A collective approach for good

Published: July 30, 2010

Pakistan is not made up of “individualistic” individuals. You are likely to find a cousin or friend in everyone.

Growing up, I’m pretty sure that most Pakistani kids never heard, “Mera beta, social entrepreneur banai ga!”

I’m also pretty sure that most kids in the Western world would have never heard that either. Social entrepreneurship is still a fairly new concept in the developing and developed world, and since the term is often associated with non-profit or voluntary work, it doesn’t seem to sit quite as well with individuals looking to make a significant chunk of change or parents who would prefer that their children become successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors or engineers. And who can blame them? The social sector does a pretty poor job of paying people a decent salary.

However, while heavily involved in the social sector, social entrepreneurs are quite a unique and complex breed of professionals, and could teach us a lot about community development and diverse strategies to promote social good. Their work often extends beyond the social sector, bridging gaps between multiple players while simultaneously creating solutions that change society for the better. They are able to identify where society is facing significant practical social challenges, then play the role of the heroic problem-solver by providing culturally and socially appropriate solutions to societal structures.

They are unique in that many of them work with local community members, businesses, universities, governments as well as other actors who would have a stake in the betterment of the societies that they all live in. Overall, the work of a social entrepreneur has be relevant to people and requires a deep understanding of the communal framework so that change and reform take root within a community.

As we all know, Pakistani society suffers from a number of impeding social ills, and implementing practical solutions to fix all of those issues has proven to be extremely difficult. While I hope that doing social good is on everyone’s mind, Pakistani’s often look to political “leaders” of the country to take action on solving these issues – yet sadly, officials always seem to think that the answer is getting more foreign aid.

The military, government, NGOs, businesses, have all attempted to educate the people, improve their health, etc. through their own isolated efforts with limited success. I think it may now be time to try a different approach – communities might want to start working in tandem to achieve social change.

The work of a social entrepreneur can easily be applied in the Pakistani context where there are multiple stakeholders who don’t have to wait or rely on the government or business sectors to drive change in society. Social entrepreneurs lead communities by guiding and empowering the public to become the change that they envision for themselves, and by capitalizing on the combined efforts of a community of varied backgrounds (business, governmental, non-profit, etc.) who are also interested in improving society, overall. Luckily, Pakistani’s may already have a lot of these social and communal values already instilled in them.

Generally, Pakistan is not made up of “individualistic” individuals (a concept heavily promoted in the United States) but is a country built on the importance of the family unit, including the extended family unit. It’s communal in the sense that you’re bound to find a “cousin” or a friend in everyone. Social entrepreneurs either create or utilize the existing societal networks to instill in people a sense of a greater cause and purpose. By identifying pertinent social issues that resonate strongly in society, they are ensuring that everyone has a stake in the community’s survival.

Let’s be realistic – I’m not saying that everyone quit his or her job and become a social entrepreneur. But isn’t it evident that social problems cannot be fixed by just one solution or through the efforts of the few in isolation? And yes – it’s still not an easy task, but at least there are some strategies that you could implement as an active participant of your own community (without having to quit your day job), and you’re now aware of a group of “do-gooders” that could help you achieve some practical change.


Naveen Shakir

A professional in the social sector, who has an MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and is now getting ready to make her way back to South Asia, hoping to make some serious social change

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

More by this writer

  • Manal Shakir

    I think you totally hit the nail on the head when you wrote:

    “The military, government, NGOs, businesses, have all attempted to educate the people, improve their health, etc. through their own isolated efforts with limited success.”

    The main point being, through their own isolated efforts. Therefore, while these institutions have tried, the success is only limited, and while an effort to implement social change is always welcome, it may not have the resounding effect we might want it to have.

    And the fact that you say that Pakistan is not an “individualistic” society, in the sense that our family values are very strong, is also a great point, because that is something that is going to make social entrepreneurship so much more meaningful in our society. Pakistanis are very charitable people, and a large-scale concentrated effort may be something that people here would appreciate and really follow-up on.

    All in all, great article, extremely relevant and eye-opening. I hope we do become the generation who will proudly say, “Mera beta social entrepreneur banai ga!” (I love that line)Recommend

  • Yasir Qadeer

    I believe CSO’s have done a tremendous job in sensitizing community against the age old dogmas. It is due to the involvement of such organizations that a common man is more aware of his rights.Recommend

  • sultan

    What needs to be is to create awareness regarding civic sense, respect for others and the concept of right & wrong in the light of our guiding principles.Recommend

  • Think therefore

    Social entrepreneurism is a term coined by the west to differentiate between entrepreneurism based capitalistic models of business financed by interest bearing loans.

    They key to the future lies in Islamic Entrepreneurism which is as pertinent in the social context as it is in the corporate sense. A system free from interest based debts (that drive businesses to extort senseless work from producers making them slaves and profits from users while unabashedly exploiting natural resources).

