This is an interesting text written, in 2008, by Ramla Akhtar (today calling herself Rmala Aalam) a young urban lady, 28 years old at this time, from Pakistani lowlands. This is rather descriptive with not so much added value. However, what says this young professional about herself worth to be known, especially in connection with her current experience in remote communities of Hunza. This person has an amazingly complex personality.
Then, it is difficult to understand if she was projecting herself in what she wrote or if it was just a paper with some trendy issues. Nevertheless, it was of interest, in 2020, to learn what this person became after 12 years of disillusions and, sometimes, very harsh conflicts with communities, neighbors, family or (former) friends. This perspective will be addressed in the addendum to Ramla Akhtar’s text reproduced, here, thanks to its creative commons status.The source of Akhtar’s creative commons article and slideshow is here: https:// http://www.slideshare.net/nextbyramla/social-enterprise-how-business-can-change-communities-presentation
How Business Can Change Communities
Ramla Akhtar | Social Designer. Futurist. Writer.
NEXT> | a Social Design & Futures Consultancy
nextbyramla.com | firstname.lastname@example.org Details on last pages.
The following report was first published in Pakistan in Aurora, Nov/Dec 2008 issue. It is available for publishing in other territories in parts, full, or modified. Contact ramla@ nextbyramla.com for this and other essays, thought pieces and reports. Readers are encouraged to distribute an electronic version; it is requested that the author’s name and website are kept intact for good karma. In printed/ modified version, byline allows the audience to attribute the story to source. Use generously. Non-commercial use only.
See: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
THIS VERSION CREATED ON: November 16, 2008.
How Business Can Change Communities
Until a few years ago, social entrepreneurship in Pakistan was a curiosity into which only the soft-hearted, the high school C- grader mavericks, NGO aunties, and media-blacked out rural area youth leaders engaged – or so we thought. It was mostly a glorified charity or a cottage business that often failed due to monastic (lonely, colorless, sweet) marketing. There was not even a charitable attention given to the subject in leading universities. Parents didn’t plan this career for their children.
Today, things have changed. By now, most of us have known of social entrepreneurship. It is still to become a mainstream subject in academia, business & economy, or even families – the building block of human society.
This subject is vast, and our time to act is short. So I’ll define the subject for the uninitiated, and then tell us the tales of two societies, changed for better by social enterprise!
What Makes a Social Entrepreneur?
ASHOKA, innovators in the field of social enterprise, define the specie thus: “Individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide- scale change.” SKOLL Foundation describe them as “society’s change agents; pioneers of innovations that benefit humanity.”
NEXT> suggests to the aspiring social entrepreneur: “Doing good + the right way + following your passion do not have to be exclusive from making a profit, as was the case in the world of old business.” This definition accounts for the fact that as the pace of change accelerates in the world, it will be impossible to do without any of these criteria – especially the entrepreneur’s own passion. That’s the starting point of any effort. Money, as we know from countless stories, follows.
Story the First
Location: South Africa
“Townships” are the urban dwellings of South Africa that were reserved for non-whites under Apartheid. They are the equivalent of urban slums or kachi abadis of Pakistan: densely populated, haphazardly planned, and with intricate social issues. There have been several housing reforms over the years, leading to neighborhoods that could surpass a Pakistani middle class locality in terms of upkeep and planning. Today, townships are the sign of struggle and transformation in the midst of strife. During a study tour, I found some positive practices that could be useful for Pakistan.
Community Cellphone Cubicles
Cellphones – still called a social “luxury” and teenager-destroyer in Pakistan – are respected as a powerful transformation tool that have enabled a more equal distribution of power and wealth in the world. In Pakistan, cellphones have enabled taxi drivers to set up their informal calling services in the face of shortage of more organized services. Just call your favorite driver! In India, cellphones have enabled farmers to set commodity prices independently, bypassing the middleman.
In SA townships, cellphone carriers have offered reduced-rate services through Community Chat containers owned by township entrepreneurs. Revenue per minute is shared with kiosk owners. A-4 size ad frames installed at eye-level of phone users ensure an additional stream of revenue.
Community Chat centers are gathering places, and a sign of the empowerment of community. This is important to African townships where unemployment leads to sex & drug crimes, violence, health care hazards, and social antipathy. I met with a car-wash business owner who testified how his life had risen above violence and drugs once the Church showed him the way and encouraged him to start his business – the latter being the key savior here. In this story, there is hint much for Pakistan!
