In Conversation with Amanat Solanki
Amanat Solanki has always been described by everyone as an ambitious young man. Apart from being an entrepreneur, doing good was always part of his journey by pursuing a variety of non profit role.Here he is talking in depth about his journey with Mission20 for the past decade.
How did the first Mission20 group come together ?
It was ‘A Flower Each Spring’ program in Al Khor. The trip was organized by the person who is the inspiration behind what we are today: Shakil Sir. I didn’t know that this bus trip would result in the formation of today’s Mission20. So when we were travelling to Al Khor, Shakil Sir started talking to us about why we are going to this trip, why we need to be conscious of our environment and how we can help make a difference in the lives of others. He asked everyone in the bus if they can form small groups and take up different projects.
Everyone in the bus heard it, but I took it to my heart. I was excited about it! I was thinking, ‘I can also be like my seniors; I can also be in black suits and be the leader.’ I was almost 14.
The next day, I went to the school and spoke to my friends to see if they would like to join the group. I wanted to have limited number of members so initially I had only those people who were like-minded and were close to me. We started with around 8 members with a funny name, ISF (Internal Security Force).
This was after a lot of thought and honestly, I never knew there was something called ISF in Qatar already! Firstly we thought our work will be like scouting and volunteering to maintain security at events, but soon we changed our name to Kainat Youth In Action (KYIA), after properly joining the volunteer programs of Kainat Foundation. This is where our proper journey with Kainat Foundation started. Slowly the number of members increased and I’ll admit most of them joined because of friendship and to skip some of their classes. But there were those of us who wanted to work for the betterment of the society and those are still with us.
When did the entrepreneur in you awaken?
I was given the opportunity to work for ‘The Kainat 08’ (The annual magazine for Kainat Foundation). While working for the magazine my mentor asked me, “What I wanted to be in life?” To which I promptly replied, “I want to be an entrepreneur like my father.” I’ve dreamt of establishing Solanki Group since 2009 and now I own Solanki Mission Enterprises/Group/Int
How did the Mission20 logo come to be?
On the 6th November, we launched our current logo, along with the 5 pillars/objectives (Education for Underprivileged, Youth Empowerment, Community Development, Sports & Fitness and Health & Environmental Awareness). The logo was designed by one of our big supporters, Hassen Rathore. Hassen is an amazing graphic designer and branding consultant by profession. The logo itself had a story behind it. One fine day, I stepped in brother Hassen’s office and said that I needed a change in our identity and that I have some bigger plans. I felt that a logo change was incredibly important and that our logo should represent who we are and what our identity stands for.
After pouring my heart out to Hassen, he said ‘give me a few days.’ Hassen presented 3 logos, in 6 different styles. I chose two logos and asked him to combine them and now we have the best logo ever! The logo describes all my emotions and the vision I have for Mission20. I was planning for something different and big so I shared it with my team. I wanted to register Mission20 with the Government of Qatar and work without representing any country. We wanted to work for humanity – with the youth from different nationalities as global citizens.
How hard was it to legally register Mission20?
I started the company registration process myself, with no previous experience. I went to ministry offices; consulted with quite a few people and finally decided to register Mission20 with a general events license because there was no special license for CSR Event Management. The biggest issue was the name; Mission20 name was not accepted due to the number ‘20’ in the Mission’20’.
There was a great deal of back & forth with the officers; trying to convince them that name was important. Many refused to give me a minute of their time, so I struggled for months, and then finally on 15th January I registered Solanki Mission Enterprises with an events license. I had planned to register the name after my studies were completed in 2016. Sadly, there was no way that I could get approval for the name ‘Mission20’ so decided upon ‘Solanki Mission Enterprises.’ Finally, on 1st February 2015, we officially made ‘Mission20’ the Social Responsibility Division of Solanki Mission Enterprises. We changed the branding accordingly to show the organizational change. Mission20, as a youth organization, operates independently as non- profit but under the same leadership.
