Monthly Archives: September 2011

Enabling Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets – The Dream Of Kalsoom Lakhani and i2i

Kalsoom Lakhani is the Founder & CEO of Invest2Innovate (i2i), a global social enterprise intermediary that matches investors with social entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Today i2i celebrates its official launch and we celebrate the opportunity to learn more about it, and its Innovative founder.

Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 6

How essential has innovation been in your career to date; and how important do you envisage it being going forward?

Innovation is a very intrinsic part of Invest2Innovate – we even use the term in our company name! The nexus of business and charity is an evolving and disruptive idea, and it’s not always applicable, nor is it always perfect. But it is challenging traditional notions of giving in order to magnify social and environmental impact. That fundamental idea lies at the core of i2i and the ecosystems we are attempting to build in emerging markets.

i2i also works with dynamic entrepreneurs who are introducing innovation into their respective sectors – agriculture, energy, housing, health, the list goes on. We are, and will always be, looking [at] how to incorporate innovative thinking in order to alleviate poverty, and will always support entrepreneurs who are taking similar approaches in these societies.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur? 

I think the broader ecosystem is a necessary component for Capital I innovation to flourish. Government support and policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovative ideas are key, but so [is] the support and empowerment of grassroots organizations, business incubators, universities, etc.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?

When governments suppress freedom of speech and halt the free-flow of information and ideas – innovation comes from collaboration, listening, and learning. That process is halted when there is no freedom to challenge the status quo.

If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? 

Wow, where to even begin? Steve Jobs from Apple, Bill Gates for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the attention he has brought to vital poverty-related issues, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Mohammed Yunus from Grameen Bank, Jacqueline Novogratz for Acumen Fund, Jack Dorsey who founded Twitter, Jeff Skoll, Hasan Abed from BRAC, Mukhtar Mai from Pakistan, Gloria Steinem, the list goes on.

Do you think that location matters? 

These days, I don’t think location matters since we are so globally interconnected. But having more open societies definitely allows for the freer flow of ideas, and the ability to come up with innovation. We definitely see “hubs” of social innovation in the world due to more well-developed ecosystems in those countries (India, East Africa, and Latin America).

What was your impetus for founding Invest2Innovate?

I founded Invest2Innovate, or i2i, because I wanted to address what I perceive to be a space in the growing social entrepreneurship field. Invest2Innovate’s core model provides tailored services to entrepreneurs to maximize their social impact and match them with investors/funders.

But more broadly – i2i believes in the larger ecosystem approach to the markets we work in, and we focus specifically on the “untapped” emerging markets – countries where there is potential for the growth of entrepreneurship, specifically enterprises that take market-based approaches to poverty alleviation, but where the broader ecosystem is still underdeveloped.

In markets like India, East Africa, and Latin America (Brazil and Mexico especially), we have seen an impressive flow of capital, matched by the growth of business incubators, accelerators, consultancies, even in some cases government policy that allow for innovation to truly flourish and succeed. It is not perfect and is still evolving, but it is inspirational.

i2i aims to cultivate similar ecosystems in the markets that are “untapped,” beginning in Pakistan, fostering local networks and collaborations, as well working with regional and global partners to help entrepreneurs achieve and maximize their objectives.

What do you hope Invest2Innovate will accomplish?

I want to help change the conversation happening on the ground regarding the nexus of traditional charity, development and business. There are certainly instances where traditional development is more appropriate, but I hope to help jumpstart dialogue on what has and hasn’t worked, and how entrepreneurship, through job creation and income generation, can ultimately serve in poverty alleviation and provide services with dignity to low-income communities.

i2i won’t be able to do this alone and this will not happen overnight, and we strongly believe in the power of collaboration and partnership to help achieve these goals. At the end of the day, we can only serve so many social entrepreneurs every year. But, if we can help construct the broader environment, our impact will be magnified.

Have you already got investors and social entrepreneurs lined up to take part? If so, can you tell us who?

Sure – so far, i2i will be working with EcoEnergy Finance, a non-profit that provides clean energy solutions to the rural poor in Pakistan, and Milk-Op, which  is a for-profit social enterprise that provides income generation opportunities for small-scale dairy farmers and aims to improve the dairy cold chain in Pakistan. I have a few other social entrepreneurs (and investors) in the pipeline, but I don’t want to jinx since they are in the process of being solidified!

How do you see i2i differing from the traditional micro finance model?

