“There’s a gap between what the media is doing and what the needs of the people are.”
Zulfiqar (“Zufi”) Deo is a social impact-focused entrepreneur based in London over the past 20 years. Today, I’ve invited him to share his story with us.
Deo, who was born in London in a Pakistani family, has been traveling from a young age and throughout his work across six different countries. BizGees is only the most recent stepping stone in his career, which has so far been a dizzying journey of experimentation and hard work. It all started with getting into the private sector right after university, where he worked 24/7, and soon realized the “traditional career path” wasn’t it for him.
“The culture then was to work for the same organization for 20 years with incremental pay, but we had the energy, aptitude, and opportunity to leave the traditional career path.” Deo partnered up with passionate people that he’d met abroad and, with everyone still in their twenties, launched a startup.
“Computers are not designed around us as people.” Deo’s startup focused on the user experience of technology and led him up a steep learning curve. The team worked 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. “Our question was, how do you humanize the experience of the machine?”
Deo spent 2 years on his startup and decided to uproot himself again. He would travel a bit more and work for charities as “giving back would be a good idea.” Back then, charity was not the primary concern of most businesses: “You had to sell your souls to a for-profit business and pay your bills, and then be a human to give back. There was no ‘business for good,’ or anything like that.”
Working for charities opened his eyes to a ground-breaking phenomenon: that charities were struggling with things that the private sector was already good at. “There’s a lot we take for granted in the private sector,” remarks Deo. If there was more knowledge-sharing between sectors, more industries could take advantage of the skills of another for the ultimate social good.
Deo then pursued an MBA, in which he traveled to India and helped local businesses build a presence in Europe. Finally, all of these added up — his multicultural experiences, mastery of user-centric technology, and the spirit of entrepreneurship — for Deo to co-found a brand new startup: BizGees.
BizGees’ primary mission is in social and ecological impact, through the work of volunteers from all over the world. Although a fintech company, its focus is on the user experience of peer-to-peer transactions. It provides the foundation for people to explore contemporary issues and how they can play a part in them. Just last year, BizGees gathered 35 volunteers, mostly from Oxford University, who researched and published an article each centering on an aspect of the refugee experience. “There’s a gap between what the media is doing and what the needs of the people are,” says Deo. A lot of the time, we are inhibited and frustrated because we don’t know how to make the world a better place. But the desire is always there.
One of BizGees’ major projects is Arts4Refugees, a merchandise brand that promotes local artists from London. Their original designs are printed onto shirts, hoodies, and canvas bags and are packaged as artsy gifts for special occasions. It’s not unusual for a budding artist to suffer from the business side of things, which can often detract from their real artistic work. Arts4Refugees takes up that space and acts as intermediaries between undiscovered art and the Gen Z consumer market. Arts4Refugees has further strategized using the UN SDG guidelines, and redirects 50% of their proceeds to post-conflict communities across Africa and Aisa. Deo notes that the Gen Z market is more “demanding” and isn’t here for any superficiality. They want to contribute to causes that are bigger than themselves. The bar for Arts4Refugees is high: “We are very customer centric.”
The concept for Arts4Refugees spawned in 2016, and within 6 months, had already won enough investment to kick off. When asked about the major challenges going forward, Deo noted the “lack of ecosystem for social impact businesses.” But it has been getting better in the last decade, he acknowledges. The historical profit-maximization model is increasingly becoming unpopular and is getting replaced with socially responsible business. With AI and technology disseminating more than ever, access to quality education and information is virtually unbounded. All we need is a middleman — designated teams of professionals — who can point us in the right direction. BizGees leads the way.