School of Leadership Foundation (SoLF)

Posted on January 16, 2008
Filed Under >Darwaish, >Shireen Naqvi, Economy & Development, Education, Health & Disease
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By Shireen Naqvi and Darwaish

Back in June, I wrote about Education For All program initiated by the Government of Punjab with the support of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It was just one example of some of the great work going on around us which mostly goes unnoticed and gets very little attention. There are many people around us, working silently with great dedication and commitment, who need our appreciation and support. I thought I should introduce and share some of the wonderful programs initiated by School of Leadership Foundation and particularly one of their project ExtraCorp. These programs are changing lives of physically and mentally challenged people in Pakistan by not just helping them become financially independent but also turning them into entrepreneurs and leaders.

According to United Nations, 10% of Pakistan’s population suffers from various kind of disabilities. Though 1998 census claims the percentage to be around 3-4%. Unfortunately, our society is highly discriminative towards people who have any kind of disability and they are generally treated as ‘nakaara’ (people who can’t do anything) whether it’s in case of jobs or anything else. School of Leadership Foundation (SoLF) is trying to change this mindset and prove that given the self-confidence and a little bit of support and training, these people can do wonders because they are often more focused and determined than so called ‘normal people’.

Based in Karachi, SoLF is a non-profit organization founded in October 2004. SoLF works with communities and individuals to leverage diversity and connect cultures. It represents ICLS (The Intercultural Communication and Leadership School) and ExtraCorp in Pakistan. Actually, ExtraCorp is the project which motivated me to write this post. They recently had an exhibition of products in Karachi which was covered in HUM TV’s program Muttar Gasht. ExtraCorp is an umbrella organization that provides entrepreneurial opportunities to the physically and mentally challenged youth so that they can set up, own, manage and lead a conglomeration of enterprises.

Training Process

Shireen Naqvi, who is one of the trustees and brain behind SoLF, explained the background of ExtraCorp, how it all began and the various projects under its umbrella. She writes:

Silence. That too is a way of life. Try going through a day without speaking. Next day, stuff your ears with earplugs so you may not hear. Now see how you fare.

There are people in this world who cannot hear or speak, yet excel in life. They are able to apply their ‘other’ senses, the use of which makes them extraordinary. Those endowed with the ability to hear and speak are ignorant of these ‘other’ senses. They are unable to perceive matter or even space that lies between the lines, that can only be picked up by atunement of senses they are not even aware of and don’t ordinarily use.

A group of thirteen such youth, currently doing their Bachelors from the Absa College for hearing impaired, are leading and managing a business of their own as entrepreneurs. Relying on their extraordinary perceptions, they went through a 5 month rigorous training program, aiming to enhance their ability to lead. It is a historically known fact that the ethos of leaders is the capacity to apply unusual abilities; their intuition or ‘other’ senses. This is the case with these young people. Though they may not be able to speak or hear, they are able to do so much more.

Their paramount quality is focus and dedication. Give them a vision and the skill to get there, then there is no stopping them. The School of Leadership Foundation (SoLF) has taken on the mission of working with not only hearing impaired youth, but those with other, special abilities, to develop them into entrepreneurs. The project under the umbrella of SoLF is called ExtraCorp, which aims to synergize the extraordinary. Besides fund raising, ExtraCorp will set up a variety of businesses, train the extraordinary youth accordingly, and hand over the businesses to them to lead, manage and grow.

The first such project, Bäckerei, was launched on December 16, 2006. Training of the first batch included a wide range of skills from how to manage accounts to how to form and lead teams. A German chef was invited to come to Pakistan to train them in the art of German baking. Under her guidance and expertise, the young boys (so far no young lady has joined the project), were trained in baking of high quality, for special moods, occasions and tastes. Their shop is located on 24th Commercial Street, DHA, Phase 2 extension, opposite the LRBT office, behind Sunset Club.

Lately, Karachiites have witnessed a substantial growth of cafes and bakeries. These have become quite a part of our culture, where we see not only people relaxing but many important business deals taking place. Such outlets cater to a certain class, mainly due to high prices. This urged ExtraCorp to start another venture called Rangeela-the desi café. This café caters to ethnics tastes, both visual, as it is done up in truck art, and palatal, with a desi range on the menu. Not only does it aim to provide quality goods and services, but also tap into the huge market of those belonging to other economic stratas. Soon, Inshallah, Rangeela will become the hub of diversity, bringing people together not only to eat, but to listen, share, understand and thrive together.

The third enterprise by ExtraCorp is called ‘Pleasures-joyful living’. Here, people with various disabilities create handicrafts and sell them at an outlet or at various exhibitions. Items include apparels, accessories, bags, pottery, frames etc. with more to come.

‘WriteAway’ is the fourth business in which a portfolio of artwork made by special children is offered to organizations to select designs for their greeting cards and calendars. The artists’ effort is highlighted on each item and income from the sales is earned by them.

This is only the beginning. There are over 300 ideas pending to be actualized over the next 100 years. Who says social work cannot be profitable? The ExtraCorp model realizes the dreams of many to become economically and socially self-reliant and masters of their lives.

The story of Adnan Hussain whose life has been changed by one of the SoLF projects Bäckerei (pictures above), was published in The News and it once again shows that if you believe in something and willing to work hard, anything is possible. But we need more institutions like SoLF. We often complain about the growing indifference in our society and point fingers at others for not doing enough. May be sometimes we focus too much on negative things which overshadow the great work by some really determined individuals within our society.

SoLF is the story of a group of individuals, who are NOT just sitting back complaining like most of us do. They are making it happen. Pakistan is a hard place for people suffering from any kind of disability (very few people understand this fact) and SoLF’s mission is to bring a positive change in their lives. Personally, its wonderful to know that there are people around who think and care about others. Let’s atleast, appreciate their wonderful work and support them in anyway we can. Let’s help them implement their future projects which you can find here (click on Projects).

If readers are interested in finding out more or support any of SoLF’s existing and future programs, please visit their website or write to:

shireen@sol.edu.pk OR evolve@sol.edu.pk

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21 responses to “School of Leadership Foundation (SoLF)”

  1. Syed Yawar says:

    No comments so far but impressed

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