We’re heading to the refugee camps along the Western Syrian border

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It’s the day before Shivani leaves to visit the children in the refugee camps along the Western Syrian border.

Although today is the last day to contribute towards much needed supplies for these children, our campaign and blog will continue with updates on our mission.

Thanks to all of our supporters, we could not have done this without you!

Help us help them: final push before we head to the refugee camps

With only 3 days left before the end of our campaign, and with Syria at a critical point, now more than ever, we’re counting on you to help us reach our goal.

Our campaign has gained momentum, and we could not have done it without the kind help and generosity of each of our supporters. We are beyond thankful.

These next few days are crucial in fundraising as much as we can to support the children in the refugee camps along the Western Syrian border. The more we raise, the more children we can reach!

Help us help them by supporting our campaign.

Just a few days left to join our campaign to help Syrian refugee children

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JUST OVER ONE WEEK LEFT to join our campaign for crucial winter necessities for children in refugee camps along the Syrian Border! Your donations will help little ones survive winter at the edge of this horrible war.

We were recently on TogiNet Radio chatting with Frankie Picasso about our mission. You can listen here:

 

PATHFINDER’s Mission to Help Syrian Refugees over the Holidays

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Like so many, we’ve been helplessly watching images of Syrian children in desperate conditions for years now. It seems like no number of terrified, shocked or hurt children is enough to make it stop.

So this holiday season, we decided to do something. Shivani will be visiting and bringing much needed supplies to the children in the refugee camps along the Western Syrian border. The ones closest to the struggle are those who are most neglected, and we’d like to bring them a bit of holiday cheer.

This is a pro-bono, humanitarian relief effort. We encourage you to find out more and get involved in this very important project by visiting our campaign.

Thank you!

Why Accelerator Labs are the Way to Go

By Jessica van Thiel

We have always been fans of the Unreasonable Institute. We’ve wanted to get involved with an accelerator lab since we started out. The focus, intensity and support of an accelerator lab seemed to be exactly what we needed in the beginning. With time though, PATHFINDER developed beyond the conception phase. While we were no longer eligible to participate, we still wanted to be a part of this exciting experience. So when we were invited to present and mentor at the Unreasonable Institute Lab in France, we were thrilled! Not only was it a big moment in our #SocEnt journey, but also, it was an important step in validation of our work so far.

Accelerator Labs

Although there are many accelerator labs for social entrepreneurs, for example, The Community Innovation Lab, The Mission Center, Standford Business School Impact Labs program, etc., our experience has only been with the Unreasonable Institute thus far. Their mission is to help and provide tools to entrepreneurs to solve the world’s greatest problems. Problems like poverty, lack of education, and access to clean water. They identify promising entrepreneurs with compelling potential projects and provide them with access to mentors, funders, and partners to help maximize their impact with the overall goal for each venture to impact 1,000,000 people.

One aspect of the lab that I found particularly useful was the Unreasonable Institute’s mentoring community. Mentors are available to provide advice during the lab, but beyond that, if there’s chemistry, they can provide a lasting relationship and guidance to the entrepreneurs.

Mentoring

As a mentor myself, I found it enriching to connect with such passionate individuals. The mentoring day, or at least the one I participated in, is a grueling and self-realizing experience. The setting is intimate yet professional. Entrepreneurs meet with as many as ten mentors – all from different backgrounds – who provide useful and sometimes brutally honest advice. Entrepreneurs can feel drained after the experience and often even feel the need to completely rethink their business plan or idea.

So why would a new entrepreneur willingly put themselves through such a test? Because, based on the feedback I received from the entrepreneurs, it can be a completely eye-opening experience. The lab served as an opportunity to deliver a series of ‘mini’ pitches, each time allowing the entrepreneur to perfect their pitch and polish their message. In many cases, it also allowed them to see their project from completely different angles. It allowed for perspective and critical clarity on how to move forward. Most of the entrepreneurs were emotionally and physically drained by the end of the day. Yet they felt they were better for having persevered through the experience. Even as a mentor, I had a few ‘Aha’ moments with entrepreneurs where it felt like we were really brainstorming new ideas; we were making things happen!

