“Innovative mindset is the key to fostering entrepreneurship in the country,” CEO ECI: Pakistan

Shahnaz Kapadia-Rahat, a distinguished professional in the development sector, is the founder & CEO of ‘Empowerment thru Creative Integration’. She is Pakistan’s first female trainer to receive Lead Trainer Certification for Entrepreneurship Development Training from MSI, USA.

Shahnaz has over 27 years of experience of working with national and international development organizations, donor agencies and the government. In addition to working across Pakistan, Shahnaz has played a leading role in conceptualizing, implementing and monitoring development projects in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, China, Iran, Philippines, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, Uganda, and Sudan.

Following are the excerpts from her recent discussion BR Research.

BR Research: Briefly, what is the role and function of an organisation like ECI in the development sector?

Shahnaz Kapadia-Rahat: Empowerment thru Creative Integration (ECI) is a Pakistan-based capacity development organization, which has a mission to create ‘change-makers’ who promote socio-economic transformation. The organization has over twenty-four years of national and international experience in strategic planning, institutional development, project design and implementation. There are three strategic units within the company: Curriculum Design & Communication: Equipped with an in-house team of communication specialists, editors, translators, graphic designers and visualizers, this unit focuses on design of learning and knowledge products for a range of target audience from non-literate farmers to high-level government officials.

Recently, this unit spearheaded the design and development of a 2-day Financial Literacy curriculum used by the Nationwide Financial Literacy Program funded by the State Bank of Pakistan and the Asian Development Bank.

Livelihood & Enterprise Development: This unit is devoted to the design, implementation and monitoring of innovative development projects to improve grassroots livelihood. In addition to working directly to build capacity of community-based beneficiaries – with a focus on women as well as marginalized and vulnerable groups – this unit works closely with over a 100 NGOs and Civil Society organizations to build their capacity to design and implement sustainable livelihood programs. Currently, for example, the organization is working with the Benazir Income Support Program, Waseela-e-Haq initiative and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) to train 30,000 male and female youth in Sindh in Enterprise Development.

Mera Maan Training Center: This building, nestled along the picturesque banks of the Korang River in Barakaho is a purpose-built training facility that is available on rent to the development sector (and any other interested buyer). The facility offers our clientele two training halls equipped with all necessary amenities, residential facilities for 32 people (on a twin-sharing basis), a computer laboratory, business center and a cafeteria with excellent food!

BRR: What inspired you to set up your own venture?

SKR: Prior to entering the development sector, I was teaching at the IBA, Karachi, where I had graduated from in the year 1982. I am glad I took up the teaching offer from the then IBA Dean and Director, Dr. Wahab, because in teaching I found the passion of my life. For two and a half years, I stayed on and taught young business students. During my stay at the IBA, I generated many new courses, and that’s the kind of thing that has fascinated me since. The trainer in me did not like just standing in the class and delivering lectures, so my teaching style was naturally participatory.

In 1985, I moved to Islamabad, and began working for USAID as a trainer. In addition to building my capacity as a trainer and facilitator, I was also exposed to concepts of small and micro-entrepreneurship, with a special focus on both family businesses and women. My husband began working on familybusinesses while I became fascinated with the concept of micro-enterprise, and women entrepreneurs.

ECI began in 1989 as a tiny little consultancy that emerged out of my bedroom. I had to wait 6 months for my first break – my first development project. But I persevered because I believed – and still do – in what I did, and was passionate about the difference I could make. It is a mixture of vision, passion, education and experience that inspired me to create an organisation from scratch, and help it become what it is today.

BRR: How is ECI different from other organisations in the sector?

SKR: We are not an NGO. We are a private limited company, registered with the SECP. When I set up ECI, all I knew was that I wanted a sustainable, business-oriented solution that would allow me to effectively contribute to society. I believe that one can only teach somebody from the heart when one believes in it, so I did not want my organisation to depend on donor money. I knew that my clients, the people from marginalised communities, would not have the capacity to pay the training fees on their own, so I would find someone in the market who might be willing to pay for them. My direct client would still be development organisations – but I would not ask them for funds, instead I would ask them for fees. In today’s terminology this is known as a ‘Social Enterprise’.

Another difference within ECI is the way our incentive structure is shaped. Because we are an organization that takes a fee for what we do, we have to excel. Our client is not obligated to come back to us if we fail to deliver. Moreover, since we do not take grant-based funding, we have to in effect ‘earn’ our
living. It’s a different paradigm, a different way of looking at and doing things. We believe our way allows us to be more efficient, more cost conscious,
more research-oriented and responsive to new ideas and practices as well as more innovative than other organizations.

I am proud to say that each and every person on my team is entrepreneurial and focused on the innovation triangle (how to cut costs, and time while
simultaneously increasing profits). Some 236 individuals are working with us right now, out of whom 200 are associates who work for us as and when the
projects come in. We are a lean organisation and prefer to be like that.

BRR: Please tell us briefly about ECI’s current project repository?

