Kubair A. Shi­razee

Kubair A. Shi­razee, co-founder of the so­cial ini­tia­tive, Peace Through Pros­per­ity, speaks to Jave­ria Shakil in this exclusive in­ter­view.

Southasia - - CONTENTS -

What is Peace Through Pros­per­ity (PTP)?

Peace Through Pros­per­ity is a so­cial ven­ture, that pro­vides and pro­motes an en­tre­pre­neur­ial ap­proach to poverty al­le­vi­a­tion at the bot­tom most rung of the en­ter­prise lad­der.

We work with en­trepreneurs of cir­cum­stances (mi­cro-en­trepreneurs) help­ing them de­velop skills, be­hav­iors and gain knowl­edge that will en­able them to rise above the poverty line, make more money, cre­ate wealth, jobs and re­duce the fric­tions that ex­ist in so­ci­ety be­cause of poverty and the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with it.

How did PTP start?

Some five years ago we be­gan re­search­ing rea­sons for the sharp in­crease in ex­trem­ism, rad­i­cal­iza­tion, crim­i­nal­ity, the gen­eral rise of the ‘right’, gang wars, etc. What started off as a cu­ri­ous peak into the prover­bial rab­bit hole in 2009 led to our Mini-MBA pro­gram for street-based en­trepreneurs of cir­cum­stances to­wards the end of 2012.

The un­der­ly­ing premise of our ap­proach is that people liv­ing on or be­low the poverty line in the de­vel­op­ing world suf­fer from not only poverty but lack of ac­cess to jus­tice, op­por­tu­ni­ties, lack of so­cial mo­bil­ity, lack of their own abil­ity to in­flu­ence pos­i­tive change while so­ci­ety ex­tends them lit­tle dig­nity, if any. We can ad­dress these is­sue by the cre­ation of op­por­tu­ni­ties, jobs and wealth in so­ci­ety. How was the idea of a mini-MBA pro­gram for cob­blers con­ceived? What are its ba­sic fea­tures?

Back in 2008 when I was run­ning my own busi­ness, I needed to up­skill my­self to be bet­ter equipped to grow my en­ter­prise. How­ever, most pop­u­lar pro­grams, in­clud­ing ex­ec­u­tive MBA pro­grams, didn’t of­fer the tai­lor-made ap­proach I needed. Then I found a pro­gram at Cran­field Univer­sity’s School of Man­age­ment called the Busi­ness Growth Pro­gram which is es­sen­tially a mini-MBA for busi­nes­sowner man­agers; the main part of the pro­gram runs for 11 weeks. Dur­ing the pro­gram, you cre­ate a busi­ness plan tai­lored to your busi­ness and learn the tools that you would need to bet­ter man­age and grow your busi­ness. It was short, fo­cused, worked well with my sched­ule as an en­tre­pre­neur and made a dif­fer­ence to my busi­ness.

When we started the ex­plo­ration phase for PTP’s pro­grams, we con­cluded that the mi­cro-en­trepreneurs lacked skills and know-how, not am­bi­tion, de­ter­mi­na­tion or will­ing­ness to put in the hours. The ma­jor­ity do not know who their tar­get au­di­ence is, how to reach them, what cus­tomer re­ten­tion can do for their busi­ness, how to build on their strengths and more. They are to­tally en­grossed in work­ing ‘in’ their busi­ness with lit­tle time to step back and work ‘on’ their busi­ness. So we de­signed our own pro­gram – the MiniMBA – and selected street cob­blers to field test our ap­proach, cur­ricu­lum and its di­rect and in­di­rect im­pact.

Our Mini-MBA is a five-day pro­gram, with a two-hour ‘class’ ev­ery day in which we deliver prac­ti­cal and im­me­di­ately ap­pli­ca­ble busi­ness tools, knowl­edge and skills. It is fol­lowed by 12 weeks of one-on-one coach­ing and con­sult­ing of one hour each week at our stu­dents’ place of busi­ness. We go and sit with our mi­cro-en­tre­pre­neur at his thia and work with him to ad­dress his busi­ness chal­lenges. We like to think of our­selves as the Mck­in­seys or Ac­cen­tures for the im­pov­er­ished; who can’t af­ford to have con­sul­tancy ser­vices al­though I think they need them the most. The one-on-one ses­sions are the key to our abil­ity to en­able our mi­cro-en­trepreneurs to trans­form their busi­ness. And in a true Ag­ile fash­ion they are an in­valu­able op­por­tu­nity for us to learn, adapt and evolve our pro­gram.

