My mother loves to tell a story that she thinks demonstrates my unfailing determination. I was 12 years old, and I had just auditioned yet again for a solo in my choir class. Like the times before, I was woefully rejected. My choir teacher told me – in a kind, roundabout way – that I was just not a very good singer. But damn did I love it anyway. I sang in the shower. I belted tunelessly to my father as he shaved in the morning. I sang while I did my homework. I sang everywhere. Rejection wasn’t a sign of failure; it was an opportunity to learn and work harder. Come high school, I still wasn’t amazing, but I was a lot better. And I finally got my solo. A number of them.
I have been like this my entire life. I am not sure if it’s an endearing quality or rather annoying to the parties involved, but every time I’ve been told I could not do something, or that I wasn’t good enough, it was an invitation to prove people wrong. It was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to. I’m not particularly brilliant, but I work hard. I listen. And I have the determination of a terrier (which are very determined dogs, in case you were wondering).
Yesterday, I officially launched my start-up company, Invest2Innovate, or i2i, after a year of working hard, listening, and being unfailingly determined. i2i is an intermediary organization, helping social entrepreneurs (those taking a sustainable & entrepreneurial approach to poverty alleviation) maximize their impact to the low-income communities they serve, and matching them with funding/investment capital.
I developed i2i because I noticed the numerous disconnects that existed in this very dynamic and innovative space. First, a lot of entrepreneurs in emerging markets have low access to capital – some are unsure how to get investor attention, and others need support in turning their potential model into an enterprise that truly has a social and/or environmental impact. Second, investors (this brand of investors/funders known as impact investors provide capital in order to achieve a social impact with some varied financial returns), quite justifiably, are more comfortable funding businesses in relatively less-risky markets. In India, Latin America (especially Mexico & Brazil), and East Africa, we have seen the noteworthy development of this environment – or ecosystem – that is amenable to the success of social entrepreneurs. It is by no means perfect or fully developed, but we’ve seen the growth of the players that are integral to the support of these businesses – from business incubators to consultancies to investor networks to even government policies (in some cases).
I do not believe in the notion that social entrepreneurs are individual rock stars. And my criticism of this space is that we have a tendency to treat them that way, which I think hurts rather than helps in poverty alleviation. I’m a much bigger proponent of a broader ecosystem approach, in order to develop a space where entrepreneurship as a whole can flourish – whether that means workshops around business development or developing local mentor networks or having honest conversations about failure. This is not the only solution to poverty alleviation, but we’ve seen that in many developed countries, the growth of small and growing businesses has created jobs, generated income, and provided services and products to low-income and well-deserving communities. This thinking forms the foundation of i2i, and we aim to foster the necessary local networks as well as the regional and global collaborations to grow the ecosystem in the “untapped” markets.
About three and a half years ago, I launched this blog. CHUP was founded with the intention of providing a more nuanced perspective of Pakistan amid polarizing media coverage. Today, the situation is in many ways worse than it was three years ago, and yet I am launching a company with Pakistan as its pilot market (we plan to scale to other countries within the next three years). I know what you’re thinking. “No one is going to invest in Pakistan now, Kalsoom. You are an idiot.”
You can call me whatever you like.
I’m either completely naive or I just refuse to give up on Pakistan. It is probably both, but chalk it up to the terrier-like determination. In our country, 66% of the population lives under $2 a day. Many children, especially girls, still lack access to quality education. Families have little access to the healthcare they deserve. Years of foreign aid have fostered further dependency and created a culture of handouts. And yet we have a population full of young people that want to see tangible change in their lifetime. They just need the tools and opportunities to do so. With i2i, we may only have the capacity to provide tailored services to a limited number of social entrepreneurs a year, but we are also helping to create an environment where more businesses can have the broader tools and support to come into this space.
I relate my thinking behind i2i because frankly, you deserve an explanation. I’ve been a pretty crap blogger as of late. And I apologize (I also hope to be a lot better). But also because I feel like this company will be nothing without a community, without people who feel invested in the movement we are trying to create. And that starts with you. (Yes, you.) I had a pretty cathartic moment yesterday when our website went live, but that moment was followed with the harsh realization of the uphill battle we have ahead. I, for one, am damn ready for it. I hope you are too.
You can “Like” Invest2Innovate’s Facebook page here, and follow us on Twitter for constant updates. You can also check out our newly launched website (so fresh so clean!), I also upload photos, quotes, and videos that keep me inspired on our Tumblr blog. Feel free to reach out with questions, concerns, and feedback.