Archives for category: Profiles and Features

This week, ThinkChange Pakistan looks at Rabtt, an innovative voluntary youth organization that brings students and mentors from different classes of society in an effort to promote independent and critical thinking in Lahore.

The Rabtt team organizes a 2-3 week camp every summer where their team of volunteers teaches low-income children  English, Mathematics, Physics, along with Critical Thinking, Drawing and Drama. What makes Rabtt special is that while majority of non-profit education-related ventures focus on basic service-delivery, Rabtt has chosen to concentrate on creating civic-minded, and independent thinkers.

Rabtt, which literally means ‘connection’ in Urdu was founded by two LUMS graduates, Aneeq and Imran to get students thinking about their identity outside of the prescribed curriculum, as well as motivate them to achieve, and do more.

By teaching various disciplines through an analytical approach, Rabtt aims to create “good learners”. The camp stresses on the importance of giving students room to interpret presented information and express their opinions. These instances can be as simple as allowing them to solve a Math problem their own way, or as exciting as introducing to them the tenets of Capitalism and Communism and asking them to analyze, debate and compare.

What makes Rabtt’s teaching methodology more effective from routine public school classes is also the smaller class size. The student to teacher ratio is 20:1 where as in public schools it can go up to 50:1. “We set the number of students in accordance with the number of instructors we recruit, and the resources we have. More than the number of beneficiaries, it is the quality of the impact we are able to deliver that is important to us” says Hammad, the social media director of Rabtt.

The camp’s students are selected on the basis of a pre-camp diagnostic, which is administered to roughly 50 children. The pre-camp diagnostic is a test of basic mathematics, English and logic. It is both a measure of the student’s ability, as well as an effective monitoring and evaluation tool.

Currently while the core Rabtt team is only comprised of four people, the organization has managed to develop a strong pool of volunteers (check out some photos of their team and volunteers here). Any one who is interested in volunteering, completes the form on their website. The Rabtt team then interviews the prospective volunteer, and upon selection, trains him/her regarding the assigned role.

Rabtt’s fund raising strategy has largely been focused on fostering solid relationships with organizations that share it’s mission and purpose. Hammad elaborates:

“The first step for Rabtt was to identify the target audience for its educational camps, and be very clear about what value these camps will add to the educational experience of the students. Once that was established, the Rabtt team approached like-minded individuals and organizations for support. Our aim was, and is, to make longstanding partnerships with like-minded organizations…The thrust of the fundraising campaign was, hence, not as much focused on brand promotion for the different organizations we targeted but more so on combined values and vision”.

One of Rabtt’s first supporters was Akhuwat, a micro-finance organization that provides interest free loans to the poor. Other organizations Rabtt focused on was different publishers and book houses that directly cater to the school children Rabtt aimed to work with.

“One of the biggest challenges in the beginning was to build credibility with these organizations…Trust is hard to gain when an organization is still in its developing stages”. The Rabtt team organized a number of in-person meetings and presentations to help gather the support needed for Rabtt to hold its first summer camp. “But now, within a year, we have successfully conducted three camps, have a growing pool of volunteers and  a clear direction that we can present to our supporters”.

Rabtt is now working to grow in terms of curriculum development, and program sustainability.  The team is working to standardize the content of the curriculum, and improve it based on student feedback. It also aims to establish a steady follow-up program to remain in touch with the summer camp ‘graduates’ and continue to contribute towards their personal and academic development.

If you are interested in keeping up with Rabtt, go ahead and like their Facebook page and follow their blog.

For more educated-related posts on TC-P, check out:

Hussain Bandukwala’s Q&A with the Design for Change (DFC) Pakistan team

VEFA Pakistan: Using Virtual Ed to Reach Students in Need

Thinking about Mobile Technology in Pakistan’s Classrooms 


The P@SHA Fund for Social Innovation recently announced its first round of winners. In the coming weeks, TC-P will be highlighting these innovative projects which aim to use technology to meet social needs in education, culture, medicine, environmental or any other community problem. This week TC-P sits down with Waqas Ali, the brains behind Hometown Shoes, an online store that connects local artisans directly to consumers.

A native of Lahore, Waqas first came up with the idea of Homemade Shoes during a conversation with M. Hussain in his village, Basirpur in Okara District. Hussain had a small business of handmade leather shoes, and would sell his product to big brand shoe stores. Unfortunately while the large chains would make a high profit margin, Hussain would make very little. “I asked him why don’t we sell using the internet and offered my help” says Waqas, “But we couldn’t get started right away because not having seed funding, and recently we finally made it through the P@SHA Social Fund.”

