Archives for category: Op-Ed

While ‘competition’ may be the central relationship in an economic system when it comes to financial capital, that really shouldn’t be the case when it comes to the social space. In the TC-P guest post below, Nabeel, the head of the Association for the Development of Pakistan’s (ADP) media team points towards the recent successful collaboration between ADP and EcoEnergy Finance as the perfect example of how collaboration in the social sector can pave the way for greater access to both financial and social capital. 

One of the most common problems faced by any organization around the world, regardless of sector, is a lack of funding – a lack of capital. In turn, the most widely talked-about relationship in the economic system that centers around capital is competition. Competition is meant to spur innovation, yet the race for financial capital is frequently unimaginative, taking place within a zero-sum framework that assumes scarcity and that one’s gain is at the expense of the other.

However, the above holds true only when referring to financial capital. By shifting their focus on social capital, organizations can explore collaboration and work towards a win-win outcome, breaking out of the restrictions conferred by scarcity. This, however, necessitates a lens that sees the need for both financial and social capital, and embracing partnerships as a way to access capital.

This might seem obvious in retrospect, but it’s surprising how rare effective partnerships are in the nonprofit sector. There are thousands of NGOs working in Pakistan, often with overlapping missions and mandates (and sometimes even serving the same areas and communities), yet there is an almost criminal lack of collaboration in the nonprofit sector (Cahill 2011). By contrast, the organizations for whom such collaboration can indeed be a crime usually engage in it quite openly – some may call them cartels, but the more politically correct (and euphemistic) term is industry association.

That isn’t to say that, er, associations are bad – and one example lies in the partnership recently developed between EcoEnergyFinance and the Association for the Development of Pakistan.

First, some background. EcoEnergyFinance (EEF) is a recently established social enterprise that aims to provide rural villages with solar-powered lanterns, a cheap and sustainable source of renewable energy. EEF’s goals are to foster income generation for rural low-income communities (40% of villages do not have access to electricity, according to International Energy Agency), displace kerosene as an energy source, and combat climate change by providing a local renewable energy solution. They do this by recruiting and training entrepreneurs within the village to invest into solar lanterns.

The Association for the Development of Pakistan (ADP) is an engaged philanthropy organization that funds carefully selected small development initiatives in the country. In the nine years since it was formed, ADP has funded dozens of projects and disbursed around $750,000. Projects are screened using predetermined investment criteria and undergo rigorous due diligence before being granted funding, followed by monitoring and evaluation to ensure that outcomes are being met. ADP is distinguished by being run almost entirely by a dedicated and highly skilled group of volunteers around the globe.

ADP volunteer Saad demonstrating a solar lantern during a field visit in rural Sindh

Given these introductions, one might expect a project proposal submitted to ADP to be a request for funding – as every request invariably had been until now. But in the fall of 2011, Shazia Khan, executive director of EEF, approached Mubarik Imam, president of ADP, with an unusual request.

EEF needed ADP volunteers to provide management expertise and to accompany Jeremy Higgs, EEF’s Australian operations director in Pakistan, to field visits in rural Sindh. They had already received funding for their pilot, and needed to conduct two visits before December. Saad Halim and Hasan Saeed, both based in Karachi, duly stepped up.

“We learnt a lot from the first visit – a lot of our assumptions turned out to be wrong,” said Saad. He had developed a framework of needs to help calculate the demand for the lanterns in the villages. It turned out that while demand existed, there was no one in the village who could invest in the lanterns as an entrepreneur. The cost was Rs. 2,500, and the villagers could buy the lanterns in installments, but it had to be a group decision; no one took a loan until everyone pitched in.

Moreover, “the economic benefit was not clear…the expectations had been ruined.”

In each village, the residents were aware of solar power, but were not willing to pay for it – an NGO had distributed solar lanterns, of varying quality, for free after the 2010 floods. While EEF offered standard 9-LED lanterns, one of the donated lanterns shined with no less than 40 LEDs, and others were Chinese rechargeable models.

Another organization had electrified an entire village. With ‘free’ as the competing price, a traditional charity was finding more traction vis a vis the social enterprise. It was a sobering experience for the social entrepreneurs.

Nevertheless, Jeremy was full of praise for Saad: “He took a lot of initiative in getting to the villages and performing demonstrations – after our first discussion, he understood his job immediately and ran with it.”

Hasan Saeed was involved in a different capacity, helping to develop a training program for the entrepreneurs in the villages that were to be visited. He also helped with the procurement and designed the monitoring and evaluation with a baseline survey.

