Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs Catch the Wave

OPEN Forum 2010 in Silicon Valley, California attracted nearly 600 people, including entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, engineers, lawyers, physicians and others on June 5, 2010. It was an all day conference organized by the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs (OPEN) in Silicon Valley featuring 5 plenary sessions, and over a dozen break-out sessions addressed by 58 speakers and panelists on special topics of interest to various groups of attendees. The conference had a large number of sponsors, including dozens of Silicon Valley companies founded or managed by Pakistani-Americans.



This post is based on partial coverage of the event. For more details, please view the conference video recordings on facebook available via Vpype, a startup founder by Pakistani-American entrepreneur Shoieb Younus.

The conference was opened by Naeem Zafar, President of OPEN Silicon Valley, who briefly described the conference agenda and the organization's objectives and its various events and activities for the audience. It was followed by a morning keynote featuring Faysal Sohail who manages energy, materials and IT portfolios for CMEA Capital with over a billion dollars in venture investments.

Morning Keynote:

Keynote speaker Faysal Sohail described the last decade of 2000-2009 as "zero decade" in terms of returns for the US venture capital industry. He then went on to explain the massive impact of small start-ups as the employment engine of the nation's economy, citing Kauffman Foundation's data that virtually all of the net new jobs from 1980 to 2005 were created by companies less than 5 years old.

Faysal sounded an optimistic note about opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship that lie ahead for his audience at OPEN Forum 2010. Emphasizing the fact that the United States remains #1 in innovation, he picked energy, healthcare and information technology sectors for tremendous opportunities for researchers and entrepreneurs.

In energy sector, Faysal said that the nearly 2 billion people in Asia coming out of poverty will need energy to drive their productivity. He specifically mentioned the areas of energy production (solar, wind, bio fuels), energy storage (grid scale storage) and efficiency (LEDs, Sensors).

In healthcare, Faysal mentioned new drugs (cancer, diabetes, pain management) and new devices (hearing aids, optical, surgical equipment).

In information technology, he brought up web 2.x (social web, mobile), strategic outsourcing (tech platform, outsourcing), and software as service (enterprise solutions).

In closing, Faysal declared that "the best is yet to come", and the opportunities for entrepreneurship are vast with large global markets and capital-efficient startups relying on outsourcing of infrastructure and tools.

Social Entrepreneurs Panel:

Moderated by Saad Khan, a partner at CMEA Capital, this panel featured Salman Khan of Khan Academy, Leila Janah of Samasource, Tabreez Verjee of Kiva, and Misbah Naqvi of Acumen Fund.

The panelists described what they do as social entrepreneurs and what led them to it. Salman Khan started at a hedge fund before he was inspired by a cousin and her friends to create Khan Academy for tutoring math and science via his Youtube channel.

Leila Janah of Samasource went to work for the World Bank in Washington to fight poverty, but she was soon soured by the bank bureaucracy whose focus was on self-interest rather than the interest of the world's poor which it is supposed to serve. Her first day at the World Bank was spent at a seminar advising bank employees on financing a second home. She quit her job to found Samasource, which is a non-profit service that seeks contracts from companies in the West, and slices large contracts into microwork tasks like data entry, software testing, transcription and research outsourced to the poor, but educated, workers abroad.

Tabreez Verjee serves on the board of Kiva, a Silicon valley startup that combines microfinance with the Internet to create a global community of people connected through lending. The company allows lenders to lend amounts as small as $25 and choose who to lend to via the Internet. The funds are disbursed to small entrepreneurs and loans repaid using existing microfiance companies operating in different parts of the world. Kiva is working with Asasah microfinance in Pakistan.

Misabah Naqvi is the business development manager of Acumen fund which invests in social enterprises. She was originally a banker in Pakistan before joining the Acumen Fund. The fund is a business rather than a charity, and puts all of its returns back into the fund to support more social efforts based on sustainability, scale and social impact. In addition to investing in microfinance, the Acumen fund has invested in Saiban which is building low-cost housing in Pakistan.

Reasons to Believe in Pakistan:
Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the young CEO of Pakistan's private TV channel Geo TV, previewed his planned media campaign "Reason to Believe" or RTB in Pakistan. It is designed to offer "reason to believe" to build a solid foundation for progress. Mir articulated a whole series of reasons to believe in Pakistan's future ranging from its young population, its vast energy resources in form of coal deposits, its great potential as a food basket, and its long coastline, to its strategic location in terms of world trade in energy, goods and services.

He said Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear assets required a great deal of hard work and tenacity, great qualities that can also be put to use in developing Pakistan's industrial and technology sectors. Mir said Pakistanis should celebrate their dual heritage from the great Indus civilization and their Islamic ancestors in Baghdad.

He lauded the role of Pakistani expatriates in funding Pakistan to the tune of $10 billion a year, and suggested there was a lot of room for growth in investments from overseas Pakistanis.

He expressed optimism that the birth pangs of democracy will start to pay dividends in Pakistan in the near future. He pointed to the successful passage of the 18th amendment, the consensus on the NFC award for allocation of federal funds to various provinces, and the assertive judiciary as good signs for the nation.

Electric Vehicles Panel:

The panel included Richard Lowenthal, Founder and CEO of Coulomb Technologies and Maurice Gunderson, senior partner at CMEA Capital. It was moderated by Faysal Sohail, MD of CMEA.

Lowenthal, who said he drives BMW's MINI-E all-electric car, outlined the benefits of electric vehicles in terms of "no tail-pipe" and low cost of "2 cents a mile". He was immediately challenged by Gunderson on both counts, and responded as follows:

1. The 2 cents a mile cost does not reflect the true cost of electricity generated by burning coal. A lot of the cost of coal-burning is externalized by power companies in terms of the dead and sick coal miners and environmental pollution and other costs to society.

2. The little tail-pipes in cars are simply replaced by huge smokestacks at coal-burning power plants.

3. Policy drives economics; Economics does not drive policy. Putting price on carbon by taxing CO2 emissions can fundamentally alter the cost calculations to make renewables more competitive.

Both panelists agreed that there is a need for a comprehensive energy policy that reflects the true costs of various fuels for optimal mix of energy sources in the United States. Electric cars make sense if they result in overall environmental improvements at reasonable costs. In addition to solar, wind and biofuels options, Gunderson argued for more nuclear power as well.

Assuming that the earth is a hollow sphere filled with oil, Gunderson said he did a calculation back in the 1970s on how long the oil would last at the rate of increase in the 1970s. He concluded that the oil would last 86 years. Although the rate of increase in oil consumption has declined since the 1970s because of significant improvements in the internal combustion engine efficiency, the fact remains that the earth is not a hollow sphere filled with oil. Eventually, the oil and other fossil fuels will run out, and new energy sources will be needed to sustain reasonable standards of living.