From the point of view of a mentor, who participated in a rewarding and creative experience, I found the Unreasonable Institute Lab to be unique from past similar engagements. Rather than just providing advice, I felt involved, like we were building something important, together.

Invaluable Contacts

I will, without a doubt, stay in touch and hope to even work with some of the entrepreneurs I met. If the participants benefited from the lab as much as I did, I’m positive that in a few months, we will not only see the success of budding start-ups, but the beginning of lasting entrepreneur-mentor relationships. So, if you’re looking for an enriching and useful experience to help launch your start-up, the Unreasonable Institute Accelerator Lab is definitely the way to go.

A First Time Experience at the United Nations’ Human Rights Summit

By Shivani Singh

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I recently attended the 13th Annual Human Rights Summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. I didn’t quite know what to expect but it turned out to be a pretty cool event. There are always the opportunities to chat, connect and network with others in the field at such gatherings of experts and supporters. But there were two people in particular, who were intimately acquainted with suffering and brutal abuse, who had the most unexpected responses to their experiences; and these people brought me to tears. Here are their stories.

A Story of Brutal Police Oppression with an Unlikely Ending

In his youth, Augustine Brian of Papua New Guinea was the victim of horrible violence at the hands of the police. Aghast, many of his family and community had gathered to confront the perpetrators. Mr. Brian however, had no appetite to escalate the situation. Instead, as his broken body recovered, he searched for solutions that would make a more lasting impact. That’s when he read an article by Nelson Mandela that, according to Mr. Brian, inspired him completely and showed him the way. He began educating himself on Human Rights. During his study, he found that an organization called Youth For Human Rights International would send him free materials to teach and train others on the subject, so he made the request. He didn’t actually believe anyone would send him anything, for free at that, and in Papua New Guinea. But shortly after, Mr. Brian received his training materials in his mailbox.

Armed with knowledge and educational tools, he approached the leaders of the police department, asking if he may conduct educational workshops on Human Rights. The police, seemingly unaware of the concept, agreed and humored Mr. Brian, perhaps even recognizing the opportunity to diffuse a volatile situation peacefully. So Mr. Brian began teaching the local police in Papua New Guinea, about Human Rights and their importance. Not only did he capture the interest of his audience, he was signed on for more such training, and he continues to work with the police in his country to this day.

The most powerful part of the story was when Mr. Brian spoke of how the very policemen who brutalized him approached and surprised him by asking for his forgiveness. He was brought to tears that day. That’s when Mr. Brian’s efforts began to lead somewhere good. And several years later, he would be in New York City, at the Headquarters of the United Nations, recounting his story to hundreds of strangers from around the world, as they awarded him the Human Rights Heroes Award for 2016. There was not a dry eye in the room.

Growing Up as a Child Survivor of a Suicide Bombing

Sayed Mahmood Kazmi is no stranger to conflict, having grown up in the tumultuous Indian state, Jammu & Kashmir. But when he was a boy, he survived a suicide bombing in a Pakistani mosque. What might such a traumatic event do to a child, one wonders? Now a young man, Sayed stood at a podium at the United Nations. And much to our surprise, upbeat and engaging he addressed his “fellow gentlemen” when he asked why they were absconding in the fight for gender equality. “Its not their fight,” he said, speaking for women, “it’s our fight!” Sayed spent his moment in the spotlight speaking for the women in his world, pleading with men to see them as equals and fight for them so we could all, one day soon, live in equitable harmony. The spirit of this young man, having survived so much, standing for an entirely different issue, inspiring people, believing in their inherent goodness was so moving that we cried, clapped and cheered. He was quite literally wonderful up there.

