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Sponsored feature: presented by Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University
The Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University is home to unique entrepreneurial initiatives that are designed to make a positive impact in a variety of communities, both in Toronto and beyond. See all of our profiles here.
Who’s involved in this project?
Farrukh Lalani (founder, creative director) and Surraya Jabeen (director of community outreach).
What are your goals for this project?
Farrukh Lalani: Zendagi really grew out of my experiences working in the non-governmental organization (NGO) sector in Central Asia and Pakistan. NGOs were very good at providing training but often missed the crucial step of creating market access. In a northern Pakistani area named Gilgit, NGOs have attempted to break this cycle of poverty by training women in jewellery making and gemstone processing. But without market access or business skills, the women are unable to take advantage of their skills. By offering market access, Zendagi wants to provide sustainable livelihoods for the artisans, which will enable them to become their own agents of change and reduce their dependency on aid.
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?
FL: Shifting consumer mindsets towards thinking about where their jewellery comes from.
Can you explain the mentorship process available to you through the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone (SVZ)?
FL: The SVZ at Ryerson University has made all the difference to Zendagi. Since joining the Zone in September, we have received invaluable guidance and insights through workshops, one-on-one coaching sessions and mentorship. As a social venture it’s easy to focus on the community and their problems, but the team at SVZ ensures that you remain focused on the business side.
The Ryerson SVZ is all about leveraging innovation to make a social impact. How will your project affect the communities you’re targeting?
FL: Zendagi creates jobs for the local artisan women by providing them with orders to produce jewellery using locally sourced gemstones. Since our founding in June 2017, we have employed 10 women and hope to provide them with additional income that can be a path out of poverty. To ensure that the increase in income leads to a long-term improvement in the quality of life for these artisans and future generations, we will be investing part of the profits back into the community. We have also partnered with a local NGO to provide customized training in health and nutrition as well as scholarships to further develop each artisan’s skills in jewellery design.
Have you been able to obtain any feedback from people who stand to benefit from your project? If so, what have they told you?
FL: Yes! The artisans have all expressed how the additional income has helped their families in various ways. One common piece of feedback is how this money is being used to educate their children or siblings.
What kind of public or private partnerships are you hoping to make (if any) to help grow your project?
FL: We are all about partnerships and see them as a way forward for growth. Zendagi is looking to form partnerships with retailers and other designers to produce diffusion lines, as well as partnerships to gain more input.
Imagine if you could scale up your project to its full potential. What would that look like?
FL: Scaling up would mean building enough brand recognition and community engagement to reproduce what we are doing in Pakistan in other remote communities. I would like to expand to neighbouring countries like Tajikistan, where communities face similar challenges.
Timing is a crucial factor that contributes to the success of a social venture. Why is now the right time for your project?
FL: I absolutely believe that now is the right time to launch Zendagi. We live in a world that is extremely polarized, where war, unrest, civil strife have become the norm, and where we distrust what is different or alien. This is not the time to disengage, but rather to engage and learn about each other. And what better way to do this than through products that are unique and can spark conversations that create connections with a different part of the world? Also, I believe consumers want to know more about their purchases and that they are having an impact.
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