Lowenthal discussed the key issues in electric vehicles adoption ranging from the size and capacities of new batteries to the frequency and duration of charging and the need for recharge infrastructure for it. Silicon Valley's Tesla Motors is solving the problem by putting in a very large battery pack to have a range of 300 miles. Shai Agassi's Better Place in Israel is pushing battery swap-out stations along the highways.

Birds of Feather Sessions:
There were a number of BoF sessions at the conference. Three such sessions were offered to alumni from NED University in Karachi, University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore and Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) Institute in Topi, KPK. Among these, I attended the NED BoF which attracted about 40 NEDians, more than the other two. Several NEDians could not attend because they were speakers or panelists at other session that conflicted in time with the NEDians BoF.

Afternoon Keynote:

The keynote speaker was Iqbal Quader, the founder of Grameephone in Bangladesh and currently the head of MIT's Legatum Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He shared the story of how he persuaded Dr. Muhammad Younus of Grameen Bank to invest in Grameenphone. He used the analogy of Grameen's cow loans to poor villagers in Bangladesh to describe how the mobile phone could be a thought of as a cow that produces revenue by enabling people in remote villages to communicate with others to stay connected and improve productivity. The revenue from the phone calls would enable better livelihood for small entrepreneurs and help repay the loans to expand access and empower villagers. Younus was persuaded, and the rest is history.

Quader believes that the proliferation of mobile phones offered by private telecom companies as a communication tool has empowered Bangladeshi people to improve their lives in many ways...something that was unimaginable under the government owned phone monopoly which concentrated power with 67% of the phones in the capital city of Dhaka. The proliferation of cell phones means devolution of power to the people, and it has far reaching positive impact for society at large in developing nations. The dramatic improvements in ordinary people's ability to communicate, organize and do business anytime, anywhere will have positive results in terms of economics and politics of the nations experiencing the mobile communications revolution.

Summary:
I think OPEN Forum 2010 was well worth the time and the energy that was put into it by the organizers and the attendees alike. I believe the conference clearly succeeded in its immediate objective of bringing aspiring entrepreneurs of Pakistani origin together with many investors and mentors in Silicon Valley, informing the audience and stimulating discussion of new ideas and opportunities, and educating the speakers and the attendees. But its real impact won't be apparent until there is a significant critical mass with many more successful Pakistani entrepreneurs inspired by what they saw and heard at OPEN Forum 2010.

Related Links:

Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail?
Thorium Energy to Save Planet Earth?

Fighting Poverty Through Microfinance in Pakistan

Silicon Valley Summit of Pakistani Entrepreneurs

Pakistan's Multi-Billion Dollar IT Industry

Media and Telecom Sectors Growing in Pakistan

Pakistan's Middle Class Growth in 1999-2009

Social Entrepreneurs Target India, Pakistan

MIT Sloan Report on Pakistani Entrepreneurs

22 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a Businessweek story on microfinance in India:

Savita Ramesh Rathore stands at the door of her dimly lit workshop in Mumbai's Dharavi slum, filled floor to ceiling with bundles of old clothes, and talks about the cost of her son's wedding last year. "Jewels, clothes, food, the town hall," says Rathore, 50, who makes towels from discarded clothes. She borrowed 30,000 rupees ($647) from moneylenders charging 60 percent interest and took additional loans from friends. Three months ago she got a 10,000-rupee loan from urban lender Hindusthan Microfinance at an interest rate of just over 20 percent to repay some of that debt.

Rathore is one of 25 million Indians who have taken so-called microfinance loans, often without adequate documentation or collateral, according to research firm Micro-Credit Ratings International. As Hyderabad-based SKS Microfinance plans to become the first microlender in the country to go public, an industry credited with helping alleviate poverty is suddenly provoking comparisons to subprime lenders in the U.S.

"Globally, microfinance is showing characteristics of the Western financial markets before the collapse," says Sanjay Sinha, managing director at Micro-Credit Ratings in Gurgaon. "In the U.S., homeowners were given loans at 120 percent of the value of their properties. In rural India, people are being lent to at 150 percent of the value of their enterprises."

Microfinance firms make loans in poor areas largely shut off from traditional banking services. The past two years have been marked by surging defaults in some countries. Microfinance markets in Nicaragua, Morocco, and Pakistan have seen default levels climb to more than 10 percent, the threshold that marks a "serious repayment crisis," according to a February report from policy and research firm Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.

India, where more than 600 million people live on less than $1.50 a day, is the world's largest microfinance market. Most microfinance loans in India range from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees ($108 to $431), with interest rates ranging from 18 percent to 33 percent. Although Indian microfinance firms have reported bad-loan ratios of about 2.5 percent on average, levels may be higher because some lenders roll over loans to struggling borrowers to avoid defaults, says Micro-Credit's Sinha.

Microfinance lending in India may surge by about 40 percent annually over the next few years, says Sinha. SKS, betting the potential for growth will attract investors, is seeking regulatory approval for an initial public offering. Basix Group, which focuses on poor households in rural areas and provides loans averaging about 3,000 rupees, may sell shares in an IPO next year, says Chairman Vijay Mahajan. Others are likely to follow. Until now, microfinance companies have relied on loans and grants from banks, insurers, and foundations for funding, he says.

Micro-Credit's Sinha worries that growth in the microfinance market is masking an erosion of lending standards that may spark rising defaults. India doesn't have a nationwide system for tracking borrowers' credit histories, making it hard for lenders to check whether clients have multiple loans. "There is significant investor interest in microfinance companies' public issues, but it's being driven by irrational exuberance," says Sinha.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a blog post by Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant US Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, on U.S. and Pakistan collaborating on Science and Technology:

As part of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue initiated in March by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi, I recently led the U.S. delegation to the Science and Technology Working Group in Islamabad, June 8-9. The two-day meetings discussed three areas where our two governments could increase collaboration: enhanced science and technology cooperation, enabling the science and technology enterprise, and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.

It was encouraging to hear the Working Group specifically agree on building upon ongoing joint research and ways to highlight new knowledge that can improve social conditions and enhance economic opportunities. Working Group members also agreed to explore building the capacity of academic institutions and transferring technology from the lab to the private sector, while emphasizing the need to share successful models of innovation and entrepreneurship.

One of the most memorable experiences during my visit was attending an exhibition featuring 38 Science and Technology research projects funded through the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program. I also had the privilege of visiting Pakistan's National University of Science and Technology, where I met with researchers who are conducting studies on climate change, finding innovative ways to use telemedicine to improve disease surveillance networks, and designing improved search engines.

The Science and Technology Working Group meeting was the first of the 13 Strategic Dialogue Working Group sessions taking place this month in Pakistan. Other Working Group topics include: law enforcement, energy, water, economics and finance, market access, defense, health, women's issues, and agriculture. I am inspired and encouraged by our Science and Technology discussions as they are addressing some of the most pressing environment, science, technology, and health issues facing Pakistan today, and building strong partnerships between our Science and Technology communities. The U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue represents the shared commitment of both nations to strengthening the bilateral relationship and building an even broader partnership based on mutual respect and mutual trust.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a recent HBR article on social entrepreneurship, arguing that US is lagging in this field:

In 2009, William Kamkwamba, a teenager from Malawi, made the rounds on American talk shows and coauthored a best-selling book. The source of his notoriety? A homemade windmill that provided power and running water for his family. Kamkwamba built it from trash, using an old textbook as his only guide.

