Social entrepreneur Faraz Khan has received international acclaim for his success in fostering an entrepreneurial spirit within various diaspora communities across Europe and the UK.
After a successful career in banking, Faraz achieved great success with his company Gizelle which specialized in outdoor advertising and later pioneered the concept of CSR Outdoor media.
Reflecting on his success as an entrepreneur, Faraz wanted to focus on adding value to all small grassroots businesses. Through his unique initiative, Bridging Britain and his team has won recognition for fostering integration and social cohesion in the UK as he seeks to connect micro-entrepreneurs with mainstream UK and European markets. As many of these entrepreneurs emerge from the diaspora communities within the UK and Europe, this initiative has made great strides in bringing about integration within multicultural Britain.
He shares his innovative ideas on social entrepreneurship with Blue Chip and talks about how to share success for the benefit of the entire community.
What prompted you to leave the banking sector and set up your own company, Gizelle?
Faraz Khan: “There were two parallel reasons: firstly, in banking I was making a lot of money for a concentrated group of individuals and I thought that I could do much more; secondly, I found an opportunity in which there was a huge gap between the purchasing price of particular items to sales. So that opportunity prompted and actually instigated the sense of entrepreneurship within me. So, I decided it’s enough – I’m not going to make money for a very select group of individuals. It’s better to actually make it myself and later on to do it for the people.”
What untapped potential did you see in outdoor advertising?
FK: “At that point of time, the price of a particular outdoor medium was quite high. When I actually investigated, the cost of it was very low and the margins were amazing. But again, such margins are usually short-lived in which profit margins were high and the market was not aware of the cost.” Later in the day we invented the concept of CSR Outdoor media, which takes the brands to invest into outdoor assets, which are socially responsible and have multiple positive impact on society and communities beyond the brand mileage. Our landmark projects so far are two & three sword roundabout (Do Talwar and Teen Talwar) in Clifton Karachi which we conceived and developed with the local government authority and Abu-Dhabi group.
Our most recent project is the state of the art passenger shed at Jinnah airport Karachi which again we conceived, developed and delivered in association with CAA and sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank.
The idea which the local market used to make fun of five years ago, won the national recognition at annual national CSR awards and Gizelle communication won the national CSR media award for social media innovation.
You have also established Bridging Britain? What motivated you to do this?
FK: “ All these set- ups are with a partner of mine by the name of Khusro Ansari and we both are equally involved in all the endeavours. Once we set up Gizelle, we decided to venture into international training to support ethnic diasporas in the UK to enhance their trade with the mainstream community in the UK by creating linkages between their home countries and UK markets. While sitting in one of the basements in our office we thought: ‘what is global business? Why people are so intimidated by the world?’ It’s nothing; it’s just a psychological barrier. When you do business in any other part of the world it’s global. And we broke that barrier, although we were very small – just two individuals. That was about eight years ago and our business is doing fantastically now. We have set up four other international businesses. So we broke the psychological barrier of ‘going international’ which many grass roots entrepreneurs and small businesses have.”
How does Bridging Britain help to bring about and enhance social cohesion?
FK: “ The ethnic differentiation in the UK environment between various immigrant communities – be it Indians, Pakistanis, Poles or Sri Lankans – is dependent on multiple factors. According to research, we realized that the most important factor is the economic factor. So if you actually concentrate on the grass roots economic factors of these ethnic diasporas and you give them avenues to improve their lifestyles and living standards, these differentiations are going to get diluted. So that was the primary factor and keeping that as an overarching goal, we continued to work on Bridging Britain.
For example, if in Pakistan you give occupations and erase all debt to grass roots individuals , you know, in northern areas or in Quetta, people would not go towards religious fundamentalism or terrorism. Similarly, if you actually give the diaspora communities opportunities to prosper, greater social integration will be achieved.”
Bridging Britain has received a lot of recognition within the UK, the government. Can you tell me about this, how did this come about?
FK: “Initially when we launched, no one even recognized it. We used to go to the agencies, we used to go to the trade commissioners and export promotion analysts and they used to say, ‘well, it’s okay’. But the recession really helped us out because once the speculation died when the property prices plummeted, once the trading and the stocks went down, people went back to basics: trade. Our solution to develop and enhance trade for grass root communities was brilliant so everyone started coming back to us, be it the export promotion set ups in diaspora home countries or mainstream markets in the UK. They recognized us and since then our business turnover has actually gone up by four times.”
What drew you to social entrepreneurship initially?