A Community Chat container with multiple call points –
Evaton Township, South Africa © January 2008
This tin box hair “saloon” is typical of the kind of outfits that Unilever and Revlon have partnered with. (And yes, there is such a product as Black & Lovely – its name inscribed on many such container saloons.) In Africa, they have accepted their true identity – which is less on glamor, and high on “reality.” Multinationals do not engage with locals as mere customers, nor partner with locals as a form of charity, or use people as a backdrop for jaunty song numbers. They have gone steps ahead to empower the locals by sharing revenue with them. This happens by sharing work – using a distributed organizational model.
This is an unbranded hair saloon. Most Revlon/ Unilever partners are similar. – Evaton Township, South Africa © January 2008
To be a partner saloon, you don’t have to have an upscale shop in the posh locale. Nor are you merely an advertising or selling point for the brand, slapping the ad all over your space. You are skilled in the line of business, and own your shop. Partners conduct their chosen business using discounted products, and are not forced to change their lifestyles or shop presentations. There is a clear focus on ensuring that saloon owners take a greater deal of profit and hence are able to change their economic circumstances while still remaining within their communities.
In other words, individuals are not promoted at the cost of community – where they will likely stay. The nature of business is not based on competitive slogans or will million bucks lotteries that change fates of individuals forever. Rather, people are empowered within their communities so that they all prosper together – and not create dangerous polarizations typical to unchecked multinational business.
Hair braiding in a Revlon partner saloon –
Evaton Township, South Africa © January 2008
Story the Second
Thatta Kedona: The Doll-Making Project
15 years ago, “Thatta Ghulam da Dheroka” was a sleepy little village 30 km off the closest major town: Okara, Punjab. It was at least a 6 km off-road journey from a metal road to the village, where people mostly engaged in livestock or crop management, or idleness. Women were forbidden from being literate.
Then life changed in Thatta Ghulam. Amjad, a village boy who somehow managed to end up in the city and then an art school in Germany, off-handedly invited his teacher, Dr. Senta Siller, to visit. She accepted, came to Thatta, and keenly inquired about local art and craft. The village women showed her hand-made rag dolls aptly fondly called “Churail”. The enterprising art teacher told the villagers she could teach them to make finer hand-made dolls, and market the products nation-wide and globally. With the help of an amateur documentary, “Amjad’s Village,” on the life and the craft of the villagers, Dr. Siller marketed the dolls to global craft shops and museums where they were very well-received eventually. Thus spun off a social enterprise in this 200-house strong village that has changed the way of living here profoundly.
A Wholesome Development
Here is the beauty of the plan: it was aimed at uplifting the village as a whole. The dolls are prepared such that each component – body, face painting, hair, jewelry, shoes, clothes – are contributed individually. Almost the entire village participates in the making of the dolls, which represent the people of the four provinces of Pakistan. Women from most households are engaged, on the condition that they would carry on their normal lives, and only work in free time. Male cobblers make miniature doll slippers, and other men procure raw material. Boys now make model rickshaws. Friends are engaged in the business and there is no competition. The pie is made larger and shared by everyone.
Finger Puppets – by the Thatta Kedona Project
The smallest of the Thatta Kedona dolls, which are featured in puppet & doll museums around the globe © August 2008
There is a bed & breakfast operation available. As a lone backpacking researcher, I was able to just walk into this village and get myself boarded up immediately. The only issue was the unacceptably healthy village food with real desi ghee!
The dolls, though, are just the beginning of this fantastic story. Today, both boys & girls in this conservative society have a school. The village has a road link to the main highway. They have a dispensary. They experimented with alternative energy (solar panels) very early on. Now the villagers are undertaking community energy & food projects including a “community refrigerator” – a chilled shared hall with cupboards belonging to subscribing households.
The Kailashi Tribe doll – by the Thatta Kedona Project
The dolls are prepared in collaboration from village craftspeople,
who contribute individual parts © August2008 9
The women from this conservative village now go on study tours to Hunza with the Germans. The villagers have learned about sanitation, childcare, and eco-friendly living. Cleanliness and environmental-consciousness are rewarded through an annual award that goes to the “best mud-built house.” The lone vegetable farmer has experimented with quality foreign seeds, and eventually produced export-quality seeds. Almost all of these initiatives are linked back to the Women Art Center set up by the doll-making enterprise!
Above all, these actions were taken within the system, without breaking down the structure violently, stoking fear or greed, or turning people against each other. The NGO did not go there to “free women from oppression” or “change the culture/ quality of life.” It went in to empower people by acknowledging their culture and skills. Today Thatta Ghulam da Dheroka is the living testimony to this: change is possible.
Special thanks to Qasim (South Africa) and SAJ Shirazi (Pakistan) for their help and guidance in researching these stories.