“We were learning a lot during the visits, and having volunteers who had been screened and had a sense of responsibility was really helpful,” said Jeremy.

There was indeed a lot going on during the visits. It was quickly apparent that the sales pitch needed to be refined, and identifying an entrepreneur turned out to be a huge challenge. EEF is now looking at developing partnerships before going into villages, harnessing the ability of grassroots organizations to mobilize communities and scale operations. Leveraging existing microfinance/livelihood programs wasn’t always the plan, and EEF has had to adapt their model through a number of internal discussions and meetings with organizations, trying to identify the value proposition.

In his blog post on the visit to Sujawal, Jeremy concluded, “If we’re to work in this area, we need a local partner.” While ADP is not quite that local partner, it has operated on the basis of such partnerships for years, which came in handy here.

Given that EEF has not launched a successful pilot yet, it might be tempting to conclude that working with ADP didn’t yield any particularly positive results. However, that misses the fact that working independently, it would have taken these organizations twice the time and energy to reach the current stage. More importantly, both organizations gained a lot of intangible knowledge about implementing renewable projects in a rural context.

So not only did this EcoEnergyFinance and Association for the Development of Pakistan partnership improve efficiency – it also enriched the human capital of both organizations and reinforced the social capital that is so critical to success.

Nabeel is the head of ADP’s Media team and the managing editor of SocialFinance.ca at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, and a project coordinator for the Tessellate Institute. He graduated from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi and has studied public administration and leadership at Ryerson University, Toronto. He enjoys sports, photography, and staying busy.

 Resources: 

 Nonprofit Collaboration Database 

 The Partnering Initiative 

So ladies and gentlemen, it’s been exactly one year since ThinkChange Pakistan was launched. Conceived over early morning Skype calls, and an endless stream of e-mails, TC-P is a humble attempt to track the growing social innovation, and entrepreneurship space in Pakistan.  While we are still a long way from capturing this growing #socent/#socinn space in its entirety, we are confident that with your constant feedback, we can continue to chip away at what we have started.

A big thank you to our contributors for making the editorial team’s job a little easier, and to the wonderful change-makers for taking the time out of their ridiculously busy schedules to talk to us about their work.

Since Feb 15 2011 – Feb 15 2012 has been an eventful year for all three of us (TC-P editors that is), we would like to share some of the things we have learned about the #socent and development space in the past twelve months:

Jeremy in action: Making a sales pitch for solar lanterns in Thatta

Jeremy, EcoEnergy Finance

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed already! The biggest change for me in the past year has been joining EcoEnergyFinance as their Director of Operations and conducting their pilot distribution of 100 solar lanterns in Sindh, Pakistan. Working in a social enterprise, rather than talking from the sidelines, has revealed to me the considerable challenges faced in the sector.

One of the toughest challenges has been determining how we work with other organisations to achieve our aims. We’ve had to wrack our brains to develop a partnership model, and after many revisions and meetings where people are confused by what we do, I think we’re making slow steps towards clarity. I’m hoping that after the pilot, I’ll be able to share a great deal more about these challenges, for other people to learn from!

Maryam, IREX:

Html codes, wire requests, grant monitoring, online portals and classrooms – these are some of the things that have kept me busy the past few months. Since November, I have been working to get our program’s alumni activities off the ground. Currently our alumni programming consists of a small grants program for community development projects, and a series of online trainings. My work with TC-P has increased my exposure to fantastic social enterprises working in Pakistan, and instilled in me the importance of sustainability, and establishing rigorous standards for project design, and financial transparency, which has really helped me with my work with the small grants program, as well as ADP.

Since we primarily rely on technology to communicate with our alumni, I was initially daunted by our ‘lack of options’ and honestly, a little skeptical about the impact of online trainings. But thanks to my personal experience with amazing organizations like TechChange, and TC-P posts on mobile technology, and virtual education in Pakistan’s schools, I have realized that I may have been giving edtech a lot less credit than it deserved. I am excited about continuing to learn more about this space, and exploring how it can be realistically integrated in basic education development projects on a larger scale.

Kalsoom, Invest2Innovate

In the last year, I was readying to launch my start-up Invest2Innovate before going live in September 2011. i2i is building early-stage social enterprises and access to capital in new and untapped markets, beginning (of course) with Pakistan. We are currently working with four social enterprise clients, including EcoEnergy Finance (where Jeremy is the Operations Director!), and doing due diligence on a fifth client. i2i is also building the funding pipeline and look forward to potentially building an angel investor network for start-up social enterprises. The road this year has been harrowing, rewarding, tricky, and exciting – all at the same time. It hasn’t been easy, and start-up life is a rollercoaster of emotions, but I wouldn’t change my decision for anything. I think few people can say that they are doing what they truly love, so I feel really blessed to be working with incredible partner organizations and entrepreneurs who inspire me every day.

