Archives for category: Change-Agent

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.

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.

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

Today we interview the fearless Kalsoom Lakhani, fellow TC-P managing editor and editor of the CHUP blog.

So apart from running two blogs (covering diverse topics) late at night, what do you do to pay the bills and afford to travel across the world?

I currently direct Social Vision, which is the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources, a company in Washington, D.C. We provide seed funding and support to innovative initiatives and social entrepreneurs in their seed or early stages, mainly in Pakistan but I have two interfaith-related grants in the U.S. I work closely with some really amazing entrepreneurs, from those doing health insurance to solar energy to youth leadership, helping them jump-start their high potential ideas.

You’re also a bit of an entrepreneur yourself. What tidbits of information can you drop about your super-secret start-up?

I’m leaving my job at Social Vision this fall (scary!) to launch Invest2Innovate (i2i), a global social enterprise consultancy that matches investors, funders, and mentors with social entrepreneurs focused on income-generation and building sustainable enterprises in emerging markets. We believe that in order for the growth of entrepreneurship to flourish, a broader ecosystem needs to be in place.   We will support social enterprises, strengthen connections between investors and entrepreneurs, and as such help build sustainable solutions to poverty.

Our pilot will launch in Pakistan, with the aim of scaling to other emerging markets (Middle East? Southeast Asia?) in the future.

So, you obviously feel that there’s a bright future for social entrepreneurship. What drives you to believe this?

I believe in the approach social entrepreneurs use to solve long-standing development problems. The most successful ones are innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers with a genuine desire to achieve social and environmental impact, but they also never stop listening. That being said, it’s a really ‘sexy’ term right now, and people like to throw it around an unfortunate amount, so it’s important to keep our eyes wide open when identifying high-potential entrepreneurs.

The concept of social entrepreneurship is still new in Pakistan, despite plenty of opportunities for social entrepreneurs to solve problems. What do you think are the three most important strategies to building this sector?

Good question – I’d say: (1) Educating people about what social entrepreneurship actually entails and examples of currently successful social entrepreneurs globally and also in Pakistan, (2) Rebranding the narrative associated with failure – this pertains to entrepreneurship as a whole; many people are risk-adverse because failure is viewed as an ‘end’ rather than as part of the learning process. While this is not always the case, I do think becoming more comfortable with failure is key. (3) Fostering an ecosystem, or an environment that allows social entrepreneurship to truly flourish. It’s so much more than improving access to capital, we need to also develop mentor networks, support the construction of incubators and accelerators, etc.

As a networker, have you ever made a complete fool introducing yourself to someone new? Tell us about it!

Ah yes. So many times. I am actually really good at introducing myself to someone new, mainly because I live in the land of networking (Washington, D.C.) and have unfortunately grown accustomed to launching myself at complete strangers. I think my biggest problem arises because I tend to make really bad jokes when I’m nervous, and have more often than not completely insulted someone’s political view or place of work inadvertently. (Example: Me to stranger: Oh God. The UN! What do they do all day? Write very angry letters telling people how angry they are? Eh? Stranger: Uh yeah. I work at the UN. Me: (Silence))

Since ThinkChange Pakistan launched three months ago, our team has placed the spotlight on a number of social entrepreneurs, innovative initiatives, and trends happening in the Pakistan space as well as globally. We thought it was time to also turn the spotlight on ourselves, so you could get to know our team a little better. Below, meet Jeremy Higgs, one of TC-P’s managing editors, an Aussie living in Karachi, a Vegemite lover, and a social entrepreneur in his own right:

Q: So, Jeremy, tell us – what does social entrepreneurship mean to you?

I’ve seen that there’s a lot of different definitions of social entrepreneurship flying around, but for me, it’s someone who’s providing innovative solutions to social problems. This works across legal structures (for-profit, non-profit and hybrid), as well as the developing and developed world.

Q: How did an Australian land up in Karachi? Are you a spy? Was it a conspiracy to get Pakistanis to like marmite?

Funnily enough, a colleague recently admitted that she thought I was a spy for the first year of working with me. People and their conspiracy theories!
But yes, part of my agenda is to introduce the sensory wonder that is Vegemite (not Marmite!) to as many unsuspecting Pakistanis as possible. I’ve offered to make it the “right” way for many people (toasted bread, butter melted on top, with a thin layer of Vegemite), but few have ever taken me up on it. So far, that agenda has been a bit of a flop.
Aside from trying to spread an appreciation of Vegemite, I originally came back in 2007 to work for the Pakistani chapter of AIESEC (a global youth leadership organisation facilitating cultural exchange) for 2 months, which turned into 5 months, and eventually into 1 1/2 years. After that, I stayed!

