For the past month, we’ve been lucky to have Rehmat Khan, who manages the social enterprise incubators at BUITEMS Business Incubation and Entrepreneurship Center-BBIEC in Pakistan, working with us at SEA.
On a recent visit to Inverness, Rehmat sat down with Highlands & Islands Hub Manager, David Bryan. They discussed the challenges of development in rural areas and the potential for social enterprise to stimulate rural development in both Scotland and Pakistan.
With Peebles-based social enterprise, You Can Cook recently announcing an official partnership with the University of Edinburgh Business School, universities across the globe are realising their potential to support social enterprise in their communities.
So, Rehmat, can you tell us about the realities of life in rural Pakistan, in particular Balochistan?
RK: There are many challenges – particularly no proper health care services, no good education opportunities and facing lots of infrastructure problems.
DB: Presumably the impact of that is on young people in particular, causing them to leave rural Pakistan and move to the cities?
RK: Lots of people are migrating from rural areas to urban areas – in search of jobs and opportunities. As a result our cities are overpopulated and the facilities are also scarce there.
DB: I think there are parallels there between rural Pakistan today and the Highlands & Islands 30, 40, 50 years ago with depopulation.
If you go back to the 1960s-1970s, the standard of living was much lower in rural Scotland - jobs, housing and services were not as good. That’s about the time that emphasis and effort was put into community development – which partly evolved into social enterprise.
An interesting thing you’re working on at the moment is around social enterprise incubators. You mentioned a particularly exciting schools example – could you tell us about that?
RK: Yes, we’re supporting young graduates and other people to start their own social enterprises - one of them is The Joycation, which is about providing good quality education in rural areas and it’s now a really successful social enterprise.
Before, there was only one rural school and it was completely dependent on donations. When he came to our incubator, we suggested the idea of social entrepreneurship and we supported him to open a school campus in a metropolitan city as a profitable business. They now take the profits from the metropolitan school and reinvest it into the rural areas for their sustainability. Now there are three school campuses in the rural areas which are completely free to attend!
DB: That’s a terrific example. Investing in young people in rural areas is a great way of developing the economy. Hopefully in a generation’s time, those young people will be starting their own social enterprises in rural Pakistan!
The role of your university is really fascinating here. You have a social enterprise incubator unit where for 1-2 years you provide social enterprise support?
RK: Yes – there’s a 15 week programme in the incubator, where the curriculum covers business plans, marketing, finance, accounts and other business development areas.
We also take them to other workshops outside of the incubator. One was an introductory social enterprise workshop organised by British Council - where the facilitator was from Social Enterprise Academy Scotland.
We’re working much harder in order to connect the social entrepreneurs with different people, businesses, and investors in order to link them with the funding they need.
DB: From experience in Scotland, what’s needed is hard infrastructure – so buildings, access to tangible support like that. But also what’s important is learning, as you said.
We’d call that social capital – the opportunity to learn from other social entrepreneurs, to learn together and engage in peer learning. Our own experience is both are required at the same time – and that’s exactly what you’re doing with your incubator units.
RK: Exactly - learning is definitely as important as the infrastructure. It’s an essential part of our business incubator. We have a mentor pool with mentors in different areas of Pakistan. They are providing a number of sessions online as well as in person.
Another great social enterprise you’re incubating right now is around craft produce made in urban and rural Pakistan. It’s also sold overseas, is that right?
RK: Yes! We’re supporting another social enterprise called DOCH, whose main aim is to connect rural crafters directly with their customers. They play an important role in relinquishing the middle man.
Their designs are local hand-made crafts and are sold locally as well as internationally, to UAE and Muscat. So they are a very beneficial and successful social enterprise.
DB: That’s really interesting, as you say, cutting out the middle person means the producers are getting a good price and that’s really important.
I think there are parallels with some of the rural craft shops we see in Scotland. There’s one that one of our tutors has been involved in on the Isle of Eigg – where craft producers are coming together and selling directly to the public and visitors.
It could be really exciting if some of our craft shops in Scotland were able to sell not just local crafts, but international crafts as well. What do you think?
RK: Yes! It would be a great opportunity for Pakistani social enterprises to sell their products in Scotland. As well as having direct marketing links to the people who are living here, their products could be available to different people around the world.
So I think that’s a great idea you’ve suggested - to link those Pakistani craft social enterprises with local Scottish craft shops.
DB: I think there are great opportunities available, and what we’re talking about here are social enterprises that are viable and sustainable.
As you say, the schools that are trading quite happily, able to subsidise other schools in rural Pakistan. The craft producers, that’s clearly viable. There are great opportunities for this to be ongoing.
So another key part of the incubator’s work is raising the profile of social enterprise?
RK: Yes, we’re working hard to increase the awareness of social enterprise to the community and the students. We are looking forward to organising different workshops for people about social entrepreneurship.
DB: That’s exactly what we were doing when I first started at the Academy 8 or 9 years ago. We did a lot of programmes called Understanding Social Enterprise. Now we hardly ever do those programmes, because there’s this widespread understanding of the concept.
RK: We need different people and different stakeholders to promote social entrepreneurship awareness in our communities.
Even in our education sector – we should make social entrepreneurship part of the curriculum in schools! As you've told me, you experienced the same thing - first you were organising social enterprise awareness sessions. So in Pakistan it’s really necessary to organise social enterprise workshops in a variety of forms.
DB: It’s really exciting because the social impact that’s possible in rural Pakistan is enormous. It’s about some of those things we take for granted here in Scotland like health care, education, employment and the poorest in society having those opportunities.
So thank so you much Rehmat for your thoughts and insights – it’s great to have that connection.
RK: Thanks David – it’s been an interesting discussion and I’m really looking forward to being connected to you in the future as well.
You can follow the great work of BUITEMS Business Incubation and Entrepreneurship Center-BBIEC on Facebook.
To find out more about the current social enterprise landscape in Pakistan, read the British Council report here.