Hometown Shoes will currently be targeting consumers in Lahore only but hope to expand to Punjab and then, the rest of the country. Currently, the Hometown Shoes team is busy with production and fine-tuning their website. Towards the end of March, they will be organizing an exhibition of handmade crafts in Lahore. Don’t miss it!

When asked how he sees Hometown Shoes expanding, Waqas responds, “We are reaching out to other local artisans to add a variety of handmade leather products like handbags, wallets and belts. So there is a lot that is still to be found and work on. We are very excited about what is ahead for us”.

To follow Hometown Shoes progress, subscribe to their blog. You can also follow them on twitter and like them on Facebook. If you missed TC-P’s original post on the P@SHA Fund for social innovation, check it out here.

Word cloud generated from TC-P Top Social Enterprise Survey responses

On December 2011, #socent buffs in Pakistan voted for their favorite social enterprise through TC-P’s Pakistan’s Top Social Enterprises in 2011 survey. Here’s what we learned:

Naya Jeevan:  Pakistan’s Top Social Enterprise

An overwhelming majority voted for Naya Jeevan, a not-for profit social enterprise that provides low-income families with access to catastrophic healthcare through their unique micro-insurance program. Founded in 2007 by Asher Hasan, the organization is currently headquartered in Karachi.

Incidentally one of TC-P’s first #socent spotlights was on Naya Jeevan. For a more detailed insight into the organizations, have a look at our Q&A with founder, Asher Hasan here.

2011 has been a great year for Naya Jeevan. In the past one year, the organization has quadrupled its number of beneficiaries. The total beneficiaries now enrolled in Naya Jeevan health plan is 15,300. New clients that have come onboard include:

  • Pakistan International Container Terminal Limited
  • Philip Morris
  • Alucan Pakistan (Pvt), Alu Pak Pakistan (Pvt)
  • HRSG Outsourcing
  • Philips Pakistan
  • CinePax (Box Office)
  • FM 91
  • Abu Dawood Trading Co, Pakistan
  • Indus Pharma
  • DHA Services

Founder and CEO, Asher Hasan was also awarded World Economic Forum/Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011 and the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship.

In addition to expanding its client base and continuing to receive global recognition, Naya Jeevan initiated two very promising projects:

NGO Schools: Philanthropic Model

The project is a pilot to compare health insurance to managed healthcare in NGO schools across Pakistan. Currently 7,309 NGO school children are enrolled in either an indemnity or managed healthcare plan across the country. Some participating schools are Manzil School in Karachi,  Zindagi Trust’s ‘I Am Paid to Learn’ schools, SOS Village, DIL schools in Khairpur, Mashal School in Islamabad and Sweet Home Foundation.

 Artpreneurs for Change

Naya Jeevan is currently running an initiative called “Artpreneurs for Change” to help children with disabilities enroll in the Naya Jeevan managed care health plan. The project is a collaborative effort between Naya Jeevan, NOWPDP (Network of Organizations Working With People With Disabilities in Pakistan), Fulbright alumni and art therapists. Seed funding was given by the US State Department as a part of the first ever Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF). The project aims at running art therapy classes in three schools for children with disabilities (Dar-ul-Sakoon, ACELP, and Ida Rieu) and to use auction proceeds from the resulting artwork to raise awareness and funds for the healthcare of these children.

Your Responses

Kashf Foundation, Pakistan’s premier microfinance institution was voted as the next top social enterprise of 2011. It was recognized by voters as having the most community outreach and social impact in rural Pakistan. Read TC-P’s detailed piece on the foundation here.

While Kashf Foundation and Naya Jeevan have been consistent #socent faves in Pakistan, we we were happy to see some voters point towards some of the newer or lesser known initiatives as well:

About Pharmagen:

Pharmaceutical drugs in developing countries is an important issue, and I’m glad there are organizations like Pharmagen out there that seek to maintain a bare minimum quality of drugs available to the public. As far as I hear, they’re doing a good job at what they do.

About Jassar Farms:

(Reason for voting for Jassar Farms): Potential social impact. Huge in my opinion – far greater than others. It’ll enable BoP to create value through ‘more’ productive assets and increase income levels. Investments in education, health, housing will surely follow then in a more sustainable manner.