Hello readers! Here’s what’s going on in the exciting world of #socent:

  • Congratulations to P@SHA Fund’s first round winners: Sabah Rehman, Farhan Masood, Waqas Ali and Usman Siddiqui! 
  • Also meet Teach For Pakistan’s first cohort of brilliant fellows!
  • Read Express Tribune’s coverage on Wondermilk, a small venture in Karachi that is selling, promoting and expanding the consumption of camel milk.

Events:

Opportunities:

  • The deadline to submit your pitch for the Pitch for Change competition at Harvard Social Enterprise Conference (Feb 25 – 26 2012) is January 20.

Opinion: 

Some inspiration: 

Last month, there was a fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times titled ‘Generation Sell’.

The author, William Deresiewicz after his (fairly) recent move to Portland was on a mission to get a handle on today’s youth culture:

“The style is easy enough to describe…But style is superficial. The question is, what’s underneath? What idea of life? What stance with respect to the world?”

One of Deresiewicz’s students was told that the Millennial Generation was “post-emotional” – no anger, no edge, no ego. What is that about, asked Deresiewicz. After some probing, he realizes: “The millennial affect is the affect of the salesman…Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business”.

Deresiewicz extends his observation to social entrepreneurship and how the field has emerged as the Millennial Generation spin on do-goodery.

However, what I am most interested in (for the purpose of this post) is Deresiewicz’s statement of the millennial affect being the ‘affect of the salesman‘. When an entrepreneur sets up a business (or in our case a social enterprise), they cannot escape from their responsibility, their need to sell.

In her recent piece on her experience at the Unreasonable Institute, an incubator for social entrepreneurship, Saba quoted Tom Suddes’s advice to the fellows, “You’re in sales. Get over it!” If they could not show conviction and sell their idea to people, why would anyone invest their time or money in them?

As a result, a critical component of Saba’s experience (and training) at the Institute was learning how to pitch:

“We went from pitching to a few dozen people at the weekly ‘family pitches’ where the audience was other fellows, to pitching to a hundred or so folks at the ‘community pitches’ that were open to the Boulder community, to pitching to a packed Boulder Theater that seated more than 300 folks, at the Unreasonable climax event.”

Clearly, if you are a budding social entrepreneur, learning to sell is a skill that you simply cannot ignore. So what’s the first step towards making your enterprise attractive to investors and making a convincing pitch?

Kalsoom prior to starting Invest2Innovate, was on the funding side for nearly four years as head of ML Resources’ venture philanthropy wing. When deciding which initiatives to fund, she said her starting point was to check if the business was viable. “I first looked at whether the business made sense – what was the gap it was addressing, what was its value proposition, how did it distinguish itself from its competitors, and most importantly, how did it plan to monetize what it was doing.”

Zehra Ali, the CEO and co-founder of Ghonla also emphasized the importance of keeping the message simple.

“When I initially started pitching – I would get quite overwhelmed and there would be a lot that I wanted to include. After nearly four years of the process, I’ve realized one thing and that is to keep the pitch simple and engaging. You don’t need to overload with facts. With a pitch it’s always about getting others to buy into your vision- if they do, then they can also get in touch with you after for more details”.

According to Zehra, some basics your pitch should address are:

  • What you do?
  • Why you do it?
  • How is your approach different? In the case of a social enterprise- what makes your business sustainable and with the potential to scale?
  • What are your next steps? Where do you need help? How can the audience get involved?

The appeal of your pitch…in fact, enterprise as a whole also lies in your personality and the passion you display.

Kalsoom writes:

“I am not a fan of how the social entrepreneurship world props up individuals rather than enterprises…But at the same time, when assessing whether or not an early-stage enterprise should be funded, it’s important to also note the entrepreneur involved – how hungry are they? Would they go without a salary if it means getting their enterprise off the ground? Would they take the plunge and leave a well-paid job for a very unstable lifestyle…So I looked (and still do) for that in entrepreneurs – that passion, determination, and hunger…Those are the people who weather through the storm, as that is part of what takes a business from concept to a legitimate enterprise.”

Social entrepreneurs while pitching have to straddle a fine line between inspiration and pragmatism, innovation and simplicity. Not an easy feat but this is precisely where the passion, hunger and determination that Kalsoom mentioned come in handy.