Youth for Human Rights International, the organization behind the event, are remarkable. Founded on the commitment “to teach youth about human rights, specifically the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and inspire them to become valuable advocates for tolerance and peace”, the organization has come far and impacted many since its 2001 conception. Most people have no idea what exactly their human rights are, let alone realize they have 30 of them. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the world would be a more equal and harmonious place if we could do a better job of educating generations of our youth.

Attending the event was a powerful experience, with compelling thoughts, ideas and convictions from young people around the world. And hope. There was a lot of hope.

By noon, I was in tears. Not because horrible things have happened and continue to happen, and to children no less. I was in tears because I was struck by the realization that these people – most too young, who had lived through such horrible things, who had been victims themselves, who had overcome so much – were so very full of hope, they were consumed by it! How, I wondered? They had so much hope for the future, and such great plans! Their incredible strength brought me to my knees. And it reminded me why I’ve set out to do what I have. Because, in the end, all we have is our collective humanity; when times are tough and things seem the most desperate is when we must fight to protect this humanity.

-Shivani

What the Mighty United Nations can Learn from Local Social Entrepreneurs

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The systems we have in place for international development are no longer working as they should. The most powerful institutions are also the most inefficient, accounting for much misuse and waste of resources. The United Nations – arguably the most important development institution in the world – has established an unparalleled reach, but it has also created an unprecedented bureaucracy that contains a shocking amount of inefficiency, misconduct, and even abuse. It’s time for new, more competent practices to replace global systems that were put into place decades ago, and social entrepreneurs are emerging from the fringes with compelling ideas that might counter – and perhaps even improve – these flawed systems.

While the UN’s operational deterioration seems most disheartening, social entrepreneurship has become something of a movement that holds great promise, attracting the attention of various experts and development workers from around the world. But who are these social entrepreneurs, exactly? While people are familiar with older, nonprofit, socially-driven enterprises (such as MSF/Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children, for instance), a lesser known set of entrepreneurships have stepped up for the dual purposes of doing good as well as generating profit.

These entrepreneurs have made it their mission to find and deploy optimal models of engagement, models that are financially sound, deliver discernible social impact, and create a cycle of sustainability. Social enterprises are designed to run like regular businesses, except their bottom lines include social impact, which they are measured for. Like other businesses, social enterprises are required to be efficient, scalable, and profitable in order to survive and indeed, thrive. They don’t rely on charity for funds, earning it by selling products and services instead – except these products and services are created to generate a positive impact in communities and beyond. These organizations certainly wouldn’t survive were they to adopt bureaucratic, inefficient, and questionable behaviors like the ones found in the largest NGOs around the world, beginning, of course, with the UN.

Another key aspect of leading social enterprises is that they work to include others in their journey. They educate as they create. They understand that, to be truly effective, they must inspire and engage others to join them. According to Harvard Business Review, social entrepreneurship “has emerged over the past several decades as a way to identify and bring about potentially transformative and societal change.” Social entrepreneurs are a special kind of tough – and that, evidently, is what the landscape currently needs. Not only do they take on the challenges of entrepreneurship, but they also sell innovative, experimental models of engagement to risk-averse financiers and wary publics around the world. According to Solène Pignet, the founder of Creators for Good, a consultancy service for social entrepreneurs established in 2014, 80% of social enterprise projects fail in the first few years. So, why would anyone take on such intimidating odds? They all share a reason: They are committed to changing the world and will not accept the failures of the status quo in order to do so. Social entrepreneurs believe that their commitment doesn’t require that they themselves live in poverty either. Countless nonprofits have shown that the world’s most educated, talented, and committed people cannot be retained for free and exploited; after all, everyone has bills to pay and families to raise. For the sake of their work, social entrepreneurs labor to pioneer ways of creating sustainable, impactful change – profitably.

Some of the world’s most successful social enterprises include the Nobel Peace Prize winning Grameen Bank, and the incredibly popular TOMS. Grameen Bank is based on Muhammad Yunus’ original microfinance model, and is responsible for deploying billions of dollars that have enabled some of the poorest people, women even, to lift themselves out of abject poverty. Without Grameen Bank, these most destitute individuals would have continued to rely on predatory lenders and would have, most likely, remained in an inescapable cycle of deprivation. Now they are able to earn incomes for themselves and their families, and educate their children, who will have a better chance at prosperity.