Since our launch in Karachi we have ex­tended our pro­gram be­yond street cob­blers and have in­tro­duced our Mini-MBA for six trades: street cob­blers, veg­etable sell­ers, fruit ven­dors, bar­bers, chaat wal­las and juice wal­las.

Could you tell me more about this ‘true Ag­ile fash­ion’?

Ag­ile is a method where re­quire­ments and so­lu­tions evolve through col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween self­or­ga­niz­ing, cross-func­tional teams. It pro­motes adap­tive plan­ning, evo­lu­tion­ary de­sign and de­liv­ery, it is a time-boxed it­er­a­tive ap­proach and en­cour­ages rapid and flex­i­ble re­sponse to change. It is a con­cep­tual frame­work that pro­motes fore­seen tight it­er­a­tions through­out the de­vel­op­ment cy­cle. It is a nat­u­ral fit for the chal­lenges we are try­ing to over­come and the is­sues we are at­tempt­ing to ad­dress.

How did you de­cide that you will ap­ply ‘Ag­ile’ to a non-tech­ni­cal project?

By in­tro­duc­ing mod­els and method­olo­gies from across dif­fer­ent prac­tices and in­dus­tries we have man­aged to gain bet­ter in­sight into the driv­ers, cat­a­lysts and agents of change.

A soft sys­tems ap­proach has en­abled us to dis­sect the is­sues bet­ter, gain bet­ter in­sight and Ag­ile has en­abled us to ex­per­i­ment and de­sign pro­grams that work and evolve them should they not. Its man­ag­ing trans­for­ma­tion at a for­mi­da­ble scale and our ap­pli­ca­tion of mod­els, tools and method­olo­gies from across dif­fer­ent sec­tors is the in­no­va­tion we bring to our projects. Need­less to say so­cial change is des­per­ate for in­no­va­tion. Which city did you start from?

We rolled out our Mini-MBA pro­gram in semi-ur­ban lo­cal­i­ties in South Pun­jab be­fore mov­ing to ‘Pindi and Is­lam­abad and later to Haripur, Dara Adam Khel in Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa. We sur­veyed and stud­ied 444 mi­croen­trepreneurs and then took 113 of them through our Mini-MBA pro­gram. We ex­per­i­mented with the de­sign, de­liv­ery and eval­u­a­tion of our pro­gram in less com­plex en­vi­ron­ments be­fore com­mit­ting to our Karachi project, which we started in March 2014. To date we have sur­veyed and an­a­lyzed close to 400 mi­cro-en­trepreneurs across ten marginal­ized neigh­bor­hoods in Karachi and are go­ing to take 250275 of them through our Mini-MBA pro­gram from June 2014. What re­sults have you achieved so far?

The re­sults we’ve had so far are mind-blow­ing and have val­i­dated our hy­poth­e­sis: 113 mi­cro-en­trepreneurs who have com­pleted our Mini-MBA pro­gram have demon­strated an aver­age rev­enue growth of 50% and prof­itabil­ity growth of 92% over a 4-month pe­riod. How did this hap­pen?

From the get-go our strat­egy has been to teach skills, tools and tech­niques that will have a di­rect and im­me­di­ate im­pact on the par­tic­i­pant’s busi­ness. As you’d ex­pect from any wor­thy MBA pro­gram, we cover a range of topics; from hy­giene, eti­quettes, cus­tomer be­hav­ior, fi­nan­cial plan­ning and mar­ket­ing to busi­ness-growth strate­gies.

Our mi­cro-en­trepreneurs learned that main­tain­ing a clean en­vi­ron­ment, en­gag­ing with their cus­tomers po­litely and de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with their cus­tomers are easy and big wins and help them get re­peat busi­ness, big­ger tips and gain mar­ket share.

Not sur­pris­ingly we dis­cov­ered that most mi­cro-en­trepreneurs kept rough ac­counts or no ac­counts what­so­ever. We teach them to main­tain ba­sic fi­nan­cial records that give them un­par­al­leled trans­parency of which prod­ucts or ser­vices carry the high­est mar­gins, where they are bleed­ing money, where to cut down on ex­penses etc.

We teach them how to make the most of their strengths in con­text to their en­vi­ron­ment, how to iden­tify op­por­tu­ni­ties and fol­low dif­fer­ent pric­ing strate­gies. For ex­am­ple, if Ahmed Gul is known for his or­ganic juice stand (no added su­gar or wa­tered­down serv­ings) and has a par­tic­u­lar set of clien­tele, Ahmed Gul can charge a higher price for his prod­ucts and earn higher mar­gins on fewer glasses sold. Al­ter­na­tively, Ahmed Gul could quite eas­ily be a num­bers-churner by charg­ing less and get­ting more cus­tomers.