On that note, we will leave you with Jean Brittingham’s 10 ways for Female Entrepreneurs to Get Funded (Some key lessons for male entrepreneurs as well!)

Saba Gul, the Co-Founder & Executive Director of BLISS, Business & Life Skills School, describes below her incredible summer spent at the Unreasonable Institute, a summer accelerator program where 26 social entrepreneurs live in a house…and have their lives taped. This post first appeared on the BLISS blog:

After raising $8000 from 212 supporters in 26 days, I got on a plane this June to Boulder, Colorado to attend the Unreasonable Institute, an incubator for high-impact social entrepreneurs. Below is the post-mortem of a summer I will never forget.

Life In A Chocolate Fondue

Donna Morton, an Unreasonable Fellow from Canada, summed up this summer pretty eloquently—she said it was likeliving in a chocolate fondue’. It filled up your senses, it was heavenly and when it was over, you were left craving for more.

Imagine being put in a house for 6 weeks with 26 people whose ideas, experiences and passion will blow your mind and force you to think about the world in a radically different way.

I’m talking former child soldiers from Liberia who went on to form organizations that rehabilitate other former child soldiers. I’m talking entrepreneurs from Uganda who put on their first pairs of shoes at age 13. I’m talking 25 year olds who had already lifted over a thousand local producers out of poverty in Brazil. I’m talking recycling businesses that had generated over $1M in revenue in 18 months, and life-saving medical devices that had been recognized by the World Health Organization. I’m talking entrepreneurs who grew up in the slums of India and are now running the biggest bike-sharing system in the country. The first few days were spent being inspired by something new every single hour.

What a group, I thought to myself. How had they selected these people? What could we not accomplish together if we put our minds to it?

There was this pressure that something incredible had to be squeezed out of every minute of every day. There was a fear that once the summer was over, there would be a big void in our lives.

                                                                                            ***

Oh To Dream Big…

Perhaps the most enticing part of the Institute for me before I landed in Boulder was the mentors. The promise of living with and learning from the best of the best. Admittedly, it was slightly intimidating at first. I mean, how do you start a conversation with the CTO of Hewlett-Packard when you find yourself sitting at the dinner table next to him? Or when you run into Paul Polak in the hallway?

My first impulse: “Holy crap! You’re Paul Polak!” Knowing Paul, he would’ve responded with a witty quip of his own. When asked by Daniel Epstein (the Institute’s founding president) what he hoped to get out of being with the fellows, he replied with a straight face: “At least seven girlfriends.”

The intimidation however, was extremely short-lived for the reason that is the Unreasonable Institute’s secret sauce.  You’re made to live and work alongside these mentors, to be in all kinds of situations with them. So you’re playing volleyball with a bloody-kneed Jigar Shah. You’re not sitting in an audience of a hundred, listening to him talk. You’re out having drinks with Kevin Starr. You’re having a bathroom-sink conversation with Kim Scheinberg. You’re hiking with Kamran Elahian. You’re going dancing with Kevin Jones.  You’re sharing lunch on a sunny balcony with David Kyle.

And you realize what you’d known all along but found hard to believe—they’re human after all. But they have achieved what the Fellows all aspire to achieve. And the common denominator among all the mentors—they are not afraid, or ashamed, to dream big. They have audacious goals of changing the world. They share a sense of urgency at shaking up the status quo. Some of them are furious that the world is not doing more to tackle poverty. They have the willpower and determination to turn ideas into reality. And they’re just a little bit crazy. And unreasonable.

Back in April, I had been heartbroken by the Greg Mortenson controversy and had written a blogpost about it. I’d linked my post to Kevin Starr’s thoughts on the matter, citing him several times. He was someone I viewed as an admirable changemaker. So it all seemed a little surreal when I found myself at the Institute one day, sitting face-to-face with Starr as we lounged in the dining area, lost in a discussion about the controversy.

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On Learning

There was a lot to learn.

How do you build to scale? How do you hire and fire? How do you raise capital?

Influx of knowledge from people who had done it many times. 1-on-1 mentoring sessions. Ripping apart of business models. Workshops on impact, scaling, sustainable design, venture capital, communication, how to make the ask, improving the customer experience, legal structures, corporate partnerships, business modeling.

Session on impact with Kevin Starr
And then there was the pitching.

We went from pitching to a few dozen people at the weekly ‘family pitches’ where the audience was other fellows, to pitching to a hundred or so folks at the ‘community pitches’ that were open to the Boulder community, to pitching to a packed Boulder Theater that seated more than 300 folks, at the Unreasonable climax event.

