Today we interview the fearless Kalsoom Lakhani, fellow TC-P managing editor and editor of the CHUP blog.
So apart from running two blogs (covering diverse topics) late at night, what do you do to pay the bills and afford to travel across the world?
I currently direct Social Vision, which is the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources, a company in Washington, D.C. We provide seed funding and support to innovative initiatives and social entrepreneurs in their seed or early stages, mainly in Pakistan but I have two interfaith-related grants in the U.S. I work closely with some really amazing entrepreneurs, from those doing health insurance to solar energy to youth leadership, helping them jump-start their high potential ideas.
You’re also a bit of an entrepreneur yourself. What tidbits of information can you drop about your super-secret start-up?
I’m leaving my job at Social Vision this fall (scary!) to launch Invest2Innovate (i2i), a global social enterprise consultancy that matches investors, funders, and mentors with social entrepreneurs focused on income-generation and building sustainable enterprises in emerging markets. We believe that in order for the growth of entrepreneurship to flourish, a broader ecosystem needs to be in place. We will support social enterprises, strengthen connections between investors and entrepreneurs, and as such help build sustainable solutions to poverty.
Our pilot will launch in Pakistan, with the aim of scaling to other emerging markets (Middle East? Southeast Asia?) in the future.
So, you obviously feel that there’s a bright future for social entrepreneurship. What drives you to believe this?
I believe in the approach social entrepreneurs use to solve long-standing development problems. The most successful ones are innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers with a genuine desire to achieve social and environmental impact, but they also never stop listening. That being said, it’s a really ‘sexy’ term right now, and people like to throw it around an unfortunate amount, so it’s important to keep our eyes wide open when identifying high-potential entrepreneurs.
The concept of social entrepreneurship is still new in Pakistan, despite plenty of opportunities for social entrepreneurs to solve problems. What do you think are the three most important strategies to building this sector?
Good question – I’d say: (1) Educating people about what social entrepreneurship actually entails and examples of currently successful social entrepreneurs globally and also in Pakistan, (2) Rebranding the narrative associated with failure – this pertains to entrepreneurship as a whole; many people are risk-adverse because failure is viewed as an ‘end’ rather than as part of the learning process. While this is not always the case, I do think becoming more comfortable with failure is key. (3) Fostering an ecosystem, or an environment that allows social entrepreneurship to truly flourish. It’s so much more than improving access to capital, we need to also develop mentor networks, support the construction of incubators and accelerators, etc.
As a networker, have you ever made a complete fool introducing yourself to someone new? Tell us about it!
Ah yes. So many times. I am actually really good at introducing myself to someone new, mainly because I live in the land of networking (Washington, D.C.) and have unfortunately grown accustomed to launching myself at complete strangers. I think my biggest problem arises because I tend to make really bad jokes when I’m nervous, and have more often than not completely insulted someone’s political view or place of work inadvertently. (Example: Me to stranger: Oh God. The UN! What do they do all day? Write very angry letters telling people how angry they are? Eh? Stranger: Uh yeah. I work at the UN. Me: (Silence))