About Participatory Development Initiatives:

Ideological affinity with concept of participatory development. Especially impressed with PDI’s initiative on land rights; not aware of any other local organizations working on this very crucial issue.

Thank you once again to all those who participated in our survey. Your feedback helps us highlight the work of these great innovative organizations and encourage the social entrepreneurship space in Pakistan. If you have suggestions regarding which social enterprises to highlight in 2012, write to us


TC-P sits down with Sarah Adeel, the founder and CEO of LettuceBee Kids, an emerging heartfelt  initiative that aims to prepare communities to support street children in a connection-based, community centric context. Sarah Adeel is a Fulbright Scholar and a graduate from Rhode Island School of Design, where she was the recipient of the Award of Excellence. She is also a part of the Social Innovation Initiative program and Persuasive speech at Brown University.

What’s the story behind LettuceBee Kids? Your website tells us that your research project at RISD explored family and community structures in relation to the design of orphanages. Can you explain what parts of your research led and guided you in the creation of LettuceBeeKids?

It was the summer of 2008. I was visiting Pakistan for a comparative analysis between orphanages in the developing world and foster care homes in the developed countries. I met Musa in of the orphanages. He was six, pale and wide eyed. Two ladies brought him in one morning. The person in charge was told that he was found on the streets, crying, and that he should be taken in. Upon further investigation, we realized that someone had raped him the previous night and left him limping by the street. When they took him out, all his clothes were blood stained & he was still limping. He was only 5.

It was his expression or a complete lack of it that chilled me to my bones. I was shocked. This experience triggered in me the urge to find a solution to help these children who have no one but themselves.  That, I believe was my moment of truth.

I once read, “A life without purpose has no value. A purpose that is focused on oneself has no meaning.” This quote, my experience, a book, ‘The Little Prince’ and my thesis project at RISD, they all came together and LBK was born—that is now bound to help all such children and reshape their futures. To be honest, while I am doing this to bring positive change in their lives, I am just as much wanting to help them to help me, because I do not know any other way to what subjectively can be termed remotely as ‘happiness’ or a life with a purpose.

Tell us about your team.

LettuceBeeKids team brings together complementary expertise in childcare, community participation and awareness, education, start-ups, and sustainable businesses in local markets.

Mohsin Ali Afzal a fellow Fulbright scholar is a MBA graduate from UC Berkeley. He helps Lettuce Bee Kids with the strategic and business planning. Jabbar Bangash who deals with the media and online presence of LettuceBee Kids holds a Master’s Certificate in Project Management  from Carleton University along with a Bachelors of Computer Science from University of Windsor.  Naveed Alam, a MBA graduate from the Haas School of Business adds value to LBK through his business acumen and financial skills and his two passions – helping children and making delicious sandwiches.

Our board of trustees is comprised of Elizabeth Dean Hermann, founder of the DESINE-lab @ RISD which brings design thinking, practices and outcomes together with innovation and entrepreneurship to address issues of global poverty and social and environmental injustice; Asad Jamal, the chairman and Managing Director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson ePlanet Ventures; and Gordon Bloom, the director and founder of the Social Entrepreneurship Collaboratory (SE Lab) at Harvard University where he focuses on the creation and development of social change organizations.

In your website, you described LettuceBeeKids as a social enterprise. Can you tell us about its business model and how you intend to go about fundraising?

One key factor for LettuceBee Kids is to try to achieve a certain level of sustainability and not completely rely on donor funding or philanthropy.  A carefully researched support system has been devised that will involve the local community in the upbringing of these children and make these children an integral part of the society. This support system will also make their home, a self-sufficient and sustainable mechanism of survival and self-actualization for them by generating internal revenues In order to achieve that goal, we have several revenue generation activities as part of the LBK eco-system. These include;

  • The more you grow the more you grow [LettuceBee Deli]
  • The more you play, the more you play [LettuceBee Band]
  • The more you draw, the more you draw [LettuceBee Design]
  • Adopt a Grandparent [LettuceBee Yours]

Currently we are in the seed funding stage and targeting a select few investors whose vision is aligned with LBK. We are also in the process of finalizing our board of trustees.

How do you go about selecting the children that will benefit from LettuceBee Kids? What programs and mechanisms do you have in place that they stay connected to their communities? 

