The Global Social Network
Opportunity Pakistan Report by i-genius commission on social entrepreneurship:
In September 2013, fifteen people (Commissioners) from Australia, Italy, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, embarked on a journey to a country which for many was an entirely new experience. The aim was to discover the true story of a country which much has been written about but few, outsiders at least, have understood. The prism of this journey was social entrepreneurship – a form of business whereby the initiators explicitly seek to develop businesses to achieve a social or environmental benefit.
This Report seeks to articulate what the Commission discovered. Yes, it illustrates the many problems facing Pakistan but as any entrepreneur - social or otherwise - knows, such problems represent opportunities.
Pakistan’s problems present Pakistan with opportunities. Pakistan is a highly complex country. No body of people, however well intentioned, can hope to capture the magnitude of this complexity in a short visit of several days. But this, we trust, is an
authentic and considered portrayal of what we found.
All members of the Commission were agreed, Pakistan is a land of opportunity
The Commission, convened by i-genius, comprising 15 members from UK, Italy, Australia and Pakistan,
visited Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Punjab to ascertain the opportunities and challenges facing the
development of social entrepreneurship and innovation. In understanding its work, the Commission was
mindful of the positive changes taking place such as the historic transfer of power from one
democratically elected government to another, the talent residing amongst young people, the growing
empowerment of women and the long tradition of social giving.
The Commission was impressed by the optimism and resilience of all those it encountered in both urban
and rural communities, but it does not underestimate the enormous hurdles Pakistan faces in
overcoming corruption and division within its society, which are the primary barriers to fulfilling its
Social entrepreneurs are people who create businesses to promote social or environmental
improvement. The agenda for social innovation and entrepreneurship in Pakistan and beyond is to build
sustainable businesses and institutions for all the people of Pakistan.
The guide for all stakeholders who desire a prosperous and inclusive economy should be to make easier
the journey of those who desire to improve their country. The commission believes Pakistan has
considerable untapped potential amongst all sections of society which needs to be recognised and
A full report will be published in the coming weeks which will include recommendations for political
leaders, corporations, NGOs, finance and by specific sections of society including the wealthy elite. The
Commission encourages relevant government ministries to integrate social entrepreneurship and
innovation into government policy. It is willing to contribute to this process by sharing better practice
from other parts of the world.
Without money or even a laptop to call her own, young Pakistani entrepreneur Sidra Qasim moved from her small hometown in 2011 to the big city of Lahore to start a business.
Her friend, Waqas Ali, asked her to join him as his business partner, and she moved into a hostel and took a job tutoring during the day. In the afternoon, she would walk 30 minutes to Ali's college campus where the two could use a free computer lab to work on their website. When the lab closed at 8, they went to the library and pored over copies of Harvard Business Review, reading case studies about start-ups.
Ali and Qasim are examples of a philosophy that some of the world's leading thinkers and philanthropists have been betting on: that the Internet and technology will help entrepreneurs in developing nations build wealth and pull themselves and their communities out of poverty.
In 2012, they had their first production run, and launched their business selling handcrafted shoes online. Within six months, their company, Markhor shoes, had sold 200 pairs of shoes in 17 countries.
"We were able to give jobs to 24 local craftsmen," says Qasim, who acknowledges that there is still work to be done, but it's a start. "In our next run we would like to increase their pay by two, and offer health benefits."
Entrepreneurial advancements are especially impressive in the case of Pakistan, where power outages sometimes last 18 hours a day and foreign investment plummeted by almost a quarter in 2012 alone, according to the Central Bank. Facebook — the poster child of the new Internet age — was banned in Pakistan for a time in 2010, and YouTube, though easily reached through proxy servers, has been officially banned for four years.
And yet, information technology and communications is one of the fastest growing sectors in Pakistan's growing economy, which has seen its middle class double since 2002. In 2001, just 1 percent of the population was on the Internet; now Pakistan has 19 million Internet users, according to Census Bureau data.
"Even in small villages, people, especially young people, are using Twitter and Facebook," says Qasim. "People from my village order mangoes on their mobile."
Access to the Internet has made all the difference for young people like herself, says Qasim. Indeed, Ali, her hometown friend and business partner, got the idea for the online shoe business when he met local craftsmen in their village whose families have been making handmade shoes for generations, and saw their beautiful product. He thought they could find a wider audience by using Facebook and the Internet to market their goods.
Markhor's business links the old Pakistan with the new — in the glossy, hand-stitched shoes made in their local village, Ali and Qasim saw an opportunity that would exploit a hole in the market and employ local craftsmen who had been struggling to make ends meet.
Since 2000, Pakistani shoemakers had lost 90 percent of their business to China, leaving thousands without jobs. But the quality wasn't there with Chinese products. Ali and Qasim suspected that an international customer would appreciate a hand-crafted product that was hard to find, but available on the Internet.