The Strategic Partnerships and Social Impact of our platform

I'm terribly psyched for all the new products we've put up, and there are plenty more in the pipeline that will be up in the next few weeks as they get made by our artisans. 

I'm even more excited (as hard as it is to believe) about two new strategic partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) - Pakistan and The Naqsh School of Arts. The former is the Pakistani branch of the world's most known nature conservation organization, with which we will be reaching a tree planting drive agreement. Ralli seeks to be fair trade as well as sustainable. While the vast majority of our profits go to our artisans, it is essential to make their industries long-term viable, which is why 10% of our profits will go to various tree-planting efforts across Pakistan. Pakistan looses a whopping forest cover of 166 square miles every year. You can read more about the country's chronic deforestation and related problems hereA tree planting drive with the Environment and Nature Club at Aitchison College (my high school) has also been planned. I'm really looking forward to these engagements, because we hope Ralli can be a movement that inspires change in attitudes in our quest for sustainable artisanship.

Ralli is also a proud strategic partner with the Naqsh School of Arts. The non-profit institute is located in the old walled city of Lahore, and seeks to save certain traditional laborious painting and miniature traditions of Mughal times, by teaching them to people from low-income families. We are thrilled to note that all miniatures on Ralli's website are from the Institute.  

Additionally,  another 10% of the profits will be going to schools run by The Citizens Foundation and the Care Foundation. Both these organizations have done a stupendous job in opening schools for people at the very bottom, in areas where government schooling is virtually non-existent. These schools have given countless children a fighting chance, and Ralli strongly believes in helping to further their incredible work. 

Lots of exciting products and trips around the corner....

I've been traveling over the past few months in my quest to find artisans in various parts of the Punjab. I started with Lahore of course, and I found woodcarvers and brass-in-wood inlay work makers, and then wound up in Multan - the city of shrines. Multan is located in southern Punjab, and is an ancient city. You can feel it's stature upon entering it. It's also littered with fakirs and much superstition. Like much of Pakistan, the population here has exploded, and you can also feel that in a very tangible way. It felt great to be back however, to a place I had spent four years of my life, at various stints. What was different this time of course, was that I was a man on a mission. I wound up in the part of the city that I had only ever visited once before - near the famed shrine of Bahauddin Zakaria. This is an historic part of the city, where on the fringes near the wall of what remains of a fort lie some run down ateliers of various craftsmen. The workshops had seen better times, but I was here in search of a particular "naqashi" painter: Malik Abdul Rahman Naqqash. His family have been painters for generations, and his work was exquisite. But few people he told me are interested in keeping naqqashi works in their homes any more - a truly sad state of affairs. I immediately gave him orders for some desk boxes, jewelry boxes and camel skill scroll paintings.

I'm heading to Multan again this weekend to meet up with the Naqqash and film some of his works for Ralli as they're being made. I'll also visit a blue pottery atelier that I have given multiple orders to. I might give some more orders for products and motifs I recently thought of. I was aghast to see the blue pottery craftsmen at the atelier without work due to a crippling natural gas and energy shortage in Pakistan. The government has essentially informed them that they're so low on the priority scale that they won't be getting gas until March 2015. It would be great for our site's patrons to buy lots of blue pottery so we can keep giving them lots of orders when they get their gas back again. 

Of course, this site was created with an inspiration from the stunning patchwork technique of Ralli, so one would expect Ralli products to be on it. After much searching, I've finally found Ralli-making women in the city of Larkana - In my excitement I've placed a plethora of orders for quilts, throws, cushion covers, iPad/Macbook sleeves and even a unique design I came up with for a jānamāz or prayer rug. I'm terribly excited for all the products, but especially for the prayer rug, because I'm tired of the mass factory produced soulless Chinese prayer mats in the market (#modernity) - and I believe the time is ripe to bring back something handmade, using classic materials, rigorous techniques and patterns. I cannot wait for all these incredible products and I really hope our patrons will like them, so that we can continue to expand and positively impact as many artisans as possible. Please stay tuned...  

Napoleon's Glance....The role of strategic intuition in social entrepreneurship

I've been terribly busy this semester with school, standardized tests (the bête noire of many my age) and of course finding artisans, materials and designs for Ralli and working with them to create the right products. It's been the most hectic and the most rewarding 4-5 months of my life. On the downside I haven't had the time to write on this blog, but I've vowed to change all of that, especially as the new year approaches and many of us make our usual ceremonial resolutions. I thought I'd start early this year. 

