Archives for posts with tag: Pakistan

Apologies for the delay dear TC-P readers. Here’s a quick round-up of what you may have missed:

Pakistan Updates: 

Opportunities: 

Interesting Reads: 

Interested in contributing to ThinkChange Pakistan? Don’t be shy, write to us and let us know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VEFA Pakistan: Using Virtual Ed to Reach Students in Need

Thinking about Mobile Technology in Pakistan’s Classrooms 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Resources: 

 Nonprofit Collaboration Database 

 The Partnering Initiative 

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!)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Trucano in a (fairly) recent blog post touched upon the potential for SMS technology in the field of education in Pakistan. While Trucano was quick to point out that SMS technology is no substitute for schools, he successfully made the case for exploring how basic text messaging can be used to benefit people with low end mobile phones and posed important questions that need to be answered before we expand the use of SMS in schools.

Trucano highlighted the Asghar Mall College pilot project where 150 students who had their mobile phone numbers on file began participating in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men from middle to lower middle class backgrounds were sent simple multiple-choice questions.  Texts were addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a ‘mail merge’ function. The students would reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response based on their answer.  In this response, a notation was made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and then the correct answer was incorporated into a sample sentence.

Based on the results of the pilot, the Provincial Education Department of the Government of the Punjab is showing interest in exploring these activities further. The project principals have already started thinking about expanding the scope of their activities. For example they are currently toying with the idea of sending text messages to parents to encourage further parent involvement in the student’s academics.

Another example of a project using SMS technology in the field of education is Mobilink’s project to enhance literacy in girl students through SMS. The pilot project was launched in 2009 with the help of a local NGO, Bunyad. In the pilot phase, 250 female learners received informative Urdu text messages daily, which they were required to respond. The program was implemented with the help of 10 teachers enlisted by Bunyad. According to the Mobilink site, the results have been quite positive:

It was found that at the beginning of the program 57% of the girls were graded ‘C’ and only 28% of the girls managed to score an ‘A’. However, near the end of the project the situation reversed with percentage of girls receiving a ‘C’ dropped to only 11% whereas more than 60% of the girls were awarded an ‘A’.

(Of course one cannot jump to the conclusion that the jump in grades was the result of use SMS technology alone – we need more information regarding the information that was contained in the text messages as well as other related factors e.g. teacher involvement with students before, during and after the pilot)

Trucano emphasized that vocabulary-building and grammar quizzes are just two potential applications of this sort of SMS-based interaction. This is clear from the information we have of the Mobilink project where ‘informative texts’ were being sent to the girls as opposed to quizzes.

SMS technology definitely presents some interesting opportunities for classrooms in Pakistan. But before we can advocate for use of mobile in classrooms across the board, we need to move towards addressing the questions that Trucano posed in his blog posts: how many young students have phone and how many can afford to participate in education-related activities via mobile phones?

As we begin to collect more data and the feasibility of use of SMS or mobile technology in Pakistani classrooms becomes clearer, we definitely have some exciting possibilities ahead of us. Have a look at a couple of relevant and interesting examples below to get some inspiration:

The Jokko Initiative in Senegal: Empowering Women through Mobile Technology

Mobile Phone Adult Literary Program in Niger

Although this powerpoint presentation by Creative Commons on 25 uses of mobiles in classrooms is geared towards classrooms with affluent students with smart phones, they are some interesting options available to low-end mobile user phone as well. Check it out here.

If you’ve additional insights regarding the use of mobile technology in classrooms and know of some pilot projects that we may have missed out, please let us know in your comments!

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