Insaan connects philanthropists with those in need across the Indian Ocean region. Our mission is to engage in high-impact philanthropy that changes the lives of many, for better, for good.
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
Our name reflects our commitment to people, who are at the center of all we do. Insaan is a philanthropic fund that works in education and entrepreneurship with a focus on the broader Indian Ocean region. We invest in innovative ventures that serve the poor. And we ensure that they have a verifiable impact. Our mission is to make philanthropy more effective, high impact.
We invest in ventures that serve the poor, and re-invest all revenues to serve more.
We connect those who want a better world with those in need and measure that lives are indeed being changed, for the better, and for good.
Insaan was founded with the support of the Pamela and Pierre Omidyar Fund. We work with families, Zakat givers, corporations, and individual philanthropists.
We work through our networks to find ventures involved in education and entrepreneurship. We get to know the organizations and people within them.
We meet the end-users or beneficiaries in the field. We engage them, listen, ask questions, and try to understand their vision of a better life – in their own words.
We disburse funds through equity or grant and continue to work closely with ventures over the life of the funding. We help ventures grow so they can better serve the poor.
Our work derives from our values, and not the reverse. Insaan is an intellectual and ethical engagement that represents our team’s long-standing dedication to changing the lives of the poor.
We have years of experience in the field, working with the poor and living among them in cities and villages across the developing world.
We apply our diverse personal and academic backgrounds, from economics to philosophy, human development to statistics to approach the problems of poverty with critical thinking and ingenuity.
From our virtual office to our commitment to attracting outstanding and committed professionals to build knowledge, we strive to be a model of cost-effectiveness.
We are open to market solutions and extra-market approaches because reality is complex for the poor. We don’t over-simplify solutions to poverty.
We are a truly eclectic group of people with whom to work: leaders with extensive joint and parallel field experience, remarkable directors by their skills and commitment, and passionate individuals we call “knowledge builders”.
James grew up in the Midwestern part of the United States. He obtained degrees in business administration and system sciences from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After briefly working in the private sector, he began pursuing a graduate degree in international business management from the University of South Carolina. In the course of his studies, primarily while living in Northeastern China, he became increasingly interested in the economic systems of developing economies as well as the role creative entrepreneurs play in their societies.
Soon after obtaining his Master’s degree, James began work as an advisor to poverty alleviation programs in Western Africa. His first task was to improve the efficiency and long term viability of a group of vocational training schools in Ghana. Later he worked on a range of agricultural improvement programs. Eventually, his background in finance and business led to work in the burgeoning field of micro-finance, where he was focused on improving the organizational structure and financial stability of a local micro-finance program. James then moved to the former Soviet Central Asia. He was instrumental in re-organizing a disparate group of non-profit micro-lending programs in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan into cohesive organizations. His initiatives in Tajikistan to improve the efficiency, organization and management of local micro-lending projects were instrumental in the creation of the sustainable lending organization now known as OXUS Tajikistan. James later worked in Afghanistan, where he was responsible for the initial startup phases of OXUS Afghanistan.
James has been fortunate to work in various regions for a sufficient duration of time to see the real long terms impacts of a vast range of poverty alleviation and economic development initiatives. He has seen the long term impacts of properly funded and structured institutions versus those of improperly funded, poorly structured institutions. He is aware of the benefits that a well-managed and implemented program can have on a community, as well as the complete lack of benefits a poorly implemented program can have. James was involved with the initial development of Insaan Group, and he has been with Insaan since its creation. He is passionate about supporting well managed and well organized institutions (both for-profit and not-for-profit) that have a sustainable social impact on the societies in which they firstname.lastname@example.org
Farahnaz spent her early years in Madagascar, France and Canada. After graduating from McGill University, Canada, with a double major in political science and modern languages, she left for Switzerland to pursue a Master in international relations at Hautes Etudes Internationales (HEI) in Geneva. During this time, Farahnaz focused on refugee issues and worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees during the Burundi refugee crisis, and was involved in setting human rights standards for refugee and asylum cases in Central and Eastern European states. She also supervised the elections in Bihac, Bosnia, after the Dayton Accords, with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Deciding to move on to the field and engage in hands on development work, Farahnaz spent two years with UNOPS (an operational arm of the United Nations) and the United Nations Development Programme, based out of Islamabad to work in Taliban Afghanistan setting up mobile libraries for children in schools, community centers in villages for women’s education and skills training, and contributing to the BBC’s New Home, New Life radio soap opera to provide life saving information to villagers whose only mean of outreach was the radio. It is there that Farahnaz’s passion for development led her to think about ways to have sustainable policy and development impact. She wrote some policy briefs which were shared with the United Nations in New York on the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, and did some cross-border relief work in Central Asia. She joined the Harvard Kennedy School to pursue a Master in public administration, where she focused on management of public entities, development economics and social entrepreneurship. Farahnaz then played a co-founding role in a private management consulting start up in Italy, and returned to Afghanistan in 2002 where she quickly rose to head a large non-profit, ACTED. As country director, her responsibilities included fund-raising, project management, development strategy and the management of a team of some 15 expatriates and over 1,000 Afghan staff. The work ranged from building schools and giving small loans to repairing roads and helping farmers grow food again. By the end of her assignment, ACTED Afghanistan tripled its budget to multi-year funding of $15 million. She was then asked to join the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the World Bank and Afghan government in helping them monitor the implementation of the National Solidarity Program, a massive rural development program involving some 20 NGOs and 6,000 villages at the time. She was quickly promoted to assistant team leader. She left Afghanistan and did some lecturing and consulting work in New York while building up Insaan Group with her former colleagues. In 2007, Insaan was registered and successfully funded in part by the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund.