In a recent journey to the southern Punjabi city of Multan (a paradise for many artisans) I read Napoleon's Glance: The Secret of Strategy. It's written by Columbia Business School strategy professor William Duggan, who talks about Napoleon's strategic intuition or coup d'oiel ("stroke of a glance"), a concept introduced by Carl von Clausewitz, that don of all things military strategy. Von Clausewitz was a Prussian officer who faced Napoleon's armies, was routed by them and became obsessed with finding out the secret sauce of Bonaparte's battlefield successes. He honed it down to an intuition Napoleon, a Corscian outsider developed by devoting himself to rigorous late night studies of great military generals of yesteryear: From Gauis Julius Caesar to Gustavus Adolfus Magnus. In time Napoleon developed a unique insight that he would apply in the thick of the battle field as opposed to pre-ordained and meticulously pre-planned battles. This is where Antoine Jomini enters the book. Jomini had served on Napoleon's staff and claimed he could teach Napoleon's art of war, but ended up creating chess-piece battle imitators. Duggan narrates in this book's first chapter how many post-Napoleonic battles subscribed to Jomini's worldview with horrendous consequences in the First World War, where millions were slaughtered in stalemated trench battles planned by "Chateau generals".

There's always been this interesting link of war and business. From a very direct link of the business of war, Waterloo teeth in Napoleonic times, where scavengers would raid battlefields at night to rip the teeth off of dead bodies. Teeth were an expensive commodity hence big business. In modern times we have what U.S President General Dwight D. Eisenhower ominously warned was a "military-industrial-complex". And then there's this emphasis on learning strategy from war and applying it to business. This book certainly makes such a claim. In fact it believes that coup d'oiel can be applied to any sphere at all.

I was thoroughly riveted by the chapter on Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, and his coup d'oiel against the standard practices of developmental agencies working in Bangladesh. Professor Yunus masterfully used his strategic intelligence to come up with ideas that actually helped the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh. The success of his micro-loans in ending the pervasive influence of loan sharks, improving incomes and empowering women shocked the established agencies as well as the government. Having read Professor Yunus's book Social Business I am convinced that his dissatisfaction with the status quo in all spheres that have an impact on development is something every social entrepreneur must harbor and harness. Only then can paradigmatic change begin to take place.  

After reading this book, I was inspired to read more, analyze more and learn lessons from other people across different fields and generations. But I was also left ruminating about a quip by Napoleon that I had read a long time back: "I have plenty of clever generals but just give me a lucky one." At the end of the day, winning generals like entrepreneurs need lots of plain old luck (the right idea mixed with the right timing mixed with the right team et al). But still, making the very best of that bout of good fortune requires a fair amount of coup d'oeil

Forty Chances. Need to Hustle……..

I had the incredible fortune of reading Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. It's a book written by the son and grandson of legendary investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet. Of course given Buffet's fame, his son and grandson are relatively less known in most of the world but I urge readers to Google Howard G. Buffet (HGB) and Howard W. Buffet (HWB) who have done some amazing work and lived very interesting lives.

Unlike the children of many well-off and accomplished people, Buffet's children lead comfortable but never elite lives. None of the children actually even completed colleges (a theory on life most assiduously propounded by Peter Thiel, but that's a topic for another day), but went on to lead very fulfilled lives. 

The title is premised around the the concept of forty chances in agriculture - the belief that each farmer has approximately forty good years at farming and hence forty tries at improving his yield. HGB is a farmer owning more than 1500 acres in America's bread basket, the midwest, and Warren Buffet in his annual letter to shareholders has even called his investment in that farm one of his greatest investments ever. HGB translates that same concept to all arenas, believing that we all have about 40 chances to improve upon our ideas and goals. Of course it's always about perspectives, and this way of thinking creates a sense of urgency of making each day count.

HGB and HWB tell 40 stories throughout the book detailing various experiences they've had in their experiences both globally and at home, and the books gives some incredible insight on global hunger crises and the role that sustainable agriculture needs to play to feed a growing population with farmland and top soil around the world becoming increasingly strained. There are 1 billion hungry people throughout the world. Think about that for a second. One billion! The world also needs to increase agricultural productivity by 70% in order to feed the entire population. HGB has had many adventures which he recounts, from being a volunteer deputy sherif to globe trotting photographer to soup kitchen volunteer. 

I also really liked Howard Buffet's challenge to N.G.Os and not-for-profits around the world to have a plan to end their very existence. Sir Michael Barber in his report on Pakistan's education sector delivery says something similar, providing aid with the aim of reaching a stage where it would become wholly unnecessary (essentially a midpoint between the famed Sachs vs. Easterly debate of the two schools of thought on aid; it's highly desirable and we need more of it vs. it's wasteful, skewed and promotes corruption and hence the taps must be closed). The Sir Michael report was also endorsed by the World Bank President and public health expert Jim Yong Kim (or "Stinky Pete" as Conan O'Brien called him in his profound graduation address to Dartmouth). For HWB this means that his foundation (for which Warren Buffet gave $2 Billion) has a mission to distribute, quickly but smartly and wrap up its very existence within 40 years of its founding. Now that's a fascinating idea! 

At the end of the book, I have been wishing that more people took the time out to volunteer in soup kitchens (and that more soup kitchens existed esp. in Pakistan) and understood the complexities of malnutrition and hunger in their respective societies. I for one, consider myself deeply blessed after reading this book (the concept of the "ovarian lottery" espoused by Warren Buffet in his introduction to the book really hit a chord), and also very inspired to abet change around me and do something before its too late. I hope to use my Forty Chances wisely!