Social Entrepreneurship:
How Business Can Change Communities
Ramla Akhtar | Social Designer. Futurist. Writer.
NEXT> | a S...
Social Entrepreneurship:
How Business Can Change Communities

Until a few years ago, social entrepreneurship in Pakistan w...
Story the First
                                        Townships Transforming
Community Cellphone Cubicles

                                                                                   A Communi...
Multinational-Community Partnership

                                      This tin box hair “saloon” is typical of the ki...
To be a partner saloon, you don't have to have an upscale shop in the posh locale. Nor
are you merely an advertising or se...
Story the Second
                          Thatta Kedona: The Doll-Making Project
A Wholesome Development
There is a bed & breakfast operation available. As a
lone backpacking researcher, I was able to just
walk into this villag...
The women from this conservative village now go
All photos by the author; except images on title page, sourced from Photo rights reserved.

Ramla Akhtar
What areas does NEXT> by Ramla specialize in?
These are areas where I monitor trends, study latest techniques, and know pe...
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Social Enterprise: How Business Can Change Communities


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Two stories from two nations show how two communities are lifted out of darkness through the simple modern magic of social enterprise. Two stories that will restore your hope in change that we can make.

Story the first - Townships Transforming (South Africa)
Story the second - Thatta Kedona: The Dolls Project (Pakistan)