Q: What is your opinion on the social innovation and enterprise space in Pakistan? Where do you hope it will be in 5 years?

I see plenty of opportunities for innovation. In a country like Pakistan, where, unfortunately, so much is broken, the flipside is that there’s an opportunity for improvement and to do it right. For example, we have a power shortage across the country, so why aren’t we closing the gap with electricity from renewable sources?
At the moment, there’s a lack of funding for the people willing to take risks and address many of the social problems faced, combined with a lack of support structures. I’d love to see strong entrepreneur networks, business (including social ventures) incubation at universities and industry-led funding for these initiatives, and I think we can make a start on that in the next 5 years.

Q: You are one of TC-P’s fearless managing editors. But you have, like, a real job and stuff. Tell us about it.

I tend to wear a lot of hats (see the next question for the next one!). By day, I run the Network of Organizations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP). We’re working to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to be a valued part of society, through collaboration with our network of 190 organisations, employment generation, resource-building and public awareness.
My challenge over the past 2 years has been to take it from an infant stage (it was established a year before I joined), into an organisation with direction and financial stability. I think we’ve made good progress with defining our direction and unique contribution to the space, but I’m not happy with our financial stability and where we get our money from. So it’s a constant challenge to try and innovate and work out how to bring in not just donations, but move towards revenues as well. More and more, I’m seeing the typical reliance on donations as more of a hinderance, which is perhaps why the concept of social entrepreneurship appeals to me so much!

Q: Your social enterprise GreenRoshni was established in February 2010 – what is the overall aim of the venture and how do you see it progressing in the near future?

GreenRoshni aims to bring energy solutions to communities without access to electricity.  A friend of mine, Ambreen Rahman, initiated it back in early 2010, traveling to Kashmir and Tharparkar to determine the receptivity of communities to solar lanterns that they would purchase.

We’ve moved beyond an initial pilot of 30 lanterns in Tharparkar, and are entering into a second round of distribution, with 100-500 lanterns. The response from communities has been great, but the challenge is affordability. At this stage, we’re also looking at how to develop a profitable business model from the sales and service of these products, which accordingly provides entrepreneurship opportunities for people in the communities.

Q: This is a tough question. Koalas or kangaroos?

Kangaroos! As you rightly pointed out, they can box (yes, dear readers, Kalsoom has been gently influencing the responses in this interview), but they’re also pretty bad-ass and have a tail that can cause some real damage. On top of that, joeys (baby kangaroos) sitting in their mother’s pouch are just too cute.

ThinkChange Pakistan sits down with Zehra Ali, Unreasonable Fellow 2010 to speak about “Ghonsla”, an innovative enterprise that provides low cost and green insulation for the developing world.

Can you explain what Ghonsla does? How does your business model work?

Ghonsla uses bi-products from the paper industry to produce highly effective, low cost and green insulation for the developing world. Currently the insulation is installed as a false ceiling material under existing roof construction. The insulation reduces heating costs, decreases health issues caused by indoor air pollution, and increases summer livability. The energy savings from the installation pay back the costs over 2-3 years. Our vision is to increase energy efficiency through use of recycled materials while creating local jobs and operating as a for-profit company.Providing affordable insulation is not sufficient to address the scale of the problem. The main components in the supply chain need to be addressed- production, education, distribution and installation. For production we have partnered with one of the largest paper and packaging firms in Pakistan. For education and marketing, we have completed 2 pilot programs covering over 30 households, educating the communities on Ghonsla’s benefits and word-of- mouth marketing. In addition, we have built working partnerships with leading social organizations for community-based education and promotion and are now engaging architects, developers and building material suppliers. We have extended our initial distribution through partnering with institutional customers operating building reconstruction and low income housing programs, as well as local distributors to supply materials directly to customers. For insulation installation in communities we are working through networks of existing installers as well as developing training programs for local entrepreneurs to install insulation in their regions.

What’s the story behind your venture?