Micro finance as a whole is going through so much flux, and its definitely part of the industry. Micro finance does smaller loans, and focuses on those smaller businesses. But there seems to be a missing ‘middle’ between big businesses and micro finance, for SMEs who are looking to grow their own businesses. That’s where we see the potential for job creation.

Does that mean you are, in essence, looking to grow a ‘middle class’ of business?

I think that it already exists to some extent in some of these markets. But, they don’t have the support they need to really flourish and to maximise their potential or even know how to attract capital.

While I wouldn’t take the credit and say that we’re going to grow a middle class, I would say that we would love to be contributors in order to provide the support that a lot of these businesses need. And then by providing that environment, by doing workshops and helping with broader media campaigns, to help inspire others to go into this field.

How is Innovation viewed in Pakistan?

Considering we continue to recycle the same political parties over and over again, and can never have an honest conversation about what’s wrong in the country without pointing fingers, I’d say we have an uphill battle to climb when it comes to innovation. That being said, I know so many amazing and innovative individuals in the country who are truly changemakers – they keep me inspired and hopeful.

Saba Gul Co-Founder/Executive Director of BLISS

Shazia Khan Founder/Executive Director of EcoEnergy Finance talking to villagers

Do you have examples of Innovative Pakistani companies and organisations?

Yes! Naya Jeevan is a social enterprise, providing microinsurance to the urban poor of Pakistan; Monis Rahman launched, the largest jobs site in the country, Seema Aziz is the female entrepreneur behind Bareeze but also Care(schools), Saiban and Ansaar Management Company (AMC) are providing low-cost housing in the country for the poor, the Kashf Foundation is one of the larger and more successful microfinance organizations, Telenor Pakistanpartnered with a microfinance bank to launch a successful mobile banking initiative, the list goes on!

One could imagine that it is a difficult time to be trying to create a positive bond between the US and Pakistan with, at least certain parts of, the media painting a a strange and convoluted picture of the relationship between the two countries. 

Its interesting because I’m part of this network of young innovators in their early twenties called the Sandbox network. About a month ago I was able to pitch i2i to them and present challenges which the group answered.

A few people in there were really swayed by the news, saying, “Well no one is going to want to invest in Pakistan.” That tends to be what a lot people say. It’s obviously disconcerting as things appear increasingly more volatile on the ground; but my experience has been that there’s a lot  of opportunity in the country that I really want to highlight.

When you’re in the country itself there’s such a palpable energy and there’s such potential for change.  There’s such a large percentage of the population that’s young and really wants to work for the betterment of the country.

I don’t feel that we’re going to get a huge influx of US investment overnight, and that’s where I see the challenge and the opportunity to help change perceptions. But I also believe in the idea of building indigenous networks first… being able to build local investment capacity, as well as the diaspora network. A lot of the issues facing Pakistan have forced me to think pretty creatively about the process.

I think there’s a lot of opportunities in Pakistan BECAUSE there are so many issues facing the country and that 66% of the population is living on under $2 per day. Because of those statistics I really feel like there’s a huge amount of opportunity that entrepreneurship can bring, and there’s a lot of movement within the government.

The Planning Commission of Pakistan has been making a lot of moves and recommendations to the government to allow for a more productive environment for entrepreneurship. Its not going to be easy, and there’s obviously a lot of obstacles, but I think that the window of opportunity is right now.

Congratulations on your launch. Can you give me some details on it?

I decided to launch in September because I wanted to time it withSoCap. We won one of the scholarships to SoCap, so we’re going to be blogging throughout the conference for their blog. We hope there’s going to be opportunities to get more visibility at the conference.

And then I go to Pakistan right after, where we’re going to be doing a lot of meetings and developing our local mentor networks. We’re going to be doing mini launches and panels with our partners on the ground. There’s a lot of great platforms we’re going to be looking at, like round tables, to be able to explain what i2i does. We’ll also to be able to give a platform to a lot of the social entrepreneurs that are already in the country. Its almost like doing a road show while I’m there, as well as starting up a local entity and hiring someone to start the [local] team.

Then I come back to DC in October where I’ll be doing our launch here to help create a community that’s based in D.C.

As well as your blog for SoCap, will you also be blogging through your time in Pakistan?