In the United States, the idea of deploying small-scale windmills had been abandoned as too expensive and horribly inefficient. In Malawi, a teenager had built one spending less money than the average American eighth-grader's weekly allowance.

Kamkwamba's story points to an unrecognized truth of social entrepreneurship and innovation. The United States isn't a leader; it's a laggard.

Consider some of the most important social innovations of the past 20 years. The modern microfinance industry was pioneered in Bangladesh and has spread to virtually every country in the world. The business model that allowed the near-universal penetration of cellular phones into poor communities was born in Bangladesh, as well.

Meanwhile, two innovative ways to use cell phones' ubiquity in poor communities to change the world have emerged from Kenya: M-Pesa, a mobile-to-mobile money-transfer service, has become a model worldwide. And Ushahidi, a technology platform that relies on text messages to guide crisis response, became an important part of the rescue and recovery efforts in Haiti and Chile after the earthquakes there. It's currently being used to track the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

India is the home of world-class innovators like Aravind Eye Hospitals and the education-focused NGO Pratham. The latter has had such success that its teaching approach is being adopted in several African countries.

So how does the U.S. stack up? Compare the negligible impact of One Laptop Per Child to the pioneering role of GrameenPhone in the global mobile phone revolution and the attendant gains in real income. Meanwhile Voxiva, a U.S.-founded social entrepreneurial firm, offers a complex, proprietary system to gather information from the field — a system that can cost more than $1 million to operate. But Ushahidi boasts a simple, nearly free (I just contributed to the $600 fund needed to deploy Ushahidi in Kyrgyzstan) open-source platform that was up and running in Haiti in less than 48 hours after the earthquake there. Finally, a recent report has shown that the most profitable microfranchise operations all originated in the developing world

Sure, there are examples of impressive and effective American social entrepreneurship. But, as these comparisons make clear, most world-changing innovations aren't coming from the United States.

Why? Well, for one thing, we haven't figured out how to train entrepreneurs successfully. The rates of entrepreneurship (measured by self-employment and age of operating businesses) are lower in the United States than in most other countries (even OECD countries). Despite all the money poured into various entrepreneurship-training programs, the failure rate of U.S. entrepreneurs, social or otherwise, has held largely constant for decades.

Riaz Haq said...

CK Prahalad's theory on the purchasing power at the 'bottom of the pyramid' (BOP) has set the MBA circles buzzing about the big corp making money off the poor people in India by selling products to them.

Recently, Indian govt tried giving away cell phones to the poor in India who wondered out loud what they'd do with them. They'd rather have food rotting in govt warehouses given away to them so they can fill their hungry stomachs to survive.

Michigan professor Aneel Karnani calls Pralahad's BOP theory "at best a harmless illusion and potentially a dangerous delusion".

His new working paper, Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid: a mirage, really takes late Professor Pralahad to task.

Karnani argues that "the best way for private firms to help eradicate poverty is to invest in upgrading the skills and productivity of the poor, and to help create more employment opportunities for the poor".

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a NY Times report on Khosla's SKS microfinance going public in Mumbai:

MUMBAI, India — Vinod Khosla, the billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, was already among the world’s richest men when he invested a few years ago in SKS Microfinance, a lender to poor women in India.

But the roaring success of SKS’s recent initial public stock offering in Mumbai has made him richer by about $117 million — money he says he plans to plow back into other ventures that aim to fight poverty while also trying to turn a profit.

And he says he wants to challenge other rich Indians to do more to help their country’s poor.

An Indian transplant to Silicon Valley, Mr. Khosla plans to start a venture capital fund to invest in companies that focus on the poor in India, Africa and elsewhere by providing services like health, energy and education.

By backing businesses that provide education loans or distribute solar panels in villages, he says, he wants to show that commercial entities can better help people in poverty than most nonprofit charitable organizations.

“There needs to be more experiments in building sustainable businesses going after the market for the poor,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in Menlo Park, Calif. “It has to be done in a sustainable way. There is not enough money to be given away in the world to make the poor well off.”

Mr. Khosla’s advocacy of the bootstrap powers of capitalism is part of an increasingly popular school of thought: businesses, not governments or nonprofit groups, should lead the effort to eradicate global poverty.

Some nonprofit experts say commercial social enterprises have significant limitations and pose conflicts of interest. But proponents like Mr. Khosla draw inspiration from the astounding global growth of microfinance — the business of giving small loans to poor entrepreneurs, of which SKS Microfinance is a notable practitioner.

Advocates also find intellectual support for the idea from the work of business management professors like the late C. K. Prahalad, who have argued that large corporations can do well and do good by aiming at people at the so-called bottom of the pyramid.

Besides Mr. Khosla, entrepreneurs like Pierre Omidyar, a co-founder of eBay, and Stephen M. Case, a co-founder of America Online, have started funds with similar aims.

But Mr. Khosla, 55, who moved to the United States from India as a graduate student in 1976, has another motive, too. He wants to goad other rich Indians into giving away more of their wealth.

India’s torrid growth over the last decade has helped enrich many here — Forbes estimates that India now has 69 billionaires, up from seven in 2000 — but only a few have set up large charities, endowments or venture capital funds.

“It surprises me that in India there is not a tradition of large-scale giving and helping to solve social problems and set a social model,” Mr. Khosla said.

Mr. Khosla is not alone in worrying about the state of Indian philanthropy. Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, who was in China last week with the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, said Thursday that he and Mr. Buffett might go to India as part of their campaign to get the very rich to give away half their wealth.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the story of how Acumen's Jacqueline Novogratz got into microfinance, as published by Businessweek:

I was an accidental banker. To please my parents, I went for an interview with Chase Manhattan Bank in 1983. They promised to send me into their offices in more than 40 countries and essentially audit the practices. It was an extraordinary job.

I had an epiphany in Brazil. We had made a $100 million loan to an airline owner who immediately moved the money to the Cayman Islands. Yet I saw all these people in the favelas who were incredibly productive but had no access to capital. I decided to leave Chase to work with a group that wanted me to help create credit systems in Africa.

As I was preparing to leave, though, the COO offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work directly with him. He made it clear that, in a few years, I would be able to write my ticket on Wall Street. I was torn. No one wanted me to go to Africa: not my family, my friends, or my employers. But I thought, "If I don't go now, I might never go." So I quit.

