Growing up in Islamabad, I would sometimes visit relatives in Karachi, but was seldom able to grasp the nuanced chaos that Pakistan’s bustling port city exudes. But last week, while visiting Karachi for work, I paid closer attention. The city is, after all, widely covered in the news for its volatile security situation. Corruption & crime are rampant. Bullet-riddled bodies, victims of targeted killings, become just another statistic. Inflation, load-shedding, and stand-still traffic are debilitating. All of these are part of Karachi’s daily reality. But what is often left out in the news stories – not surprisingly – is the vibrancy of the city. The energy of Karachi is palpable. The chaos is somehow still orderly. The atmosphere can both exhaust you and make you feel alive. As a born-and-bred Karachiite recently told me, “You can’t live with Karachi, but you can’t live without it.”

It is this dual identity that author Steve Inskeep touches on in his book, Instant City: Life & Death in Karachi, in which he writes plainly, “Everything that makes this instant city vibrant can also make it violent.” With 13 million people, Karachi is one the larger cities in the world, becoming “a metropolis that has grown so rapidly that a returning visitor from a few decades ago would scarcely recognize it. The instant city retains some of its original character and architecture…but has expanded so much that the new overshadows the old.”

In the book, Inskeep does not pretend to be an expert on Karachi, which is refreshing considering the number of books on Pakistan written by “experts” these days. Instead, the journalist and host of the National Public Radio (NPR)’s Morning Edition writes as an observer, weaving both the country and city’s history around the occurrence of one tragic event – the bombing of a Shiite procession on Ashura in December 2009 that killed at least 30 people in Karachi. The bombing and subsequent burning of Bolton Market are telling given the history of the city – its relationship with minorities, the increased tension amongst ethnic, religious, and political groups over the years, the tit-for-tat violence, and even the broader struggle with Pakistan’s identity. Inskeep wrote,

In this expressly Islamic state, well over 90 percent of the populace shares the same basic faith, yet throughout Pakistan’s history…that surface unity has masked great diversity and deep divisions. The divisions are especially evident in Karachi, which after receiving migrants from many places is Pakistan’s most diverse city. Karachi also faces a diversity of conflicts, which came into play after the Ashura bombing.

But while Instant City revolves around the Ashura bombing, it does not remain fixed around that day. Instead, the incident is strung into the broader narrative of identity & tragedy – how a country that was established with such hope and promise could have veered so drastically off course. Inskeep uses a steady stream of anecdotes, showcasing Pakistan’s history since the 1947 Partition and introducing familiar characters from the Pakistani fabric – Ardeshir Cowasjee, Abdul Sattar Edhi, and even Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

One of my favorite spoken word poets Phil Kaye eloquently stated during his performance, Repetition, “If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning… If you just wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, one day you’ll forget why.” Words, and in the case of Pakistan, ideas, lose their meaning the more often we say them out loud. In the case of Jinnah, the father of our nation, his presence can be felt everywhere – from rupee notes when money changes hand to banners to street signs bearing his name. And yet despite this constant reminder of Jinnah in our daily lives, we now seem very far from his lofty aims for this state. In the book, Inskeep wrote, “It is easy to forget that Jinnah was a living man, with a taste for fine suits and waspish remarks.” Jinnah was a minority himself – a Shiite – and he knew “the minorities in his new nation could bring Pakistan strength…” The author quoted the Quaid-e-Azam further noting [during the Partition of India & Pakistan],

As far as I can speak for Pakistan, I say that there is no reason for any apprehension on the part of the minorities in Pakistan. It is for them to decide what they should do…I cannot order them.

Both Pakistan and Karachi are dubbed as peculiar, and this is a simple but apt reference. Pakistan is a country built on an idea, with aims purposefully vague, undefined, and lofty. Inskeep wrote, “Much of Pakistan’s history – and Karachi’s history – would be driven by the tension between the aspiration and the act.” Dawn columnist Cowasjee, a Karachiite through and through, told the author, “Jinnah told my father…that each government of Pakistan would be worse than the one that preceded it.” We are a nation that oscillates between extremes, schizophrenic in our intentions and unsettled in our reality. In the 60-plus years that we have been a state, we seem more uncomfortable in our skin than ever before. Though Inskeep’s book focuses specifically on the lights – both glittering & fading – of Karachi, the theme is very indicative of the wider national phenomenon. Life and death are two absolutes that are juxtaposed in the same daily reality in Karachi.