FK: “It was kind of a graduation. I was a banker making money for a select group of people, I decided to make money for myself and when I started making money for myself I thought: what’s the difference between me and the same sort of people that I used to make money for? I realised that if you created value for others, the value would multiply more efficiently and at a more rapid pace and the impact would be double. I’m not saying that I’m a philanthropist. But in a way, I would say that I’m a social activist as I give the community and people around me sustainability and ways and means to actually prosper themselves. We never discourage our employees to start up their own businesses. We never discourage our suppliers to enhance their markets and create a competitive environment simply because that would be curtailing growth. So if you study our business model, you will see small multiple businesses blossoming and mushrooming.
Though this might be perceived a danger to our particular business, interestingly enough, we have actually prospered because these people and these entities have grown with us. So there is an internal bond and respect. I understand that a point is going to come when they will be our competitors but then by that time we would have moved on as well. And that’s the whole idea of developing a market. You can make it a monopoly or oligopoly but again, how long is that going to sustain? And the benefit would be very concentrated. So if you want a spread out model, you actually allow your competitors, your suppliers, your other stakeholders to grow with the same proportion as you’re going to grow. So rather than being scared of competition you support competition. And it works.”
What prompted you to set up Stimulus in collaboration with Navitus?
FK: “I met Mehreen Shoaib, CEO of Stimulus, four years ago. Mehreen is a fantastic development sector specialist and she’s passionate about that area. Together we explored the scope and the landscape of business in the development sector. So we decided to create Stimulus with Farhad Karamally and Mehreen Shoaib from the Navitus side, and from the Bridging Britain side Khusro Ansari and myself to concentrate only on the development sector in Pakistan, specifically the international aid organizations, the NGOs, the charities and the corporate social responsibility of the private sector. The mantra of the development sector globally has changed from donorship and aid to sustainability. Now, all NGOs and charities need to show results and generate their own funds. You only do that if you are efficient. Business practices and the corporate world practices are known to be more efficient and less bureaucratic compared to the development sector. So that is where Stimulus comes in.”
You have done unprecedented work on flood relief. Can you tell us about this?
FK: “I must give all credit to the Stimulus team for that. This was a completely non-commercial and voluntary step that the Stimulus team took. The Stimulus team went to the affected areas and they have done their work in terms of raising money and helping those people out. But they said, ‘we need to do something else’. So they created www.floods.pk site to find out how much money has been donated, to which sectors, and where that money has gone. On the basis of this research, they developed a report which we are presenting in Washington, Rome and Berlin. Again, when a catastrophe hits Pakistan, the international development community gets activated. They send a lot of money but then after that they see that there is minimal impact.”
Which is why there was a lot of donor fatigue during the floods because people couldn’t trust where the money was going.
FK: “Absolutely. We actually created this platform to show how the catastrophe was managed and how the impact was driven.”
How do you thing Pakistani youth can be drawn towards entrepreneurship?
FK: “Well, Pakistan basically is an entrepreneurial nation from the core, you take the grass roots, rural and urban you would find entrepreneurs everywhere buying, selling goods and services, unique propositions, value propositions. Entrepreneurship just needs to be structured and an in-depth know-how and refinement is required. I feel there are three segments: grass roots, rural & semi urban segment, the young graduate segment who just want to get employed by multi-nationals instead of giving a try to create employment and third segment is the mid level entrepreneur who is satisfied with the spread and not aiming to grow further. I truly believe if we could concentrate on these three segments and refine, inculcate and somewhat broaden their vision and scope, our national economic problems would diminish to a great degree.”
What motivated you to launch SEED?
FK : “SEED stands for , Social Entrepreneurship & Equity Development. It is the first of its kind venture in Pakistan in which we would aim to develop and harness Pakistan’s entrepreneurship potential, keeping in mind the social innovation. Myself and my business partner Khusro Ansari have launched this corporate brand which brings all our business and social investments and interest under one banner seedventures.org. The core mandate of this venture is to become a lead and fulcrum in entrepreneurial potential in Pakistan, We are devising services which would cater to the academia, entrepreneurs, private sector and the government to harness and tap the ideas and talent of entrepreneur Pakistan.
Our aim and vision is to turn entrepreneurs into social entrepreneurs and then turn them in socially responsible venture capitalists. We are aligning a lot of international brands and names in venture capitalist social investor global arena and bringing them to Pakistan.
See, what Pakistan is lacking is access and representation of Pakistani businesses and ideas on international and global markets, SEED Ventures would aim to bridge this gap.”