to “trim” it to make it more efficient and streamlined.

Capacity-Building: Grants

The Aman Foundation provides grants to organisations, in order to act as a catalyst and provide support to organisations that are implementing Sustainable, Scalable and Systemic initiatives. A list of their grantees is available on their website.

The Future of Social Enterprise in Pakistan

As both an implementor and funder of social impact initiatives in Pakistan, the Aman Foundation has a unique perspective on the future of this field. According to Ahsan Jamil, critical to this is government engagement. Many of us are openly critical of the government and its inefficiencies, yet do not see any way to reform. Interestingly, Ahsan’s belief is that “ultimately the government has to be brought into the fray.” For this to happen, the private sector needs to demonstrate how existing services, such as schools, can be run efficiently, and to eventually bring the government on as a client.

“ultimately the government has to be brought into the fray”

Entrepreneurship in general, while a hot topic in Pakistan, faces many challenges, particularly when social/cultural factors are considered. Yet despite this, Ahsan Jamil observes that increasingly there is a sense of “dignity” that is attached to the act, and a belief that failure isn’t so taboo: “success is built on the pillars of failure,” according to Ahsan Jamil.  There’s a significant number of opportunities in Pakistan for positive social change and innovation through entrepreneurship, and I expect that we’ll be seeing the Aman Foundation at the forefront of that movement in the coming years, both as an implementor and funder of social ventures.