Farahnaz combines a solid track record in managing and monitoring development programs, a deep understanding of the need for greater impact and transparency in the highly complex human development industry, and a sustained passion to make lives better for those in need – sustainably better. She speaks six languages, plays the piano and enjoys horse-riding and scuba diving. Farahnaz is also an instructor at Zayed University, in Dubai, where she teaches humanities and has taught the first course on social entrepreneurship at the College of Business. She is also a wife, and a mother of two young email@example.com
Born in Portland, Oregon, Elizabeth is a native of the Pacific Northwest. She showed an early interest in the newly dissolved Soviet Union and Near East and public service, volunteering at home and abroad in Ukraine as a teen, and working with international students and on environmental and consumer issues throughout university. She graduated with a B.A. in philosophy with a minor in classics, then left the academic world to pursue a more heuristic occupation with the U.S. Peace Corps in Western Russia.
Elizabeth’s decision to build on her experience in Russia led her to begin a career in international development with ACTED, a large non-profit in Tajikistan as a reporting officer. She was quickly promoted to the regional position of appraisal, monitoring and evaluation (AME) technical advisor, in which she pioneered several region-wide approaches and wrote two operational manuals on project cycle management and monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as well as setting up the M&E system for offices in ten regional offices across Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and providing similar services as an internal consultant for the organization in Macedonia. Elizabeth was then requested to bring the same organizational dynamic and systems to ACTED’s National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan, where she created a database that linked monitoring of qualitative changes in the lives of ordinary citizens to quantitative outputs, a unique output in the program at that point, which was later adapted by the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the World Bank. She was soon promoted to AME manager at the country level and was asked to act as interim head of reporting before working with Concern International. As the sole in-charge at a remote post in an ethnically divided district, she split her time between the field and advising participatory M&E programs for Concern’s work with the National Solidarity Program in Northwest Afghanistan.
With Insaan, Elizabeth has focused on ensuring that indices and performance management link a complex, ever-changing reality to the demand for proof of impact. She believes that quality and quantity are two sides of the same coin, and that mixed methods and systems thinking can help us understand what changing people’s lives really means. After developing a method to assess philanthropic return on investment for clients, a distinctly qualitative index of change, she began to work on more adaptive performance measurement systems while working towards a Master’s degree in public administration at the University of Washington, where she expects to graduate in 2013. Aside from English, she speaks Russian, French, and basic Persian. She currently resides in the Seattle area with her firstname.lastname@example.org
A French and Moroccan dual national, Annabel was raised in Rabat, Morocco, where she developed an interest for issues of poverty and human development. She studied political science, economics and history in Sciences Po Paris and graduated with a B.A. and M.A. in international relations from the University of South Carolina.
Annabel started her career at The Carter Center, in Atlanta, where she conducted research on development cooperation and the fight against poverty as an intern. She was subsequently recruited as project assistant to organize the third Development Cooperation Forum on Human Security and the Future of Development Cooperation, and briefed former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the 2002 United Nations Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico. Eager for a hands-on experience, Annabel left the United Stated and joined ACTED, a large non-profit in Afghanistan as a reporting officer. She was promoted acting coordinator for the Kabul city office, where she managed reconstruction projects with local communities, targeting in particular women and youth. She established new offices in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, and the island of Nias, Indonesia, after the December 2004 tsunami to channel emergency assistance to disaster-affected populations. Annabel returned to Morocco in 2006 with strong interests for participation, aid, and impact. She started work with Management Systems International, a development consultancy. She was program manager for SANAD, a multi-year, multi-million project to promote citizen participation in local governance, with a focus on youth and the poor. She acted as number two, covering project management, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), reporting, and communication. She also contributed to several evaluations at project, program, and organizational levels in Morocco and the Middle East and North Africa. In 2011, Annabel went back to school to deepen her knowledge of methods to carry out evaluation research. She completed a M.Sc. in social research methods at the London School of Economics in 2012.
