As part of the Pakistan Entrepreneurship Initiative, the fellows who complete their program in the States are required to attend a bootcamp in Pakistan, focused on understanding the landscape and ecosystem of social entrepreneurship in the local context.  As a fellow from the same initiative from class 31, I got this opportunity to attend the bootcamp after successfully completing one year of my fellowship in the US.

After completing the year, I took a much needed one month break to accomplish a few tasks back home – one of which was attending the bootcamp – in addition to getting a new visa, work remotely for my host organization and spending time with the family. My flight to Pakistan was 21 hours long with a layover in Abu Dhabi for 4 hours. I was jet lagged and it took me quite a few days to finally get back to a normal routine there and adjust my internal clock locally.

The bootcamp was in Islamabad so I had to travel from my city Lahore to the capital city which is a 5-hour drive by road. The organization that partnered with Atlas Corps is called Invest2Innovate (i2i) that supports startup communities in growth markets. They incubate and accelerate the startups in addition to providing them access to their pool of investors.

The bootcamp kicked off with introduction and an overview of the startup ecosystem in Pakistan. It was followed by the leadership talks by some of the successful entrepreneurs in Pakistan who benefitted from i2i accelerator program and now are running their businesses successfully. It was motivating to listen to their success stories and how they were able to overcome the challenges on ground, and expand their businesses eventually.

Based on the profiles of the fellows who were attending the bootcamp, the organizers decided to change some sessions originally planned on design thinking and enterprise design essentials as most of the participants there were already familiar with the concept and had attended workshops and sessions on these topics while they were in the States. The next session addressed lean startup methodology, problem identification and solution-based exercise. The day was concluded with a lavish dinner for all the participating fellows where they were able to chat with the organizers in a rather informal setting.

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The bootcamp included visits by the founder and CEO of Roamer – which is an on-demand car rental community where travelers can rent any car they want, whenever, wherever and for any duration, from a vibrant community of local car owners in Pakistan – President and CEO of U Microfinance Bank Limited, that offers a wide range of micro-finance loans, deposit products, and branchless banking solutions to the customers and Innovative Intervention Specialist, from Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), that is one of the leading institution focused on eliminating poverty in Pakistan by facilitating public-private partnerships that have a mutual goal to achieve social and economic change in Pakistan.

In the end, participants were able to pitch their ideas in front of the organizers and get their feedback that helped them refine their ideas and think about the next steps to take in future.This experience helped the fellows to understand the nuts and bolts of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Pakistan and helped them to make connections with some of the prominent social entrepreneurs in the country.