by Thomas Jakel
The encounter I had in February of 2017 with Ali Raza Khan is one of these encounters that I believe was supposed to happen, and I want to tell you how it came about.
Shortly after I started my entrepreneurial journey as a 23-year-old, fresh out of college, I realized that there was an entire world out there that had thus far been completely hidden to me: The world of entrepreneurial endeavor. A world in which you decide how far you can go and how you contribute to your community. A world in which you decide when you get out of bed, how much you earn, and which ideas are translated into physical reality.
As obvious as this may seem to the veteran entrepreneur, it was exciting news to me.
Also, I learned that social entrepreneurs use the vehicle of business to create economic value AND tackle social and ecological challenges. Again, this was big for me, and a revolutionary idea. And as soon as I built my first company with my co-founder, automated the business by hiring a management team, and taken half a year off to celebrate my newfound freedom, I thought that more young people should know about this opportunity “hidden” in plain sight.
Formal education is not the be-all and end-all goal that it is made out to be.
You don’t have to be a busy worker bee all your life, realizing someone else’s dream instead of implementing your own ideas.
Everyone has the necessary toolkit to create and think.
And anyone can design their life in the way they want to, and become a changemaker and creator. As soon as we DECIDE, BELIEVE THAT WE CAN, and SET THE INTENTION that we ARE going to walk the path, success is already ours. If we trust the river, knowing that eventually we will learn and succeed in our efforts, that is exactly what is going to happen.
Why did no one ever talk about this in school? Why hadn’t it even been mentioned in my business administration degree at college? And why is it that the only thing I ever heard about growing up was: “Be good at school, get a degree, and then get a job. Work all your life. Retire. Die.” Tainted with the underlying message that if you are not good at getting acceptable grades, you’ll be condemned to a life in poverty, relying on welfare or underpaid jobs. What an enticing outlook.
Why wasn’t there a single mention that our ideas have value if we trust in our God-given ability to manifest them in the material world? To be changemakers?
And finally, why were we trained — systematically trained — to look to others for solutions to problems instead of creating practical solutions in the real world to problems and challenges, be they social, economic, spiritual or ecological?
From these contemplations came my desire to either change the education system or establish a parallel system, allowing young people to have the same entrepreneurial experiences that I did. We started hosting workshops and conferences that encouraged young people to start a business. Looking back, I barely knew what I was doing, but
still, several “successful” businesses came forth from our workshops. However, a real change in the education system was nowhere in sight. Our model just wasn’t the right one, considering the size of the challenge.
Additionally, the vision that I shared with my team members wasn’t well-aligned. But my interest in the topic and the nagging feeling that it wasn’t right to leave all these young people growing up in the dark about their opportunities, their latent potential, and their changemaking skills kept me investigating.
At first, my research approach was very haphazard; asking friends from different countries about projects on the ground that were trying to help young people start their changemaking journey. When my random searches and interviews didn’t give me a clearer idea of where to get involved, I started ordering books about social entrepreneurship, hoping to find inspiration in them. And inspiration I found.
Although I never actually got to the real reading of the books, there was a book that made a big difference. Actually, that is imprecise. The foreword of the book is what made all the difference to me.
In it, Bill Drayton, the founder of the international Ashoka Network, wrote about a social entrepreneur from Pakistan named Ali Raza Khan who is changing thousands of young people’s lives by telling them that they CAN. That they were born great and that they have all it takes to become changemakers. But not only that — he challenges them to start businesses and, unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these kids that are regarded as “difficult cases” by the government succeed with flying colors, earning profits and challenging everyone’s belief system about what young people are capable of if they are trusted enough and are met with high expectations. Wow.
After reading the foreword, I knew that I had to get in touch with Ali.
I sent him an email asking him for a video interview. His staff got back to me asking me for the interview questions, and said that he would deliver them in writing, as he was in Singapore at the time. I managed to postpone sending in the questions for about a week. Then I got an email from Ali, personally letting me know that he was back from Singapore and that he would be open to doing the interview at any time. We arranged the interview and got on the call for about an hour.
If you could have seen my face during that interview! I was brimming with inspiration.
Here, it seemed, I had finally found someone who had hacked the system and identified a systematic approach that helped young people start their changemaking journey. And he didn’t do it by throwing money at the problem, building big infrastructure, setting up tech incubators, bringing on board investors, or looking for “fledgling potential” and all these other approaches that are nice, but are no scalable model to reach the hundreds of millions of young people at the “bottom of the pyramid” who need this experience and encouragement the most.
Not only did it seem that Ali had come across a workable, scalable model to give young people a practical entrepreneurship and changemaking experience, but he also managed to have stellar success rates AND have the majority of the kids and youth earning a profit on their projects. AND, on top of that, he manages to facilitate this experience within two to five weeks. This was insane.
I had more questions on my mind than we both had time for during the interview. So, I asked him whether I could go visit him in Pakistan and see the project for myself. I wanted to see every detail of how Ali’s organization worked. “Sure, be my guest,” he said. So, I booked my ticket to Pakistan on New Year’s Eve 2016, and got the opportunity to accompany Ali for almost two weeks to different universities and vocational training institutes in the Punjab, speaking with hundreds of students, dozens of teachers and professors, and taking a bunch of random selfies with the students who wanted a picture with the
brown-skinned German man that had come to see their enterprises. The trip was not only inspiring and fun, but also heartwarming, as I heard the stories of some of the students. I could literally pick up on how much this short experience had already changed their lives, their self-esteem, and their prospects for the future. At times, I had tears of gratitude in my eyes, for what I saw was way beyond what I could have hoped for. If it takes only two to five weeks to massively change a young person’s life, mindset, and prospects for the future, and you even earn a return on the investment while facilitating them with the experience, why weren’t more institutions and edupreneurs doing this?
The projects, and the results from the projects, in terms of monetary return and social impact, often blew my mind. Think about it: This was only the very first, minuscule, entrepreneurial experience that these youngsters had. Yet, it made a huge difference in their consciousness and how they saw themselves. Young girls who had never spoken to strangers had learned how to sell their products. Kids from poor families made a profit in two to five weeks that was beyond what many of their parents would earn in several months. And, as I have observed in myself and others: Once a changemaker, always a changemaker. This is a primary shift from victim mode to creator mode, and is likely to pay social dividends again and again, not only for the lives of these young boys and girls, but also for their communities, their country, and, finally, for all of humankind.
Imagine what will happen if this kind of experience is facilitated not only to the tens of thousands of young people that YES Network has reached thus far, but to the hundreds of millions of young people growing up all over the world. What if we could awaken all their latent potential? What if we allowed everyone to become citizens in constructive action? What if we all had practical experience using our natural capabilities of imagination, creativity, and empathy to create social and economic value? Not only as “passive” labor, but as changemakers, regardless of whether we are working for someone else or building our own businesses.
So, to make a long story short: I hope you will find the stories of the young people of Pakistan and the story of Ali’s journey as encouraging and inspiring as I did when I first heard about them.
And I hope that even if all you do is read this foreword, you are now convinced that the youth is a huge, untapped goldmine, in terms of their size as a population and their untapped potential to create value and solutions for themselves and all of us.
I hope that getting an entrepreneurial and changemaker experience early in life will not be the exception, but the absolute standard, and that you will be a part of this development as a changemaker in your own right.
Ali Raza Khan & Thomas Jakel
ORDER YOUR COPY
OF THE BOOK NOW!