See also: http://thattakedona.blogspot.com
– The End –
Decorated niche in an award-winning mud-house in village Thatta Ghulam da Dheroka
Each year, the village girls prepare and adorn their mud-houses with elaborately carved storage niches, stoves, and crafted walls © August2008
All photos by the author; except images on title page, sourced from http://sxc.hu. Photo rights reserved.
I am a social designer, integral futurist, and writer. My work is based on universal human principles. I run the consultancy, NEXT> by Ramla, and contribute to TrendHunter.com. I am also a member of Globond: a US-based international network of thought leaders and talented people. It includes the likes of Al Secunda, Dr. Dan Schaefer, Ken Rutkowski, and Kaihan Krippendorff. nextbyramla.com and www. trendhunter.com/nextbyramla
What is Social Design?
Weaving together the elements of life (people, concepts, technology, spaces, etc) in new, creative ways so as to realize human potential, and to answer pressing contemporary solutions. For my purpose, the term refers to the “soft/ conceptual” design. An ever-updating know-how of emerging media, technology, social movements, global priorities, etc. is employed for Social Design at NEXT> by Ramla.
What does Integral Futurist mean?
“Futurist” is a technical term applicable to practitioners who see/ forecast/ implement/ assist with future (scenarios). It has several applied meanings. “Integral” refers to integrating the various fields of life into ONE. It’s a time in human history when we create spaces where humans can co-exist, with our gifts and with Earth. It also implies collective wisdom and decision-making (technologies).
My project is to envision ONE FUTURE for the global human society, and realize that vision. “Vision” comes from seeing things as they are. A preferred Future is an outcome of the correct CHOICES taken in Present circumstances. The formula:
Future = Present + Choices We Make
I help see the Present as it is usually with visual tools, and then help select a course of choices. What is your choice in your present scenario?
What is your present scenario? Contact for advise: email@example.com
Explore This Tool!
The People-Centered Model of Business© is a multi-purpose tool developed at NEXT> by Ramla. It has multiple application modules including: Market Insight, Trend-Forecasting, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, Organizational Leadership, and Social Business.
View online: http: //www.scribd.com/ doc/7538854/The-PeopleCentered-Model-of-Business-tm
What areas does NEXT> by Ramla specialize in?
These are areas where I monitor trends, study latest techniques, and know people and organizations. I have test-driven ideas or made prototypes in these fields. As a rule, if I don’t have experiential knowledge of any field, I won’t take up a project in it.
MEDIA: The Web. Social (Internet) Media Strategy. Editorial. Audience Identification. Media Trends. Talent Development. Virtual/ Physical Hybrid Strategy.
SOCIETY & ECONOMICS: Social Enterprise. Grassroots Outreach. Community Organization and Activation. Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability. Art. Tourism. Economics. Governance. Education. Youth. Ethnic/ Tribal Engagement.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION through integration.
REGIONAL FOCUS: Pakistan.
Social media strategy for a cosmeceutical skin care range, Cosméceutique
The Futurist Part:
Identifying an emerging market segment uncatered to by other offers in market
Identifying social networks and blogs as media of choice
The Social Design Part:
Designing social (Internet) media campaign around the chosen audience + unique Pakistani networks
Co-creating the first-of-its-kind Cosméceutique Blogger Buzz Campaign with Pakistani female bloggers
Match-making Cosméceutique with a bloggers’ network to create ad campaign
Brand team capacity building
How can NEXT> Ramla be engaged?
Generally, Social Design = on-ground/field projects. Futures = presentations on futures/ Tailored trend forecasts.
Soon: The People-Centered Model of Business© (see this) tailored applications.
NEXT> Trend Reports are a first in Pakistan! Created by Ramla after framing and scanning; using field observation and foresight techniques.
For Trends/ Futures: Speaking engagements & writing for journals and magazines. Soon: Courses and workshops.
For Social Design: I work with client teams. I could use elements from my talent eco-system to integrate with yours, when required.
Pick-My-Brains: Coaching/ Advise by email, phone, or online (GTalk/ Skype). In person sessions. (By appointment only.) For advisory / coaching sessions, a sliding scale fee is charged. Please inquire by email.
Visit: nextbyramla.com | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 12
UPDATE – More than 10 years after, what reality in front of the initial discourse?