Annabel has accompanied Insaan since its inception. She formally joined the Insaan team in 2013. She oversees performance across a range of social enterprises, including: assessing M&E systems and providing orientation and mentoring to partner organizations on M&E; and conducting impact evaluations using a participatory approach. She identifies innovative ideas and initiatives with high potential for social change. She also supports the strategic development of Insaan and contributes to senior management. Annabel is committed to innovation and learning. She speaks English, French and conversational Moroccan Arabic. She lives in London.email@example.com
Insaan focuses on the broader Indian Ocean region, where some of the world’s poorest live, and some of the world’s most exciting solutions to global poverty are emerging – as you read this.
The ventures we fund provide innovative, sustainable and high impact solutions to the problems of the poor. We implement a rigorous selection process, ourselves, which involves regular field work.
One out of four children in India drop out of school before completing grade five. They don’t leave because of a scarcity of schools, but because of poor instruction. Nearly half of children in grade five cannot read a paragraph in their own language.
30% cannot solve simple subtraction problems.
Gyan Shala provides high quality school education to 30,000 children from poor families at a quarter of the cost of government schools. It designs highly structured curricula delivered by junior teachers with extensive in-house training. And it brings school to the children by renting classrooms in the areas where they live. This eliminates the transport-commute challenge, removing an obstacle to school attendance.
Children in Gyan Shala schools score almost 100% higher in language and math compared to their peers in public schools.
In addition, Gyan Shala has enabled communities to overcome traditional resistance and bias against girls’ education. At Gyan Shala, there is parity between boys and girls in the enrolment and educational attainments.
With Insaan’s support, Gyan Shala is able to give high quality, low-cost, education to tens of thousands of poor children so they can change their lives for good.
Artisans in sub-Saharan Africa make stunning cultural goods but they struggle to rely on the production of crafts to make or supplement meager incomes.
There is demand. The problem is access to markets.
Soko creates tools for trade.
Soko is an e-commerce platform that connects artisans to consumers across the globe with a simple mobile phone. Global consumers can then buy directly from the artisans on Soko’s e-commerce website in a peer-to-peer exchange.
This new marketplace revolutionizes the way goods and money are exchanged. The products are ethically produced and traded fairly. With Soko, artisans, in particular women, are empowered to participate in the global marketplace and become a driver of economic development and social change in their community.
Insaan supports Soko to create sustainable incomes for thousands of artisans. And lift them out of poverty.
Mela Artisans is a luxury lifestyle brand that celebrates local artisanal skills and fosters entrepreneurship and social revival in poor communities in India.
Inspired by the fair trade and micro finance movements, Mela provides simple, yet creative, solutions to the lack of access to markets and capital.
By merging heritage craftsmanship with contemporary design, it has opened international distribution channels in the luxury space in the United States and Canada for handicrafts that would otherwise not be ‘exportable’. Mela also provides artisans free access to capital through a loan program using crowd-lending on Mela’s website, thereby forging a direct connection between the consumer and the producer.
This business model is unique.
The result is exquisite collections from villages in India that help support families and communities now accessible at your doorsteps, online, and in shops such as Neiman Marcus, Bergdof Goodman, Bloomingdales, Holt Renfrew in Canada, and many others.
Twenty percent of profits are invested in community improvement initiatives, including education, health care, and social service, consistent with the philosophy of fair trade.
Mela works with some 10,000 artisans across India through local NGOs and cooperatives.
Insaan is proud to support Mela to create sustainable livelihoods for India’s artisans and contribute to the survival of Indian crafts.
We build our metrics from the ground up based on the narratives of people who are changing their own lives. We document the stories of people to measure how their lives are being changed and provide insights “from the field” to build up our knowledge.
January 28, 2013
By Mela Artisans
Mela Artisans works with Panchachuli Women Weavers, a cooperative in the Himalayan foothills of north India, which makes exquisite handcrafted cashmere and lamb’s wool accessories for exclusive retailers around the world.
Artisan weaver Parvati Ghosh tells us about her life and her involvement with Panchachuli.
“My name is Parvati Ghosh. I am 54 years old and a weaver at Panchachuli Cooperative. I started working here about 15 years ago. Munni Didi [the cooperative’s manager] came to my village and talked to some of us women about attending the weaving classes she was starting.
Those weaving classes changed my life.
I was married at the age of 15, and I had my first child at 19. Now I have 5 children – 2 sons and 3 daughters. My daughters are all married and live in their husbands’ villages. My two sons do manual labor. My husband is 60 years old and is unemployed because he is sick. So you see why my income from the cooperative is so important.
Since I started working at Panchachuli, I have been able to give my children a better life than I had. There was no school in my village to teach me beyond grade 5, so I stopped studying after that. Since I started working here, I have been able to send my children to school in the nearby village and buy them good clothes. Today, I run the household with the money my sons and I make. We have some land which we cultivate that brings a little additional income. And I have been able to save some money also.
