Since ThinkChange Pakistan launched three months ago, our team has placed the spotlight on a number of social entrepreneurs, innovative initiatives, and trends happening in the Pakistan space as well as globally. We thought it was time to also turn the spotlight on ourselves, so you could get to know our team a little better. Below, meet Jeremy Higgs, one of TC-P’s managing editors, an Aussie living in Karachi, a Vegemite lover, and a social entrepreneur in his own right:
Q: So, Jeremy, tell us – what does social entrepreneurship mean to you?
I’ve seen that there’s a lot of different definitions of social entrepreneurship flying around, but for me, it’s someone who’s providing innovative solutions to social problems. This works across legal structures (for-profit, non-profit and hybrid), as well as the developing and developed world.
Q: How did an Australian land up in Karachi? Are you a spy? Was it a conspiracy to get Pakistanis to like marmite?
Funnily enough, a colleague recently admitted that she thought I was a spy for the first year of working with me. People and their conspiracy theories!
But yes, part of my agenda is to introduce the sensory wonder that is Vegemite (not Marmite!) to as many unsuspecting Pakistanis as possible. I’ve offered to make it the “right” way for many people (toasted bread, butter melted on top, with a thin layer of Vegemite), but few have ever taken me up on it. So far, that agenda has been a bit of a flop.
Aside from trying to spread an appreciation of Vegemite, I originally came back in 2007 to work for the Pakistani chapter of AIESEC (a global youth leadership organisation facilitating cultural exchange) for 2 months, which turned into 5 months, and eventually into 1 1/2 years. After that, I stayed!
Q: What is your opinion on the social innovation and enterprise space in Pakistan? Where do you hope it will be in 5 years?
I see plenty of opportunities for innovation. In a country like Pakistan, where, unfortunately, so much is broken, the flipside is that there’s an opportunity for improvement and to do it right. For example, we have a power shortage across the country, so why aren’t we closing the gap with electricity from renewable sources?
At the moment, there’s a lack of funding for the people willing to take risks and address many of the social problems faced, combined with a lack of support structures. I’d love to see strong entrepreneur networks, business (including social ventures) incubation at universities and industry-led funding for these initiatives, and I think we can make a start on that in the next 5 years.
Q: You are one of TC-P’s fearless managing editors. But you have, like, a real job and stuff. Tell us about it.
I tend to wear a lot of hats (see the next question for the next one!). By day, I run the Network of Organizations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP). We’re working to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to be a valued part of society, through collaboration with our network of 190 organisations, employment generation, resource-building and public awareness.
My challenge over the past 2 years has been to take it from an infant stage (it was established a year before I joined), into an organisation with direction and financial stability. I think we’ve made good progress with defining our direction and unique contribution to the space, but I’m not happy with our financial stability and where we get our money from. So it’s a constant challenge to try and innovate and work out how to bring in not just donations, but move towards revenues as well. More and more, I’m seeing the typical reliance on donations as more of a hinderance, which is perhaps why the concept of social entrepreneurship appeals to me so much!
Q: Your social enterprise GreenRoshni was established in February 2010 – what is the overall aim of the venture and how do you see it progressing in the near future?
GreenRoshni aims to bring energy solutions to communities without access to electricity. A friend of mine, Ambreen Rahman, initiated it back in early 2010, traveling to Kashmir and Tharparkar to determine the receptivity of communities to solar lanterns that they would purchase.
We’ve moved beyond an initial pilot of 30 lanterns in Tharparkar, and are entering into a second round of distribution, with 100-500 lanterns. The response from communities has been great, but the challenge is affordability. At this stage, we’re also looking at how to develop a profitable business model from the sales and service of these products, which accordingly provides entrepreneurship opportunities for people in the communities.
Q: This is a tough question. Koalas or kangaroos?
Kangaroos! As you rightly pointed out, they can box (yes, dear readers, Kalsoom has been gently influencing the responses in this interview), but they’re also pretty bad-ass and have a tail that can cause some real damage. On top of that, joeys (baby kangaroos) sitting in their mother’s pouch are just too cute.