Instant City is a great read for a number of reasons. First, Inskeep rightly fixes his position as a humble observer instead of a smug pundit, making the book appear unassuming and non-judgmental. Second, he successfully weaves in a number of smaller narratives that showcase the multifaceted personality of Karachi and humanizes its history. Third, though there have been some criticisms surrounding the importance placed on the 2009 Ashura bombing in the story [some feel the Shiite attack was not indicative of Karachi’s wider issues], the underlying themes surrounding the incident and subsequent burning (most likely perpetrated by the city’s embedded land mafia) do speak to broader issues currently raging in Pakistan as a whole. In short, Inskeep’s book is unique in its voice, refreshing in its outlook, and nuanced in its approach. Is it the best treatment of the numerous issues facing Karachi today? No. But it also doesn’t claim to be. It offers a fresh voice, something I at least was grateful to see.

To purchase a copy of Steve Inskeep’s Instant City: Life & Death in Karachi, click here.

Source: NYT

Yesterday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the political party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, held a rally in Lahore against the ruling coalition. According to the Express Tribune, “More than 100,000 supporters [some sources say 200,000+] gathered as a show of strength in what is traditionally the PML-N stronghold,” as Khan made strong remarks about an array of issues facing Pakistan, from minority & women’s rights to corruption. Below, Sahar Khan, a PhD student in politician science, relates her experience while attending the rally yesterday:

From the rooftop of Andaaz restaurant in Hera Mandi, the red light district of Lahore, one gets a full view of the Badshahi Mosque. Just beyond the minaret of the mosque, one can see the top of Minar-e-Pakistan. Although the view was spectacular, it was not the reason for my excitement. I was just about to go to my first political rally in Pakistan and I couldn’t wait!

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) was holding its first rally in Lahore in Iqbal Park where Minar-e-Pakistan was built to commemorate the 1940 Lahore Resolution, which had been the first formal call for greater Muslim autonomy in India. The symbolism was hard to miss. If this rally went “well” it could prove to be a game changer for Pakistani domestic politics. But I remained skeptical of the turnout. In a city of rallies, where Abrar ul Haq held one on October 27, and PML-N held one on October 28, why was this rally such a big deal? The best way to find out was to go there.

We left Andaaz a little after 3pm. Near Iqbal Park, the road was full of people, carrying flags of PTI, banners with catchy phrases like “Ab nahin tau kab? Hum nahin tau khaun?” (“If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”), posters of Imran Khan titled as Quaid-e-Inqilab (“Father of Revolution”), and placards of “Only Hope” and “Make Peace.” The air was charged with adrenaline. People were walking with a purpose, shouting things like “Agla prime minister khaun? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” (“Who’s the next prime minister? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” and “Zardari kuta hai!” (“Zardari is a dog!”) and of course “Pakistan Zindabad! Imran Khan Zindabad!”

At the Rally (Photo by Sahar Khan)

As soon as we reached Iqbal Park, a man selling round badges that were decorated in PTI’s red and green colors with Khan looking thoughtful as he rested his hand near his chin, almost in an Allama Iqbal-like pose. The pose made me chuckle. The badge said, “Qadm millao, Qadm barhoa, mil kar Pakistani bachoa” (“Unite and step forward, save Pakistan together”). Seeing no problem with that message, I decided to buy one and pinned it on my shirt.

The numbers were increasing fast but miraculously the crowd was orderly. Each section had three security checkpoints, where every purse and bag was checked after going through a metal detector. There were male and female police officers at each point and scattered around, enforcing security. Many of them looked shocked and asked me in Punjabi, “Where have all these people come from?” I don’t speak Punjabi so just said, “Lahore!” He laughed and said, “Lahore jag uta hai!” (“Lahore has woken up!“).