Yes, I’m one of the managing editors of Think Change-Pakistan which tracks the social entrepreneurship and innovation space in the country. What I’m hoping to do is daily dispatches from the ground as I experience different things. My tumbler account is much more informal, where I’m posting videos and quotes, looking at the things I go through in the process and things that inspire me every day. But I look for the dispatches to be more formal as I go on the ground and work more closely with our clients, develop our mentors and keep people informed. I believe in transparency and I want people to feel invested in Invest2Innovate.

It seems that there is a long tradition of community collaboration in Pakistan. 

Very much so; that’s also evident in the Diaspora network. A lot of money that flows into the country is actually coming from remittances from the Diaspora network.

I assume that that tradition will assist in fostering the business collaboration you look to engender.

I’m really hopeful for that. One thing that’s really wonderful about the social entrepreneurship space, as opposed to just the traditional business space, is its much more of a collaborative space. Everyone I’m partnering with is so open to the idea of fostering a community. Because I have such open partners and such amazing potential collaborations already in place I feel really confident that we can help to develop this community.

This how we aim to enter every community we work in. Obviously we’re starting in Pakistan but if we look at scaling to Sri Lanka or Egypt, the way that we do it is by developing these local networks.

Why is Invest2Innovate focussed on emerging markets in particular?

The need is great in emerging markets – particularly because they are still developing and the percentage of the population living under the poverty line is relatively high – in Pakistan 66% of the country lives under $2 a day. By virtue of taking these market-based approaches, entrepreneurs can ultimately create jobs, generate income, and provide much-needed services to a very large percentage of these societies, and contribute to a much larger economic impact.

Do you see i2i having a footprint in Egypt, with its huge potential market, and Libya, which has been in the news so much recently?

I was recently at an event where I was asked, “If I got you investment tomorrow, would you go in [to Egypt] now, rather than in three years?” My answer was No.

I think that Egypt has some figuring out to do right now, as does Libya. There’s a huge surge of energy, but there’s a lot that needs to be done before they can be considered to be emerging markets. I’m really excited about the opportunities that Egypt could have in the next year or two, but I’m waiting to see which direction it goes in before I commit.

Sri Lanka is a really interesting case as its post conflict. Though conflict has been an intrinsic part of that society, the government is really open to businesses to come in. Its a very open society in terms of entrepreneurship, so there’s a lot of opportunity there that I’m really excited about.

What are your long-term plans for i2i?

I have a five year and ten year plan. I would love us to be the intermediary or first mover in every untapped market in the world. I’m focussed on Pakistan for the next three years but I’m already thinking about where I want to scale in the next five to six years. I’d love to have a lot of legitimacy with investors but also a lot of credibility within the markets that we’re working in. We’d like to be in at least two or three markets in the next five years.

If someone wanted to get involved in i2i, what should they do?

The can email me. I’m always available to accept help. I’m at the stage right now where its kind of overwhelming, in an exciting way. I’d love to have people who are excited and impassioned about the idea get involved.

You can follow Kalsoom on Twitter, join the i2i Facebook page, or email her at 

Prior to i2i, Kalsoom was the director of Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources, LLC, a private investment firm based in Washington, D.C. Social Vision provides seed grants and hands-on support for social enterprises and innovative initiatives in their start-up stages, mainly in Pakistan.

Kalsoom is a managing editor and helped launch Think Change-Pakistan, a blog that tracks the social entrepreneurship and innovation space in the country. She also founded and runs the popular blog, CHUP, or Changing Up Pakistan, which was established in January 2008 and aims to raise awareness on the issues affecting Pakistan through news analysis, interviews, and contributions by young Pakistanis. She has written for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, and Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper. Prior to her work at ML Resources, she was a senior analyst at Lincoln Group, LLC, a strategic communications firm based in Washington, D.C. 

Kalsoom has a B.A. from the University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs and Middle East Studies, and an M.A. from The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in International Affairs/Conflict Resolution. She is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Do Fries Go With That Business Shake(up)?

Capital I Innovation Interview Series – Number 5

Vincent Hunt is a man on a mission. And what is that mission? To make change. With his  tool box including the skill sets of lateral and creative thinking along with design, he is an enthusiastic, some might say evangelistic, proponent of the newly emerging role of CIO – Chief INNOVATION Officer.

Now I must be honest and say that, first off, that after ten years in the Netherlands, and two years in Sydney, sometimes the only change  – let alone innovation – I’m looking for in the hospitality industry is, well, some hospitality. That said, there is definitely a a scent of change in the air, and there are those that are leading the way. One such leader is Vincent Hunt.