Mission20 operations and the profit-making operations will always be under different operating teams, but Mission20 also acts as the charity arm of the Solanki Mission. Any charity or community work of my businesses will be done through Mission20. Many times, profit businesses start first and then we think about giving back to humanity. But in our case, I started a nonprofit organization first and then, with the inspiration of working on my own dreams and carrying forward by family occupation, I started Solanki Mission to work on my business dream and help the community through social enterprises to fund the projects and administration of Mission20. As many things changed so did my plans.
How do you plan to make Mission20 profitable and charitable at the same time?
The Mission20 had already given me a vision in life of what I want to do in terms of work and I had already started a social enterprise as a result of that. I believe that charity is not enough. As entrepreneurs, we need to innovate and bring sustainable solutions to our businesses; we need to work for environmental protection; we need to provide products ethically sourced and we need to empower the youth to bring a change. It’s a lot to change but what does ‘change’ really mean? There is no definite meaning of change and it may mean something different in a different context – or even countries. For me, it was about providing the youth a platform to work, think and grow through my startups. It’s about connecting social responsibility with work, startups and businesses and it was about buying from startups and promoting their business, instead of running to the successful brands and retailers or service providers. We need to bring a balance. I see lot of unhealthy competition; competition is good not the unethical one.
How does one split his time between running a business and higher education ?
As I finished Grade 10, I had to make a choice between Commerce (Business/Management) and science stream. I chose commerce and started our final 2 years in high school. The seniority gave us more recognition in school and more stability in the community.
This is how Shakil Sir mentored us. He involved us in many decisions and let us do things our own way.
He would intervene and advice us when necessary. As I started grade 11 in commerce, I was also appointed as the Assistant Adventure Club Secretary of the MES Indian School. In June 2009, I was fortunate enough to be in a scout team representing my school and Qatar for a World Jamboree trip to Turkey, where we stayed in the jungle for nearly 9 days, along with some sightseeing with scouts from Turkey and other countries.
Being senior in the team and Mission20 representative, I learned a lot from this international experience. In March of 2011, it was time for us to graduate from the high school and conquer the outside world! It was a tough time for us to leave all our memories and the fun that we had in the school, but of course that was our next step to success.
Mission20 always operated independently, though we were legally under the umbrella of Kainat Foundation. As we finished high school, we had to make bigger decisions for the group’s management and the roles and responsibilities of many members changed – as did the team structure as some members left, and some members joined.
As a college student managing Mission20 projects was very easy but the real challenge came when I graduated from college and university, when my financial obligations increased and when I had to seriously focus on ‘work for living’, these challenges are so real, focusing on one thing with dreams of achieving a lot is very difficult but then I have to do step by step, I am trying my best to focus, trial and error is part of my life now and in next few years I can prove myself better.
How did studying in CNA-Q help you in Mission20 and what else did you do during that time?
Joining CNA-Q was a great step for me and Mission20 as it played an important role in our development, like providing an environment in which we could work in and also helped with so many resources. I thank all of those who made Mission20’s initiatives in CNAQ smooth and successful, especially Dr. Ken, the CNA-Q President, the Student Affairs Department and Marketing Department.
In June 2011, we signed an important contract with Qatar Today Magazine to be an Activation Partner for the Green Programme for Schools; the programme ran for nearly 9 months in 27 schools to create environmental awareness among the grass root level. It was one of the best ideas to inculcate these habits in students’ as they grow. In October 2011, we got busy in organizing our 3rd Annual Football Tournament with 16 teams participating. The tournament aimed to raise money for the Mission20 hall. We were happy that we could reach our target in this way. These tournaments not only help us raise money for the causes but give the youngsters a platform to play and show their talent, make right use of their energy and keep them fit. We were also active in volunteering for Qatar National Day.
How did attending the Global Youth Leadership Summit in Aligarh help you?
