At first glance, Kanwal Cheema does have an uncanny resemblance to a Bollywood actress, but that is where the similarity ends, for this entrepreneur and philanthropist has committed herself to the cause of eradicating poverty in Pakistan, as she implements the dynamics of technology to ensure charitable efforts are yielding transparent, traceable and visible results. The founder and CEO of ‘My Impact Meter’, Kanwal, spoke to Social Diary about her vision to target ‘generational poverty’ as she hopes everyone can join the cause, including Pakistan’s diaspora, as united efforts will make an impact and that too with one simple click! Read On:
SD: When did your entrepreneurial drive kick in for the first time?
Kanwal: I wouldn’t say that it was an entrepreneurial drive that led me to ‘My Impact Meter.’ It was more about finding purpose in life – to do something that leaves an impact.
SD: What was the vision behind the creation of ‘My Impact Meter’?
Kanwal: The vision is to use technology to close gaps in the social philanthropic sector. When you bring technology into a sector, it helps to remove friction, and creates convenience and in the context of charity, it helps to create transparency, traceability, visibility, and equity as well. Pakistan is a charitable nation but charity in Pakistan is consumptive, not productive. It may feed someone for a day but it doesn’t provide them with long-term food security, it doesn’t pull people out of generational poverty. The idea is that we should use technology to apply a systems approach to solving some of the most wicked problems of the world like generational poverty.
SD: How would you say your organization has been making an impact in combating the poverty crisis in Pakistan?
Kanwal: We are only starting and the idea is to tackle generational poverty among other things. So, what is generational poverty? It is a vicious cycle of disadvantage that makes families remain poor generation after generation. Lack of adequate nutrition leads to stunted growth, and this coupled with lack of access to good education means that an individual is unable to compete with someone who has not gone through this cycle of disadvantage, leading to generational poverty.
SD: What strategies are in place for Impact Meter to deal with generational poverty?
Kanwal: We need to support one generation to break this cycle. There are almost 5 million families in Pakistan out of which about 1.2 million families are extremely poor. If the richest 1.2 million families support the poorest 1.2 million families for only one generation with adequate nutrition and quality education, then, in theory, poverty in Pakistan can be eliminated. This was the model of our Prophet (P.B.U.H) where one Ansar family adopted one Muhajir family and poverty was sustainably eradicated.
SD: If it’s something that is practical and attainable, why haven’t we seen any progress till now?
Kanwal: The reason this hasn’t happened in Pakistan is lack of trust, visibility, and equitability. The money someone gives to support a family with nutrition and education may end up in drugs, gambling, or something for which it was not intended. Also, how do you know that the family you are supporting hasn’t been supported by someone else already? Some people beg and ask many to help them while some do not ask at all. My Impact Meter solves these issues by using technology to provide services (such as grocery and education) instead of direct cash and also provides a history of benefits associated with the CNIC number, ensuring visibility to benefits already received by a family and hence provides equitability, as well as fair and efficient distribution of resources.
SD: In a nutshell, how can one individual make a difference through your initiative?
Kanwal: Individuals can find all NGOs in one platform and donate towards the one they care about most with a single click. Individuals can also adopt a family through My Impact Meter for food and education. They can add beneficiaries/ families to adopt themselves or choose one from the verified families added by NGOs.
SD: Is it possible for foreigners to join the movement as well?
Kanwal: Yes the donor can be from anywhere in the world. Anyone can download the “My Impact Meter” app from the Apple Store or Android Playstore, make a profile, and start donating to their favorite NGOs or gift services to deserving individuals.
SD: How do you see the program has grown since its launch?
Kanwal: Since its launch before Ramadan this year, we have seen a steep upward trend in adoption and Impactor has joined in from 40 countries around the globe.
SD: As a woman CEO, do you feel you have to tackle far more challenges as opposed to the opposite gender in running an organization?
Kanwal: There is unconscious patriarchy built into the very fabric of our society. Every woman has faced it in some way, shape, or form and I’m no exception. However, I feel things are changing for the better- although slowly, but moving in the right direction. There is more awareness now.
SD: What more do you wish to emphasize through your platform?
Kanwal: I want the platform to make creating Impact – simple, fun, and rewarding for the donors.
SD: How would you say the current crisis is impacting your entrepreneurial efforts?
Kanwal: The current economic situation in Pakistan has pushed the poor and middle-class people of Pakistan into a deep crisis. The petrol and electricity price hike and the devaluation of the rupee have been very hard on the daily wage workers and even the salaried workers in Pakistan. It is a time when the Pakistani diaspora should step up to help as much as they can, especially because their earnings are in foreign currencies. They have the money but they are short on time. My Impact Meter makes it easy for them to help people in Pakistan with a simple click and make donations using their credit or debit cards easily from anywhere in the world.
SD: Your words of advice to the youth to make a positive impact on society with their time and skills?
Kanwal: Pakistan is a young country where 64% of the population is under the age of 30 years. This is a very big opportunity for Pakistan. The young generation is the hope of this country. They should recognize their power and instead of wasting away their time and lives on social media, procrastination, and laziness, they should become focused and productive. They should organize themselves and use their time effectively, learn new skills, stay healthy, think positively, and keep moving forward with hope and courage.