Today we’re giving you an opportunity to get to know the final member of our TC-P editorial team, Maryam Jillani!
You’re an active volunteer to the Association for the Development of Pakistan. Can you tell us a little about the organization and what you’ve been doing with them?
I first heard about the Association for the Development of Pakistan (ADP) through a fellow LUMS alum, Natasha while we were both doing our Masters in the US. She suggested it as a great way of Pakistanis living/studying abroad to stay involved with development initiatives in Pakistan. ADP is essentially a philanthropy that funds innovative development projects by local NGOs across Pakistan. What makes ADP so interesting is the fact that it’s primarily volunteer-run which allows the organization to channel most of its funding to projects that span across a broad range of areas: disaster relief, education, water, empowerment, energy and health. I actively started volunteering for ADP in February as part of a project evaluation team. Our job was to conduct ‘due diligence’ of a project proposal we received from a local NGO in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and based on our analysis, decide whether ADP should go ahead and fund the project. The process involved looking at the NGO’s financials, the feasibility of the proposal and how the NGO is going about identifying its beneficiaries. So far I’ve been completely awed by the hard work and passion of ADP’s volunteers who take the organization’s mission of funding high-impact projects very seriously!
When you’re not contributing to ADP and ThinkChange Pakistan, what do you do?
Simply put, I’m an older sister to a cohort of Pakistani undergraduate students who come to the US every semester as part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in Pakistan. The program is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by the international NGO, International Research and Exchanges Board. The program is somewhat similar to the Fulbright program except it’s only for a semester and deals exclusively with undergraduate students. I help implement the program on the US end by placing the students across the US (yes people, that includes North Dakota and Iowa) and doing my best to make sure they get the most out of their experience. The fellows or “my kids” as I like to call them are from all corners from Pakistan and are a really energetic, dynamic bunch. Due to the insularity of Pakistan’s private schooling, I’ve never had the opportunity to work with students from such a wide variety of backgrounds. It’s been a really interesting experience to learn about their aspirations and how they feel about issues like US foreign policy, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, domestic politics etc.
Where do you see as the major trends in social entrepreneurship in Pakistan over the next 5 years?
I’m still learning about the field so it’s very difficult for me to pass an “expert” opinion on the subject. When I first got involved with Think-Change Pakistan in February, I was honestly really pleasantly surprised to see that social enterprises already existed in a fairly wide array of fields: health, education, energy, technology. This is a bit of a no-brainer but the potential for social entrepreneurship in the area of mobile technology is huge considering the extent of mobile penetration in Pakistan and the strength of our telecommunication industry. I won’t be surprised to see something like Soultek, a mobile phone service that connects people to jobs and aid agencies starting in Pakistan real soon. I also see a big push towards crowd mapping due to the growing incidence of natural disasters.
Are there gaps that you think need to be addressed, in order for the sector to mature? Who should be addressing these gaps?
For me the biggest gap in the social entrepreneurship sector in Pakistan is that it appears to be dominated by ivy-league geniuses from a very small section of society. I would love, love to see social entrepreneurs from all rungs of society setting up ventures in communities they’re intimately familiar with. Of course that’s much easier said then done, which brings us to the second (and what really is the primary) gap in Pakistan’s social enterprise sector: funding. Due to the uncertainty of Pakistan’s economic landscape, livelihood generating opportunities are already very limited. Getting people who are already struggling to make ends meet to think about investing time and money into something as risky as a social enterprise is frankly asking too much. The recent TIME feature on Harji Lal who started Pakistan’s first (and only) Hindu newspaper is a perfect illustration of this. It was heartbreaking to hear how he and his family had to go hungry one night because he spent all his daily earnings on printing the newspaper for a week. In my opinion, this gap can not only be addressed by philanthropies such as ADP but also individual philanthropists and corporate entities who can diversify their CSR portfolio.
Tell us one thing that would surprise people about you – don’t be shy!
This has been a well-guarded secret for many years but since I can’t think of anything else too intriguing, it will have to do: When I was five, I was crazy about the Bengali Bollywood hero, Mithun Chakraborty. I would watch nothing but Mithun movies and dance to nothing but Mithun songs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve obviously missed out on a critical part of South Asian 1980s cultural history. You can start catching up by watching this.