Jessica Jackley and Matt Flannery’s Kiva is another victorious implementation of the microfinance model, among others, while Blake Mycoskie’s TOMS has provided over 50 millions pairs of shoes to children who didn’t have any. The success of his company has allowed TOMS to follow up with more services for the poor, including clean water, eye care, and safer births. The more TOMS grows, the more of an impact it has in the lives of those who lack the very basics that most of us take for granted.

By contrast, consider the most publicized recent investigations of the UN, the single largest organization based on protecting and promoting the global fundamentals of humanity. Starting at the top, it’s no secret that the Security Council’s five permanent members include two (with crucial veto powers) who have openly disregarded the concepts of human rights and sovereignty, the very ideals they are meant to defend. As a result, we have a governing body that is unable to take action on conflicts and humanitarian crises of the worst kinds. Several of the UN’s Peacekeeping forces have been known to abuse the most vulnerable of the people they are meant to protect. In a recent New York Times article, Anthony Banbury, a former United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Field Support, recalls how on his first assignment as a human rights officer in 1998, he investigated rapes and murders of the poor and helpless in Cambodian refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. “Never could I have imagined that I would one day have to deal with members of my own organization committing the same crimes or, worse, senior officials tolerating them for reasons of cynical expediency.”

Many diplomats and their families have operated with impunity and repeatedly broken the rules of law without consequence. Interns are consistently exploited and expected to work without compensation. People with similar skills and jobs are paid distinctly different amounts based on their passports. Many of those who work in or with various local offices are inept and limited in their skills and performances, yet they remain indefinitely because they are protected by the organization.

Were they in privately or publicly run businesses, none of these policies and occurrences would survive multiple conclusive investigations for as long as they have. But they are rampant in the UN – the prevailing bastion of humanity – and the world continues to pour resources into the UN’s many agencies. And while certainly some employees perform better than their colleagues, and some offices are more effective while others are barely operational, the problems go so deep that only a significant systemic and operational overhaul can save the organization. Banbury affirms the need for reform: “The bureaucracy needs to work for the missions; not the other way around. The starting point should be the overhaul of [our] personnel system. We need an outside panel to examine the system and recommend changes.” Indeed, significant change must be demanded of an organization that is meant to work for the benefit of people everywhere – but consistently fails to do so.

The question remains: How can we affect change in such a large-scale operation? What strategy can successfully demand transformation within a large and complex structure like the United Nations? The answer may be as simple as intelligently redirecting resources to social enterprises that prove to be effective alternatives. These are innovative, committed, and efficient teams that employ brilliant policies and people from around the world. They hold modern ideas and practices that could change the way we care for each other, and for our planet. Social entrepreneurs develop and deploy proven economic and scientific principles. These are the very organizations the world should be promoting. Doing so not only enables these little powerhouses of potential, but it also compels global bodies to evolve in meeting the changing needs of the world – or else face becoming obsolete.

Social entrepreneurship is becoming a movement in its own right. Current major global players that are in place to ensure the security and human rights of citizens are failing us, leaving a gap in the industry – and an opportunity for emerging innovations and players. People are recognizing the value in doing good while doing well. Most importantly, it’s a chance for social entrepreneurs to right the wrongs and propose innovative and effective solutions for helping people. Social entrepreneurs are not simply trying to affect change; they are the change.

The original article was published in MISC Magazine’s “Women: Shattering Expectations issue and can be found here: What the Mighty United Nations can Learn from Local Social Entrepreneur

 

Women are unstoppable!

By Jessica van Thiel

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Women are unstoppable!