Vincent is Co-founder, Chairman & Chief Innovation Officer at Kind Intelligence, which leverages cloud, mobile and social technology to bring Innovation to the hospitality industry through Hospitality Intelligence.

Vincent, how essential has innovation been in your career to date; and how important do you envisage it being going forward?

Innovation has been, in essence, the foundation of my career for quite some time, I can not remember a time where innovation has not been a factor in my professional development.  As individuals, I believe that we each have a responsibility to ourselves to continually challenge ourselves through rethinking, redefining and re-inventing who we are. EVEN as it pertains to our career, in-fact, I believe that this is one of the areas of our lives, more now than ever, that we should be exposing ourselves to “internal innovation” – evolving, and growing in a time where our historical perceptions of work are being challenged .  So not only has innovation been important in MY career, innovation has quintessentially shaped my career.

What do you think is imperative to allow ‘Capital I’ Innovation to occur? reform

I’m totally anti-politics, so I am going to steer away from that end of the question, BUT what I am going to do is dig in where my heart resides. Education.

I believe that if we are to see and benefit from one of the greatest paradigm shifts in innovation we will ever see in OUR lifetime, and if not this lifetime, one shortly after… We MUST authorize, and unleash one of the greatest and most powerful innovative forces the world has ever seen… Generation Y, the Echo Boomers and post Echo Boomers, and I think it starts with the education system.

This generation is growing up in a post-industrial world, and experiencing an industrial education system. While there is little emphasis on the arts, creativity in equal parts, and we are seeing children as young as 7 or 8 years old being diagnosed ADHD and sedated out of their creative potential, simply for the sake of conforming to  a system that was pretty much designed to produce industrial minded contributors, citizens… We have to not only evolve the education system, we have to turn it on it’s head and start exploring the creative capacity of our children.

What do you think are the main barriers to the success of innovation?

Some of the main barriers to the success of innovation, in my humble opinion are, and some of these may overlay one another…

1. Resistance to change

2. Rigorous conditioning by the collective mind

3. Fear

4. The protest of “play” within the workplace

5. Habit/Routine

8. If you could give a ‘Capital I’ Innovation Award to anyone, who would you nominate? 

This one is tough because I believe in so many of the Capital I Innovators… So can I give two? Please??!!

1. Tom Peters and

2. Apple …

Tom Peters, has, in my opinion, single handedly turned the business world upside down for the better. In his provocative book Re-Imagine (2006), Tom Peters gave us a Manifesto for the way we should view work where, not only was he Visionary and concise, BUT he ushered in a whole new way to think about business. Tom Peters talked about Social Media well before the phrase “Social Media” existed.  And TO THIS DAY, Tom Peters continues to define the foundation of business from a radical new paradigm, that gives Innovators a roadmap to navigate by…. Revolutionary.

Apple… Not only does Apple have the “chops” to create incredible products, the iPhone (game changer), the iMac (simply beautiful, and oh yeah… powerful), the iOs (revolutionary)… BUT they also believe in Design Thinking like no other company that I can put my finger on today (besides the champions of the thinking, Ideo, Frog, to name a couple), and it’s this “difference” that leads them to design and innovation excellence.

As it pertains to their “Capital I” contribution… one product that really rings true to me is the iPhone, and later the iPad.  I can remember when the iPhone first came into the marketplace, and I clearly remember the competition saying things like “It’s just another cell phone, with an oversized screen and touchpad… Big deal…” AND big deal it was… Because it was not only the beautiful aesthetics that made the iPhone amazing, it was the thinking behind the iPhone that was the “Innovation”.

The iPhone was the first hand-held device that gave the users the power to create the experience THEY wanted, and that was, and is, magical. Apple totally rethought the cell phone, and what it meant to us as a people, and the “mobile device”  (surely we can’t keep calling them cell phones now… right) will never be the same.

How do you see Capital I Innovation changing the hospitality industry?

The Hospitality Industry is going through a major shift right now, greatly in-part to the emergence of what I like to call the “Connected Consumer”.  Consumers have more opportunity than they have ever had, to shape, and re-shape, their experiences.

