Agile’s answer to extremism and terrorism

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by Jennifer Riggins

We are all, in part, to blame for the extremism that causes terrorism.

Extremism most often happens to people without options. When we allow a generation to become hopeless, we make it easier for them to become vulnerable to false promises of a better life. Unemployment and underemployment combined with racism, isolation and hatred can lead to a few people doing terrible things. Extremism becomes most attractive to those pushed to the extreme. I’m not in anyway condoning or forgiving these senseless acts of violence that seem to be happening more and more. Instead I’m arguing that the best way to fight back is by killing them with kindness and empowering them with economic independence.
This is why I was so excited when I came across Kubair Shirazee in the agile community here in London. He’s applying some of the techniques of business agility and lean startups to give a hand up — not hand-out — to micro-business owners and solopreneurs who most fit the demographic of so-called Islamic State recruits: young, economically unstable, and interested in politics. By applying the principles behind modern software development to economic development, Kubair has helped hundreds in Pakistan’s poorest, densest communities build their own stable businesses and hope for the future.

In 2010, Kubair’s brother was murdered in a terrorist attack. That was when his #WhentoJump moment saw him making his own dramatic change.

“I need to do this. I’m going to put my business up for sale — I don’t think I can focus on being an entrepreneur because it’s kind of all meaningless. I spent the next couple months researching northern Pakistan, based in Islamabad, the guy who murdered my brother. He was an educated, unemployed man but a career killer. I couldn’t wrap my head around someone going from school to that,” Kubair told me in a recent interview.

Watch: TED Talk on connection between unemployment and terrorism

I started researching the narrative of hate. What turns normal people into monsters. And I started with what I know — agile and experimentation.

Kubair Shirazee

“I was telling a man in a coffee shop how mankind has progressed so much to send a robot to Mars while here [in Pakistan] it is feudal. The guys said, ‘How much does that cost? We don’t have enough to eat and go to school — is that fair?'” Kubair shared.

He decided that it was not fair and wanted to change that.

“When someone comes along and says let’s try militant Islam, O.K. let’s try something else, a promise of something better. These people have nothing. It’s such an easy narrative to sell given their circumstances.” Kubair explained that “They want social change. Most of them are hard working people and they just don’t get anywhere.”

These are people he calls “entrepreneurs of circumstance.”

“If they don’t go out and do something to earn money, they are going to starve. Hustle, do whatever is necessary, selling IKEA catalogues to shining shoes,” he said. “Anything and everything i can do to make an honest living. They aren’t snatching purses, which would be easier, they are trying to do something but that makes it frustrating even more.”

What was the solution?

If we can help someone get somewhere, surely he would build a better future for his community.

Kubair Shirazee

In 2012, Kubair designed an micro-MBA — but I’m loathe to call it that because it’s much more useful than that. Starting with 28 people, each who run their own small business, often on their own, just trying to scrape by. Using lean startup and agile methodologies with a mix of coaching to help accelerate their businesses, like a shoe-shiner who also upsells socks to those with holes in them.

The only requirement is you have quit your political party — “Our political aim is beyond one flag.”

Kubair’s now hundreds of students don’t have school education, so he realized the best way to train them was via the basis of Scrum and Kanban:

  • workshop on burnout charts
  • measuring productivity against a goal on a daily basis
  • one-to-one weekly meetings
  • flow efficiency

“All our courses and programs are run by individuals in their communities who don’t even have business degrees this means that I can just open source everything,” he said. “We’re going to translate it into a lot of languages. It works for us and we want other people to work with them as well.”

He further explained the open source application on a social endeavor: “Implement it in your communities. Help people change their communities. Then come and tell us how you improved it, how you adapted it, so we can improve it. Look at our data — see if you can find patterns of data.” 

In the first year alone, these small businesses saw a revenue growth of 24 percent and profitability growth of 94 percent. 

And it only cost the program $475 per individual for seven months.

Kubair said, “Other than the financial gains was clearly a change in world view. Seen a lot of them take their kids out of religious schools and put them in secular schools they could afford.”

They also saw financial independence, paying off their debts to loan sharks who could sell their debts to the terrorist organizations hiding in the crowded urban centers.

We don’t give them a hand out, we give them a leg up. We spend money on teaching and coaching so you can pay your loans off yourself, helping them grow their business and help them secure their livelihood.

Kubair Shirazee

With this agile innovation, Kubair was able to change hundreds of lives, robbing ISIS of more candidates, one small business at a time.

What do you think of Kubair’s work? Can you think of other agile applications outside the software world? Tell us in the comments below!

Check out Kubair’s project Peace Through Prosperity to see how you can volunteer for this organization or help spread the word of this worthy cause! 

One thought on "Agile’s answer to extremism and terrorism"

  • Kubair Shirazee says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you for your interest and narrating our journey in an easy to read style and thank you for spreading the word, hugely appreciated.
    from all at the Peace Through Prosperity team

Comments are closed.

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