We had a good view and managed to secure some plastic chairs, which turned out to be a good idea. Hearts were pounding, slogans were being shouted, and flags were being waved. There were even automatic toy planes flying around with a PTI flag! The stage looked huge even from where I was. The backdrop was inspirational, and at its center was a large crescent from Pakistan’s flag. On one side was Jinnah and smaller versions of Allama Iqbal and Minar-e-Pakistan. On the other side was Khan. The highlight of the backdrop, however, was the message: “Tub Pakistan banaya ta, Ab Pakistan bachao gae” (“You have made Pakistan, Now you will save Pakistan”). A call for democracy indeed!

The rally finally started at 4pm. As PTI members came up one by one to address the burgeoning crowd, I looked around. There was a never ending sea of people behind me. Some people sat on plastic chairs while others stood on them to get a better view. Some sat on the grass while others simply stood. There were spontaneous eruptions of patriotic slogans or simply “Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” The crowd was becoming restless. They wanted to see their leader. And he finally arrived! The crowd went crazy: the sky was filled more flags and the shouts became louder. Time flew by as PTI members came and spoke. The main announcer kept the crowd alive with his booming voice and updates on the size of the crowd—“ab aik lakh log hain!” and “ab dair lakh log hain!” and “ab 2 lakh sey zaida log hain!” (“there are now 1 lakh people” and “there are now 1.5 lakh people” and “now there are more than 2 lakh people”). The best update, however, was “ab cable bund kar diya gaya hai!” (“Cable has been shut down!”). The crowd responded by “Hakumat dar gee! Zardari kutta dar gaya!” (“The government is scared! Zardari the dog is scared!”).

A mixture of excitement and restlessness made the crowd react louder to each speech. When we thought that the time would never come, Khan rose and addressed the crowd. The adoring crowd roared, and I was one of them. We stood on our chairs and clapped till our hands were raw and our throats were sore. We waved those flags till our arms became numb. And we absorbed every word that Khan sahib said. I think I just witnessed the making of a national leader and I was awestruck.

I can go on and criticize and analyze his speech, but this blog post is more about the fact that over 200,000 people gathered in Iqbal Park on a Sunday afternoon to show their frustration with the current administration. This kind of jalsa, the enthusiasm, the excitement, the sheer numbers have not been seen in a long time. This is not because of a lack of political ambitions; there is room for numerous political parties in the Pakistani political plain. Unfortunately, very few parties seem to have that special something about them—and PTI just proved that it is not one of them.

When I asked Omar Cheema, the Chief Information Officer of PTI, why the rally was so successful he said, “The youth of Pakistan has decided to take the future in their hands.” The youth may be PTI’s not-so-secret ingredient for success but it is yet to be seen whether or not PTI can translate this rally’s outcome into an electoral success. I look forward to the show as much as everyone else.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Photo: NYT/AP

In last week’s Economist, an article delved into the increased use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – also known more colloquially as drones – in present-day warfare. As The Global Post noted in their related series, “The Drone Wars are the new black.”

What was once a super sleuth secret weapons program by the U.S. government is now openly referenced by the likes of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who recently said, “Having moved from the CIA to the Pentagon, obviously I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me in this job than I had in the CIA, although the Predators weren’t bad.”

Good one Leon. Not so “secret” anymore!

During his tenure as the former director of the CIA, Panetta “oversaw a dramatic increase” of drone strikes. Since becoming president, Barack Obama has intensified the number of drone strikes in Pakistan, from one every 40 days under the Bush administration to one strike every four days. The Economist reported,

John Brennan, Mr Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, has made it clear that as America draws down its forces in Afghanistan over the next three years, there will be no let up in drone strikes, which, he claims, are partly responsible for al-Qaeda being “on the ropes”. The grim Reaper’s ability to loiter for up to 24 hours, minutely observe human activity from five miles above while transmitting “full motion video” to its controllers and strike with pinpoint accuracy has made it the essential weapon in America’s “long war”.