I ended up going to Rwanda in the late 1980s to set up a microfinance institution and a bakery. I came back to the U.S. to get an MBA and work at the Rockefeller Foundation before returning in 1996. When I got back to Rwanda, all the women from the bakery had been killed. Of the other women I'd worked with, one was killed in the genocide, another saw her family killed, and another was a perpetrator who was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The aid system was broken. The financial markets alone weren't going to solve the problem. I wanted to invest in entrepreneurs who could see the potential of the very poor. The poor want to produce and consume and solve their own problems. In 2001, I started Acumen as a nonprofit venture capital fund. Instead of giving their money away, philanthropists could invest it in businesses. Now it's a $50 million fund that has leveraged another $200 million of capital and created 35,000 jobs. My dream is to build this into a more powerful asset class. Everything comes at a price. I have to say no to a lot of things I love to do. But we have the potential to help build businesses that change lives.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report on Indians banks committing to work with microfinance industry in the wake of borrowers' suicides:

India's banking industry has thrown its support behind microfinance lenders after weeks of upheaval and confusion.

Major banks like the State Bank of India, Standard Chartered and Citi have all agreed to continue lending to microfinance firms.

The multi-billion dollar industry was on the brink of a mass default.

The banks' support has hung in the balance since lenders became embroiled in controversy in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

About four weeks ago, authorities started blaming microfinance firms for a string of suicides in rural villages.

They claim the suicides have been caused by company malpractice, heavy handed debt recovery methods and high interest rates.

Lenders deny the accusations.

Microfinance is designed to offer small, cheap loans to poorer borrowers, often in rural areas, who have difficulty accessing funds from banks.

Riaz Haq said...

Rumors of the death of microfinance in India have been greatly exaggerated, says Lindsay Clinton is the editor of Beyond Profit.

Here's what's really happening.

Until recently, microfinance was the darling of poverty alleviation. A foolproof way to pull people out of $2-a-day poverty. But, now, the microfinance sector in India is in crisis, so much so, The New York Times announced last week that “Indian Microcredit Faces Collapse from Defaults.” Is this another sub-prime fiasco? What happened to take us from “putting poverty in a museum” to putting the kibosh on the whole model?

Well, we got a little ahead of ourselves for several reasons. But, before we go there, here’s a brief recap on what’s happening in Indian microfinance: Last month, the government of the state of Andhra Pradesh, India’s most saturated microfinance market, ordered microfinance institutions to stop lending, and told borrowers to stop repaying. A spate of suicides by men and women who were microfinance borrowers alarmed many, and the government felt that microlenders were to blame. Were they?

In AP, two dueling parties provide a financial service to the poor. It gets a little complicated, but in essence, there are two ways to get a microloan, from the government or from a microfinance institution. Through banks, the government lends to groups of 11 to 20 women in so-called self-help groups or SHGs. The government has a mandate to disperse $22 billion to SHGs by 2014. The other option is a commercial, for-profit microfinance lender. They are shooting to use profits to scale up and reach even more borrowers. To get commercial microfinance money you become a member of a "joint-liability group" for a loan supported by group collateral. Some choose the SHG, others the standard microfinance institutions, and some take advantage of both, receiving multiple loans from multiple sources.

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Microcredit is only impactful if we create a deep connection to a borrower by offering a suite of services: microinsurance, financial literacy, business development training, etc. Some MFIs are already offering these services, and doing it well (see BASIX, for one great example), accepting that they may not grow as fast. The sooner MFIs evolve beyond the growth mantra and commit to making a real impact, the sooner we’ll be on the right track.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are a few excerpts from a recent NPR discusion of microfinane:

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work lending very small amounts of money to very poor people. Since then, microfinance institutions have popped up all over the world. Some organizations are using investors to make significant profits from this work, drawing criticism from traditional non-profit organizations. Host Neal Conan talks with Vikram Akula, the founder of SKS Microfinance, a for-profit microfinance organization in India, and Grameen Foundation president and CEO Alex Counts, about the pros and cons of fighting poverty for a profit.
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CONAN: I just wanted to bring Alex in on that point. From what you understand about the regulatory system in India, is are the rates being charged by SKS out of line, do you think?

Mr. COUNTS: Actually, no. In fact, SKS, we have some disagreements with their approach, but I would say that by global standards they are quite an efficient organization, pass many of those efficiencies on to the poor, and the trend is in the right direction. I think people are can afford those, running certain types of businesses.

But I do think there's a larger point, which is that, you know, there's in microfinance and outside of it, there's a lot of wishful thinking about people being able to make a lot of money and do a lot of good for the poor, and yet in reality there are not the accountabilities in terms of doing right by the poor, that there are in terms of making money.

And this is why we've, through Grameen Foundation, have been trying to take a model developed by the Grameen Bank, which we call the Progress out of Poverty Index, a kind of self-accountability tool for how the poor moving out of poverty. It is now the most widely used tool in the industry. We've long hoped that SKS would adopt it or any other tool that does the same purpose, and they've not elected to do that.
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And in case of Vikram, according to analysis that I've seen, his own personal stock options, there something in the range of $60 million. And I don't begrudge him that - those resources at all, but it does provoke a kind of a backlash. And that backlash is right now threatening the microfinance sector throughout India. And it's something a lot of us are worried about. And we think it didn't need to happen if people had been a little more thoughtful about how they rolled out this model.
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CONAN: The concern, and I don't again, would not put words in Alex Counts's mouth. But the concern is that sometimes profits become the goal, as opposed to the goal of eradication of poverty.

Mr. AKULA: Well, I think there's a distinction that one has to make between sort of what happens in theory and what's actually happening in fact.

You know, Neal, you had started with the question of, you know, wouldn't competition bring down prices over time. And in fact, that's exactly what we're seeing in India.

If you look at SKS, we were, at one point, as high as 40 percent interest when we started out, because we needed to charge that much to break even. We've lowered it to 31, 27 and now 24.5 percent. And what's interesting is at the same time, our return on equity went up from five to 12 to 18 to 21 percent, where it stands now.

So the actual history, the actual facts that suggest that competition does lower price over time, you know, as you get more and more, you know, players in, and simultaneously because of our volumes and our efficiency, you can actually provide even greater, you know, shareholder return.

I think the real question to ask is: Look, if the market works forthe middle class, it works for the wealthy, if competition gives choice and, you know, better pricing, why should the poor have anything less?

Riaz Haq said...

Here is SKS Microfinance IPO analysis by Xavier Reille of World Bank's CGAP published Wednesday, August 11, 2010:

By market standards, the SKS IPO is a great success. Institutional investors have over-subscribed their allocations by 13 times, and the company’s valuation of USD 1.5 billion came in at the top end of the offer band price.

This sky high valuation represents 6.7 times the company’s post issue book value, and about 40 times the company’s fiscal year 2010 earnings.

Such multiples are not in line with market peers. In emerging markets, banks are valued at 3 times the book value, while finance institutions serving low-income customers are trading at 2.6 times the book value. The SKS valuation is even higher – by a margin — than Compartamos’s valuation in its landmark 2007 IPO. At listing, Compartamos was valued at 27 times the company’s historical earnings although its 2006 return on equity (ROE) at 55% was more than double the ROE of SKS today.