While I was doing fieldwork on housing conditions in the earthquake-affected areas of Pakistan (EAAP), I met a woman by the name of Bibi whose family had received 15 CGI (corrugated galvanized iron) sheets to build a home with a lightweight roof, since the collapse of heavy earthen roof was the primary cause of death during the earthquake. When I asked Bibi if she felt safer in her new home her answer was quite the contrary. She told me that not only was it unbearable for her to cook indoors during the summer, but it was also impossible for the family to sleep with the loud noise the rain made on the roof during the monsoon season. However, her greatest worry was whether or not the family would have enough wood to burn to keep the homes barely warm in the winter. After seeing Bibi’s plight and talking to other members in her community, who were concerned over the impact of increasing household fuel-wood consumption, would have on the health and environment, I saw that there was the urgent need to address the poor insulation of homes, especially with CGI roofs. It was during the ‘Developmental Entrepreneurship’ class that I took in the Fall of 2007, where I met two of my colleagues (Emmanuel Arnaud and Monica Le) and with the support of one of my Professors who had worked on low-cost insulation in developing countries, we came up with the idea of Ghonsla.

Who are the founders and managers of Ghonsla? How large is your team and how does it work?

Founders include Emmanuel Arnaud, Monica Hau Le, Mubarik Imam and me. Currently I am the CEO and Katelyn Donnelly joined a few months ago as the CSO/ CFO. We have a team of 5 people who are managing the production operations and also an additional team of installers we are working with.

How have you gone about fund-raising for Ghonsla? What are some of the challenges you’re facing and what advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

We raised funds for our initial pilot through business plan competitions. However, since then we have not done any further fund raising as our focus has been on product development and optimizing our operations- activities for which we have been able to cover the costs through our strategic partnerships and bootstrapping. We are leveraging our existing networks as we build out our supply chain and sales channels. We have concentrated our efforts on initial customers who have large volumes and buying power . A business can not operate without the working capital and there will be no sales until the product can do its job right. So yes – be resourceful, constantly persistent and realize that 95% of the work is in the execution.

In 2010 you were selected as an Unreasonable Fellow. Can you tell us a little about the Unreasonable Institute and your experience there?

The institute was that point in my career where I needed to take a step back and reassess where I wanted to take Ghonsla. We already had two successful pilot projects and then it was time to start thinking big and position our activities to gain that momentum. At the institute I found the support and inspiration to do that and with my team back in Pakistan to streamline the production operations. The mentors, team and the fellows above all were instrumental in my personal growth as well as reinforcing Ghonsla’s vision. Nothing like being under one roof with such amazing people and also to have Boulder setting as a backdrop!

My departure from the institute coincided with the floods in Pakistan. Though I was not on the ground at that moment, I realized the tremendous need to build back communities in a way that is cost-effective, resilient and green.

Up till now, what areas (geographical) has Ghonsla primarily worked in? Have you received a favorable response from your target population? What are some of the biggest roadblocks you’ve come across (aside from funding)?

Since its inception in 2007, Ghonsla has primarily worked in Pakistan. We started our first pilot project in a remote community in Azad Kashmir, where we installed insulation in 12 homes and a school and monitored performance and tracked fuel-wood savings in a total of 30 homes with and without insulation. The feedback we got on our initial product was that it was effective how ever people would be more willing to pay for it if it looked better. So we went back to the drawing board.

We have learnt a lot since our pilot in 2008. Our product has changed so has our business model. The pilot project we have with UN-Habitat last summer in Islamabad provided third party validation for the cost effectiveness of our product.

Having spent a significant time on product development , we are now rolling our product out on into the market and also larger housing construction projects, especially those in the flood affected areas. We are excited about the momentum we have gained and look forward to the learning ahead of us.

What are your future goals/plans for the venture? How do you see it expanding?

Some of the goals ahead are increasing production capacity, working on financing programs to support retrofits in the low income and middle income market and diversifying our product line. Internationally, we hope to form strategic partnerships with other organizations operating with similar material and demonstrating the market case for using it as insulation.


Source: Acumen Fund

Acumen Fund is a non-profit venture capital fund that invests patient capital to strengthen and scale businesses effectively serving the poor. The organization also believes that “a unique pool of talent comprised of individuals who have the operational and financial skills combined with the moral imagination necessary to create innovative solutions to global poverty” can help strengthen these transformative businesses. The year-long Acumen Fund Global Fellows program achieves this by selecting well-qualified individuals and placing them in the organization’s investments around the world, giving them the necessary skills and support to work in the field for nine months and ultimately fostering a corps of next generation social sector leaders.

One of these leaders is Benje Williams, who has been working on the ground in Lahore for Acumen investee Pharmagen Healthcare Limited. Benje, a California native, came to Pakistan with a management consulting background and experience in Kenya and South Africa. He is currently working to develop and implement a marketing strategy for Pharmagen, a company that provides safe, clean, and affordable drinking water to low-income residents in the city.