Tom Suddes told us we were all in the ‘selling business’ whether we liked it or not. “You’re in sales. Get over it!” he would say. If we could not show conviction and sell our idea to people, why would anyone invest their time or money in us?

Some of us, like Luis Duarte of Yo reciclo in Mexico, were not scared to get on top of the dining table and pitch their venture to everyone as many times as it took to get the point across.

Before the San Francisco Investors’ pitch, I found myself pitching in the shower, in the car, over dinner, every chance I got. My roommates and I would pitch to each other as we brushed our teeth. There was a strong sense of us all being in this together, of having a common goal—to change the f-ing world, as Daniel Epstein famously liked to say. And we had to convince everyone we were the right people, the best people to do it.

Lessons Unanticipated

For myself and BLISS, it was the perfect time to be at such a place. We had just finished our pilot in Attock, Pakistan. After almost a year of designing and prototyping, we had launched our first line of handbags. In the weeks following the launch, we had sold out our stock, and had been approached by a top retailer in Pakistan, as well as two high-end fair-trade shops in London and Dubai. The girls were beaming with confidence and pride; many more wanted to join. It was time to go bigger!

I had gone into the Institute looking for help on very specific challenges—building the team on a shoe-string budget, raising capital, scaling. And while I did get help on these, I also came out with questions about things I thought were set in stone, such as our legal structure. I went in defending a nonprofit model despite knowing that we had the financial structure to be a for-profit. It came up over and over again. At the Investors’ pitch, in meetings with mentors, in discussions with other fellows. Why were we not a for-profit? My simple answer was, the perception of the organization, especially within Pakistan. We were working with young girls, and it was easy to be skeptical of our mission if we were a for-profit. Our organization’s reputation was especially important because the marketability of our products partially rested on it. Plus, our mission was mainly social—the products were merely a means to an end.

In San Francisco, I met Scott Leonard, the CEO of Indigenous Designs, which sources premium fair-trade and organic clothing from artisans in the poorest regions of South America. The questions he asked as he argued for a for-profit model stuck with me. As a non-profit, could we really rally the kind of skills and build the kind of team we could as a for-profit? Could we pay smart, motivated young folks enough to stick with us? Had I seen any examples of successful global businesses built by a non-profit? Did I really need to worry about the organization’s reputation if there was financial transparency? Could we raise enough capital and scale fast enough as a non-profit? I found myself digging deep to answer these questions.

But along with the questions came validation. The feeling of walking away having learned how powerful my story was, how compelling the model, and how mind-blowing the potential of the work.

What struck me time and again in my time at the Institute, was how incredibly valuable the collective knowledge of the fellows’ pool was. Every week, at the family pitches, where a few of the fellows pitched and got feedback on their models from the others, I would realize as we went around the room, that we had people present there whose collective geographical spread and knowledge base was so vast that the feedback was amazingly comprehensive, the ideas shared disruptive, the contacts offered game-changing. In our last week, the Unreasonable staff scheduled a session to brainstorm just how to capture and harness this collective genius in the medium and long term.

                                                                                          ***

Peer-To-Peer On Crack

The takeaway from the Institute that will last me my lifetime is the friendships.

And when these friends are as obsessed with changing the world as you are, the energy and inspiration you draw from each other is just as valuable as the next round of funding.

These friendships were built over shared meals—3 times a day every day. They were built on the dance floor as we would unwind after a long day, on breathtaking hikes through the Rocky Mountains, over games of volleyball and foosball, over late-night guitar sessions, at quaint little tea-shops, gelato places and sushi bars in downtown Boulder, around campfires as we sang. They were built over celebrations like Gaurav Manchanda of OneDegree Solar getting engaged to be married, and sometimes, they were built over sharing deep grief—when Donna Morton learned that she had to leave the Institute mid-way because of potentially life-threatening health issues (she is well now!). They were built at the pitching events, as we whispered much-needed words of encouragement to each other before facing an audience of investors. They were built over 4am conversations atop hills overlooking the gorgeous city of Boulder. They were built sitting on the patio—reflecting. Dreaming. Laughing. Talking.

Sometimes these friendships were built over a single shared moment of vulnerability. The kind that you allow with someone you have known for a very long time. I’ll never forget the lunch I had at the Trattoria in downtown Boulder with George Deriso, one of our mentors and a professor at University of Boulder, Colorado. As I talked about my work, the girls, their dreams, my dreams, I was on fire, which was very normal when I start talking about BLISS. But as he prodded me more and I started sharing more stories, my eyes welled up with tears. As I glanced up at him I saw him shedding a few as well. We laughed at ourselves through the tears, and it felt like we had known each other for years, not weeks. It just didn’t make sense. It was unreasonable. Like so many other things this summer.

