The road to funding Social Innovation
It feels great when things finally start coming together, isn’t it?
When Google first gave P@SHA the seed grant of US$250,000 to set up the P@SHA Fund for Social Innovation, we were thrilled at the opportunity this would create for some new entrepreneurial ideas to emerge that would focus on social change and social impact. At the same time we felt the weight of the responsibility and the faith that had been put on us to keep the process totally transparent and merit-based.
The first thing that Badar Khushnood and I did was talk about the kind of people we should involve – people who were above board, who would be committed to putting in time and passion and would work with young people to ensure the success of the ideas that were submitted.
Well, we certainly got lucky with our choice of people. Not only do we have an advisory council which comprises of seasoned professionals and community leaders, we also have a panel of judges who are serial entrepreneurs and whose only mission in life seems to be to plant the seed of entrepreneurship amongst the highly energetic and talented young population of this country.
And there’s no way I could possibly forget our cool Outreach Gurus who are from the Who’s Who of our mainstream and online media scene, have helped organize activities and have spread the word regarding the Fund through the length and breadth of Pakistan.
The advisory council has been great in helping us develop strategy, define parameters and have even reined us in when the need arose.
What do I say about the judges. Jawwad Ahmed Farid, Zafar Khan and Atif Mumtaz have worked long hours to ensure that they painstakingly went through the 300 entries, assessed the ideas, their likely impact and their ability to deliver. If they had had their way, they would have funded a lot more ideas than this limited funding allows us to.
They shortlisted around 64 ideas and could have just scored on the basis of the entries but they were keen to understand better what it was the nominees wanted to achieve and so they asked for 5 minute videos to be uploaded on YouTube answering 4 key questions. This of course meant that they had to go through all the submitted videos and assess the ideas one more time – a task they undertook willingly and with an excitement that was great to see. They exchanged notes, discussed the pros and cons, the possible impact, the likelihood of success and the ability of these youngsters to bring about change in their communities. Remember, each of these guys lives in a different city and they lead hectic lives. Yet they wanted to ensure that they were being absolutely fair to all applicants and were looking at the ideas keeping in view all the parameters defined in the criteria.
Selecting the first handful of grantees out of several hundred would mean disappointment for many and we were fully aware of that. Since we were limited in the number of ideas we could fund, we still wanted to ensure that we kept the process transparent and merit-based. There is already too much trust deficit in this country and there was no way we wanted to add to it.
Hence the YouTube videos. Hence the long explanation from Jawwad Farid on the reason for the selection of the first batch. Hopefully the applicants have all gone through some learning during the process.
The combined experience of Zafar, Atif and Jawwad – who are alumni of CalTech, Stanford and Columbia and have started and run companies, have taught, have consulted in various parts of the world, has been invaluable to P@SHA and the Fund. Thanks guys. What would we do without you?
But take heed – excited as we all are at the announcement of the first batch of winners, the work has only just begun. We need to work with the grantees, assign mentors to them and ensure that they take the first steps toward helping us “to change the world”.
To thank Google.org for placing faith in the youth of Pakistan and in P@SHA is a tough task. When I first met the Google team in Islamabad with Badar and we discussed the potential of this country and it’s youth, I had no idea that this would actually amount to anything. But it did and we have never looked back. Thank you Google for your support and thank you for having such a cool, dedicated and committed individual as your Consultant in Pakistan. He is only always a phone call away. Thank you Badar. You rock!
As for the grantees, what can I say? The Alif Laila video floored us all. Their ability to see how technology can add to the depth and scope of what they have already done, warmed our hearts.
The audible.com project which would result in the beauty of our language, our poetry and literature being spread to a younger audience, to those who weren’t literate, to those with visual challenges – and to a much wider audience beyond our borders, excited us all.
The Online Handmade shoe store idea may not seem like a social idea but if you look at how it will change the lives and add to the incomes of those craftsmen who produce these beautiful products – how it will create jobs and increase market opportunity, you will understand why the judges were sure they were a winner.
And last but not least Bloodline. With a network of 200,000 volunteers already on their network actively engaged in catering for blood and platelet donations for dengue, cancer and other patients requiring blood, being able to institutionalize and automate the processes will enable them to create a much bigger social impact.