A new way forward with Dil
To prove it, he initiated ‘Dil Internship Project’, a social enterprise working to bring interns and mid professionals from across the world to Pakistan.
The ‘brain drain’ presents an opportunity for developing countries to repatriate the skills and talent that they have gained from abroad.
So far, under the umbrella of his project, almost 45 interns have worked at prestigious companies of Pakistan in a period of two years only. The project has also brought more than a million dollars ($1.4m) of investment into the country.
Mustafaen is currently working on creating a ‘Social Stock Exchange’ within Pakistan to streamline investments.
Here he is speaking about his ongoing projects and upcoming plans:
What inspired you to initiate this project?
What inspires me was the amount of opportunity I received in my life. I have been brought up with all the privileges that Britain can afford me.
Honestly, I don’t think the way we have classified countries into “more economically developed” and “less economically developed” is a useful distinction - because it takes so many nuances out of the discussion. When you look at countries like India, Sri Lanka, Iran and Pakistan you can see that there is a huge amount of human capital that is very skilled and talented.
However, it is the misfortune of these countries that they did not provide an environment that was friendly for many talented individuals to flourish in.
I, in no way, detract from the wonderful work charitable organisations do in developing countries. In fact, many developing countries owe their survival to charities and NGOs. However, it is the role of charities to stop countries from sinking. For them to swim, you need a new way of thinking.
The beginning of the project was not glamorous at all. At the start, I called a couple of my friends who are involved in the family businesses and asked “would you mind hosting a couple of interns over the summer?” When a few other companies heard, they contacted me to see if they could be involved in the scheme.
In the first year we received almost 1000 applications for the 23 spots that we had available. It was at that moment that I realised I had tapped into a sentiment that was ripe amongst students. They were looking for proactive ways to contribute to developing countries but they didn't know where to start, until this project.
Can you explain what ‘social stock exchange’ is and how can it help the investment industry in Pakistan?
I can’t say too much publicly, because it's a work in progress but I'm currently working on developing a Social Stock Exchange with a few government departments in Pakistan. This is because I am absolutely fascinated with the concept of impact investment. Impact investment is a new concept in finance that not only measures the financial return of investments but also attaches social targets to those same investments.
Developing countries, like Pakistan and Iran, have an enormous pool of human capital to draw from and there is a pressing need to improve the basic UNHDI variables such as education and standard of living. By coupling both of these facts, you get an environment ripe to ride the wave of impact investment.
At this point, I am also keen to stress that the Project is not some neo-colonial exercise of privileged guilt imparting knowledge onto developing countries. Developing countries have much to teach us! The agile and dynamic work environments that I have seen in Pakistan have been next to none and I hope to showcase that to students from around the world.
So, how many team members you have and how do you people connect with prospective partners?
We have been able to place 45 professionals and interns in the organisations that we work with. Prior to our Project, Pakistan had an opaque and inaccessible commercial landscape. However, we have been able to foster a more meritocratic culture and enabled students to access internships in public organizations organisations such as The Climate Change Ministry and the State Bank of Pakistan.
During the Covid-19 pandemic we were also able to help our partner companies digitize their infrastructure so that they could, not only, host virtual interns this year but also streamline their domestic operations also. One of the prime beneficiaries of this was the State Bank of Pakistan who are now equipped with the know-how to conduct virtual work experiences henceforth.
This year it was also great to work with LUMS University. As one of Pakistan’s best universities I thought it would be great to have interns not only work there, but also interact with their peers there. Last year, we were even able to organise a networking event for the interns at McKinsey and Co where they met professionals and students who they are still in touch with.
The key is to integrate Pakistan into a global network that it is able to tap into at any point and similarly for our participants to develop their networks in Pakistan so that it is always accessible to them.
Since you are working on a number of initiatives simultaneously, how do you streamline all these projects?
Having ascertained that there is such a huge demand to help developing countries in the way that the Dil Internship Project facilitates it has been inspiring. I really want to get involved in as much as time will allow me!
One project that I am especially keen on highlighting is the work that we’re doing with the Fareed Bandhar Trust. They have the aim of creating one of the first cultural archives of Punjabi classical poetry and music in the country. We were able to connect them with interns that were classically trained in music but had the skills to develop this archive. Although the pandemic has temporarily paused our plans, we hope that this project will be the first of many of this sort of cultural exchange.
Whilst in Pakistan, I always make sure to provide an authentic experience. Whether that means through connecting Pakistanis to people their age, to a broad professional network or even to exhibiting them to parts of Pakistan they would not have seen. For example, last year I took the interns to Karachi’s largest Hindu and Sikh Temples. They were astonished that these existed because of the media’s portrayal of Pakistan as a monolithic country that does not have diversity. Some have even fundraised to improve these temples’ facilities.
What is your future plan regarding Pakistan? Are you planning to expand further your Dil Internship Program?
We had a choice at the beginning of the summer: halt or adapt. We chose to adapt.
The coronavirus pandemic has held a mirror up to many companies with frail infrastructure. This is why we had a great time developing the infrastructure of several of the companies that we had been working with, so that they are more equipped to dealing with the challenges of the pandemic as well as the future.
Running a social enterprise or NGO comes with a lot of challenges, what was the most difficult part for you in this whole process?
I suppose the toughest thing is logistics. Not only do we have to coordinate a team of roughly seventy people within Dil, but if you add on the stakeholders, our partner companies and government agencies - there are a lot of people to keep informed. However, I have a great team without which the Dil Internship Project couldn’t function. Although 2021 is teeing up to be an unpredictable year in terms of the pandemic etc, we’re all looking forward to the challenge of delivering for our interns as well as growing the Project.
If any company in Pakistan or around the world is willing to partner with you, how can they connect?
Please feel free to contact us at any time. We are always looking to expand. Within Pakistan for now, but beyond soon.