According to U.S. officials, the rationale for an increased usage of UAVs is obvious – the drones allow reach into places where U.S. boots cannot. They also can hit very specific targets – or at least they’re supposed to, the numbers are hotly disputed. While the U.S. government claims that the drone program [which, besides Pakistan, operate in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq] is a success, “claiming that out of the more than 2,000 people thought to be killed so far, all but 50 were militants,” the number of civilian casualties has been contested. According to analysis conducted by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann from the New America Foundation, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 is about 32 percent, versus the 25 percent cited by government calculations.

Via the Economist.

The recent death of Al Qaeda militant [and U.S. citizen] Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in a September 30th drone strike as well as the number of civilian casualties lends itself to an interesting and pertinent discussion. From a legal perspective, drones sit in an uncomfortably gray area. U.S. officials, not surprisingly, will tell you that drone strikes are perfectly within the parameters of international law. U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh has stated (via the Global Post),

It is the considered view of this Administration … that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … the United States is in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. As a matter of domestic law, Congress authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force through the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These domestic and international legal authorities continue to this day.

But just who operates drones raises an issue as well. According to the Global Post, drones used by the military are considered an extension of armed conflict, and are therefore more likely to be deemed acceptable by international law standards. But what if the same system is deployed by the CIA to target a specific individual or group? What about the death of innocent civilians? Or U.S.-born citizens-turned-militants like Awlaki [btw, no love lost for Awlaki, but just raising the argument here]?

For me, the issue of drones goes beyond the issue of legality. It touches on the progression of warfare as a whole. Or whether morality, arguably the foundation of international law, is really being compromised in favor of the arbitrarily defined “greater good.” In an article by Barbara Ehrenreich for Guernica Magazine this past summer, she discussed how the emergence of a new kind of enemy – “non-state actors” – has partly contributed to a shift in how we combat war, namely with “robot”-like machines (including but not limited to drones). She wrote,

Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs…today, the U.S. military has an inventory of more than 7,000 [UAVs], ranging from the familiar Predator to tiny Ravens and Wasps used to transmit video images of events on the ground. Far stranger fighting machines are in the works, like swarms of lethal “cyborg insects” that could potentially replace human infantry. These developments are by no means limited to the U.S.

This is not to say that human beings do not play a significant role in today’s conflicts. But is the “automation” of warfare something that should concern us? A guy sitting in Nevada operating a drone by a joystick may not feel the same gravity of war as a soldier fighting in the trenches. As we become more detached and more removed, are we losing touch with the humanity of warfare [and yes, that was an ironic statement, since many feel warfare is inhumane by nature]? Civilian casualties become dots on a computer screen, the collateral damage of the “best worst option.” Computer viruses affecting drones become a significant tool in cyber warfare. And we in turn become increasingly distanced from the reasons why we engage in conflict in the first place.

An interesting debate, nevertheless. Who does watch the watchmen?

The Deja Vu Disaster

Via Atlantic (AP Photo) A woman displaced by the floods walks along a flooded road holding an axe to cut wood, in Digri district near Hyderabad on September 19.

Last year, the floods in Pakistan were considered “one of the worst natural disasters in history,” affecting 20 million people and submerging about one-fifth of the country underwater. This year’s monsoon rains have once again wreaked havoc, affecting at least 5.4 million people, with more than 475,000 displaced from their homes. The Washington Post cited the United Natons’ statistics, noting, “In Sindh alone, the floods have killed over 220 people, damaged or destroyed some 665,000 homes and displaced more than 1.8 million people.” Balochistan has also been affected by the floods. The Atlantic, in its coverage, reported, “The disaster has once again overwhelmed the capacity of the government to assist, and the UN has asked for $357 million in international aid.”

Given the enormity of the disaster last year, it seems we should have learned many lessons by now, at the very least how to better handle or address the impact of the floods, to better mitigate the human cost of the tragedy. And yet, here we are, exactly a year later, and the numbers are still climbing. A few weeks ago, Oxfam International‘s Pakistan Director stated to the Telegraph that this year’s floods are “already worse than last year, not because of the numbers but the impact on a population already severely affected by last year’s mega-flood.