SKR: At any given point of time ECI is fortunate to be engaged in 20 to 25 large and small projects. We are currently working with the UNDP and the Election Commission of Pakistan to build capacity of Election Stakeholders. In the Curriculum Design area, we just finished a fabulous Life Skills and Enterprise Development training program for school-girls (grades IX and X) which is currently being implemented by the World Population Foundation and their local partners with a group of 22,000 girls in Sanghar and Gujranwala.

For the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), we are currently training 3700 flood-affected men and women. Similarly, we are engaged with the Benazir Income Support Program and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, ECI to train 16,000 beneficiaries of the Waseela-e-Haq program. Moreover, ECI is working with the ADB to implement a ‘Changemaker’ program designed to empower women and youth in district Shikarpur, Sindh.

ECI regularly conducts open training programs for Development Professionals. Our latest program is a 4- day residential training on ‘Sustainable Livelihood &  Enterprise Development’ which will be conducted at the Mera Maan Training Center in the last week of May, 2012.

BRR: What is your approach towards the areas of Livelihood and Enterprise Development?

SKR: In the livelihood area, we focus on research as well as designing projects and capacity building opportunities that will enhance the productive assets and business opportunities available to an individual, a family or a community. While enterprise development is one of ECI’s most renowned areas of contribution to the development sector, the organization works on other dimensions of livelihood including: management of on-ground natural, physical and environmental assets, skill-based technical capacity building, technology transfer as well as business incubation.

LED also focuses on strengthening market-based value chains by individually working with each actor in a chain to strengthen their entrepreneurial capacity as well as with different organizations (for e.g. Chambers of Commerce) to build a stronger enabling environment and improve access to necessary support services for business growth.

BRR: There are many job-seekers in the country and few job-creators. What is your take on the issue?

SKR: Our education structure is generally risk-averse, and families prefer that their children enjoy a comfortable salary in order for them to be ‘settled’. Entrepreneurship, though admittedly more risky, is both fun and financially viable. It is important for young minds to come face to face with an entrepreneurial culture that allows and encourages them to expand their horizons, take risk and – certainly – make mistakes but use them as an opportunity to grow. However, it takes a lot of time, patience and credibility to create goodwill, and there is no shortcut here.

Recently, ECI worked with the Pak-US Alumni Association (PUAN) to implement a series of orientations on Enterprise Development for students from 10 universities. Initiatives such as these will inspire our youth to alter their career path towards growth and innovation – thereby, we believe, changing our country’s future.

BRR: The million-dollar question: how to instill that entrepreneurial mindset?

SKR: The entrepreneurial mindset is really a way of life – on and off the job. One could think about it as ‘chah’ (achievement orientation), ‘rah’ (the path or way forward, and therefore a systematic planning), and ‘salah’ (linkages and connections). Part of this comes from the rearing and grooming that one receives early in life. However, this mindset can also be developed. Creating entrepreneurial mindsets is what our enterprise training is all about. Through experiential activities, participants learn about themselves, and identify ways to improve initiative, risk taking ability, goal setting, information seeking, systematic planning, networking, influencing strategies, etc,

The focus on creating entrepreneurial mindsets is not limited to our training. At ECI, we require every employee to invest in the innovation triangle, i.e. doing it better, cheaper and faster. Enterprises must carefully think about how they can improve quality without increasing cost or time. I have also noted that as a nation, we are not conscious of how we treat time, one of the most precious resources at our disposal. To conclude, I think that an entrepreneurial mindset is essential for everyone, not just entrepreneurs. Pakistan, as a whole, needs an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset. We need this positivity amongst our teachers, public servants and laborers. And we need to inculcate this attitude amongst children as part of the national curriculum.

BRR: What are your future plans for ECI?

SKR: ECI has grown from a home-based business to a residential training institute with 240 trainers across the country and Afghanistan. There is an organic dimension to the Company that will allow it to be replicated across the country and elsewhere. Within the next five years, ECI will build human and institutional capacities in every district of the country so that people at large have access to the best counsel and advice for job placement, enterprise and livelihood development, and skills development. Rather than do it ourselves, our mandate will be to build the capacity of other organisations so that they can take it forward.

One of my dreams is to establish a College for Community Based Changemakers (CCBC), where individuals selected from the community would be trained as ‘Social Entrepreneurs’. The CCBC will work with bright young men and women from remote communities across Pakistan, who can read and write, but who have never been to college before. ECI has already initiated a one-year pilot programme with

the PPAF, where 30 Changemakers from Ziarat, Baluchistan, are being trained as Education and Health Changemakers. This program is designed on the belief that sustainable development – and change – can only come from within communities.

These individuals are bought to the college for 4 semesters, where they are oriented to development issues as well as provided with an exposure to solutions being implemented across the globe. This capacity-building program will allow each participant to build a development plan for their own union council focusing – though not exclusively – on ‘business solutions for social issues’, i.e. social enterprises.

source: http://www.brecorder.com / Home> BR Research> On the Record> Miscellaneous / Wednesday, June 06th, 2012

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