HP’s catch line “Everybody’s on!” has most definitely been reinforced by the
joint venture with The Unreasonable Institute.
Unreasonable Institute is a mentor-intensive accelerator for startup entrepreneurs hungry to tackle the world’s greatest social and environmental problems. Founded in 2010, the Unreasonable Institute annually unites 25 high-impact entrepreneurs from around the world in Boulder, Colo. for six weeks. During that time, the entrepreneurs live and work with 60 world-class mentors, pitch their ventures to hundreds of investors in San Francisco and Boulder, obtain legal advice and design consulting, form relationships with up to 30 impact investment funds, and prepare to launch financially self-sustaining, globally scalable ventures that can serve the needs of at least 1 million people.
This year too, the program was successfully conducted with the exception that this year HP joined hands with The Unreasonable Institute by being an official partner and assisting TUI in fund raising, training and sending candidates abroad.
Amongst the 27 finalists Saba Gul represented Pakistan from Asia accompanied by 6 counterparts – 2 from China and 6 from India. Gul had been selected for BLISS – Business and Life Skills School, which is actively promoting entrepreneurship training for girls who were previously driven by poverty to pick work over school.
Please tell us about BLISS?
BLISS provides adolescent girls with an education while simultaneously lifting them out of poverty. Before BLISS, enrolled girls spent 14 hours every day working at carpet looms. Now, they come to school; learn English, Urdu, Math as well as embroidery and needlework. The embroidered fabric is finished into trendy handbags for sale in global markets. The money goes back to the girls so they can support their families while getting an education—win-win!
What inspired you to start this?
I was troubled, time and again, by the vast social disparities prevalent in Pakistan, where I was born and raised. More recently, as a graduate student at MIT, I was struck by the contrast between myself and the millions of Pakistani girls who would never even get a basic education. I firmly believe that the world cannot escape poverty if it does not harness the potential of the 600 million girls that live in the developing world today. And the first step is sending these girls to school. The problem is too grave to ignore, and what can be achieved if we see our mission to completion is so incredible, that dedicating my life to this cause became a no-brainer for me.
Do you have any international partnerships that are helping you achieve your mission?
Yes, we’re partnering with various online retailers based in the US and UK to sell the handbags. We are also working with a team of 4 MBAs from the MIT Sloan School, who will be devising a strategy for launching our products in the US. Our Board of Advisors comprises individuals from all over the world and from all walks of life.
How do you think the training you received at Unreasonable will help you take BLISS to the next level?
Unreasonable helped me find new board members, strike valuable partnerships with retailers, and start discussions with our dream funders. Above all, it taught me to not be afraid to think big and never compromise! I am now part of a network of like-minded entrepreneurs who are my best resources and connectors.
What are your upcoming projects?
We have some really exciting ones! We’re very close to launching our financial literacy and business curriculum for the girls, which will allow them to also participate in other parts of our value chain e.g. marketing. We are designing a new line of handbags, with assistance from students at the Naqsh School of Art in old Lahore. We are also looking to scale to other cities.
What have been the challenges?
Our two biggest challenges have been building a world-class team on a shoe-string budget, and streamlining operations and quality control to bring top-quality products to market.
What milestones have you achieved?
We have enrolled 30 girls in Attock, Pakistan, and hired local staff. An attendance rate for the girls at these schools is now almost 90%. Our first line of 65 handbags launched in May 2011, where our stock was sold out. We are now struggling to meet the overwhelming local and global demand for our handbags.
Do you have a message for our readers?
As the American writer Joseph Campbell would say: “Follow your bliss”. Life is too short to spend it doing what you don’t love or feel passionately about.