For the first time, the voice of the consumer is richly audible and influential, and brands are starting to understand that their brand experience is in large part, at the mercy of the consumer voice [via] Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Urban Spoon, Foodspotting… enabling technologies that are a direct line of influence on the hospitality industry.  If one person has a bad experience at a hotel, that one bad experience can instantly change the perception of thousands upon thousands of people that MAY be thinking about visiting that hotel, and one tweet, retweeted can make that happen.

At Kind Intelligence, we conceptualize and develop breakthrough ideas that 1. help hospitality industry professionals streamline operational efficiencies, but more importantly, 2. we are feverishly thinking about ways that we can turn the hospitality industry on it’s head to deliver rich, and meaningful customer experiences.  Our innovations rest in “delivering better ways of doing things based on new sets of data”… new, deeper, demographic information (Hospitality Intelligence 2.0).

We think about empathetic intelligence. I can learn more about you. I can learn your mood at any given point of the day, and for the first time, I can market to moods. The Connected Consumer is giving us more data than every before, the question is how do we leverage that data and how do we make solutions that improve the customers experience. Does this means that one day you’ll be able to walk into a restaurant and be offered a completely unique experience, could that be possible? Absolutely.

I can see Capital I Innovation shifting how consumers connect with hospitality brands, but more importantly, how hospitality brands connect with the consumers.

Do you think the ‘Groupon Effect’ emboldening innovation in the industry?

I think that Groupon is a great idea, from the consumer side of the house, as they’re are able to get deals and save a lot of great money. But I think it hinders the growth and potential of some restauranteurs and other companies because they discount their products and services and reduce the value of their offerings.

What is the difference between ‘Possibility Thinking vs Competition Thinking’?

This is something that I am fanatical about, and it’s become the foundational thinking that we embrace at Kind. We don’t think in terms of  ‘competition’ because we feel that that only leads to incremental (at best) change. We lean towards focusing on what is ‘possible’, which often leads to a more disruptive form of innovation.

Right now we are working on a massive project with Mutual Mobile out of Austin Texas called Menulus, that we feel will totally reinvent the dining experience. Menulus, [which we’re launching in the first Quarter of  2012] was designed based on possibility thinking, and some of it’s abilities are going to “shake up” the mobile space in a very profound way.

‘Possibility Thinking’ is innovating based on what is possible in todays marketplace vs ‘Competition Thinking’, which suggest that we simply innovate, a little, to beat the competition. It’s the difference between taking an ‘innovation’ stance vs a  ‘disruptive innovation’ stance.

It sounds like Menulus is going to enable Micro-pitches to the consumer. 

Through micro-pitches we have ways of extending Kindness, and that’s where the name of our company comes from.  Kindness is a choice, but I need tools to help me make better choices and that’s where the semantic web and Web 3.0 really empowers what Menulus is all about.

Could we potentially have a POS (Point of Sale) System that’s integrated into the menu in real time? Could we have consumer facing tools that allowed us to discover food and restaurants in completely new ways that are more catered to our preferences – all the way down to our calorie counts? Can we do that? Absolutely. And we did it.

Tell me about The Hospitality Intelligence Company.

Kind, The Hospitality Intelligence Company focuses on conceptualizing and developing breakthrough ideas that streamline operational efficiencies and improve customer experiences within the hospitality industry.  Our value proposition rest in our  “thinking” vs our “doing”.  We work with really creative people to develop new products, services and brands that can fulfill our companies objectives and ethos… The pursuit of design and innovation excellence.

When we formed Kind Intelligence I knew I had to take the position of CIO, Chief INNOVATION Officer, as I wanted the ethos of the company to reside there, in design and innovation excellence. I oversee the Innovation Initiatives of this company, I drive that. Its interesting to be in this role at such a critical time in our economic transition, going from the Industrial Age into the Creative Age.

Here in the US the role of Chief Innovation Officer is fairly new. You have them, but you don’t have that many of them. The other component to that is that I am African American. I think I am one of only a few African American Chief Innovation Officers in the country.

Why do you think that is?

If I talk to 10 colleagues and ask them what a CIO is, they’ll all say ‘Chief Information Officer’. They just don’t know that this position exists, so they don’t know to pursue it.

That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to be in this role, because I plan on championing it and bringing it to the forefront. Saying, “This is what a Chief Innovation Officer does; and yes, you can be one!”

Its seems that in his role as Chief INNOVATION Officer, Vincent Hunt is shaking up more than the hospitality Industry. I know I’m not alone in seeing where his enthusiasm and expertise lead.

[More information on the Semantic Web and business here.]