Happy Monday! Here’s our bi-weekly round-up of stuff #socent people like. Enjoy!

Events:

Opportunities:

Resources:

  • ATTN: policy makers and implementers: Read this important article on how public administrators could (and need to) be the future of social innovation in the world. Imagine the possibilities in Pakistan!
  • Here’s a handy list of 15 social venture capital firms you should know about!

Some advice:

  • An important round-up by Sasha Dicter of 20 questions every fundraiser must be able to answer.
  • “Accelerators offer hands-on help from experienced mentors, sources for seed capital, and sometimes even co-working locations, and give entrepreneurs what they need to take a startup from concept to market more quickly and effectively than if they go it alone” – Lydia Dishman from Fast Company gives you some tips on how to get connected.

Is social entrepreneurship in Pakistan restricted to the realm of the Western-educated elite, or can we find traces of it in our local culture? TC-P Contributor, Favad Soomro in his guest piece below explores ‘Aadhiyari’, a fascinating indigenous social investment model found in rural Sindh. 

Working in rural areas has its charms. You not only get to see the serene landscape and enjoy the hospitality of people, you also come across things which you normally don’t find in books. Rural markets, though very rudimentary in many ways, offer certain unique opportunities and surely micro entrepreneurs step up to exploit those and create value in their own context.

During one of routine visits to interior Sindh, while in conversation with Khadim Hussain, Sales Manager of Micro Drip – a social enterprise selling low-cost drip irrigation systems, I came to know about a very interesting social investment model. Khadim said that he invests in his native village’s economy to create social impact while earning handsome return on his money. His village near Mehrabpur in District Naushero Feroze is a typical rural village where the economy is dominated by agriculture and livestock. He said that he invests in ‘Aadhiyari’: a livestock investment model practiced widely in rural Sindh. I probed more and here is what I found out:

 The Model

Aadhiyari or Aadhiyaro (from the word Aadha or Adh meaning half) model works on principle of equal sharing between partners. Investors like Khadim provide capital to skilled resources in rural economy who know how to raise livestock but don’t have enough resources of their own. They are typically the laborers or landless farmers. Investor only provides seed money which is used in purchase of very young livestock. The partner, let’s call him the service provider, takes the custody of livestock, feeds it and helps it grow through his own resources. Typically, the investment for smaller livestock like goats is for nine months to a couple of years. At the end of the stipulated period, the livestock and its off-spring is sold in the market. Investor and service provider take their original investments out first and the rest of proceeds are shared equally between the investor and the service provider. The value is generated in raising the livestock which fetches pretty handsome prices in semi-urban or urban markets.

 

The return for investor alone ranges any where from 50 to 100% depending upon the duration of investment. This information of course is based on non-documented sources and must be discounted.

 Breaking it Down

There is a variety of motivation at play here. Investor invests to earn good return on capital. Very few do it to increase money supply in rural economy and create a social impact. In some cases, poor households, having some livestock of their own, get into the arrangement to raise working capital in short run. The motivation however does not change the rules of the game.

Like any other investment, the model carries its own set of risks. It is entirely based on social arrangements. No formal agreements are signed and in case of a conflict, arbitration is done through social arrangements. Other risks include death and disease of livestock. The coverage of veterinary services in rural Pakistan is pretty poor and poses this inherent risk in its full magnitude. Another risk relates to the security as we see theft of livestock a common crime. However, it seems that certain equilibrium has been achieved in our social context and investors are not really shy of taking on these risks, making Aadhiyari a thriving business. As I found out later, this model is in practice in Punjab also where it is known as Bhaiwali. I am sure it will be in practice in rest of Pakistan and with our shared history, in some form in rural India as well.

