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What a week for #socent!

  • Our very own Kalsoom Lakhani is at the Skoll World Forum, representing her company, Invest2Innovate. Follow discussions on the conference on the #skollwf hashtag.
  • Saad Amanullah Khan has written in the Express Tribune about the need for social entrepreneurship in Pakistan.
  • BLISS is looking for interns! Deadline: 31st March, so apply now!

After a bit of a hiatus, we’re back with Stuff #Socent People Like for the week. It’s been a busy few months, with Maryam travelling extensively, Kalsoom starting her own company and me (Jeremy) taking on an exciting position with a startup social enterprise. But, we’re back!

So, what happened this week:

Is there more happening in the #socent space? Let us know!

During the month of Ramadan, the Charter for Compassion – Pakistan is celebrating acts of compassion in everyday life. Here at ThinkChange Pakistan, we thought we’d put a different spin on it and look at the role compassion plays in inspiring and motivating social entrepreneurs.

Ambreen Rahman (GreenRoshni):

I grew up without a father, my mother suffered from PSTD (post-traumatic stress)
and our family lacked financial security. Despite these hardships I was able to advance in life based on the compassion and trust of others-from relatives, to teachers, to government and institutional policies and approaches that enabled me to realize my goals.

My desire to work with underprivileged populations – by teaching children in one of the poorest neighborhoods in NYC, or by working with rural indigenous communities in neglected areas of  Pakistan or with youth in prison in Texas – is closely tied to the compassion I received in my life and my desire to provide others with a similar helping hand.

Khalida Brohi (Sughar – TC-P coverage):

For me compassion (not sympathy) have been the core of my stepping against my own tribal customs. I haven’t understood yet why, but living among people in pain and women under strict laws my life have been different in every aspect from them. I got freedom, education, opportunities to speak out my heart and to make decisions regarding my life…All this when leading me to a future different then all the other girls in my community actually led me to a feeling that I would never forget. And that was compassion for those around me who were less fortunate and then to get me back to my community and strive to do anything to help them in their lives.

From my own life as well as from others, I have learned a great deal about compassionate people which is no matter who they are and where they are, if they have the right feelings and an extreme urge to help out people or to stop the suffering of others, they are capable of making the biggest change possible. Because then its not them but their passionate feelings taking charge and looking for every opportunity and every step around them to help achieve the goal they see.

As a child I was told I was supposed to wear others shoes to see how they felt but later I understood that compassion actually isn’t just about wearing their shoes its about taking the place of that person in pain from the very day we come across them until the day we are able to make this person happy again so it nudges us and makes us uneasy till we are able to do our best to heal their suffering a bit. I have had to take the places of thousands of girls and women around me, I still am, living with them in their spirits, with their feelings and in their frightened heart beats and I am trying my best every second to do anything that I can to bring the satisfaction that would prove that change is happening.

Zehra Ali (Ghonsla – TC-P coverage):

The urge one feels to improve lives of those affected by a social problem, is rooted in compassion. Compassion opens a window for most individuals to be moved to an extent that they wish to challenge the status quo and seek opportunity even in adversity. One can even say that it is a key ingredient for innovating and being committed to impact.

At Ghonsla compassion drives our vision for providing insulation to increase the quality of life for people at every level of society, conserve precious environmental resources and create opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship to empower others. When leading an organization, it provides the platform to engage with others in a way that is inclusive and based in trust. Our success lies not in the revenue we generate from the sales of the insulation but the value that we create for our customers, partners, employees and communities.

Saba Gul (BLISS – TC-P coverage):

I am really disturbed by the social disparities in Pakistan, and by the contrast between myself and millions of underprivileged girls who will never get a basic education. Having been fortunate enough to attend one of the best schools in the US, I feel a deep sense of compassion when I hear the numerous stories of girls who make unimaginable sacrifices to attend school — masking themselves as a boy, losing a family member to extremist entities that opposed female education, engaging in laborious, exploitative work to generate an income.

I’m driven by a world vision – that of no girl left behind, of every young girl able to define the course of her own life.  Compassion guides me in my work every day, in making decisions that best serve the beneficiary communities, in refining our model as we better understand their needs, and in relating their struggles and dreams to those who want to help.

In part, my motivation for choosing this life-path is my love for the work – it’s real, it’s meaningful, it’s gratifying, and I get inspired every single day by the courageous girls I work with and for.

To those of you out there – how does compassion inspire you?
While you’re at it, submit your story to the Charter for Compassions’ Acts of Compassion competition, and you may have a chance at a year of school fees being donated in your name for an underprivileged child.

With the recent announcement of the P@SHA Fund for Social Innovation, the ThinkChange Pakistan team thought our readers would be interested in hearing more about the fund and its potential to foster entrepreneurship in Pakistan. We sat with Jehan Ara to find out more.

Recently, your organisation, the Pakistan Software Houses’ Association (P@SHA), announced the P@SHA Fund for Social Innovation. What is your aim with the establishment of this fund?