We are currently in the process of documenting and profiling street children. We are trying to get a better understanding of them, their story and their aspirations. Through this first phase, we hope to identify the first batch of lettuce-bee-kids, those most in need and those that can benefit from the lettuce-bee-kids vision.

What’s your plan for scale? 

We have some thoughts on scaling the project but right not we are not thinking about expanding lettuce-bee-kids till the first pilot project is proven feasible and successful.

What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Have the right outlook in life with a goal to strive for. Everyone finds their calling at some point in time and when you do, just don’t hesitate to give it your all. Remember that life is all about making decisions, they just have to be for the right reasons. Drink water, eat health, run a little everyday and always try and keep the 3 P’s in sight: perseverance, patience and pursuit of happiness.  They will take you places.

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.

Via Next Billion/Flickr

According to a May 2011 research paper from University of California-Irvine School of Law, “An Emerging Platform: From Money Transfer System to Money Ecosystem,” the authors found that mobile money is becoming an infrastructure backbone that connects lower-income clients with a number of financial service providers in a transformative way. The paper specifically discussed the impact of m-banking in Kenya, but its findings are arguably applicable to other countries, including Pakistan, where there are over 100 million mobile phone subscribers and 66% of the population live on less than $2 a day.

In 2009, Telenor Pakistan, one of Pakistan’s largest mobile operators, partnered with microfinance institution Tameer Bank to launch EasyPaisa, the largest m-banking (or “branchless banking”) initiative in the country. According to Jake Kendall at Next Billion, in March 2011, 1.3 million customers processed 1.9 million EasyPaisa transactions and $39.2 million in transaction flows. He added, “Easypaisa has conducted more transactions in its first 18 months than any mobile money deployment worldwide except M-PESA [in Kenya],” having served 10 million unique customers.

Pretty impressive, I’d say.

But why turn to mobile banking in the first place? In an article for Foreign Policy, Christine Bowers noted, “The World Bank estimates that in many countries, over half the population – the ‘unbanked’ – has never had a bank account.” The poor, she said, are often terrified of banks, “since they’re often humiliated or ignored when they try to enter them.”

In Pakistan, with a population of 187 million, there are only 12 million bank accounts. Banks often intimidate many lower-income Pakistanis, who find them confusing and tedious. Another reason for a low number of bank accounts? There are currently only 9000 bank branches in Pakistan – not enough to serve the entire country’s population. Without this formal access to banking, many low-income communities resort to other means, including the use of the post office, money orders, and even leveraging the underground movement of money.

Enter EasyPaisa, which is accessible to customers everywhere, regardless if they are a Telenor mobile subscriber. EasyPaisa shops are around the corner, accessible, and transactions are instant. Since the launch of this initiative in 2009, EasyPaisa has grown from 2500 to 12,000 shops throughout Pakistan – more access points than the entire banking sector combined. Tameer, with its focus on low-income communities, brings its customer base and license for banking, while Telenor Pakistan is the GSM operator that is able to leverage its distribution network (Telenor has a strong GSM customer base among Pakistan’s rural areas).

While EasyPaisa’s original intended purpose was to provide the poor access to finance, early adopters of branchless banking seem to be a mix of different income classes, since those customers tend to understand the value of and use of mobile banking, often resorting to it for convenience purposes. However, this does not mean that the intended low-income customers are not serviced by m-banking. According to CGAP, which carried out 327 interviews with EasyPaisa customers at 10 locations across both rural/semi-urban and urban Pakistan, around 41% live on less than $2.50 per day (the globally considered poverty line), while 69% live on less than $3.75 a day. Of the users surveyed, over 90% rated EasyPaisa as highly effective (almost no one rated it as ineffective).

The findings ultimately show that the initiative has achieved strong penetration among Pakistan’s poor and unbanked population. Kendall in his aforementioned Next Billion piece noted, “This offers promising evidence that EasyPaisa could be an effective vehicle for increasing financial inclusion among Pakistan’s poor and unbanked populations if it can successfully migrate to an account-based, rather than OTC-based service.”

It also means that the environment is ripe for other initiatives to address the same issue of the unbanked poor in Pakistan. So far, Shorebank International, an impact investing firm, has partnered to support UBL Omni, which is located in over 580 cities and towns across Pakistan. Other mobile service providers are attempting to launch similar initiatives. The broader vision, of course, is ultimately affording the poor the dignity and the access to financial services that they did not previously have. EasyPaisa has so far been a pioneer in this market, but as other initiatives increase their presence, financial inclusion will potentially expand.