Travelling back and forth, I was able to attend Global Youth Leaders Summit in September 2016, organized by Bright Society for Youth & Alumni of Aligarh Muslim University. It was a different experience but the most important thing was the life-long friendship I made with some incredible people who are also working for great causes in India. It helps to partner with them on the ground as they see the real need for sustainable solutions. The programs of this summit was conducted in 3 different states; I had an opportunity to see Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, which is visited by world leaders. The last leg of the summit was to spend two nights and a day in Aligarh Muslim University. It was a dream come true for me because the importance that this institution holds. I met some fine hospitable friends there. I was so happy to see my dear friend from Malaysia, whom I had met in Dubai and we both are in the same International Group (and like- hearted!)
Irfan Khairi – an internet millionaire and guru – accepted my invitation and visited India to give a talk on Internet startups in the historic Strachey Hall of Aligarh Muslim University. The overall experience of this 5 days summit was rewarding and gave me some future plans.
How was your volunteer experience with ROTA?
The trip to Bangladesh in 2012 gave me new perspective on life, new purpose & direction for our humanitarian work. The real interaction with the under-privileged is important to balance our lives. Teaching kids made me value what I have and appreciate education I have received. I understood the importance of education in these communities, and found their interest level was just amazing; they only needed some push and initiatives like these. Similar trips to Tunisia and Indonesia with ROTA has helped me in better understanding the humanitarian role I need to play.
How did you end up sponsoring Mission20 Hall?
It was in grade 11th when we dreamt about sponsoring to build a hall in Kainat School. We knew that many VIPs of the Indian community were interested in sponsoring the build of a hall in Kainat school. It was a big thing for us and it seemed impossible but wasn’t! We started with our daily contribution and raised it slowly. Members of Mission20 (Me, Nabeel, Sufiyan, Ramiz & Talha) visited different parts of India in 2010 on a scout tour and we were also given the opportunity to visit Kainat Foundation’s base in Bihar, a state in India. We always worked for Kainat School but never visited before so this trip made us see a different side of the world. In Kainat School, I could see the hunger of education in this small village. This experience helped us in working for humanity with our full dedication. In this trip we not only met the officials of the Kainat Foundation, the Kainat School and the students, but we laid the foundation of what we dreamt to accomplish and laid the foundation stone of the Mission20 hall. We then donated our first donation in Indian currency. This step has helped us remain focused on our mission.
What is Solanki Peace ?
I remember sitting at the Mamzar beach in Dubai in November 2015. That night some amazing ideas came to my mind, a t-shirt business, a brand of my own, support refugees through my brand and lot of mixed ideas. I went back home as it was late, tried to sleep but couldn’t, opened by diary and wrote the whole plan. Definitely the plan has developed a lot and took many shapes now after proper research and advices. It’s definitely my dream come true, I was inspired by few brands but wanted to have a different image and concept. We are working on the brand which will definitely be trendy, classic and quality fashion along with strong sense of social responsibility.
Amanat about his father Abdulbasid Solanki
As a social enterprise the brand aims to provide for the refugees and homeless in 4 different ways; food, clothing, shelter and education. The cause will be based on the need and emergency. We want to create products which gives the customers the reason to own, the quality, design and humanity are the reasons! A brand that incorporates the message of peace which is the most needed thing in the world now, lot of calamities take place due to the absence of peace. Solanki Peace, an apparels brand that will make me and everyone proud. The brand would never exist if Mission20 wouldn’t be there, so definitely all the social responsibility initiatives of Solanki Peace will be done in partnership with Mission20 being its social responsibility partner.
To what do you attribute your success?
Ruthless Persistence and Razor Focus. Hiring really outstanding people who are self-motivated and do not need to be managed. As time passed by, we got more mature and started understanding the meaning of ‘Living for others’. I am very thankful to my parents who supported me even if my activities didn’t make any sense to them and I am sure every member of Mission20 went through the same situation.
How overwhelming has this journey been for you?
I never imagined, we would be narrating our story to the masses. We, as a group have come a long way in the past 10 years. Our journey wasn’t an easy one, our inexperience forced us to adapt and we’ve learnt from every challenge and we will always continue to do so. Unlike others who plan, register and implement we chose to improvise and better our ideas throughout.