The above article is a nice description of two social projects. As far as it is understandable, the author did not take part is their completion. Here, her work was a descriptive one. Regarding South Africa, the survey is questionable while this country is not part of the few places Ramla Akhtar visited abroad. This is not what could be called « experiential knowledge ». This said, we will, now, focus on the part named « What areas does NEXT> by Ramla specialize in? »
Like some smart, but naive, young people who, once they were granted an academical diploma, she considered herself as being a consultant. This may work, subject to the fact the junior is part of consultancy firm with proper level of supervision, training and expertise. A consultancy firm cannot be successfully launched by an independent young graduate. Otherwise disillusion will catch him. He is not only deceiving his « clients » or beneficiaries but mostly himself. Bitterness is predicable. Unfortunately, it was what happened to Ms Ramla Akhtar for her misfortune and for the misfortune of people around her, who sometimes brutally shifted from family or close friends to scapegoat status, although Akhtar is surprisingly able to identify the social mood and to surf on it. As she says, she « monitors trends. »
There is no actual evidence of Ramla Akhtar « Social (Internet) Media Strategy. Editorial ». The very few text we can find under Ramla Akhtar’s names have creative commons status. This is not the work of an editorialist or a journalist, as she also consider to be. She focuses on Facebook (which was, may be, new in 2008 in Pakistan) with small audiences and, recently, she became prolific on Twitter . There, the writing is terribly poor and, we should admit, full of slang as evidenced in this anthology. No publications can be found on the web under the aliases, Rmala Alam or Rmala Al’Aalam, the ones she has used since 2013.
Ms Akhtar is truly interested, like she wrote, in « Health & Sustainability. » Over the last decade she started a small herbal shop business called « BetterBonds by Rmala » in Gulmit, Hunza. The activity is chaotic. It is operated via a Facebook page with around 450 followers. When the (single self-employee) shop is not closed, products are, from time to time, shipped, in small boxes, to other parts of Pakistan. She communicates about natural medicines and medical consultancies to cure mental disorders, diabetes, cancer and Covid19. This activity can, sometimes, be considered as an illegal practice of medicine. She had her advertising banner, about Coronavirus remedies, removed from Twitter. For the same reasons her Medium account « Blackmoonsoul » was terminated by the moderator. . There are, there, no ranges for any unique expertise and/or chargeable professional consultations.
« Ethnic/Tribal Engagement » and « conflict resolution » « tourism » skills showed by Akhtar is probably her biggest self-deception. Unfortunately, this lady is, according to numerous testimonies received, a highly clashing person. Her biggest failure is her dramatic conflict with the ethnic and religious minority of Hunza as documented in this report. The very sad part is that, parallel to this radicalization against the local tribes of Hunza, she seems more and more tempted to find a solution in her problem with xenophobia. She exported her conflicts overseas going until asking the support of the « Rassemblement National », the French white supremacist alt-right party founded by former Nazis after WW2. This is not a « consultant » anybody could hire to develop tourism as one her Facebook posts summarize it.
There is no evidence of Ms Ramla Akhtar’s ability to develop a business on internet and to create relevant media. Over the last decade, Ms Ramla Akhtar « built », on a volunteer basis, just a very simple web site keeping the login and the password for herself. She uses it, now, on a highly questionable manner in her conflict against the Chapursan Valley community and especially against the family of M. Alam Jan Dario who runs the Pamir Serai guest houses. Akhtar has apparently not even a limited knowledge of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This jeopardizes her « Brand team capacity building. » Simple Google searches under « Ramla Akhtar », « Rmala Aaalam », « BetterBonds » or « BetterBonds shop » show a total devastation as far as her « personal brand » is concerned in the numerical world.
Ms Ramla Akhtar is an unfortunate illustration of education and skills wasted. There are certainly many personal reasons or character dimensions to be taken into account. However, the main issue might be the overconfidence on an academical knowledge neglecting experience and an overestimation of own competences preventing any subsequent continuous learning ability.
Access to NEXT> by Ramla’s presentations
“NEXT> by Ramla” was an independent consulting firm belonging to Ms Ramla Akhtar (naming herself, nowadays, Rmala Aalam). The above presentation is also part of the review done for her area of expertise and her commercial services.
Access to: « NEXT> by Ramla », expertise review, practice versus theory.
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Exhibit: from development to post-growth.
Ten years ago, Ms Ramla Akhtar was a « development consultant ». As a « trend monitor » she is now focusing on the end of development as showed by this article.
Growth Is Not Just One Thing
If all growth is bad, what should we do with this immense human capacity to dream big?
Article on Post Growth Institute « Medium » account – Jun 25, 2019
How do we resolve this dilemma: the human spirit is tremendously expansive, potentially vast, greatly powerful — and yet the chorus of environmental consciousness these days is that growth is not good. That the concern with prosperity is flawed. That riches are bad…
Growth Is Not Just One Thing
Article on Post Growth Institute website – April 22, 2013
Well, then, what must we do with this immense power and capacity and the imagination to dream that is a part of being human? What is the evolutionary purpose of our capacity? Certainly, it’s not laying waste, being idle, and singing songs of good times