Earning prospects at SKS are attractive, but on their own don’t justify such a high valuation. On the positive side, SKS still has a lot of room for growth. It has ambitious plans including offering new financial products, distributing goods and services beyond microfinance at the bottom of the pyramid, and transforming into a universal bank. But there are clouds on the horizon. Portfolio yield might stagnate as increased competition and political scrutiny put pressure on interest rates. The cost of risk will likely go up in the absence of a well-functioning credit bureau. Transaction costs for group lending will also increase as SKS focuses its growth on underserved, harder-to-reach clients and states.

So what might explain the unrealistically high valuation? This “irrational exuberance” in the SKS IPO price is probably due in part to excess capital flow. It reflects strong institutional investor interest in microfinance combined with the dearth of publicly-traded microfinance securities. Investors are seeking more exposure to emerging markets and to alternative assets. They are eager to buy into the microfinance story and with only two pure microfinance institutions listed, prices are getting ahead of fundamentals.

One of my concerns is that investors buying at such a high level may pressure management to increase profitability, at the expense of clients’ interests and long-term company sustainability. There is indeed a risk that a focus on short-term profit and quarterly earnings might overshadow—if not clash—with the social mission of SKS. True, this did not happen in the Compartamos case (the company did not become more “commercial” after its IPO) but there is still a risk.

What does appear likely is that someone is going to lose as, over time, the SKS valuation should come in line with global standards. Will it be the latecomer investors who bought too high? Or will it be clients as the institution prioritizes profit maximization? And what about possible broader ripple effects? Unmet expectations might make it harder for other MFIs to go gain the confidence of the public markets.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Newsweek on India's Microfinance Blues:

Small borrowing has big problems. Last month’s $221 million rescue loan to a group of troubled Indian microfinance companies—with some $2 billion on the line, nearly eight of 10 borrowers were in default—has stirred a crisis of faith in development circles. Critics complain that private banks, lured by the sizzling market in making small loans to the poor, betrayed the neediest by creating a mutant, developing-world subprime monster with 20 to 30 percent interest rates. Now there are fears it could spread.

Microcredit has ballooned into a $38 billion industry, but there’s less and less consensus over its efficacy. Abhijit Banerjee of MIT discovered that only about 5 percent of the 7,200 households that took money from Indian firm Spandana Sphoorty Innovative Financial Services managed to launch a business. Studies have reached similar conclusions in Morocco, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. “Most poor people do not have the basic education or experience to understand and manage even low-level business activities,” writes U.N. economist Anis Chowdhury. “They are mostly risk-averse, often fearful of losing whatever little they have.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from BBC.com's Soutik Biswas's blog about Azim Premji's $2 billion donation for rural education and development in his native India:

Mr Premji remains an exception in the world of Indian business. India has some 60 billionaires. The wealth of its top 10 billionaires equals 12% of its GDP, compared to just 1% in China, 5% in Brazil and 9% in Russia. The combined net worth of India's 100 wealthiest people is about a quarter of its GDP. But the philanthropic record of India's rich is spotty.

A few like the Tatas - who built and run the city of Jamshedpur and have a decent record in what is called corporate social responsibility - appear to have been more generous than the others. In recent years, India's billionaires have given away money to their alma mater, mostly foreign universities. A mobile phone giant has set up a foundation for underprivileged children; a tyre company has invested in containing HIV/Aids. The chairman of a leading software company has said he would set aside 10% of his wealth for philanthropy. A tea company has adopted several hundred villages. But one suspects that it all does not add up to much, considering the enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of India's rich and the power they wield.

Are Indians then too greedy to be philanthropic? Americans, for example, are known to be generous, giving away some $300bn - or 2% of the nation's GDP - to charity. There are no figures available for India - a much poorer country - but I am sure they will not be anywhere close.

I don't think some people are hardwired for altruism and others aren't - an act of charity is often spurred by an incentive of publicity and media coverage. Readers always responded handsomely whenever a magazine I used to work with launched a donation drive following a devastating flood or an earthquake. "You give not only because you want to help but because it makes you look good, or feel good, or perhaps feel less bad," write economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner in SuperFreakonomics. So, traditionally, India's businessmen have felt that they have contributed enough to society by giving away a lot of money towards building of temples.

Many believe that India's rich are not generous enough and flaunt their wealth vulgarly in a country where the majority are poor. One reason could be that most Indian businesses are run by families and have mercantile origins. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once appealed to businessmen to share their profits with the common man, maximise profits "within levels of decency" and refrain from ostentatious display of wealth because such "vulgarity insults the poor". Gurcharan Das, a writer and management guru who has worked with some of India's top companies, believes that Indian capitalism has begun to flower in the past few decades and wealth is "now being created" in plenty. He believes that the rich will begin to contribute to social causes in a big way soon, and Mr Premji's $2bn charity for education sets an "important" precedent. Time will tell whether Mr Das is being too optimistic.

Riaz Haq said...

Excerpts from Knowledge at Wharton website:

Ibrahim received a master's degree in economics, an MBA and a PhD in geopolitical strategy at Cambridge University. He is currently a research scholar at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and has been named an "emerging global leader" by Yale University's World Fellows Program and an "ideas scholar" at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival. He also was a paratrooper in the British Army and speaks four languages --- English, Arabic, Punjabi and Urdu.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: What did Pakistan's government ask you to do in terms of economic strategy?

Azeem Ibrahim: My friend, Dr. Nadeem-Ul-Haq, who was a key economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asked me to help him out. We were talking about setting up the first think tank in Pakistan, specifically to concentrate on economic development. We had a number of discussions about it before he left for Pakistan. A few days later, he called me [in May] and said, "Listen, I've just been appointed head of the Planning Commission and I'd like you to be a key adviser." We had a couple more discussions about it, and we thought the focus should be to encourage a more entrepreneurial and innovative environment in Pakistan. I thought I would give him some advice and that would be it, but what he had in mind was a little more ambitious. He said, "We have to write a whole new national economic strategy from a blank slate."
---------
Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: You mentioned in other interviews six main points you envision for Pakistan's economic recovery, including identifying people with business acumen. Can you expand on that point and tell me about the other points?

Ibrahim: I believe entrepreneurs are people who have the imagination to recognize a new product, process or service, and possess the ability to make their ideas happen. Entrepreneurs, and the new businesses they create, are the engines of economic growth and job creation, which in turn underpin political stability and the growth of a civil society.

To that end, we can identify experienced and potential entrepreneurs through schools, colleges, science and technology institutes, and civic organizations. We would seek entrepreneurs from "no-tech" and "low-tech" businesses, like agriculture, handicrafts and tourism, as well as high-tech businesses. We would work closely with development agencies, which have access to many "feeder" organizations to identify entrepreneurs.