The need for clean and safe water is great. According to USAID, water and sanitation related diseases are responsible for 60% of the total number of child mortality cases in Pakistan, with diarrheal diseases killing over 200,000 children under-five years old every year. In total, water-borne diseases cause 40% of illnesses in Pakistan.

Pharmagen Healthcare (Pharmagen Limited has been operating for 20 years, but Pharmagen Healthcare was launched only five years ago) aims to tackle this problem. Its chain of shops extracts water from underground, purifies it through a Reverse Osmosis plant, and re-mineralizes it. Water quality is then checked to WHO Standards, and affordably priced for low-income customers in Lahore.

In 2010, Acumen Fund made a $1.5 million investment in Pharmagen Healthcare, which will allow the company to scale their water shops from four to 30 by the end of this year, supplying half a million people with clean water daily.

A cohesive marketing plan is key to making this investment a success and helping the company expand. Since arriving in Lahore four months ago, Benje has performed market research and analysis to further understand customer expectations and preferences in the communities Pharmagen Healthcare serves.

The results have been interesting. Although the company previously undertook a mainstream marketing strategy more traditionally in line with urban customers, using radio spots and commercials, Benje found that a guerrilla marketing campaign would be more effective. As he told ThinkChange Pakistan,

In order to communicate Pharmagen Healthcare’s message and build trust within the community, we needed a more informal, rural-like approach.

The strategy, now in its implementation stage, will involve tactics like posters, in-shop promotions, partnerships with local businesses and school outreach.

This tailored strategy is a testament not only to Acumen and their close relationship with their investees, but also how important it is for social enterprises to understand the nuanced need of their low-income customers. Benje noted that going into the field – talking and listening to customers, as well as researching competitors – helps to enlighten discussion with Pharmagen Healthcare’s management team, strengthening the business’ market-based approach, as well as his own understanding on the ground.

While working in Pakistan presents its own set of challenges, Benje said his positive expectations prior to coming to Lahore were largely fulfilled, citing the hospitality and generosity he has received.  He added,

I think one of the biggest surprises has been from a religious perspective, how similar Christianity and Islam are. The appreciation and respect I have received from friends in Pakistan has been very encouraging and a very pleasant surprise.

Having previously worked in Kenya, Benje noted that he is also encouraged by the potential of the social enterprise space in Pakistan. “A large majority of Pakistanis may not yet know about social enterprise, but they could potentially be really interested in this space. From a cultural and religious perspective, there is already a strong conviction to tackle social justice issues, to help your neighbor. There is therefore potential to expand upon the pure charity approach to also gain support for Acumen Fund’s model,” which takes the best of charity and the markets.

Pharmagen Healthcare epitomizes this hybrid entrepreneurial approach, and, with Acumen’s investment and support from its fellows program, will undoubtedly have a long-term and sustainable impact among low-income communities. How’s that for moral imagination?

The following post has been contributed by Khalida Brohi, who founded Participatory Development Initiatives (PDI) – working within tribal customs in Balochistan to empower women. A fellow of the Unreasonable Institute, Khalida Brohi has demonstrated the ability of passionate young people to enact change from within their communities.

Looking back it seems like forever when living life according to my own choices has been a very ordinary and possible thing for me. I can easily count myself to be among the regular modern girls with almost every necessity of life but the truth is in this liberated life of mine when I receive a book to read, hundred of girls in my own community go without any education at all and when I am asked about what I want, girls in my family are given off into marriages without their slightest knowledge and choice…

Life offered me much more then I could ever imagine, I got my freedom, education, opportunities and power of decision making that no other girl in my family or community could get, I lived my life distributed between two very distinct realities: one my original inheritance, the second my gained identity.

My original inheritance is that I belong to a tribal community in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, to a society where traditions fix the fate of each girl to a family, where the birth of a son is celebrated with gunfire while a daughter’s birth is mourned. But luck turned out that I became the first girl in my community who could get her education in Karachi, and I was provided every opportunity to grow and learn and encouraged to speak my mind. In other words I became a fortunate recipient of getting a very different fate living inside a circle where there was no escape from customs that enforced seclusion, male dominance, wata satta (exchange marriages), arranged marriages, child marriages and even giving off girls into marriages as a means to settle tribal disputes.

Growing up I couldn’t help noticing the contrast between my life and the life of my own cousins and I had a constant intention to use my freedom as a source to make sure other girls in my community are as lucky as I am. But while already surrounded by disheartening realities, at the age of 16 I witnessed another heinous crime veiled in the name of customs. It was the murder of a girl in the name of so-called honor who chose her own marriage partner. That was the year I finally came to know about honor killings.

