Companies, like people, have visions and resolutions in place at the beginning of a new year. Like an individual trying to become healthier and happier, we too set new targets and think about achievable milestones and goals. This year, with the aid of a grant from Ilm Ideas 2, an education innovation programme funded by UK Aid from the Department for International Development, Knowledge Platform will be setting up digital learning centres in 200 low-cost private schools across Pakistan. These centres will be equipped with our blended learning solution—Learn Smart Classroom—that caters to middle and high school students.

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So how will we achieve the goal of implementing 200 low-cost private schools in 2018? On 4 January 2018, as the rest of world was blearily emerging from the cocoon of their New Years’ festivities, the team from Ilm Ideas 2 had organised an event with CSR heads from some of the top organisations across the country, including Telenor, Engro Foundation, Jazz, PTCL, LMKT, TeraData, Hashoo Foundation, Bank Alfalah, Dawood Foundation, Sultana Foundation, Secur Global, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, Bentley Systems, Code for Pakistan, Enclude and many more.

Syed Mazhar Hussain from PTCL and Ali Ibrahim (Head, Corporate Responsibility) from Jazz, a partner of Knowledge Platform, also presented at the event.

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The event, titled CSR Education Innovation Forum, connected Ilm Ideas 2 grantees with business and CSR leaders, primarily from the private sector, to help grantees access the corporate sector’s funding resources.

Attendees browsed through stalls set up by grantees. Helen Kamal, Team Leader, Ilm Ideas 2, referred to the “graveyard” for education start-ups. She described Pakistan as a country whose young entrepreneurs and leaders were full of initiative, but somewhere along the line, this initiative was overwritten by the challenges posed by working in the education sector.

Helen went on to introduce the grantees, who presented their products throughout the day. The event concluded at 8pm with a short panel discussion that also featured Knowledge Platform’s own Hira Zainab (Head of Campus Outreach and Engagement).

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What We Learned

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! The Ilm Ideas 2 team spent a long time preparing us for the event. We fine-tuned our pitches, dusted off or created new videos, designed brochures, thought about stall design and workshopped the perfect presentation. The collaborative effort emphasised Ilm 2’s is focus on making sure grantee projects are sustainable beyond the grant period. This also highlights a new focus of engaging the private sector to invest in innovative education businesses.

Investors are Invested: CSR heads began to arrive at 2:30 pm and stayed on till 9 pm. Usually, when organisations are looking to pay lip service to an event or a donor, they do not spend upwards of six hours carefully listening to and picking through investee pitches. What this means: Education could be the next frontier for Corporate Social Responsibility heads, especially in a country that features very low enrolment rates and learning outcomes.

The Power of Storytelling: Our friends at Sabaq (Multinet) delivered a presentation that was the high point of the evening. Hassan bin Rizwan, co-founder of Sabaq started with the story of two women whose lives needed Sabaq’s solution, and he went on to briefly describe the solution and its benefits in easy-to-understand language. This was quite late in the evening, and the crowd had started to become restless. Hassan held them spell-bound throughout! Kudos to team Sabaq, we’re looking forward to getting some pointers from you on how to add pizzazz to our presentations!

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Competition is Key: Good competition nurtures more effective business practices across the board. However, we’re in the unique position of being in a field where the more really is the merrier. We’re all working for a cause. This means that one man’s (or woman’s) win translates to a larger win for the education sector in Pakistan and in the end, isn’t that the final and most important goal?

So while, yes, we would like you to point CSR heads in our direction, we’d also like to collaborate more with other grantees. We found at this event that there are enough worthy and bright ideas to go around. And we’re always on the lookout for collaboration avenues.

Follow up is Everything: Like our fellow grantees, we generated many leads from the CSR event. And the next day, we were back at the office. Following up meant calling, setting up meetings, calling again and basically just making sure we were doing everything we could to make sure the leads translated to, if nothing else, at least meaningful conversations.

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The exercise taught us a lot about what it means to pitch to organisations. Hopefully, it taught the leaders of the industry a lot as well about what they’re looking for in terms of investment opportunities. Again, events like these help nurture better collaboration, introduce best practices and expand the knowledge base for all attendees.

Fine-tuning pitches is one of the most important aspects of a business trying to become sustainable. Pitches have to be aimed at investors, at clients, but also at users of the product, at trainers. The beginning of this year saw us trying to perfect our pitching and sales strategy. The CSR event was a wonderful way to launch us into the exercise and we’ll hopefully be reaping returns all through the year. Here’s to 2018!