The second point is to train and encourage entrepreneurs through domestic and international programs, varying from two-week boot camps to multi-month immersion programs. Third, we want to help develop networking, mentoring, incubation and acceleration programs. One example would be to establish an entrepreneur-in-residence program, which would include entrepreneurs from the diaspora who are familiar with Pakistani language, culture and business. Also, we'd like to establish a web-based backbone, with mentor-mentee matching as well as a contacts list for services, similar to Craigslist.

Funding, of course, is important, and that is my fourth point. We want to engage private sources of finance to provide funding for start-up ventures, including the creation of angel investor networks. We want to find the best possible partners to mentor young entrepreneurs and help them develop funding strategies and learn how to make the best possible presentations to potential funders or investors.

My fifth point is to combine diplomatic advocacy and foreign assistance to reform financial, legal, policy and regulatory impediments to private-sector development, and help entrepreneurs get access to early-stage capital.

Lastly, we want to promote the accomplishments of local entrepreneurs, who can be role models. .....

Riaz Haq said...

A Pakistani-American executive Kamal Ahmed has been caught in the Galleon financial scandal. Here's an excerpt from a San Francisco Chronicle report:

.. Kamal Ahmed, a Morgan Stanley managing director in Menlo Park. According to federal prosecutors, he provided inside information about Advance Micro Devices' July 2006 takeover of a Canadian firm, ATI Technologies, information that ultimately found its way to the captain of the pirate ship hedge fund, Raj Rajaratnam.

Ahmed's alleged involvement was revealed in a government court document Friday concerning Rajaratnam's trial, scheduled for Feb. 28.

The 42-year-old banker is cooperating with investigators, said his lawyer, Douglas Tween of New York's Baker & McKenzie in a statement. He is "confident that when the investigation is completed, and all the facts are gathered, it will be shown that he did nothing illegal or unethical."

According to securities filings and other sources, Ahmed works at Morgan Stanley's investment practice in Menlo Park. He was one of 241 new managing directors named by Morgan Stanley in December 2007.

On its website, OPEN Silicon Valley, a Pakistani American business organization, Ahmed, a Los Altos resident, is described as having "led a wide variety of financing transactions and has executed numerous mergers & acquisitions" for Morgan Stanley since 1999," according to information Ahmed provided to the organization.

Prior experience included stints at Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse First Boston.

According to Institutional Investor, Ahmed was one of two Morgan Stanley managing directors advising Hewlett-Packard on its $2.7 billion takeover of 3Com last year, earning the investment bank tens of millions of dollars in fees.

He is listed on the advisory board of Folio3, a Redwood City organization with offices in Pakistan and Bulgaria, which is "focused on helping entrepreneurs and small enterprises successfully build and manage an offshore software development presence."

A Yale economics graduate and Cornell University MBA, with 383 connections according to his LinkedIn profile, Ahmed could have plenty to say if he's cooperating with the feds. Morgan Stanley advised AMD on the ATI deal, and provided a $2.5 billion loan to finance it.

Saratoga resident Anil Kumar, a McKinsey consultant since fired by the firm, pleaded guilty and was fined $2.8 million last year for providing insider information to Rajaratnam, including the planned AMD takeover of ATI.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Christian Science Monitor report about inexpensive health insurance for the poor in Pakistan:

Karachi, Pakistan

Wilayat Shah, a security guard at the luxury Avari Towers Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan, was rushed to a hospital last December after experiencing headaches and losing consciousness at work.

Unlike the wealthy patrons of the hotel he guarded, the father of four wouldn't ordinarily have had access to top-notch medical treatment.

But thanks to a health-care program run by the nonprofit Naya Jeevan (New Life), Mr. Shah, who earns just $150 a month, paid nothing for the MRI scans and treatment he received, worth some $1,400. He now has returned to work.

Shah is one of some 13,000 low-income workers in Pakistan signed on to the Naya Jeevan program. It was founded in 2007 by surgeon-turned-social entrepreneur Asher Hasan and began operating in Pakistan last summer.

"In Pakistan, privileged people can afford their care," Dr. Hasan explains. "The poor, who work alongside the rich, were just excluded from the system."

Hasan left a successful career in the United States to return to Pakistan, where he had spent his formative years, on a mission to provide affordable health care to low-income workers.

He lived a "clichéd life," he says, with a résumé that includes an MBA from New York University, research work at Harvard Medical School, and a stint as a senior executive at a California-based pharmaceutical company.

"I knew there was much more I could be doing in Pakistan," Hasan says.

By working with insurance companies to spread risk across clusters of low-income workers, who typically earn less than $200 a month, Naya Jeevan opens up high-quality health care to a segment of the population that couldn't afford it before.

Each participant pays in about $1.80 per month. The maximum catastrophic payout is $1,800 per year – the average cost of heart bypass surgery at a good private hospital in Pakistan, Hasan says.

That low monthly premium, which he calculates as roughly 2.1 percent of the monthly income of the working poor, as well as the absence of deductibles and copayments, is "commendable," says Farasat Bokhari, a Pakistani-American health economist at King's College in London.

"More impressive is the fact that they have contracts with a large number of private hospitals, which are presumably of higher quality compared with the public hospitals, which are severely underfunded," Mr. Bokhari says.

Last year, the Pakistani government spent an average of $18 per person for health care, one of the consequences of its struggle to deal with an ongoing battle against Islamist insurgents on its western border and the aftermath of last year's catastrophic floods.
-----
Hasan has first-hand experience. Born in London into a middle-class family, his mother moved him and his three sisters to Karachi following the death of their father in 1983. On a trip back to Britain, Hasan's mother suffered a nervous breakdown. She had no contact with her children for the next three years.

During this time, Hasan grew close to the children of his maid. While his education was provided for by the colleagues and friends of his late father, his maid was unable to tap any wealthy connections when her father fell seriously ill, forcing her to withdraw her children from school.

"I realized that a single catastrophic event can lead to the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty," he says. "We had to create a system which could break that cycle."
---------
The next step after that, he says, will be to work with other major institutions to sign up 2.5 million Pakistanis and lobby the federal government to set up a similar program of private health-care insurance nationwide.

Riaz Haq said...

A big donor is giving $50 million to Stanford to help promote innovation and entrepreneurship for alleviating poverty in the developing world. Here are some excerpts from a Mercury News story:



A Silicon Valley venture capitalist has donated $100 million to Stanford University's Graduate School of Business to establish a new institute to promote entrepreneurship in developing countries and eventually alleviate poverty.



Robert King, along with his wife, Dorothy, also gave a second gift to the entire university, $50 million in matching funds to encourage more donations to Stanford. The couple's gift is the second-largest publicly disclosed single donation to the school, behind a $400 million donation in 2001 by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.



---------------


"The institute will be about sponsoring and creating entrepreneurial activity in developing economies," said Robert King, 76, who founded Peninsula Capital in Menlo Park. "Stanford is in an absolutely leading position to do that."



The Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies will be devoted to research, education and on-the-ground support to help entrepreneurs innovate and grow their businesses. Students and faculty will travel abroad to help businesses overcome obstacles to growth. The institute also will provide formal courses for entrepreneurs and nonprofit employees overseas.