 A Social Enterprise? Perhaps

If we analyze this model, on surface it looks well suited to our rural economy. Each player is engaged in a role that suits him the best. But is it sustainable? Is it scalable? It surely does not treat Bottom of Pyramid as consumers. It is more in line with social enterprises, like BLISS, which eventually make the Bottom of Pyramid a ‘producer’. It also has similarities to microfinance with a difference that in this case, investment is made in the form of micro-equity rather than micro-lending. This aspect of sharing in profits gives this model a religious tint, bringing it in line with Islamic mode of finance.

 The potential of such micro-equity investments in rural development can be significant. If coupled with good veterinary services and capacity building in livestock management, it can help increase income levels of landless farmers. A structured approach can mitigate risks and make this indigenous arrangement into a formal development strategy. After all Grameen Bank, and microfinance in general, was also established providing formal structure to economic arrangements already in place in Bangladesh’s social context.

About the TC-P Contributor: Favad Soomro works for promoting water conservation technologies in agriculture sector in Pakistan. A business graduate with experience in agriculture input supply chain, he is trying to figure out his and social entrepreneurship’s place in Pakistan’s development maze.

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

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

Events:

Opportunities:

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

Opinion: 

Some inspiration: 

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

 

Happy new year dear readers! Here’s our round-up of some of our favorite #socent updates:

  • If you haven’t already, read this great article on Express Tribune about Ego, a clothing retailer that invests in entrepreneurial employees.
  • Alex Gregor from Acumen Fund writes a thoughtful post about the ‘Other Side of Pakistan‘.
  • Read this quick but important op-ed on how to start executing your business plans.
  • All aspiring social entrepreneurs should check out this exhaustive list of how to fund your social venture
  • In the process of setting up your own start-up? 3 young advocates in Lahore have set up the Altair Initiative, which specializes in working with new entrepreneurs to ensure their businesses achieve maximum legal security.
  • Teach For Pakistan’s fellowship application for 2012 is now live, go check it out! 
  • Acumen Fund is hiring a Pakistan Fellows Program Manager, apply!
  • Tomorrow is the last day to participate in our Pakistan’s to social enterprises of 2011 survey. If you haven’t already, please help us support their work and vote for the social enterprise that speaks to you the most.
  • Interested in writing for us? E-mail us at thinkchangepakistan@gmail.com and let us know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalsoom writes:

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

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

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

Hello dear readers! Here’s your weekly round-up of all things #socent:

  • Can Venture Capital Save the World? Forbes magazine runs a cover story on Acumen Fund’s work in its December 19 issue. Also have a look at the Forbes list of top 30 social entrepreneurs in 2011.
  • Impact investing and social entrepreneurship are inextricably linked. To learn more, read the transcript of the roundtable on impact investing in the Standford Social Innovation Review.  The panelists included Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, Katherine Milligan, head of North America and Middle East at the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Johanna Mair, chair of the Global Agenda Council on Social Innovation, associate professor of strategic management at IESE Business School, and academic editor of Stanford Social Innovation Review among others.
  • HSBC Bank invests $4 million in the Social Enterprise nvestment Fund that aims to provide creatively structured, growth capital to social enterprises that have the potential to have a significant social impact, and provide a financial return target in excess of 5 per cent to investors. Read more about the move here.
  • Vodafone is starting mobile banking in India. The service, which is called ‘M-Paisa’ enables selected retailers to offer banking services to Vodafone customers, who are able to withdraw from or deposit to their HDFC account and transfer funds using their mobile device. If you haven’t already, read our related post on Telenor’s Easy Paisa.
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business  established the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing EconomiesThe Institute aims to stimulate, develop, and disseminate research and innovations that will enable entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders to alleviate poverty in developing economies.
  • Acumen Fund is hiring for Pakistan! For more details visit the Acumen Fund Blog.

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

So, what happened this week:

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

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.

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

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

Life In A Chocolate Fondue

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                            ***

Oh To Dream Big…

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                     ***

On Learning

There was a lot to learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Unanticipated

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                          ***

Peer-To-Peer On Crack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Reasons to Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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