The aim is very simple. The people of Pakistan face a lot of problems many of which require government intervention. However, it will be a long, long time before the government is able to tackle all these problems even if it had the will to do so. We have seen how private and community initiatives can start to make a difference to the lives of people. Whether it is the Grameen model in Bangladesh or Edhi, TCF and the Imran Khan Foundation here, all of them started as specks of an idea that then grew to impact the lives of many. We have also seen how during the earthquake and the floods, many young people individually or collectively took on the responsibility of helping the survivors both in the short term and in the medium term.

Read the rest of this entry »

For social entrepreneurs out there in the field, whether they’re just getting started or looking to increase the size of their organisation, the question of funding is extremely important. An individual with an idea may want to make their idea a reality, but they lack the funds to get started. A established social entrepreneur may have reached 5,000 customers, but lacks the funds to scale to 50,000. At these crucial junction points, funding plays a large role.

The funding available depends on your legal structure: for-profit or non-profit. (In some countries, such as the US, ‘hybrid’ legal structures exist, but not in Pakistan.)

Funding your for-profit social venture

In the case where profits generated from operations are not sufficient for growth, a for-profit social enterprise has the advantage of being able to take on capital investments, in return for profits or stock in the business. While the concept of “impact investing” is relatively new, the traditional venture capital market is mature and has many funds investing into all types of businesses. Recent years have seen the emergence of a number of funds designed for social enterprises. As social ventures continue to increase as a viable alternative, this will surely increase.

Let’s look at options for entrepreneurs at different stages of business growth:

Starting Out

Scaling Up

  • Private investors
  • Social venture capital (e.g. Acumen Fund)
  • Social business competitions (see above)

For detailed lists of investment funds, look at this list or ImpactBase.

Funding your non-profit venture

Funding for non-profits can pose a more difficult challenge, as funds contributed to the non-profit cannot be paid out again (and hence no profit can be made).

Starting Out

  • Donations (family, friends, networks, fundraising)
  • Donor-funded grants (although typically difficult, as donors require recipients to show their past impact)
  • Social business competitions (see above)

Scaling Up

Two other useful resources on building social enterprises are:

Have we missed something? Have you funded your venture in some other way? Let us know!

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.

Over the past few months, we’ve covered a number of topics related to social entrepreneurship: profiles of entrepreneurs and enterprises, success stories and business models, and most recently controversies in the field. One area we’ve not covered is efforts to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs, through the education system – leading towards social entrepreneurship being seen as a viable career path.

Social entrepreneurship in universities is a recent phenomenon, coming with the recognition of social entrepreneurship as a potential career path after university – in particular after an MBA.

Looking across the world, there are a number of ways in which social entrepreneurship has been included in university: from specific courses on the topic (for example, Standford, Yale, Duke, Oxford and Columbia), to integration of social entrepreneurship case studies into many “mainstream” courses (for example, Harvard). Many universities also have student societies (such as NetImpact) engaged in the area, fellowships (MIT’s Legatum Fellowship, Oxford’s Skoll Scholarships), as well as regular talks and lecture series. On the practical side, many universities now co-ordinate internship programmes for their students, to develop real-world experience in the topics under study (e.g. MIT G-Lab).

For those fortunate enough to be able to complete education in the USA and England, the above universities offer plenty of opportunities. But what’s the level of engagement in Pakistan’s leading universities?

A glance at the top business and liberal arts universities across the country reveals little integration of social entrepreneurship into the curriculum, with the exception of LUMS, which ran a social entrepreneurship course aimed at MBA students this past semester. Student initiatives like YLES and IBA Invent have produced socially-minded entrepreneurial ideas and LUMUN-SRP facilitated volunteer work in NGOs.  Yet, it seems that in a country where the challenges are staring us collectively in the face, there’s a lack of engagement with social entrepreneurship – a means to develop a generation of business leaders employing market-based solutions to our social problems.

Is this a reflection of the demand for such skills by employers? Or related to the focus on business degrees, instead of social sciences? In the USA, where the impact investing and social entrepreneurship sector is booming, universities may be integrating social entrepreneurship into their curricula to meet an industry demand.

The question is, how do we change this?

The TC-P team has a few ideas:

  • Organisations (whether social venture funds or social enterprises) can provide fellowship and internship opportunities to university students
  • Social venture business plan competitions to encourage innovation by university students
  • Establishing local funding/support networks for budding social entrepreneurs
Do you have other ideas? Share them in the comments!

Sunglasses at night? Oh no she didn't...

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))

What a week it has been!

Social Entrepreneurship

  • First up, the controversy surrounding Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute. Our very own Kalsoom Lakhani has weighed in with her thoughts, along with links to a number of different perspectives.
  • Beyond Profit profiles how the prepaid mobile model is being transferred to other areas of development. They also cover an enterprise I’m quite interested in, Simpa Networks!
  • The New York Times Opinionator blog looks at how many enterprises are benchmarking themselves on their financial, social and environmental impact: A scorecard for companies with a conscience.


  • Ashoka Changemakers has announced a competition (5 prizes of $50,000 each) to change the way we create economic opportunities. Deadline is June 15, 2011.

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.

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