A letter from our Founder
Imagination, Innovation, Commitment
“Business leaders work to make the rich richer, but what if they worked to make the poor rich?"
-Sabiha Malik, 2007
I was born in a part of the world that suffers from stark divides - the rich are rich and the poor are poor. I grew up feeling passionately responsible for my fellow human beings.
In the mid-1990s - entirely unexpectedly - whilst shopping for fruit in Mumbai I fell into conversation with a group of street children who invited me to visit their homes in Dharavi, a slum in the centre of Mumbai. In Dharavi I met in-your-face squalor such as I had never seen before, but I was overwhelmed by the good-humoured, creative and talented people toiling through days and nights . By the end of that day I realised that their poverty had nothing to do with a lack of ability and everything to do with a lack of opportunity.
Haunted by what I had seen I wondered how people could ever be free from the affliction of poverty if they were denied opportunity. Unable to forget and desperate to make sense of it, for over ten years I studied the writings of Amartya Sen, C. K. Prahalad, and other distinguished economists. I learned a great deal about what was being done to reduce global poverty but I couldn’t find answers to my questions. Why can an economy not be socially just and environmentally stable? Why was economics not seen as part and parcel of the social environment it was embedded in? What, if anything, stood in the way of finding a fresh, untried approach? What solution had not yet occurred to economists? What more could be done? What wasn’t being taught at business schools? What were the gulfs that had not been bridged? How could economics be humanised?
I didn’t, I couldn’t let go. In 2007, whilst meditating, I was blessed with a glorious insight: “Business leaders work to make the rich richer, but what if they worked to make the poor rich?"
I was elated. Sometime later, the sound ‘sanghata’ alighted in my mind, quietly, as a little bird alights. I discovered that ‘sanghata’ is an ancient Sanskrit term that suggests transformation, joining different elements to create something entirely new. I knew what I had to do but I didn’t have any money. I raised money from the sale of an art object I owned, and in 2009 I founded and funded Sanghata and worked on a detailed business plan with the help of a consultant. My idea was that Sanghata would launch a breakthrough educational program where we would train business leaders to advance sustainable business development in low-income areas worldwide. After training, the business leaders would provide management skills to local enterprises to get them ready for investment, and they would also provide due diligence to socially minded investors. In 2009 I shared my concept and plans with Scott Horton, co-founder of the American University in Central Asia, and a New York attorney known for his work in emerging markets. Scott Horton saw the potential power of the concept, and I invited him to join Sanghata as a co-founder.
Next, to transform my revolutionary concept and plans into a global movement to reduce poverty, I needed to collaborate with an ambitious institution ready to administer and co-develop the Sanghata business education program where the trainers would be industry leaders, not academics.
In 2009 I conveyed my concept and business plans to Dr Yuwei Shi, dean of the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), Monterey, California and professor at its Graduate School of international Policy and Management (GSPIM). Yuwei Shi was “thrilled”, aware that the Frontier Market Scouts program would propel GSPIM to a new level. After Sanghata adviser attorney Scott Horton’s discussions with Sunder Ramaswamy, the president of MIIS, we chose MIIS to become the primary associate for administration of Sanghata’s flagship Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) program, invited Yuwei Shi to become FMS director at MIIS, and to build a closer alliance with MIIS offered Yuwei Shi inclusion as co-founder of Sanghata. After signing the partnership agreement in December 2010 my concept and plans became the foundation stone of the Frontier Market Scouts program - the first business executive training program of its kind in the world.
In order to launch the FMS program in January 2011, Sanghata invested in the program. To test its impact and to develop its field program model - designed to benefit both the emerging and established markets. Sanghata also helped fund Ross Baird’s establishment in January 2012 of Village Capital and consequently became the Global Founding partner of Village Capital. In 2012 Village Capital began to manage placements of Frontier Market Scouts program participants around the world.
Sanghata’s FMS program became “the first program of its kind in the social impact sector” propelling – as expected - the Graduate School of International Policy and Management (GSPIM) to heights previously unreached at MIIS. In 2015, Sanghata’s Frontier Market Scouts program became the foundation for Middlebury’s new Centre for Social Impact Learning (CSIL). In February 2013 Sanghata-Monterey’s Frontier Markets Scouts program won the Ashoka-U Cordes award for Innovation, Impact and Potential for Replicability. In December 2015 it was inducted into the Cordes Hall of Fame.
It’s heart-warming to remember that we launched Frontier Market Scouts in January 2012 with just 6 participants. It has now grown into an award-winning, internationally recognized educational program which receives over 400 applications from business leaders every year, and serves 31 countries across 5 continents where our FMS participants have created 100+ social enterprises.
In alignment with my concept and plan, business industry leaders conduct the FMS training. True to the insight I was blessed with - business leaders who work to make the rich richer are now also working to make the poor rich!
Most people can see that in our increasingly troubled world, supporting a culture of shared global prosperity is much more than a social necessity, it is a strategic business imperative, for unless we tap into the potential of all and create the opportunities all people deserve, we cannot create the stable and responsible societies all our futures depend on.
-Sabiha Rumani Malik