We also con­cen­trate quite a bit on ba­sic be­hav­ior and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. For ex­am­ple, if some­one comes up to them, they should make eye con­tact and have a con­ver­sa­tion. If a cus­tomer is wait­ing, they should not ig­nore the cus­tomer, tell him/her they will be with them in a minute, and gen­er­ally how to be cour­te­ous and en­gag­ing. How is your or­ga­ni­za­tion dif­fer­ent from other NGOs?

We don’t con­sider our or­ga­ni­za­tion an NGO. We think of it as a so­cial startup. None of us are from the de­vel­op­ment sec­tor or have any ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing worked for NGOs. What sets us apart is our method­ol­ogy, our at­ti­tude to­wards mi­cro-fail­ure, our abil­ity to learn, adapt and re­de­ploy at pace and, most im­por­tantly, our de­sire to have an im­me­di­ate im­pact. If we prom­ise some­one that we are go­ing to change his/her life, we want that trans­for­ma­tion to be­gin there and then not a week, month or a year later.

An­other dif­fer­en­tia­tor is how we view our own team and what we do for their de­vel­op­ment; by equip­ping our field team with skills and tools that are unique to the mar­ket we are not only in­tro­duc­ing new tools for think­ing at var­i­ous lev­els in so­ci­ety but cre­at­ing data in­formed knowl­edge work­ers at var­i­ous lev­els across sec­tors in so­ci­ety. We are in­creas­ing the mar­ket worth of our em­ploy­ees should they de­cide to move on. Our en­tire team is SCRUM/ Ag­ile ready, how many soft­ware houses in Pak­istan can claim that, let alone any NGOs. What are your fu­ture projects?

Karachi’s com­plex­i­ties and needs have opened up a whole new bunch of av­enues for us to ex­plore. We have re­cently launched our sec­ond pro­gram which is be­ing spear­headed by our co­founder Sa­har Zaidi-Shi­razee. ‘Kitchen Gar­den’ is a pre­cur­sor to es­tab­lish­ing an ur­ban farm­ing co­op­er­a­tive in Karachi. It’s about food se­cu­rity and com­pli­ments our over­all poverty al­le­vi­a­tion strat­egy quite well.

We pro­vide selected house­holds in lower-in­come ar­eas with grow boxes. The el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria is that the house­hold must be a fam­ily with kids, so the kids get to see the cy­cle of life, learn from it and en­joy the fruits of the fam­ily’s la­bor. The sec­ond is that there should be more than one woman in the house be­cause wom­en­folk, be they homemak­ers or work­ing moth­ers, have more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties than men do. We don’t want to lump an­other bur­den on an al­ready su­per-busy mum, wife or daugh­ter. The third cri­te­rion is they should have ac­cess to sun­light, be it a small court­yard, ledge or roof where they can place the grow boxes.

We pro­vide the house­holds grow boxes with quick to har­vest veg­eta­bles such as toma­toes, bit­ter gourd, green chilies, cu­cum­ber and green beans. Once these folks have proven to us that they have a green thumb, we will in­tro­duce them to ‘high-value niche’ veg­eta­bles and help them sell those to up-mar­ket restaurants and ho­tels. This way, they will not only grow veg­eta­bles that they can con­sume, but grow quick to har­vest veg­eta­bles that they can sell and use to sup­ple­ment their in­comes. We are cur­rently ex­per­i­ment­ing with 50 fam­i­lies in Ko­rangi that are grow­ing veg­eta­bles in 100 grow boxes. How can people help your so­cial ven­ture?

We want people to do what­ever they feel com­fort­able with, to be as in­volved or as dis­tant as they like. If blog­ging and so­cial me­dia is your thing then so be it; if you’re an aca­demic, let’s re­search and an­a­lyze our data to­gether; if you’re a grass-roots ac­tivists, help us mo­bi­lize ben­e­fi­cia­ries; if you’re a su­per-busy en­tre­pre­neur yourself then we’ll set­tle for your hard-earned cash; if you have an epic and in­spi­ra­tional story to share like Mr. Ab­dul­lah Chotanni, we’d love to have you over as an mo­ti­va­tional speaker. In brief if you have the de­sire to con­trib­ute we will find you a means to do so that will be uni­ver­sally ben­e­fi­cial for all!

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