COVID-19 has rapidly spread around the world impacting economies, healthcare systems and daily life. The challenges that it poses are real and consequential. To help policymakers and donors better understand the impact on Asia’s social sector, CAPS (virtually) sat down with our partners across the region to understand the challenges they are grappling with, the strategies they are employing to contain the fallout and their take on the future of the social sector.
As we documented in our recent report, Business for Good: maximizing the value of social enterprises in Asia, Pakistan is home to a burgeoning social enterprise scene. On 8 April 2020 we spoke with Kalsoom Lakhani, the Founder and CEO of Invest2Innovate (i2i), one of Pakistan’s leading ecosystem supporters, and Partner at i2i Ventures, an early stage VC fund for Pakistan to understand how Covid-19 is impacting social enterprises—and how they are responding.
CAPS: Kalsoom, thank you so much for speaking with us. Invest2Innovate has accelerated 47 companies in the last eight years—how are social enterprises in your network thinking about and responding to this crisis?
Kalsoom: We’re noticing many overarching trends but the most exciting has been the nimbleness of Pakistani startups, including social enterprises.
CAPS: We would love to hear some examples.
Kalsoom: Sure! Pakistan is home to a number of telehealth and delivery startups, and most of them have tailored their business model in interesting ways to combat Covid-19.
We have also seen social enterprises widen their scope of work. For example, one of our investees, Mauqa Online, a platform for hiring household help was going to offer a disinfecting service before the country went into lockdown. Although the lockdown paused these plans, the effort has not gone to waste. It has given Mauqa Online a head–start on thinking about a business-to-business (B2B) model and pivoting their strategy for growth in the future.
As an accelerator and ecosystem builder, what is most interesting to us is that these pivots and subsequent linkages were beginning to happen organically.
CAPS: You also mentioned telehealth startups. How has Covid-19 affected their work?
Kalsoom: Positively! Owing to the limited capacity of our healthcare ecosystem, these startups are receiving renewed attention. The government is also playing a proactive role in supporting telehealth startups—it recently launched a portal dedicated to telehealth efforts for Covid-19.
CAPS: Very interesting. Have you seen startups in other sectors pivoting their business models in response to emerging needs?
Kalsoom: We have seen some pivot to aid the country’s shortage of protective equipment and hygiene products. For example, Conatural, which produces and sells 100% organic and cruelty-free makeup products, has found great success manufacturing and selling hand sanitizers. Their offering is unique in that it was one of the first products in the local market to comply fully with WHO standards.
Another company that we accelerated in the past, Grit 3D, has been able to transfer their expertise in 3D-printing prosthetics to 3D-printing parts for ventilators.
CAPS: i2i also boasts research capabilities. How are you tailoring your research to Covid-19?
Kalsoom: We are trying to understand what the post-Covid-19 world looks like. To this end, we recently published “Covid-19 & its Impact on Pakistani Startups.” We present insights from a survey of over a hundred startups. Our data indicates that the current outlook is particularly grim for sectors such as travel and tourism—which were beginning to see growth—and mobility. We also shared these insights through our newsletter and continue to stay in touch with startups in our network to support them through this time.
CAPS: What is your perspective about the social sector—including philanthropy and CSR—and its response to this pandemic in general?
Kalsoom: Right now—and arguably, for good reason—philanthropic contributions are focused on the short-term impact of the situation we find ourselves in. What I would like to see more of is for philanthropists to raise their hands and also think about the medium- and long-term impact of this crisis and how they can help.
This is important because in the months to come, nonprofits and social delivery organizations will be severely affected as donors may have limited funds and corporations focus more on their bottom line.