Mela Review

The two-day Social Innovation Mela at LUMS concluded on Saturday 21st March 2015. The event brought together social entrepreneurs from Pakistan and academics and field practitioners from India, US and UK onto a single platform. It included product fairs, panel discussions, pitching sessions and an exclusive documentary screening.

The LUMS Central Courtyard came alive with stalls of ten social enterprises that gave out marketing and promotional samples of everything from organic basil seeds to handcrafted jewellery and leadership development programs. These enterprises include Akhuwat, Rabtt, LettuceBee Kids, Reading Room Project, Gulmit Carpet Weaving Center and Mountain Fruits Pvt. Ltd.

A casual stroll away from the courtyard, in the Sayeed Saigol Auditorium, the main proceedings of the Mela took place. The event kicked off with a Keynote speech by the Founder of Akhuwat, Dr. Amjad Saqib, who related the story behind the creation of Akhuwat and the milestones achieved in its journey as the first interest-free microfinance service provider in Pakistan.

The conversation went beyond established local enterprises, however; the Mela engaged international participants in panel discussions vis-à-vis social enterprise in South Asia, the role of universities in furthering social justice, as well as lessons to be learnt from successful ventures in Pakistan’s burgeoning social enterprise space. Panel participants included a diverse mix of LUMS professors, faculty of the University of Minnesota and O.P Jindal University, corporate sector executives, as well as promising, young social entrepreneurs. The opening panel highlighted the need for greater integration between universities and other actors in social enterprise including startup incubators and civil society organizations working for sustainable development. “Universities have a huge benefit from greater community engagement,” remarked one panelist, Ross Velure Roholt, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota whose work in youth development has taken him to marginalized communities across the developing world. Dr. Basit Koshul, Associate Professor at LUMS and Kamil Khan Mumtaz, founder of The Lahore Project and a mentor at the Hatchery, also contributed to the panel with their respective insights.

Another panel titled ‘#SocEnt Today’ touched upon the social enterprise landscape in South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan. One of the panelists, Dr. Lina Sonne, Head of Mumbai Office at Okapi, shed light on entrepreneurial environments and the relative scale of impact investment in India and Pakistan. “The voice of the entrepreneur in Pakistan is louder, but Pakistan has lots to learn from across the border,” she added. Jeremy Wade, Associate Director at the Jindal Center for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship elaborated on the friction between social enterprises and external impact investment actors (read: CSR initiatives) and pointed out the need for organizations like Social Innovation Lab to stand by the side of the entrepreneur when such actors step in.

Startups from Social Innovation Lab’s flagship incubator The Hatchery gave promotional pitches to a thrilled audience. These enterprises include Ravvish and TurrLahore, a travel venture that organizes cultural visits to Old Lahore and brings together small vendors, young guides and innovation in tourism. The Turr Team managed to get a sizable audience, including Indian delegates from the O.P Jindal University, on board for their next visit to Androon Shehr. Bravo, Murtaza and Shareef!

Lastly, SIL, in collaboration with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) screened an exclusive documentary on the women artisans of the Gulmit Carpet Weaving Center in Gojal, Upper Hunza. The documentary features the story of their private enterprise, its potential and SIL’s pre-incubation activities to help the artisans reach that potential. To officially conclude the ceremony, LUMS Vice Chancellor Dr. Sohail Naqvi spoke on the importance of efforts to further the cause of social justice through social enterprise and awarded the Mela participants the respective prizes.

This event has hopefully set a precedent and will be the first of many annual Melas. Social enterprise has evolved as an industry around the world, birthing an ecosystem so extensive that it warrants a leading publication of its own called the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Multi-million dollar entities which focus on poverty alleviation such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ashoka and Acumen Fund are increasingly utilizing social enterprise as the vehicle which propels them towards their goals. It is high time we adopt an inclusive approach to social enterprise and integrate it into our society and economy.

This story was written by Taimoor Toor on 26th March, 2015

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