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Social entrepreneurship in Pakistan

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 By: Barira Faisal Khan

How many times have you felt overwhelmed by the apprehension of job security and a bright future. You might have looked for the best university that makes perfect candidates who are immune to the ever challenging economic situation of the country. But unfortunately, not all institutions can guarantee you the ideal future you are looking for.  In this entire complex scenario the word ‘Entrepreneur” seems like the only relief that can channelize the potential and creativity of an aspiring young person and can give you the freedom to be what you are best at. You might have heard it many times during life as its quite fascinating as compared to being a typical employee in a business enterprise. Adding up the word ‘social’ along with ‘entrepreneur’ takes the concept to a different level and approach.  Social entrepreneurship is the use of the techniques to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues. This concept may be applied to a variety of organizations of different sizes, aims, and beliefs.

When I decided to write about this subject, I felt the utmost need to address this issue. This concept is highly encouraged by the international organizations working for the progress and development in progressing countries. It’s true that overall the whole world is passing through a phase of financial upheaval and Pakistan being a progressing country is also greatly affected by the shortage of jobs. The situation is undoubtedly frustrating for many young and educated graduates of Pakistan. Not achieving the dream job after your degree and compromising on an unsavory and tedious job is all you settle for at the end. Life of every individual definitely needs financial security but there are certain other responsibilities that being a citizen of state one is responsible for. No society is ever free of problems but I am taking a different stance on it. What if we say that “Every problem is an opportunity” and the key is to dig out the solution and build up your foundations of financial security that are firm enough to support the social cause you are working for, thus providing you with a sense of high self esteem, contentment and a pride that you have played your part in the betterment of the society you live in.

The idea of social enterprise is comparatively new in Pakistan. Many international organizations are working on this concept in Pakistan, to spread, train and propagate the idea of social investment to help address entrenched social and environmental problems and deliver positive change in our communities and societies. The good news is that the social enterprise activity in Pakistan is growing. I would like to quote a few facts and figures from a report published by British Council on the same subject.

  • Pakistani social enterprises have experienced a recent spike in the number of new start-ups, and most social enterprises are led by people under 35 – the sector is young, and growing. Most leaders are aged under 35.
  • Just over a fifth of social enterprises are led by women – social enterprises hire nearly four times as many women. Female-led social enterprises are also more likely to recruit women.
  • Education, health and social care are the most common sectors of operation for Pakistani social enterprises and nearly half of social enterprises report that promoting education and literacy is a key objective. Nearly half of Pakistani social enterprises operate in the education sector.
  • Funding and financial support is the main barrier.

With these few findings of research by British Council that I have added, I would now like to share my personal experience of interviewing Mr. Huzaifa Ahmed of Rizq Foundation who is a young graduate of LUMS. The interview was conducted at FM 100 Lahore. Rizq is a social enterprise working for the betterment of society with its own unique idea of minimizing the food wastage in Pakistan which has now many corporate partners involved to support the cause. During the interview, Mr. Huzaifa Ahmed discussed Rizq as a social business model and stressed upon the need to urge the youth to pick up issues that need to be addressed in society, therefore, developing the business around a social problem.

Well, it can’t be as simple as it seems here but it takes time to add up every little factor that makes a big change, the key is to be consistent and patient. The settlement is likely to happen if the cause you have chosen is strong enough to work for, has a potential to be adopted on the national or global level and society genuinely needs a solution to it. It’s about time we give space to social startups.

Mr. Ahmed from Rizq said that;

‘We feel the people who do social workers have no financial security in life because obviously, finances are crucial in one’s life. But the model of social business not only provides you with financial security along with giving you the freedom of creativity and being your own boss. The economic sustainability is added to the country. If we want our youth and people from good universities to use their potential in other than corporate sector, we need to encourage them. People can make a huge impact if they enter the market with a solution to a problem. They have a whole life to invest in it. Eventually, money would come in. Solving any problem with dedication will lead to thousand other sources from where you can earn because things get attached. All you need is a problem-solving mind.’

While sharing his experience during the study period at university, he explained a simple idea of ‘Packing a lunch box’ for an underprivileged child from the extra coins at the cafeteria. The idea was taken up as a research project which proved that there was a positive trend in the attendance of school and children were more interested in studies because of the excitement a packed lunch box with good food brought for them. This example is a true reflection how any small problem in your environment can be taken up as a pilot study for starting your first social entrepreneurship. He further discussed the idea of opening up a ‘Food Bank’ for underprivileged people rather than distributing food on the streets. ‘Food Bank’ is a unique idea which provides a menu to the people who come here and gives a dining facility at the premises at extremely low prices. The food comes from different restaurants of Lahore who are now in partnership with Rizq. Rizq Foundation has undoubtedly the potential to attract government and international organizations to eradicate poverty and hunger from our society along with providing a sustainable social business model to the organization itself.

Currently, the only educational institute that is leading the ideology is Lahore University of Management Sciences. LUMS Social Enterprise Development Centre (SEDC) which is working towards capacity building of social enterprises since 2001. Its priority areas include governance, education, health, gender, and micro-finance/poverty reduction. Currently, SEDC is working on two Projects:

  1. National Leadership for Reproductive Health and Development Project (NLRHD) and
  2. Project Change: Role of Universities in socioeconomic development through enhancing the employability of their graduates.

The same structure needs to be applied to every university in Pakistan so it is ensured that the young graduates have a financial security along with a freedom of being a social entrepreneur.

Inspirational stories are everywhere around us from local to international level. Take the example of ‘The Kashf Foundation’ which began operating in 1996 in the area of Pakistan microfinance in order to aid the poor women living in the Lahore area. The first round of microcredit from Kashf was given out to 15 women who used it to start up small businesses which generated income for themselves and their families. Since that time, the client base of Kashf has expanded rapidly and currently reaches over 60,000. They continue to focus on the unique needs of women in Pakistan via a unique economic empowerment program which includes both financial assistance and non-financial services as well. Another example is that of Jassar farms which is a social business in Pakistan founded by a graduate of one of the most elite universities in the country. Shahzad Iqbal quit his job in banking to move to a small village in Narowal and get into the dairy farming business thus supporting the farmers of that area.

Hopefully, these examples of businesses have given you some food for thought when you reflect on what business to start and how it can contribute toward a social cause. I feel an utmost need to address and understand this concept because this is what our society needs now. It’s high time our youth should identify the problems around them and start building up their team thus working toward a possible solution which will definitely invite multinationals to add their contribution as part of their social responsibility. It’s important that teachers come out of their conventional style of teaching and adopt a practical and project-based research approach in every subject so the students can get used to with the framework in their future goals.

Leaving behind this fruitful thought by Friedman;

“One of the newest figures to emerge on the world stage in recent years is the social entrepreneur. This is usually someone who burns with desire to make a positive social impact on the world, but believes that the best way of doing it is, as the saying goes, not by giving poor people a fish and feeding them for a day, but by teaching them to fish, in hopes of feeding them for a lifetime.  – Thomas L. Friedman


” The writer is an educationist and also a broadcaster at FM 100. The author can be reached at [email protected] “

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