    The transformational leadership and impeccable mercantile values displayed by the muslim entrerpreneurs of the 13th to 15th century AD caused a sea of social change for Java and Sumatra. Our prophet himself was a “social entrepreneur” par excellence branded across the board with the identity of “Saadiq and Ameen”. I urge the young educated minds of today to study his life not from a spiritual angle but from the angle of a business-man and transformational leader… Islam’s golden era is rooted in its mercantile values and socially relevant past.Recommend

  • Manal Shakir

    The point of the article, Think therefore, was not about capitalist models of business or how to become good businesswoman/man, the point was to promote community, a sense of togetherness, and collective good to bring about social change in the country.

    The point of the article is to show you how people/institutions/organizations can come together and promote social good, regardless of race or religion.

    The article is obviously written from a social standpoint, not a business standpoint. I think more people are worried about unemployment and whether or not they have enough money to sustain themselves and their families instead of whether or not they have a system which includes interest free debt. Lets keep things in perspective.Recommend

  • sultan

    The term Islamic entrepreneurship is a symbolic one as it shows how this relationship should be carried out. The point is west is not to be copied as a role model for we have our own role model. So ‘Guiding Principles’ can only & only be the principles derived from our religion as we have the best social system in the world. Look at Pakistan in spite of extreme corruption and collapse of institutions the social system is completely intact only and only because of Islam. Recommend

  • Naveen Shakir

    Yes, of course there are alternatives to social entrepreneurship and symbols of ‘Guiding Principles,’ and I was trying to highlight a different perspective and approach on social good with my piece – so I do feel like you may be missing my point. Social entrepreneurs often don’t come from the West. They are often people who have been identified as leaders from their local communities. I actually think these leaders, when choosing to enter a financial market in Pakistan, may well need to work with Islamic entrepreneurs to build their projects up – possibly a great collaboration, actually.

    I would urge you to look again at what I wrote, because I’m stressing that the problem in society is in knowing how to implement tangible changes, and figuring out how we can come together in a practical and relevant way. I highlighted community networks as a solution to today’s problems. I feel that principles are best valued when we know how to practice them, and I wanted to bring in another perspective on how to leverage the practice of community development in Pakistan.

    I would love to read a piece about Islamic entrepreneurship and the practical models that these people use to better society. I think it’s important to have discussions on social good and social values with multiple perspectives, and I am very interested in hearing what we can learn – just as long as we all agree to listen. Recommend

  • Concerned Pakistani

    I agree with Manal Shakir, that this article was not about business models and what economic system should control them, whether Capitalist or Islamic but about communities coming together and acting in a way that benefits themselves. Charities, as wonderful as they are, cannot replace this kind of initiative because charities often tend to help very isolated populations with specific woes, but a community can help alleviate all or most woes that several charities would have to target because the community is looking at the big picture, and preparing to improve themselves all around.
    We as Pakistanis cannot keep depending on politicians anymore who constantly disappoint us, I am not advocating revolution or anarchy, but lets start helping ourselves because the government is not offering what we need, and its up to us band together and start helping each other- thats the only way I see our country improving. Recommend

  • Asad Kausar

    What I have always failed to perceive is how everything constantly has to be labeled Islamic in order to make others believe that it’s the right choice to make for Muslims. Think Therefore does point out some valuable information about how our Beloved Prophet (PBUH) was the ultimate role model when it came to all aspects of social entrepreneurship and he was known as Saadiq and Ameen for that reason. However, with the passage of time, I feel like the West has adopted the idea of helping society more than we have been able to. We always badmouth the West even on the positive accomplishments they make to alleviate poverty and assist the impoverished. Why is this? Why are we so apprehensive that we constantly have to look down upon others who are doing good for their own community? Are we that insecure that we must label everything “Islamic” before we can even consider implementing it in our own country? We are all direct representatives of Islam, and we don’t need to label anything Islamic because we ARE a living, breathing form of Islam. So when it comes to social entrepreneurship, there is only good that can come out of it in terms of helping out the community. I’m no Alim but I’m sure that most Muslims are already aware of the sawaab and satisfaction that is involved in assisting humanity. So let’s stop trying to find ways to badmouth another good cause. Since we have the example of the greatest Practitioner of social entrepreneurship, (Prophet Muhammad, PBUH) this should compel us to do well unto others just as He did without always trying to find flaws in a good cause. Whether you want to call it Social or Islamic Entrepreneurship, the whole aim of this effort is to be proactive and help our own people out, obviously without taking advantage of them. So whoever comments next should avoid creating divides and promote brotherhood so we can work in unison to help our brethren. Great piece Ms. Shakir, I admire your noble way of thinking and more people need to realize that they can create a difference in making people’s lives better rather than depending on others. Please continue posting on this blog!Recommend

  • Sulaiman Dawood

    Excellent post by Asad and blog by Ms. ShakirRecommend

  • Rehan

    great article naveen. “Mera beta, social entrepreneur banai ga!” is exactly what i hope future pakistani parents will say about their kids. Recommend