An investigative presentation of:
NEXT> by Ramla

Published in: Business

Social Enterprise: How Business Can Change Communities

  1. 1. Social Entrepreneurship: How Business Can Change Communities Ramla Akhtar | Social Designer. Futurist. Writer. NEXT> | a Social Design & Futures Consultancy | Details on last pages. Copyrights, etc.: The following report was first published in Pakistan in Aurora, Nov/Dec 2008 issue. It is available for publishing in other territories in parts, full, or modified. Contact for this and other essays, thought pieces and reports. Readers are encouraged to distribute an electronic version; it is requested that the author's name and website are kept intact for good karma. In printed/ modified version, byline allows the audience to attribute the story to source. Use generously. Non-commercial use only. See: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License THIS VERSION CREATED ON: November 16, 2008. 1
  2. 2. Social Entrepreneurship: How Business Can Change Communities Until a few years ago, social entrepreneurship in Pakistan was a curiosity into which only the soft-hearted, the high school C- grader mavericks, NGO aunties, and media-blacked out rural area youth leaders engaged – or so we thought. It was mostly a glorified charity or a cottage business that often failed due to monastic (lonely, colorless, sweet) marketing. There was not even a charitable attention given to the subject in leading universities. Parents didn't plan this career for their children. Today, things have changed. By now, most of us have known of social entrepreneurship. It is still to become a mainstream subject in academia, business & economy, or even families – the building block of human society. This subject is vast, and our time to act is short. So I'll define the subject for the uninitiated, and then tell us the tales of two societies, changed for better by social enterprise! What Makes a Social Entrepreneur? ASHOKA, innovators in the field of social enterprise, define the specie thus: “Individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide- scale change.” SKOLL Foundation describe them as “society’s change agents; pioneers of innovations that benefit humanity.” NEXT> suggests to the aspiring social entrepreneur: “Doing good + the right way + following your passion do not have to be exclusive from making a profit, as was the case in the world of old business.” This definition accounts for the fact that as the pace of change accelerates in the world, it will be impossible to do without any of these criteria – especially the entrepreneur's own passion. That's the starting point of any effort. Money, as we know from countless stories, follows. 2
  3. 3. Story the First Townships Transforming Location: South Africa “Townships” are the urban dwellings of South Africa that were reserved for non-whites under Apartheid. They are the equivalent of urban slums or kachi abadis of Pakistan: densely populated, haphazardly planned, and with intricate social issues. There have been several housing reforms over the years, leading to neighborhoods that could surpass a Pakistani middle class locality in terms of upkeep and planning. Today, townships are the sign of struggle and transformation in the midst of strife. During a study tour, I found some positive practices that could be useful for Pakistan. 3
  4. 4. Community Cellphone Cubicles A Community Chat container with multiple call points – Evaton Township, South Africa © January 2008 Cellphones – still called a social “luxury” and teenager-destroyer in Pakistan – are respected as a powerful transformation tool that have enabled a more equal distribution of power and wealth in the world. In Pakistan, cellphones have enabled taxi drivers to set up their informal calling services in the face of shortage of more organized services. Just call your favorite driver! In India, cellphones have enabled farmers to set commodity prices independently, bypassing the middleman. In SA townships, cellphone carriers have offered reduced-rate services through Community Chat containers owned by township entrepreneurs. Revenue per minute is shared with kiosk owners. A-4 size ad frames installed at eye-level of phone users ensure an additional stream of revenue. Community Chat centers are gathering places, and a sign of the empowerment of community. This is important to African townships where unemployment leads to sex & drug crimes, violence, health care hazards, and social antipathy. I met with a car-wash business owner who testified how his life had risen above violence and drugs once the Church showed him the way and encouraged him to start his business – the latter being the key savior here. In this story, there is hint much for Pakistan! 4
  5. 5. Multinational-Community Partnership This tin box hair “saloon” is typical of the kind of outfits that Unilever and Revlon have partnered with. (And yes, there is such a product as Black & Lovely – its name inscribed on many such container saloons.) In Africa, they have accepted their true identity – which is less on glamor, and high on “reality.” Multinationals do not engage with locals as mere customers, nor partner with locals as a form of charity, or use people as a backdrop for jaunty song numbers. They have gone steps ahead to empower the locals by sharing revenue with them. This happens by sharing work – using a distributed organizational model. This is an unbranded hair saloon. Most Revlon/ Unilever partners are similar. – Evaton Township, South Africa © January 2008 5
  6. 6. To be a partner saloon, you don't have to have an upscale shop in the posh locale. Nor are you merely an advertising or selling point for the brand, slapping the ad all over your space. You are skilled in the line of business, and own your shop. Partners conduct their chosen business using discounted products, and are not forced to change their lifestyles or shop presentations. There is a clear focus on ensuring that saloon owners take a greater deal of profit and hence are able to change their economic circumstances while still remaining within their communities. In other words, individuals are not promoted at the cost of community – where they will likely stay. The nature of business is not based on competitive slogans or will million bucks lotteries that change fates of individuals forever. Rather, people are empowered within their communities so that they all prosper together – and not create dangerous polarizations typical to unchecked multinational business. Hair braiding in a Revlon partner saloon – Evaton Township, South Africa © January 2008 6
  7. 7. Story the Second Thatta Kedona: The Doll-Making Project Location: Pakistan 15 years ago, “Thatta Ghulam da Dheroka” was a sleepy little village 30 km off the closest major town: Okara, Punjab. It was at least a 6 km off-road journey from a metal road to the village, where people mostly engaged in livestock or crop management, or idleness. Women were forbidden from being literate. Then life changed in Thatta Ghulam. Amjad, a village boy who somehow managed to end up in the city and then an art school in Germany, off-handedly invited his teacher, Dr. Senta Siller, to visit. She accepted, came to Thatta, and keenly inquired about local art and craft. The village women showed her hand-made rag dolls aptly fondly called “Churail”. The enterprising art teacher told the villagers she could teach them to make finer hand-made dolls, and market the products nation-wide and globally. With the help of an amateur documentary, “Amjad's Village,” on the life and the craft of the villagers, Dr. Siller marketed the dolls to global craft shops and museums where they were very well-received eventually. Thus spun off a social enterprise in this 200-house strong village that has changed the way of living here profoundly. 7