Virtual Education can be defined as instruction in a learning environment where the teacher provides course content through course management applications, multimedia resources, the internet and video conferencing (Wikepedia 2011).

Triggered by the abysmal state of education in Pakistan, a small group of motivated individuals in Lahore decided to utilize virtual education as a way of addressing the teacher shortage in Pakistan as well  as tapping into the experience of veteran teachers. VEFA aims to ‘generate educational resources to help make up for deficiencies in the schooling system’.

VEFA’s model is currently centered on approaching experienced teachers and getting their lectures on primary school subjects recorded through the Camtasia Studio software. Each lecture will cover a topic or part of a topic of the national curriculum and will be for a maximum duration of 20 minutes. The lectures will then be uploaded and made available online. Once the series of lecture is complete for classes I to 8, VEFA will play the lectures at Virtual Weekend Academies at select locations throughout Pakistan free of cost. The VEFA team is currently working on their first pilot in Lahore. During a Q&A with the TC-P team, VEFA founder Memoona Sajjad expressed great hopes for the project:

VEFA’s first MIRAS weekend academy is all set to be launched in July 2011 at Lahore inshallah. This pilot project shall be the first venture of its kind and the progress of our first batch of students will be monitored to assess the success of this work. We hope participating students will gain not only textbook knowledge but will develop a deeper awareness of relevant issues. VEFA aspires to develop among students a sound grasp over concepts, values and the application in the wider world, of the knowledge imparted to them.

VEFA’s target audience are students of grade 1 to 5 studying at public schools in rural or urban areas in Punjab. Their lectures are currently focused on Math and English however, VEFA is considering developing lectures on ethics and Iqbaliyat.

At the moment VEFA is mostly in its production stage. They hope to cover all topics from classes 1 to 5 by January 2012. However they have also identified two in-need schools in Lahore who have agreed to host VEFA lectures on weekends. Further Memoona is confident that online viewership for VEFA lectures will increase dramatically and they will reach their target audience of at least a thousand school children in five years.

The steadily growing use of technology in the field of education is definitely exciting. Just recently a TC-P commentator Muhammad Ansari informed us of a group of students in Karachi using video call technology to teach students about unconventional subjects in order to develop critical thinking. Projects such as these set an important precedent for public and private school teachers. It will be great if the Ministry of Education begins to pick on these trends and get public school administrators to start thinking on more innovative lines.

If you are interested in VEFA’s work, they are currently recruiting teachers and volunteers. For further information, please visit their website.

The Palestyle Clutch

(This article was cross-posted with CHUPWhen was the last time you looked down at your trendy-but-questionable harem pants and asked yourself, “Where did these come from?” No, they did not claw its way out of the ’90s, fresh from an MC Hammer video, as much as your friends might like to tell you (don’t worry, they’re just jealous). Aladdin didn’t call, asking for his pants back (honestly, you might need new friends). No, harem-pants person. Those pants were the result of a long and complex value chain, and in some instances, players (often the people making the garments in countries like Bangladesh or Pakistan), were exploited in the process. The ethical fashion movement aims to address and remedy some of these issues – many labels using fair trade or ethical practices or producing eco-friendly products. Ayesha Mustafa is the Pakistani founder of Fashion ComPassion, a UK-based ethical online retailer that markets socially responsible luxury brands. In the eight months since Fashion ComPassion was established, she has worked with companies like Polly & Me (with Chitrali women in Pakistan), Palestyle (with Palestinian refugee women), andBeshtar (Afghanistan). Below, she tell us more about her organization:

Q: What inspired you to establish Fashion ComPassion? How did your past interests or background converge for the creation of this innovative organization?

Fashion and giving back to society have been my two biggest passions and Fashion ComPassion is a combination of the two. I had been toying with the idea of creating my own fashion company for awhile, and just decided I needed to make that call and switch careers.

Growing up in Pakistan and the Middle East where one sees discrepancies in wealth, poverty, and a lack of opportunities for girls and women, I wanted to create a platform that could directly support the most marginalized. I also interned at Grameen Bankwhen I was 17 and saw the transformational impact it had on women, their families and society. This stayed with me and throughout my life, I have worked and volunteered with organizations that supported women causes/rights.

Q: Fashion ComPassion currently supports four labels with four different influences – Polly & Me from Pakistan,Palestyle that empowers Palestinian refugee women, Beshtar from Afghanistan, and Savannah Chic, which is designed by African artists. How did you go about forming these partnerships and did you initially want Fashion ComPassion to be global in scope?