The director went on to note,

We have more and more mosquitoes, the water is contaminated, and there’s the risk of all the public health [diseases] because there is not sufficient clean water. It’s not just about the world recognizing it, but realizing it is something we need to respond to now. People who have been displaced for a second time can’t sleep at night. They’re on the sides of the roads without shelter, suffering from diarrhoea, they’re itching and scratching.

Before these latest floods began, nearly one million people from last year’s disaster were still without permanent homes. One. Million. That number is not only a reflection of the amount of people vulnerable during this latest tragedy, but also the inability of authorities and the international community to properly respond to those affected in the last year. Although the latest floods began in August, President Asif Ali Zardari waited until September 8th to ask for help (And now he has a “special control room.” I’m serious). BBC NewsOrla Guerin noted, “At that stage more than five million lives had already been disrupted by the floods.” She cited UN spokesperson Stacey Winston, who stated,

We responded immediately once we were asked…Officially for us to go in and set up shop, we have to be asked. Within days of the government’s request the World Food Programme had reached 140,000 people and the World Health Organization had reached hundreds of thousands with essential medical help.

And what of the government response now? When Guerin asked PM Yousaf Raza Gilani if more lessons could have been learned from last year’s disaster, he replied, “You can’t compare the two. Last year there was flooding from the Indus River, this year it’s from the rains.” Gilani also went on to stress that fewer lives have been lost this year compared to last year350 versus 2000.


Human lives lost are human lives lost. We can’t compare or quantify in order to justify or scapegoat our actions, or lack thereof. Doing so will not help the families who are currently drinking the same contaminated water as their livestock. It will not restore the livelihoods of the millions who have watched their homes wash away year after year. How can these communities hope to rebuild their lives if they were not even given the tools to do so the first time around? How long before this cycle of disaster & dependency become what is considered normal?

In Pakistan, the monsoon rains are not unexpected. And God knows we have more than enough problems facing the country at this time. We have been inundated – literally and figuratively – with disaster, so much so, that we have been unable to keep afloat. But for those of us who care – and all of us damn well should – we can do more than just watch as our government fumbles yet again in the face of disaster.

In the latest Friday Times, Faisal Kapadia, who has done incredible relief work with Awab Alvi and others in Sindh [via SA Relief], wrote,

We may have good intentions but in time we get tired or the funds dry up and then we have no choice but to desert the communities we are adopting on ground. This is why I believe that every initiative should be tied to the local government and managed jointly. In this manner, the local government can point out where relief should be directed so no overlapping takes place. Often we have gone out with a plan in mind but have after being briefed by the local DCO realized that we must change direction because someone has already distributed relief there in the morning. Failure to coordinate with local officials leads to haphazard relief and then much grief for dependent communities.

This is a really important point. Sometimes in our efforts to help, we end up replicating what others have already done, making our attempts repetitive and relatively ineffective. I’ve also been interested in the nexus of innovation and relief, and how these types of solutions can become cost-effective ways of providing affected communities what they need rather than what we think they need. Organizations like Day One Response, which provides clean drinking water to those affected by disaster, can be potential stakeholders in the discussion.

So beyond listening, collaborating, and partnering with local officials and reputable relief organizations, think about how relief is only the first step in this recovery process. And while our energy is well-spent donating and supporting the relief phase, if the disaster taught me anything last year [via Relief4Pakistan], it’s that this same energy slows in the rehabilitation stage, which is just as necessary.

For suggestions on where people should donate, please leave a comment. Two reputable relief organizations that I think are doing incredible work are Karachi Relief Trust (KRT) and South Asia Relief.

This One’s For You, Naan

An image of Naan captured by our Nana (Grandfather)

For those of you who are regular visitors to this blog, you may have read a piece I wrote some months ago about my maternal grandmother (nani) – or Naan, as we all called her. About a week ago, Naan left us behind, joining my dear uncle (my mamoo), who passed away less than two weeks before.

My life has been punctuated by stories of my grandmother. Even if the memories were not wholly my own, I still felt a sense of ownership knowing that Naan’s life was somehow a testament to mine, that none of us would be who we were without her presence in our lives. Naan reared seven incredible daughters and one amazing son, who all raised their own children in light of her bravery, strength, determination, and fortitude. She was the staunch matriarch of my mother’s family.