But my question was; could culture go as far as to murder women?

So it was, hundreds of women were being murdered under a veil of custom called honor killings for their actual or perceived “immoral” behavior and for bringing shame to their families. That behavior could be marital infidelity, refusal to submit to an arranged marriage, asking for a divorce, or flirting with a man. According to the United Nations about thousands of women are killed in the name of honor each year.

Being at such a young age and exposed to a brutal reality among many others that I already lived in, I took to doing whatever it was in my power to stand against traditions that enforced such laws for women and girls.

I didn’t know what exactly to start with, and what to do first. I started going house to house in my village and talking to girls to join me, and it was in 2005 I helped found Participatory Development Initiatives (PDI) in Balochistan, to empower other Pakistani women to have an equal, powerful say in the decisions of their life and provide socio-economic empowerment to girls and women to enable them a strong leadership in their households as well as in the society.

But challenging the patriarchal hierarchy is a daunting, and sometimes dangerous, undertaking. Realizing that tribal elders and mullahs would never allow me and my team to directly contradict the tribal traditions that lead to wata sata (arranged marriages), child marriages, and honor killings, we adroitly worked on changing perceptions from within. PDI soon established an innovative program called Sughar (Skilled and confident woman in local language) to promote and preserve the positive traditional customs of embroidery, music and tribal languages; while raise awareness of women’s issues by organizing wildly popular cricket matches and street theaters in villages; and empower women with income-producing Embroidery and Basic Education Centers, where women can learn, talk, share stories, and support each other while they work. By working within the traditional culture we were able to get villagers to accept and participate in our program, while we delivered messages of women’s empowerment and equal status.

Often times it has been debated that how could PDI expect good results when so much of opposition stands guard at the deep roots of any tribal community in Pakistan.

The truth is unlike other organizations PDI refuses to disrespect the existing ancient traditions and without standing against the tribal customs PDI directly engages the tribal leaders at village level by promoting three positive aspects of traditions such as traditional music, language and embroidery, thus to emphasis on the positive aspects and later discouraging the customs like wata satta, honor killing and child marriages PDI is able to convey a more clearer message then to create a chaos of opposition. This not only allows us admittance in the tribal setups but their full participation in our activities.

PDI further provides socio-economic opportunities to women under the Sughar program by establishing Women Learning and Skill Development Centers. We establish these centers in selected rural communities where each center gives an 18 month course to tribal rural women on value-adding and renovating the traditional embroidery and also provide basic education and literacy skills and raise awareness of rural women which builds their capacities towards decision making and contribution in their households and lives. The embroidery is later marketed via various means including Marketplaces of PDI and various exhibitions and stalls around Pakistan. Each course offers a minimum loan to each woman after graduating to initiate Primary Production Units (PPUs) at their homes, which are linked to the main market outlets established in three cities of Pakistan that is Karachi, Quetta and Khuzdar.

In this whole process PDI also educates men and advocates for the rights of women by various means such as organizing cricket tournaments, interactive theater, SMS, FM radio, Info- activism, digital advocacy and other media sources.

To date PDI is running the program Sughar in several districts of Balochistan benefiting about 2000 women.

While in 2008 PDI launched another of its programs in Sindh Province called Land for Women (LWP) when according to Benazir Bhutto Government Land Distribution Program, Sindh Government started distributing land among landless peasant women in Sindh. PDI took charge of monitoring this process in 2008 and when the program resulted in huge flaws and corruption, a large-scale advocacy and awareness campaign was launched by PDI with the support of Oxfam to enable tribal women in Sindh receiving their full right.

LWP raised awareness of the Government Land Distribution Program in various unreachable areas of Sindh by FM radio and other local procedures, distributed free application forms to thousands of women, helped in filling out forms and even provided transport to the open katcharies where land was to be distributed. PDI also offered legal support to hundreds of women who ended up with litigation matters upon them after receiving land. Eventually within three years, the Land for Women Program of PDI directly helped provide land to about 50% of the 3000 women from Sindh that have won lands.

It has been a long journey at PDI till now, while a longer one still awaits us, but everyday that moves ahead we grow as a team with much inspiration, persistence and dignity. Because in the end of each long day we do see smiling faces of women and girls with growing leadership powers and believe me that’s exactly what keeps us going.

I would never forget the day Zeenat wrote to me her name for the first time ever in one of PDI Women Learning and Skill Development Centers, going with a long, loud and proud pronunciation of Zee…naaaaa….thhh….

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