Saba Gul Fellow 2011
Living in: Lahore — Pakistan
Combining luxurious craftsmanship with ethical business
Operating in: South Asia
Impact Area: Enterprise Development, Fair Trade and Organic Products,...
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
Describe yourself briefly.
Saba Gul is an engineer turned entrepreneur/do-gooder, with a passion for female empowerment. She is an alumna of MIT, from where she holds BS and MS degrees.
Saba was an MIT Public Service fellow in Sri Lanka, where she worked on low-cost solar lighting for post-Tsunami refugees. She has also conducted workshops on entrepreneurship at universities in Africa. She sits on the board of the MIT South Asian Alumni Association, and volunteers her time for the Association for the Development of Pakistan.
Saba was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan.
Describe your Unreasonable Venture in 100 words or less.
Popinjay produces handmade, one-of-a-kind fashion accessories that combine luxurious craftsmanship and ethical business.
We spend months finding some of the world’s most skilled artisans, embroiderers, pattern-makers and seamstresses to bring you the finest workmanship—and it shows in every product we make. When you buy a Popinjay product, trust that it will be handmade, high-quality, and yours alone.
We invite you to think about who makes the products you buy, and how their lives are impacted by it. At Popinjay, we offer our artisan women practical training, fantastic wages, dignity and a path to self-sufficiency. By connecting them to global markets, we bring them a fair value for their work.
For every Popinjay product you buy, a beautiful change is happening for the hands that created it.
Popinjay was earlier called BLISS, was rebranded/renamed in fall of 2013.
Describe your relevant experience (especially entrepreneurial).
Prior to Popinjay, I have worked on various grassroots development projects globally - ranging from design and installation of affordable solar lighting for tsunami refugees in Sri Lanka to teaching entrepreneurship workshops in Ethiopia, to designing engineering curriculum for universities in China.
As a board member of the MIT South Asian Alumni Association and the MIT Club of Minnesota, I bring valuable leadership experience to my venture. As a volunteer for the Association for the Development of Pakistan - a philanthropy organization that funds development projects - I have developed a keen eye for vetting development projects for the most promising.
I hold B.S and M.S degrees from MIT, where I studied Computer Science with a concentration in Economics.
Why is your team uniquely qualified to run this venture?
The Popinjay team comprises individuals with varied skill sets but with a common passion for social change.
Our product designer, Maryam Tahir Khan, is a graduate of the National College of Arts in Lahore; her work has been exhibited at many prestigious galleries across the country. Our operations team comprises of individuals with 5+ years experience in the handbags industry, as well as many years of experience in the NGO and social enterprise sector in Pakistan.
Read more about our team and our work on our website: http://popinjay.co
What is the urgent social or environmental need you're addressing?
Imagine, as a teenager, laboring 14 hours a day for survival, leaving no time for school. Imagine, with no skills or education, accepting this life for your future generations. Globally, the wealth of talent and skill in developing communities is heavily stunted by a lack of opportunities and access to markets. Unable to escape poverty, tens of thousands of artisans are stuck in a cycle. They remain illiterate, unskilled, oppressed, and poor.
What is your solution to this need? Describe your business strategy.
Popinjay provides the artisans it works with practical skills training, fantastic wages, dignity and a path to self-sufficiency. By connecting them to large markets, it brings them fair wages for their work.
Convince us it will work. What milestones have you achieved?
We have enabled sustainable livelihoods for 100 women in Hafizabad, Pakistan. Most of these women had no means of income prior to joining our program. They are now making half the income their husbands make.
Popinjay (earlier called BLISS) was an MIT IDEAS Competition winner, a grantee of the MIT Legatum Center, incubated by Social Venture Partners Rhode Island, and 1 of 16 finalists from 500+ entries at the Global Social Venture Competition. Our founder Saba is also a 2011 StartingBloc fellow. Her work was recently recognized by the US State Department via a dinner invitation from Secretary Hillary Clinton and we were finalists for the Echoing Green fellowship. We have been featured by NBC News, MIT Technology Review, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Providence Business News, the Express Tribune, and various other publications.