The mandate of the company is to create a platform for women artisans in the developing world, i.e Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, so from the onset I wanted it to be global but focus on countries that are war-torn and where there is a real need to help and empower women. I started with a vision document about the company and first i approached Polly & Me, and the rest just fell into place with research and referrals from friends and family.

Currently, I have added new brands in the portfolio: (1) Bhalo is a limited edition clothing and accessories label that works with women in Bangladesh. The products are made from ethically hand woven and naturally dyed cottons and silks. Bhalo works with two fair trade organizations, and provides employment, healthcare, child care to women who otherwise would not be employed due to mass production. Bhalo works with the same fair trade organization as People Tree. (2) Lost City is a NY label that works with artisans in Lucknow, India to revive their traditional craftsmanship with contemporary style.

I am no longer working with Polly & Me and Savannah Chic at the moment and in the midst of creating a new online website for the garments and goods.

Q: According to your philosophy, “Not only do we source responsibly from brands that contribute to society and empower women, our aim is to also donate a percentage of our sales to charities that support marginalized women in various communities around the world…” How does Fashion ComPassion do the due diligence in ensuring their brands empower women? What charities do you currently support?

We have strict criteria when we look at brands to partner with and support. Some of the things we look at are:

  1. Why was the company formed? Was it created to address a social problem, and what is the mission or mandate of the company?
  2. Does it have a strong social development ethos?
  3. How is fashion and social development combined to form the label?
  4. Does the brand work or partner with any local fair trade or women right organizations?
  5. How are the artisans paid?
  6. What are their working conditions?
  7. Are the artisans trained and given creative guidance?
  8. Are they given any other assistance in terms of health care or child care?
  9. Does the label support the community and give a certain percentage back?
  10. Can the label provide evidence and documents to support how they are helping and empowering the women they work with?

Fashion ComPassion is also committed to give back 2% of its annual profits to various women organizations that are fostering positive change and impact on women. I am looking at three at the moment, but since I am part of Women for Women International’s Junior Leadership circle, I would like to help with one of the countries they are setting up a Country Office in or a project they are focusing on.

Q: Where do you see Fashion ComPassion in the next year? In the next five years?

In the coming year, I would like to build greater awareness of Fashion ComPassion and its brands by focusing on various events and collaborations with organizations that have a similar mandate. The new website will be launched with an online shop which will allow customers to buy products directly. I am also looking at pop up stores to sell some of the brands.

In the long term, because my biggest industry inspiration is Joan Burstein, the founder of Browns, I want to make Fashion ComPassion follow Brown’s footsteps and be the one-stop shop for high-end and unique ethical fashion.

Q: The convergence of fashion and social impact is a really fascinating marriage right now with organizations like Elvis & Kresse and Goodone, which supply ethical and eco-friendly clothing to fashion stores. In the value chain, how does Fashion ComPassion market these brands to the larger or more mainstream markets?

Fashion ComPassion’s purpose is to bring together high-end socially responsible brands from the developing world and create a market for it in the UK and other countries like the US. We are starting with an online website that will sell to customers globally, we also organize events at galleries, boutiques, and form partnerships with other ethical fashion brands and women organizations. We have also taken part in fashion shows and plan to be part of trade shows for ethical fashion. With time, we plan to supply our brands to other online fashion sites in the U.S. and ethical fashion boutiques there.

Q: What has been the reaction so far to Fashion ComPassion? What has been your biggest success and failure so far?

The reaction so far has been phenomenal. I honestly didn’t except such a positive response from customers, press, retailers and other individuals. I think I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have had it not been for the help and support of numerous people that have believed in me and the company.

Beshtar Burqa Dress

My biggest success was when Beshtar’s Burqa Dress was one of the pieces of Vogue’s Green Carpet Challenge. In less than three months since I started the company, the dress was included in this prestigious selection which included some of the most well-known designers that are working on their ethical lines.

I wouldn’t call it a failure but not being able to find the right socially responsible brand from Pakistan that I can work with and make a name for in the UK. This is something that I am researching and have talked to various individuals in Pakistan both in social development and fashion. I hope that very soon, I can get a brand from my own country and create a positive image of Pakistan through fashion.

You can become a learn more about Fashion ComPassion by visiting their website or joining their Facebook page

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.

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.

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