  8. 8. A Wholesome Development Here is the beauty of the plan: it was aimed at uplifting the village as a whole. The dolls are prepared such that each component – body, face painting, hair, jewelry, shoes, clothes – are contributed individually. Almost the entire village participates in the making of the dolls, which represent the people of the four provinces of Pakistan. Women from most households are engaged, on the condition that they would carry on their normal lives, and only work in free time. Male cobblers make miniature doll slippers, and other men procure raw material. Boys now make model rickshaws. Friends are engaged in the business and there is no competition. The pie is made larger and shared by everyone. Finger Puppets – by the Thatta Kedona Project The smallest of the Thatta Kedona dolls, which are featured in puppet & doll museums around the globe © August 2008 8
  9. 9. There is a bed & breakfast operation available. As a lone backpacking researcher, I was able to just walk into this village and get myself boarded up immediately. The only issue was the unacceptably healthy village food with real desi ghee! The dolls, though, are just the beginning of this fantastic story. Today, both boys & girls in this conservative society have a school. The village has a road link to the main highway. They have a dispensary. They experimented with alternative energy (solar panels) very early on. Now the villagers are undertaking community energy & food projects including a “community refrigerator” – a chilled shared hall with cupboards belonging to subscribing households. The Kailashi Tribe doll – by the Thatta Kedona Project The dolls are prepared in collaboration from village craftspeople, who contribute individual parts © August2008 9
  10. 10. The women from this conservative village now go on study tours to Hunza with the Germans. The villagers have learned about sanitation, childcare, and eco-friendly living. Cleanliness and environmental-consciousness are rewarded through an annual award that goes to the “best mud-built house.” The lone vegetable farmer has experimented with quality foreign seeds, and eventually produced export-quality seeds. Almost all of these initiatives are linked back to the Women Art Center set up by the doll-making enterprise! Above all, these actions were taken within the system, without breaking down the structure violently, stoking fear or greed, or turning people against each other. The NGO did not go there to “free women from oppression” or “change the culture/ quality of life.” It went in to empower people by acknowledging their culture and skills. Today Thatta Ghulam da Dheroka is the living testimony to this: change is possible. Decorated niche in an award-winning mud-house in village Thatta Ghulam da Dheroka Each year, the village girls prepare and adorn their mud-houses with elaborately carved storage niches, stoves, and crafted walls © August2008 Special thanks to Qasim (South Africa) and SAJ Shirazi (Pakistan) for their help and guidance in researching these stories. See also: – The End – 10
  11. 11. All photos by the author; except images on title page, sourced from Photo rights reserved. Ramla Akhtar I am a social designer, integral futurist, and writer. My work is based on universal human principles. I run the consultancy, NEXT> by Ramla, and contribute to I am also a member of Globond: a US-based international network of thought leaders and talented people. It includes the likes of Al Secunda, Dr. Dan Schaefer, Ken Rutkowski, and Kaihan Krippendorff. and What is Social Design? Weaving together the elements of life (people, concepts, technology, spaces, etc) in new, creative ways so as to realize human potential, and to answer pressing contemporary solutions. For my purpose, the term refers to the “soft/ conceptual” design. An ever-updating know-how of emerging media, technology, social movements, global priorities, etc. is employed for Social Design at NEXT> by Ramla. What does Integral Futurist mean? “Futurist” is a technical term applicable to practitioners who see/ forecast/ implement/ assist with future (scenarios). It has several applied meanings. “Integral” refers to integrating the various fields of life into ONE. It's a time in human history when we create spaces where humans can co-exist, with our gifts and with Earth. It also implies collective wisdom and decision-making (technologies). My project is to envision ONE FUTURE for the global human society, and realize that vision. “Vision” comes from seeing things as they are. A preferred Future is an outcome of the correct CHOICES taken in Present circumstances. The formula: Future = Present + Choices We Make I help see the Present as it is usually with visual tools, and then help select a course of choices. What is your choice in your present scenario? What is your present scenario? Contact for advise: Explore This Tool! The People-Centered Model of Business© is a multi-purpose tool developed at NEXT> by Ramla. It has multiple application modules including: Market Insight, Trend-Forecasting, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Organizational Leadership, and Social Business. View online: 11
  12. 12. What areas does NEXT> by Ramla specialize in? These are areas where I monitor trends, study latest techniques, and know people and organizations. I have test-driven ideas or made prototypes in these fields. As a rule, if I don't have experiential knowledge of any field, I won't take up a project in it. MEDIA: The Web. Social (Internet) Media Strategy. Editorial. Audience Identification. Media Trends. Talent Development. Virtual/ Physical Hybrid Strategy. SOCIETY & ECONOMICS: Social Enterprise. Grassroots Outreach. Community Organization and Activation. Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability. Art. Tourism. Economics. Governance. Education. Youth. Ethnic/ Tribal Engagement. CONFLICT RESOLUTION through integration. REGIONAL FOCUS: Pakistan. Case Study: Social media strategy for a cosmeceutical skin care range, Cosméceutique The Futurist Part: Identifying an emerging market segment uncatered to by other offers in market Identifying social networks and blogs as media of choice The Social Design Part: Designing social (Internet) media campaign around the chosen audience + unique Pakistani networks Co-creating the first-of-its-kind Cosméceutique Blogger Buzz Campaign with Pakistani female bloggers Match-making Cosméceutique with a bloggers' network to create ad campaign Brand team capacity building How can NEXT> Ramla be engaged? Generally, Social Design = on-ground/field projects. Futures = presentations on futures/ Tailored trend forecasts. Soon: The People-Centered Model of Business© (see this) tailored applications. NEXT> Trend Reports are a first in Pakistan! Created by Ramla after framing and scanning; using field observation and foresight techniques. For Trends/ Futures: Speaking engagements & writing for journals and magazines. Soon: Courses and workshops. For Social Design: I work with client teams. I could use elements from my talent eco-system to integrate with yours, when required. Pick-My-Brains: Coaching/ Advise by email, phone, or online (GTalk/ Skype). In person sessions. (By appointment only.) For advisory / coaching sessions, a sliding scale fee is charged. Please inquire by email. Visit: | Email: 12