----------------

The Kings say the inspiration for their philanthropy grew from hosting foreign students while they attended Stanford, a more than four-decade experience that underscored the importance of the link between education and entrepreneurship. It also led to a successful investment by Robert King, who provided seed money for China's giant search engine, Baidu, after he met the company's co-founders, Eric Xu and Robin Li, through one of the couple's home-stay students more than a decade ago.



"If anyone knows the value of encouraging entrepreneurship in the developing world, it's Bob King," Li said in an email statement. "Bob took a big chance on Baidu in our earliest days, investing in a Chinese search engine at a time when China's Internet was still in its infancy. I'm sure that this generous endowment will help create some great business leaders in the developing world."



The institute will build on work Stanford students and faculty already are engaged in through a collaboration of the business school and the university's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design in which products and business models are created for the developing world.



One venture to emerge from this work is d.light, a company creating products for people without access to reliable electricity. The institute will dispatch students and faculty members to work with overseas businesses and NGOs, or nongovernment organizations, identified as having great promise by other organizations.



---------------


"If their research is focused on Guatemala, we will send them there," Lee said.



The university is beginning the process to hire three tenure-track professors to fill research positions in the institute. They will join four current Stanford professors, Saloner said.



The Kings, who are active philanthropists, also founded the Thrive Foundation for Youth, which supports research on youth development and organizations that work with young people.


....................




http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_19262908

Riaz Haq said...

Khan Academy.org is the 6485th most popular site in Pakistan based on a combination of average daily visitors and pageviews. 1.3% of the Khan Academy.org users come from Pakistan and they generate 0.6% of the pageviews on Khan Academy.org, according to Alexa.

http://www.appappeal.com/maps/khan-academy-org/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Guardian report on social entrepreneurship in Pakistan:

The social enterprise landscape in Pakistan is nascent but fast-growing. From diverse sectors ranging from dairy farms to educational hubs to micro drip irrigation, early-stage enterprises have the potential of achieving hybrid financial return and social impact. Crucially, they are attracting interest from impact investors and business angels alike.

But how can these entrepreneurs be better financed, nurtured and trained?

Crucially, funding for small enterprises should meet the specific needs of the entrepreneur from seed financing to venture capital to growth equity. Social entrepreneurs need financial, but also non-financial, support such as mentoring, implementation guidance, and skills training development. Business school 'accelerator' programs and incubator hubs, which aim to accelerate the development of successful enterprises through such support mechanisms, combined with strong policy frameworks, can help create a long-term, self-sustaining ecosystem.

A report launched today by the Economic Policy Group (EPG) explores how incubator hubs can unlock the innovation potential of Pakistan's social entrepreneurs.

Successful incubator models already exist in some of Pakistan's premier business schools. The country's top business school, the IBA in Karachi, has in fact launched a partnership with Invest2Innovate (i2i), a social impact intermediary, to fast track the best entrepreneurs through its i2i Accelerator, a four-month program providing access to quality entrepreneurship education, skills, and opportunities.

"The IBA-i2i partnership helps start-ups who have passion and ability, but not the resources, to start their own businesses. It is a necessary step for growing and scaling viable businesses in the Pakistani market," says Kalsoom Lakhani, founder of i2i.

Other independent incubators across Pakistan, such as the Pasha Social Innovation Fund and Women's Business Incubation Centre, work with entrepreneurs across demographic segments in both rural and urban areas. The rise in popularity of these players is largely due to their ability to harness technology and digital media as communication platforms to empower entrepreneurs.

In the northern areas of Pakistan, where honey is one of the main agricultural commodities, Hashoo Foundation's Honeybee Project provided women beekeepers with beehives, as well as the associated training programmes to transfer this specialised skill-set to the wider community.
------------
According to Dr Iman Bibars, regional director of Ashoka Arab World, "creating awareness for the potential of entrepreneurship among policymakers, relevant institutions and the public at large is essential to help establish an enabling environment that social entrepreneurs can flourish in."

On a macro level, the investment in human talent and institutions will raise both investor confidence and entrepreneurial confidence in the country. By changing minsets through incubator hubs, education, mentoring and training programmes, a strong enabling environment for social entrepreneurship can be fostered in Pakistan.


http://socialenterprise.guardian.co.uk/social-enterprise-network/2013/feb/07/pakistan-social-entrepreneurs-innovation-potential

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistani-American NEDian Rehan Jalil's Cloud Security Startup Elastica Comes Out Of Stealth With $6.3M From Mayfield

http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/18/cloud-security-startup-elastica-comes-out-of-stealth-with-6-3m-from-mayfield/?ncid=twittersocialshare via @techcrunch

Elastica, a cloud security startup launched in 2012, is coming out of stealth mode with $6.3 million in Series A funding from the Mayfield Fund. The startup is also launching its new apps that offer real-time threat detection and even post-incident forensic analysis.

As more enterprises embrace SaaS and other cloud-based services, they are increasingly feeling the need to have a different approach to security beyond just traditional firewalls. This shift means over $2 billion annual market for cloud security vendors like Elastica. As Gartner noted last year, the highest growth is forecast to occur in cloud-based tokenisation and encryption, security information and event management (SIEM), vulnerability assessment and web application firewalls.

Elastica joins a fast growing club of cloud security startups promising to combine data science and in some instances even machine learning tools to help companies and employees secure SaaS data. There’s huge investor interest in the segment and some of the biggest names in the enterprise software world are backing many of these startups.

Elastica was founded in 2012 by Rehan Jalil, former CEO of WiChorus, which was sold to Tellabs for $165 million in 2009.

http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/18/cloud-security-startup-elastica-comes-out-of-stealth-with-6-3m-from-mayfield/

Riaz Haq said...

Farrukh H Khan is the Country Director & CEO of Acumen Pakistan and one of the leading independent business and financial advisors in the country. With over 25 years of senior management and board level experience, Farrukh is the founding partner and former CEO of BMA Capital Management Limited. Under his stewardship, BMA established itself as the leading investment banking group in Pakistan and received several international awards, including the 2010 Euromoney award for the best investment bank in Pakistan.

He has worked on many landmark transactions, including advising the Privatisation Commission on the US $813 million GDR offering of Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), which was listed on the London Stock Exchange, and successfully advising Etisalat on their $2.6 billion acquisition of PTCL, the largest M&A and foreign direct investment in the history of Pakistan. He has a deep understanding of business and investment environment in Pakistan and has worked with the senior most levels in companies and governments. He also has an excellent network and knowledge of business in the Middle East and South Asia
------
BR Research: Please give a brief description about Acumen.

Farrukh H Khan: Acumen began investing in Pakistan in 2002, and pioneered the idea of investing for social impact, which essentially means that we invest in businesses that serve the poor. Acumen itself in not for profit, so any return that we make gets reinvested for such ventures.