They have an incredible ability to take on several roles at once; entrepreneur, student, friend, mother, daughter…

I’ve always been in awe of the capacity women have to bring about impactful change in a big way, that’s why I’ve focused my career on the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality. So, when I was invited to speak at the BWiS International Women’s Day Rising Stars event I was thrilled and humbled. Here’s some of what I shared that evening.

Social Enterprise

In 2015, I co-founded PATHFINDER, a Canadian social enterprise focusing on sustainable development solutions. We provide creative solutions to enable the world’s most vulnerable through a three-pronged approach: by simultaneously influencing academics, policy, and social entrepreneurship. Our vision is to enable local social entrepreneurs so that they may provide for themselves, their families and their communities. Our partner projects are based in India, Nepal and Namibia. They focus on important causes with women’s rights as one of the priority issues.

I’m proud to say that in one short year, we’re ahead of where we aimed to be. That’s not to say that there haven’t been major challenges and hurdles along the way. Since we started the social enterprise, it has been an incredible learning experience, beyond expectations, both professionally and personally.

Growing up in Canada, I had a strong sense of needing to give back to the less fortunate in some way. I realised how lucky I was because it seemed like every opportunity in the world was available to me. I wondered how I could help right the great wrongs of the world, or at the very least, help better the lives of a few people. That’s what led me to work in the development sector which has allowed me to live in some incredible places around the world. My work reminds me every day that I can make a change, that I should make a change.

Melinda Gates of the Melinda Gates Foundation sums up my sentiment: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Hard Graft

Since the beginning, my (invaluable) partner Shivani and I have worked tirelessly. We were determined to fill well-known industry gaps in the international development sector because we recognised that the same mistakes were made over and over and the status quo was failing far too many. We worked nights and weekends, we researched constantly, we studied, we learned, we wrote, we consulted; we fully committed ourselves to doing whatever it takes to run a successful new business. It was, and remains tough work.

So why put myself through the uncertainty of starting a new business when I was 8 and a half months pregnant?! The answer is because I felt I absolutely should. And because it was something I had always wanted to do, a lifelong dream, so what better time than the present? There will always be a million reasons why not to do something. The trick is to say yes, even when it’s scary and uncertain because there will never, ever be a perfect time.

Lessons Learned

The key lessons I’ve learned along the way are:

1)    You have a story to tell. Everyone has a story; everyone has something that motivates them. Your story is no less important than anyone else’s. Stop comparing yourself to others and know your self-worth.

2)    Stop making excuses. It’s never too late. The timing will never be perfect. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and if you really want something, go for it. It’s not coming to you. You need to go out and get it, yourself.

3)    It’s OK to ‘multi-task’ your life. Yes, it’s essential to focus and be present when doing something, but in life you can take on many roles at once. It’s OK to be an entrepreneur, a student, mother, wife and friend. You can do it. But when you’re doing it, be present. Be organised, prioritise, and be in the moment.

4)    Use your strengths and delegate the rest. If you’re good at something, let it shine! Use it as a tool. If you’re a good communicator, focus on that. If you’re better at research, do that. Do what you like and do what you’re good at. And if you can, delegate the rest.

5)    Surround yourself with positive people. This is likely the most important lesson I’ve learned along the way. Positive, glass-half-full people will always win. They’ll make you better. Besides, there’s no time for negativity; yes, it’s inevitable, it will happen. But if negativity is a constant presence in your life it will eventually weigh on you. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. Keep positive. Often, if you break anything down, it is achievable.

-Jess

For International women’s day I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the 2016 Business Women in Surrey (BWiS) annual flagship event. Above is some of what I shared with the guests that evening.

For the full article and other links to the event and BWiS initiatives see here:

It’s getting busy at PATHFINDER!

From radio interviews to magazine articles, new partnerships and big moves, we’ve been busy!

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One of the many exciting examples is our article in Rank & File magazine’s launch issue! You can read the full article here and download the app.

Also, stay tuned for our article in MISC magazine as part of their “Women: Shattering Expectations” edition. We can’t wait to share it with you soon!

For more on what we’ve been up to, our latest newsletter has all the details here!