But it’s not only the income that is important to me.
I like working at Panchachuli a lot. It takes less than two days to make friends here! I feel restless and bored on the days that I’m not at work. I have never been outside of Almora. I have heard of Mumbai and Delhi and would like to travel there one day. Why not? My experience with Panchachuli has taught me that anything is possible.”
By Annabel Azim.
“They call me King David,” he said, extending his hand with a large smile.
David is the co-owner of the Kafamily Crafts House of Design on Soko’s e-commerce platform. David joined Soko’s network of online artisans one year ago, in the summer of 2012.
“I’ve been in the craft industry for 20 years. I started making jewelry three years ago,” David explains, as I look at his products: plate necklaces, tube necklaces. Vibrant blues. And yellows. Each product is one of a kind and handmade. Amazingly beautiful.
I try one necklace. And… yes… another one.
“I feel proud of the work I’ve done when I see people wearing my products,” David says. “And at the same time, I love to support people in my rural area through the same products.”
David is an artist. And social entrepreneur too.
David lives in Embakasi, a poor suburban area on the outskirts of Nairobi. “I am working with young mothers. They are a vulnerable group, because initially, young mothers with children could not get work. At the jewelry, they earn a living. And they are able to put their children to school.”
David recently took a micro-loan via Soko, in partnership with Kiva, to grow his business. “Soko will take us to the next level of fashion design and jewelry,” he says confidently.
By Annabel Azim.
I met Falguni in Bombay Hotel, a Muslim shantytown on the fringes of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on a hot afternoon. She walked along the dust-swept lanes, making her way through the shouting vendors, scurrying children and goats, seven-month pregnant.
Falguni is an English curriculum designer for the elementary school program. Twice a week, she leaves the office and visits Gyan Shala classes across Ahmedabad. She observes. She converses with the teachers. She talks to the students to collect feedback.
“We are teaching English in grade one for the first time this year,” Falguni said. “It’s working better than we thought. The children are very eager.” Falguni chuckles: “They learn much faster than the teachers.”
I met Falguni again in the Gyan Shala office the next day. She showed me the educational resources Gyan Shala has developed for English. “I do research,” she explained. “I look for best practices. Then, I develop materials that are adapted to our local contexts.”
Every other Saturday, Falguni trains teachers on the course of study for the next two weeks. “I explain the key concepts. And we go over the textbook and the worksheets. But first,” she said, “we do a debriefing of the lessons from the last two weeks. The teachers tell me what worked, and what didn’t work so well. Then I go back, and make improvements.”
Gyan Shala is preoccupied with the impact of teaching: that is, whether they are indeed delivering high quality education to the poor. “We measure student learning at mid-term and at the end of the school year,” explained team leader for the middle school program, Khyati. “We analyze the results. Question by question. And we ask ourselves: What can we do so our students do better?”
Gyan Shala students rank 65% to 120% better than public school students across grades and across subject matters.
In fact, Gyan Shala stopped evaluating itself against public schools. Instead, it evaluates itself against private schools – not to prove anything, but to be aspirational, and learn constantly on how they can deliver higher quality education, at par with best practice in “elite” schools.DONATE NOW
By Farahnaz Karim.
As I enter the grade 1 class, I see children, mostly of six or seven years of age working on their math exercises. I am struck by the sense of peace and focus. I am on my iPad trying to capture these shots. They are just focusing on their own work. Undisturbed by my presence. Counting away. So I do not interrupt their flow. I already have enough data on Grade 1 students from earlier discussions. Shanti* had explained: “I walk to school, it is nearby. My father is a rickshaw driver and my mother is at home.”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I had asked in my broken Gujarati, and she replied: “a teacher”. Amitabh next to her said “engineer!” and another girl said “police woman!”. We all had a laugh, imagining her as a police woman, enforcing the law. “Why do you like your school?” I continued. Asha replied: “I like my teacher.” Just like children anywhere.
* Names have been changed.DONATE NOW
At Insaan we believe that statistics and metrics alone cannot capture human change, nor can stories. Art in all its forms – photography, cinema, representation, and beyond – is also necessary to our understanding of the human experience in all its raw depth. It is part of how all people, from philanthropists to end-users to the Insaan team, can strengthen our understanding of one another.
100% of your donations go directly to the ventures we support. Insaan’s generous board of directors covers all our operational expenses – so you don’t have to.
(your own and that of your friends’ and family’s)
(in lieu of wedding gifts, on a promotion or a good bonus year)
(Eid, Diwali, Nawruz, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.)
(and think of those who live on that)
Insaan is registered as a 501(c)(3) charity in the United States, as well as a foundation in the European Union, in the Netherlands. Ask us for tax-exemption receipts.