There is no substitute for being part of a network of extremely smart and motivated people who really and truly understand what it means to be a struggling entrepreneur.  Some fellows, like Tiago Dalvi of Solidarium are where I see our business in 3 or 4 years. We would often sit and discuss our businesses; I would confide in him about our struggles, and learn how he had coped with the same.

Everyone had a sense of humor. Nothing was politically incorrect (a theme that was tested often with a group that came from 17 different countries). As Luis (from Mexico) and Mohamed (from Mali) helped lift some furniture into a truck, they would joke about how the Mexicans and Africans were doing all the dirty work. We would imitate each other’s accents, even do role-playing games that left us in fits.

My roommates—Shivani Siroya of Inventure Fund and Cynthia Koenig of Wello—and I often stayed up till the wee hours of the night talking about our businesses, about the mentors, about what we hoped to get out of the Institute. Sometimes we would dissect the whole day. Sometimes we would just ramble, or gossip, each perched on her own bed. In many ways, it was like being a freshman again. I lived in a triple, slept on a bunkbed, was learning new and amazing things every day, living with people that had come together from across the globe. And the first day kicked off with a scavenger hunt!

Capturing all of this was a TV crew that was pure, unadulterated creative genius. The cameras that surrounded us at all times were distracting at first, but by the second week everyone was used to them. The experience of living and working at the Institute is still making its way to periodically-released episodes of Unreasonable TV.

***

Reasons to Dance

Every week, the fellows gathered to share reasons to dance—things that our ventures were accomplishing through and while at the Institute. Emails from dream funders, a stellar contract, coverage in the country’s biggest business magazine, a new board member.

About two months after the Institute is over, the excitement has not withered, as the 26 of us share notes, thoughts, pictures, lessons, opportunities, and of course, reasons to dance. Yes, thank you Facebook. Thank you, Twitter. And thank you, good old email.

We are still helping each other make some of the biggest decisions of our lives. I recently gave up two offers to work at places I would’ve jumped at a year ago, and the first people I turned to when making the decision were the Unreasonables. Some of them had faced similar decisions many times over. And they were quick to tell me that over time, the opportunities that would present themselves to me were only going to be more enticing. That what I decided to give up defined me as much as what I decided to pursue.

In some ways, it was a summer of extremes—extreme inspiration and optimism, extreme emotions, extreme amounts of Red Bull, extreme sleep deprivation, extreme fun, extreme learning and extreme friendships.

But above all, these 45 days of summer have given us all many reasons to dance.

Sobia Nusrat writes about Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund and how her talk at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) inspired her to become part of Acumen Fund’s volunteer network and start thinking differently about social change in Pakistan. Sobia works within the field of education research with a specific interest in youth engagement and new learning paradigms. She is currently based in Lahore. 

Choosing to live a life that is more interested than interesting, Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, is an instant source of inspiration for all those working and aspiring to work in the development sector. I attended Jacqueline’s talk at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (June 3rd, 2011) at a time when I was becoming increasingly jaded by the somewhat unrealistic and rhetorical approach of Pakistan’s nonprofit sector towards human development. The fact that Jacqueline left a successful career in Wall Street for a chance to save the world made me remember why I decided to leave the corporate sector a few years ago to pursue a degree in public administration and subsequently foray into the world of education. It wasn’t because I wanted to be seen as a development expert, it was because I was genuinely interested in contributing towards Pakistan’s development process. Jacqueline’s passion coupled with a practical stance renewed my belief that change is possible through a systematic and inclusive approach.

Like many others, Jacqueline faced a number of ups and downs in pursuit of her goals, also described in vibrant detail in her book, New York Times Bestseller ‘The Blue Sweater’. During her professional journey, she made many mistakes which she admits to quite frankly. Her biggest asset was her belief in hard work; the power of innovation and an inherent faith in human dignity which helped her turn many disastrous beginnings into productive outcomes. While speaking about the problems she faced in her international development work, Jacqueline gave examples on how she was able to stay motivated and optimistic by cultivating a habit of listening carefully learning and not to make too many assumptions.