It is a new way of harnessing philanthropic capital. We do not give out grants or donations but encourage entrepreneurs in six key areas that we focus in: housing, education, health, water and sanitation, alternative energy, agriculture and financial services. We have pioneered the idea of using philanthropic capital to create and encourage sustainable models of development rather than donor driven models. One can also witness here in Pakistan that donor driven models do not suffice to address local issues of development.

This model does not replace traditional philanthropy and charity but we recognise that the poor can be helped with dignity and through sustainable models that are not donor driven. It requires a certain degree of patience because we also understand that establishing a pro-poor business can be time consuming. In our experience, anything between five to seven years is needed until such businesses become s..
......

BRR: How much is your work force in Pakistan?

FHK: We have a workforce of about 14-15 people in Pakistan. We work across all Pakistan while our main office is in Karachi and another office in Lahore.

BRR: Can you please tell something about the Acumen Fellowship program?

FHK: It is a one year full time programme. There were about 1200 applicants from 10 different countries last year. Fellows spend the first 3-4 months in New York going through a world class training programme. And the remaining nine months are spent with one of our portfolio companies on the ground. To scale up this programme we started regional programmes in different countries.

Under these regional programmes, the training is the same but the structure is more like that of an executive MBA. So the fellows continue with their current jobs and get together at intervals of 5-6 weeks over the course of a year to go through the training module.

This year, for 20 fellowships we got about 1000 applications. Our fellows come from diverse backgrounds and from across the country. The idea is that change should be indigenous and should be led by local people. The fellows should be involved in some social sector work and should also have a strong commitment to bring about progressive change.


http://www.brecorder.com/company-news/601:/1230073:philanthropic-capital-should-be-invested-more-strategically-for-poverty-alleviation-country-director-acumen-pakistan/?date=2014-10-03

Riaz Haq said...

The term social enterprise may be relatively new in Pakistan but it is gaining popularity in its areas of development.

While it may be an unfamiliar concept for many engaged in local grassroots businesses they can nevertheless see the potential of engaging in ventures which have a social impact.

According to the Opportunity Pakistan Report – produced by i-genius, an initiative supporting social entrepreneurs worldwide – despite the country’s social and political unrest, it offers opportunities for investment and innovation.

“Countries experiencing transition are fertile places for new ideas to thrive”, said Shivang Patel, commission coordinator of i-genius. “Despite media attention in the west on all things bad in the region we found a country progressing through slow but significant positive reforms. There is considerable untapped potential for social businesses”.

A new wave of creative and confident young entrepreneurs has emerged developing innovative start ups in areas such as environment, health and skills. Scores of young women and men from remote areas of Pakistan are becoming social entrepreneurs.

A longstanding lack of investment in Pakistan’s public sector has prompted local business leaders to invest in ideas which tackle issues such as water and sanitation problems as well as those which can address its energy and environmental concerns.

One such example is Pharmagen Water. Established in 2007,it aims to provide poor communities in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, with affordable clean and purified drinking water. It is supported by the Acumen, which invests in entrepreneurs and creates venture capital which can provide solutions to causes of poverty.

Another business offering a solution to parts of Pakistan’s energy strapped areas is SRE Solutions. Established just last year with Acumen’s support it offers to harness solar energy for off-grid customers in districts of Punjab and Khayber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

Similarly a low-cost engineering and construction enterprise, Ghonsla, was set up in the aftermath of Pakistan’s devastating earthquake in 2005. With 73,000 people killed and large parts of its cities and villages destroyed in the north by the disaster, the plight of 2.5 million people left homeless hung in the balance

The initial funding for Ghonsla’s pilot project came from Seed, Social Entrepreneurship and Equity Development, a venture which supports startups and grassroots innovations.

Its incubation centres in Pakistan provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs in their early years of startup.

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/oct/10/social-enterprise-is-an-emerging-force-in-pakistan

http://www.i-genius.org/

Riaz Haq said...

Why #technology entrepreneurs are setting up shop in #Karachi #Pakistan #SiliconValley

http://to.pbs.org/1EtWSwR via @NewsHour


The country (Pakistan) is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of young people.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro met with some innovators in the capital, Karachi, who are hoping that generation will fuel Pakistan’s rise to becoming a high-tech powerhouse.

The story is part of our Agents for Change series.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s one of Asia’s fastest growing tech start-up companies. This team of Web site developers is on a project for Coca-Cola.

UMAIR AZIZ, Tech Entrepreneur: So, this is going to go up in 27, 28 different markets.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Umair Aziz, the founder, can name-drop other blue-chip American clients.

UMAIR AZIZ: Sears. We have worked with Amazon in the past. We have worked with Microsoft. We worked with Intel.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One secret to his success — actually, it’s pretty much a secret, period — is where this company, called Creative Chaos, is located, Karachi, the teeming and indeed chaotic commercial capital of Pakistan, a country beset by terrorist violence and political instability, a city that ranks as one of the world’s most violent.

UMAIR AZIZ: We don’t want to be out of the race by advertising that we’re based in Pakistan. There’s a very negative stigma associated with the country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, prospective customers see nothing on Creative Chaos’ Web site about its location. Technically, it’s headquartered in San Francisco. They soon learn that almost all workers are in Pakistan. Once hired, Aziz says, his company has never been removed from a job.

UMAIR AZIZ: People in the U.S. really don’t know that there’s a world outside of Talibans, and there’s a world outside of, you know, everything that they hear on CNN and BBC all the time.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s in that world that Aziz carved out a profitable niche. Back in 2000, he was fresh out of college in Ohio and working for a Boston tech firm when he decided to return to his native Karachi.

UMAIR AZIZ: I knew there were hundreds and thousands of people like me who could join, you know, my organization. It was a risk, but I was betting on the talent. I was betting on people just like me.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His is one of a handful of thriving Pakistani start-ups, designing Web sites, databases and applications for global clients. The tech sector is seeing a healthy 35 percent annual growth and Aziz expects his firm to grow fivefold by 2020.

In raw numbers, though, that talent pool could be a lot larger, says Jehan Ara, herself a tech entrepreneur.

JEHAN ARA, President, The Nest: The country is about 200 million people, and 70 percent of them below the age of 30. So it’s a very young population. So, the potential is amazing. How to channel that potential is something that we are all sort of thinking about.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ara is leading an effort to scout that talent, trying to create what the technology business calls an ecosystem to foster creativity and new business.

This is The Nest. It’s one of a handful of so-called incubators that have been built in Pakistan. Here, 13 teams of techies chosen from more than a hundred applicants are working on what a panel of judges decided were promising business ideas.

JEHAN ARA: We are looking for young people who’ve developed a minimum viable product themselves while at home or at university and we know that they are committed to doing this. And then, once they get here, then we can help them further.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Pakistan, this is a rare work environment, and not just because it’s offered for free to these would-be tech titans. They have reliable power, broadband and hardware many could not afford on their own, plus a connection to global resources from donors to the facility, including Google and Samsung.