Good Profiles feature members of our Good Generation who are either out there in the field doing interesting work or still in the trenches of schools and institutions waiting to make their mark on the world. Have your own story to tell? Know someone who would be great to be profiled? Please sign-up or leave a note here!
What do you do for a living nowadays?
I am the Founder & CEO of Invest2Innovate, or i2i, a for-profit intermediary that builds early-stage social enterprises and access to capital in untapped markets. We launched our pilot in Pakistan in Fall 2011, and are working with four social enterprises in the country, building a number of local partnerships, as well as developing relationships with potential angel investors and funders amid the Pakistani Diaspora – fostering the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.
Is “doing good” a key reason why you chose this job?
Yes, absolutely, i2i was launched to provide services to existing social enterprises, improve access to capital to jump-start their businesses, and support the growth of entrepreneurs in these markets. In countries like Pakistan, where 66% of the population live under $2 a day, job creation, income generation, and quality services for low-income communities can make a significant impact. However, the ecosystem is relatively underdeveloped, and the enabling environment leaves much to be desired. The value chain for entrepreneurship is, in short, fractured. While there is capital & funding for later-stage enterprises, there is a need for resources & capital for early-stage entrepreneurs to help these businesses grow. I founded i2i because I believe we can play a role in helping entrepreneurs achieve this potential and help build the broader entrepreneurial environment in these markets.
What do you love most about your job?
I am passionate about turning great ideas into good businesses, and feel very lucky to be (on the path to) fulfilling that. As a young Pakistani, I feel a sense of responsibility to do something to better the environment in my country, which is politically unstable and has a volatile security environment. Access to finance & capital are just some obstacles impeding the growth of entrepreneurship. I know that our work with i2i fulfills a need, not just in Pakistan, but also potentially in untapped markets around the world. Some of my best experiences have been while I’ve been on the ground in Pakistan, doing site visits, watching young entrepreneurs pitch their ventures, and meeting with really awe-inspiring people that make me so excited for our work. The potential in Pakistan is palpable, and I hope i2i can play a role in turning that potential into tangible change.
What would you wish were different about your job?
The sleepless nights, caffeine dependency, and constant stress – but I also knew going into i2i that the start-up world would be unglamorous. High-risk, high-reward, as my dad always says.
What were some of the most important experiences that you’ve had that led you to where you are today?
I am the daughter of an entrepreneur – in many ways, my upbringing was fairly atypical from my peers. I never got the traditional “doctor, lawyer, engineer” mantra from my parents. At the dinner table, we talked politics and entrepreneurship. Failure, which is often a bad word in most of these societies, was viewed as a means to an end in my family – part of the learning process. Whenever I had an idea – like when I launched the news blog CHUP, or Changing Up Pakistan in January 2008, my parents told me to run with it, and supported me wholeheartedly through the process. I was incredibly lucky for their support, and I also think it explains – at least partly – my journey to becoming an entrepreneur. I have a high risk appetite, and believe in less talk, more action.
How did you get this job?
I began developing i2i one year prior to our launch. In that year, I talked to anyone and everyone in the social entrepreneurship space to gain insight on the burgeoning industry, investment projections, actual impact, and the future of social enterprise. I did this to further understand not just the current situation, but also the disconnects – to be sure that i2i would be addressing a need in an innovative way. When we first launched in September 2011, I realized that we’d have to adjust our model to match the ground realities, particularly since impact investors were not going to provide early-stage capital to markets like Pakistan. The risk is too high, the perceived environment is not very favorable. We are therefore leveraging Diaspora entrepreneur networks, in order to channel capital already flowing to Pakistan to well-deserving & high-potential social enterprises. Our goal is to build this community into an angel network and improve access to capital to these early-stage entrepreneurs.
If you had to make trade-offs, do you think they were justified or should it be different for others in the same situation going forward?
I think they were the realities that any start-ups face, particularly those working in more volatile markets.
If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know today, what past choices would you have made differently with regards to your career?
I wouldn’t change anything – though I would try and trust my gut a little more.
If you did not have this job and time/money were not a constraint, what would you ideally like to do?
I would love to be a travel writer/storyteller – I love discovering new cultures, trying new things, and understanding the nuances of various communities – documenting that would just be an added plus.
Finally, what advice would you have for others in the Good Generation who are interested in your job or career path?
I recently wrote a piece about my lessons so far (granted, I’m only 5.5 months in!): (1) Know what you don’t know (2) Don’t be afraid to ask questions – lots of them (3) Listen to your gut (4) Block out the noise and stay focused (5) Always stay interested and be interesting. A lot of those lessons are personal, but I am quickly learning they are very helpful in being a flexible entrepreneur