As a child, I would stare in wonder as she sat in her armchair and expertly filled her paan leaves with colorful spices and candy-covered seeds, an intrinsic part of her daily ritual at her Dhanmondi house in Dhaka. As she gave me a naku (an Eskimo-like kiss with her nose) before I left her room, she would covertly stuff my pockets full of toffee and candy, which were still cold from their hiding place in her mini-fridge. Naan was a diabetic, but evidently rules never constrained her.

As I grew older and more curious about my own identity (being the Pakistani daughter of a Bangladeshi mother and a Pakistani father), Naan earned an almost folk hero status as I would listen to tales of the British Raj and the 1971 War. She was often the central character of these stories, the dramatic heroine with her perfectly pinned sari. She’d note how the British soldiers who’d camp in the fields near her house “were really quite nice,” or how she learned to shoot a gun when she was a commander in the Women’s National Guard in the 1950s.  My mother would laugh as she noted how my grandmother, an avid supporter of the Communist party, would make her daughters all pay their respect to her enormous portrait of Mao Tse-Tung every morning.

This past year, I began to record some of Naan’s rich and vibrant memoirs. It was my present to her, I claimed. But really, it was for all of us. It was a testimony to our history, of how the first-person narrative of a woman we all called our matriarch truly defined our place within this timeline.

One of the last times I saw my Naan, I had just subjected her to hours of my peppered questions. I know she lavished the attention, as she often did, but she was tired and needed to rest. As I helped her into bed, she gripped my hand with the strength of the folk heroine immortalized in those stories. Will you remember me? she asked, her eyes closing. This question was not unlike the one she asked when I first arrived in Dhaka on that trip, except then she had said, Do you remember me? I answered both of those inquiries the same way – yes, Naan. Of course. You’re my grandmother.

I still think back to the simple innocence of those questions. Do we all live our lives hoping to be remembered, wondering if our memories will live on after we are gone? I know in the case of my Naan that she never even needed to ask. I am because she was. And her memory, as well as that of my uncle, will live on with all of us forever.

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).

Terrier-like determination at its best: Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now.

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.

Image via Express

This morning I woke up to news that Shahbaz Taseer, son of Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab Governor who was assassinated back in January, was kidnapped in Lahore. According to the Guardian,

Taseer, 27, was on his way to work at around 10.30am (0630 BST) when he was taken at a busy junction in Gulberg, the most upmarket part of the city. The kidnappers have not been identified but there are fears that jihadists are involved.

Eyewitnesses told media outlets that four men on motorbikes reportedly intercepted Taseer while he was in his car, “and took him to a nearby street before kidnapping him.” Dawn cited Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who said he had been provided an official security detail in addition to the private guards he kept, but that he was without security at the time of the incident. As police are reviewing any CCTV footage, the Express Tribune reported, “One of the guards posted with Shahbaz Taseer was taken into custody and had his weapon seized when police questioned him and he revealed another guard was on leave. He had not left the house with Taseer but had later been told to go to the office.”

After reading the news and seeing numerous Facebook updates from friends who know Shahbaz and his family more closely than I do, it would be an understatement to say I feel sick to my stomach. My prayers go out for Shahbaz’s safe return and for the safety of his entire family. The Taseer family, first with the late Salmaan Taseer, and now his children (Shehrbano especially) are symbols and role models of the bravery and courage that this country should display in the face of those who wish to do it harm. I read a brilliant blog post by Acumen Fellow Bryan Ferris yesterday, who, after spending the past 10 months in Lahore working for Acumen investee Ansaar Management Company, wrote,

Pakistan is not a country of terrorists, but rather a country afflicted by terrorists.

Although the perpetrators of today’s kidnapping have not yet been confirmed, we know that whoever committed this act are not Pakistanis. They are not Muslims. They are not human beings. They reek of the rot and decay that plague this society, that people like the Taseers have had the courage to challenge and stand against. I’ll update this space as news comes in and send thoughts and prayers to his family for Shahbaz’s safe return.