Jacqueline’s professional and personal journey took her from the United States to different parts of Africa, India and eventually Pakistan. She used the session to introduce the audience to the social entrepreneurship ventures supported by Acumen Fund in Pakistan in the areas of low income housing, provision of safe drinking water and livestock enhancement. The organization firmly believes that Pakistan’s development is an inevitable phenomenon but will not come about through traditional charity or international aid. Instead, investment of ‘patient capital’ in strong and local social business models can help change the course of the country in coming years. It was really interesting to note that Jacqueline and her team of international fellows had more positivity regarding Pakistan’s future than the entire audience, comprising primarily of Pakistanis.

Culturally, Pakistanis have the tendency to shy away from risk taking behavior. The support of an organization like Acumen Fund which appreciates creativity, and assesses projects on their long term sustainability rather than short term goals, can really help encourage a new breed of social entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Acumen Fund is also very interested in extending its outreach to different parts of the country by establishing a network of volunteers possessing business skills and experience in the social sector.

The event was well attended by students and young professionals and there were a number of insightful questions on Acumen’s business strategy and evaluation criteria for investment. Concerning the macro impact of these disparate social experiments and there scalability, one of my colleagues inquired about the success of Acumen in engaging with the government and whether any of these projects had influenced social policy. In line with Acumen’s philosophy, Jacqueline replied that change is a long term process, and she hopes that the Pakistani government will support its social entrepreneurs. In response to another related question, she also touched upon the issue of government corruption which had initially delayed the housing project Acumen is supporting. Instead of complying with social norms, Acumen encouraged the project team to wait it out and follow a transparent procedure. Finally, the project was approved and is successfully running, a major achievement for the Acumen Fund.

Jacqueline’s story and philosophy on life has filled me and many others who met her with a sense of courage and desire to seek the many different experiences the world has to offer. I will be working with Acumen’s volunteer network to spread her spirited message through a book reading of ‘The Blue Sweater’, and hopefully brainstorming ideas for social change in Pakistan.

Madeeha Ansari completed her Bachelors in Economics from London School of Economics last year and currently works for an Islamabad-based development consultancy that specializes in enterprise development programs. She frequently blogs for the Express Tribune and just started her own personal blog

It took a lot for me to go from Islamabad to Lahore for the Teach for Pakistan Assessment Day. Frantic calls were made, emails were sent, mentors were sought. I wanted to be sure, I said, before bringing inevitable conflict in the household and “making a bigger emotional investment”.

So I went, of course, and had a thoroughly good time. Met a bunch of bright young people (very many from LUMS), employed my new facilitation skills in the budget allocation dilemma, fell in love with the interviewer. Toted a bag of Red Things including a shiny shoe and Winnie-the-Pooh for my lesson on adjectives, in which I am happy to say the class did quite well.

The truth is, however, that Assessment Day might not be the most accurate simulation of what awaits the first batch of Fellows during their two year commitment to teaching in under resourced government schools. For those who have never properly ventured outside Clifton and Defense, the first challenge will be to make sure they fit. It wouldn’t do to stand out, not if one has to be going to the same school in the same locality in a tough city, notorious for its lawlessness and deeply resented chasms of disparity.

Another equally important consideration is acceptance within the school. Although they will of course be facilitated by the TFP team, it will be difficult to determine the dynamics between the new recruits and the older, more experienced teachers who may be falling in a different salary bracket. The young teachers are going to have to be very, very polite.

Then, there’s the job itself. Those with an O’levels background are going to need some serious orientation to the local system, because even the Math is in a different language. Since this is only at the primary school level, things should work out just fine. However, the fact that we don’t have a single standardized board or medium of instruction does make it different from, for instance, Teach for America.

These are generic things that might have to be thought about when offer-holders are taking their decisions, because it wouldn’t be fair to flake out afterwards. For those who really feel it, such concerns are simply fodder for two years of thought. This time is not just going to be about teaching, although that in itself is enough to make life worthwhile. But these two years will set things in perspective, giving this batch of Fellows some real world grounding that would otherwise have taken a very long time. The insights that they’ll get into the local education system will surpass any secondhand, theoretical nuggets they could pick up elsewhere.

The TFP team must not have slept for a very long time in their efforts to cover all bases, offer the right kinds of incentives, pick the candidates with the skills, flexibility and passion to follow through. It’s a beautiful program and everyone in the social sector wishes it was their idea. Now it’s up to that carefully selected set of young people to understand that they can be a meaningful part of something awesome, knowing what they’re signing up for.  After that, they can forget everything else they know, to let those seven year olds teach them what the world is really about.

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!

With everyone’s world being turned upside and down by Osama’s death on May 2, it’s going to be hard to get all of you thinking about social entrepreneurship and philanthropy again, but I’m going to try anyway.

