I always wanted to help Pakistan develop.
Yet a plan of action that aligned with the population’s need and desire only became apparent recently.
In 2007, Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf tried ousting his supreme court chief justice, who had shown too much independence by upholding the constitution. The media, legal community, NGOs and upper-middle class students protested. The lower classes remained silent.
Shopkeepers and labourers I interviewed cared little for the constitution. People who were struggling to feed their families had more immediate issues to consider than ‘rights’. ‘Rights’ for these people had never been inalienable nor natural. ‘Rights’ were a construct that my class liked to believe in and fight for because we did not know how to solve the scarier and far more urgent problems of poverty.
Pakistan’s judicial crisis threw my beliefs into jeopardy. My heroes had been arrested. Previously pro-judiciary politician Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf made an unholy accord, ruining my native country’s chance of genuine democracy. In addition, I had been kicked in the head by the police but was told by human rights lawyers to drop my case because only bad would come of it. My heroes had lost. My cause had lost. I was lost.
As I recovered from my injuries, I picked up a book of alumni essays from my alma mater.
Robert Haas, Chairman of Levi Strauss, wrote how business had enabled him to positively impact his environment. Robert mandated equal treatment for employees around the world. The MBA graduate and McKinsey alum had inherited his father’s commitment to his workers. His father had kept idled workers busy during the Great Depression, risking bankruptcy, by creating renovation projects.
The essay which inspired a new direction, however, was by Maxine Hong Kingston, a fellow writer. ‘The most interesting and scary question,’ she wrote, ‘was “what will I do to make a living?” Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? “Make a living.” Not a definitive once-and-for-all dead-end noun like “money” or “job” [ . . . ] You create and make up new jobs that are good for a human being. You alter a cramping job so that it supports your humanity and spirit and changes the marketplace.’
Kingston’s words resonated with the words of people who should have supported my activities in Pakistan up to that point. A priest seemed somewhat convinced that a women’s rights NGO was a good idea, but told me if I really wanted to help, I ought to set up a factory. When I criticised the prime minister, a former finance minister and Citibank executive, my grandmother responded, “He has improved our economy and created new jobs. What have you done but criticise?”
But how to create new jobs?
‘In Native American cultures, the questing hero sees a vision, then brings it back as a story, a song, a dance or a map to give to his tribe,’ wrote Kingston.
I left Pakistan to seek answers. I visited friends and family in England, Canada and the USA.
On the trip, I devoured Muhammad Yunus’ Creating a World Without Poverty and Banker to the Poor, Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom, Jeffrey Sach’s The End of Poverty and the autobiographies of successful entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg.
The Bloomberg autobiography affected my decision not to wait a sixth month for my work visa to take up an economic research job in India for MIT and LBS professors, but to enter the business world in London. As a man living in the real, rather than the abstract, world, Bloomberg had answered economic questions that my professors were investigating, and had put his answers into practice to create a successful and thriving business, to create jobs and affect the marketplace.
An Atlantic Monthly article about how the Clinton Foundation’s consultants created new markets to combat malaria and AIDS turned my mind to a career in international management consulting, in order to solve Pakistan’s market inefficiencies.
What I have read and experienced since reading Maxine Hong Kingston’s essay has helped me see a vision. I will go through an MBA programme, which will equip me with a knowledge of marketing, business strategy, management, accounting and financial analysis. The MBA will segue into a career in management consulting, which will sharpen my strategy and management skills. Like Maxine Hong Kingston’s questing hero, I will return to my Pakistani tribe with a map, back stories and patterns.
I will bring my skills, experiences and knowledge to the Pakistani private and public sectors, as well as the money of social investors. I will buy stakes in companies and make them healthier, more responsible and help them grow and employ more people. The stakes will be sold on the open marketplace to pay my investors dividends and to the employees and to locals, who will safe guard the environment. I will achieve my goal of developing Pakistan, in accordance with how people want to be helped.
**All photos were taken by me (except the ones of me)