So remember the whole 60 minutes and Mortenson episode? (If not, refer back to a great contribution by Saba Gul on the issue here) Many in Pakistan have dismissed the outrage against Mortenson as being unfair. “Look, at least he’s built a school! What have you and I done?” In a weak defense, Kristof in his column portrayed Mortenson as a passionate but disorganized hero. Whatever people’s case for Mortenson, Kevin Starr in his insightful column hit the nail right on the head when he talked about why on earth is CAI spending nearly $400,000 of donor money per school.

If there’s anything that the space of social innovation and entrepreneurship has taught us, it is the importance of maximizing impact in the social sphere. While not everyone can start their own social enterprise, what we can do is to think long and hard about who and what we’re giving to.

There are two issues of giving that I want to tackle in the post. The first one that is directly relevant to the Mortenson episode is to check the financials of the organization. I’ve only been volunteering for the Association for the Development of Pakistan (ADP) for four months now but  during this short period, I’ve learned a lot about the organization’s extensive due diligence process. Before funding a local partner and project, ADP’s evaluation team goes through a rigorous process that checks both the sustainability of the project, as well as the financial integrity of the organization e.g. how much of the money is being spent on salaries and how much on programs; can we get easy access to their most up to date financial statements; calling up references etc. If we want to get the most value out of our donations, we should do the same. Take advantage of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP), a reputable organization headquartered in Pakistan that does the legwork for us. Check out their reports and see which non-profit organizations they’ve certified.

From my experience, in Pakistan we normally have a knee-jerk reaction to giving. Earthquake? Boom. Rs.12, 000 to Aunty Fazilat’s boutique donation drive. Flood? There, $500 to UNHCR. Not that I’ve anything against Aunty Fazilat or UNHCR, but it may do the world some good if donors start thinking about whether organizations are effectively using that money (Mortenson’s CAI versus Aga Khan Foundation’s long-standing education projects are the perfect case in point).

Secondly, it doesn’t hurt to think about what you’re funding. While immediate short-term assistance is critical to emergency relief efforts, we may also want to diversify our giving pool. How about Rs.2000 to say the Edhi trust and Rs.4000 to a long-term flood rehabilitation project?

Moving away from rehabilitation efforts, the space of social innovation has opened up a whole new pool of sustainable philanthropic opportunities. Instead of simply giving your cook a bonus on Eid, we can also donate to an organization that is implementing long-term development projects? Or perhaps donate to a low-income social entrepreneur who through his/her innovative project may turn around a community? (On that note, do check out Kiva.org)

Since I myself have just started thinking about how responsible giving, I would love to hear your insights regarding philanthropy. Do large one-time donations work best or spreading them out? When and why have you regretted giving to a specific cause or organization? When have you felt that your money was well-spent? Let TC-P know in your comments!

A few people have asked me recently what #socent is on Twitter, with one friend even assuming it was something to do with 50 Cent (classic, Sheri!).

So, for those who did not know, #socent = social entrepreneur. There you go.

But what does it mean to be a social entrepreneur? What qualifies an entrepreneur as social per se? According to Ashoka, “Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems.” In Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition, Sally Osberg and Roger Martin wrote:

The social entrepreneur should be understood as someone who targets an unfortunate but stable equilibrium that causes the neglect, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity; who brings to bear on this situation his or her inspiration, direct action, creativity, courage, and fortitude; and who aims for and ultimately affects the establishment of a new stable equilibrium that secures permanent benefit for the targeted group and society at large.

A social entrepreneur is an entrepreneur who aims to have a social or environmental impact with their work, generating social value (versus financial value or profits like traditional entrepreneurs). This brand of entrepreneur often has innovative and out-of-the-box solutions for longstanding development problems, from low-cost housing for the poor like Ansaar Management Company (AMC) in Lahore to solar energy lighting for developing communities like Grameen Shakti in Bangladesh. Bill Drayton, the CEO and Founder of Ashoka, once noted,

Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.

Social entrepreneurs are not restricted by for-profit or non-profit labels. As Marty Zwilling noted in Business Insider, “A social enterprise must be financially sustainable only as a means to the end, which is its social or environmental impact and rate of change. The business entrepreneur mission is profit always, social impact maybe.”

The term, even now, is fluid and begs the question – do we need to qualify entrepreneurs with a primarily social mission as social entrepreneurs, or is the entrepreneur label enough? Are we muddying the waters by delineating between the two or is the distinction exceptionally clear? In countries like Pakistan, where social entrepreneurship is taking hold and is still not part of the vernacular, how do we market that narrative? That’s for you to weigh in dear readers.

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