I am an American-born Pakistani from the suburbs of Chicago. My parents raised my siblings and I in a devout, yet progressive Muslim community. Growing up, the expectations of me were stereotypical of a first-generation American; I was smart, brown, and, therefore, destined to become a doctor – a brain surgeon, of course. There were many boxes to check on this path and I was determined to check them all.
In spite of a severe speech impediment, I excelled in school and went onto earn dual degrees in finance and accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The natural next step was to land a high-paying job, which I did when I became a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
But, the more boxes I checked, the less happy I became.
After ending my work as a consultant to Wall Street, I spent the next few years trying to become a social entrepreneur and prepare for marriage to a respectable Muslim woman. No matter what I did, though, things weren’t working out. My relationship was in shambles and my bank account was depleting. I wanted to escape.
In effort to correct my unfulfilling course, I became a nomad; traveling through more than 50 countries. With every experience, worldviews were shattered and rebuilt. Each country saw me saved, killed and reborn. Each leg of the journey brought me closer to my calling. And my worldviews evolved, too. Perhaps, there’s more to life than earning money, I thought.
At the end of 2012, while traveling around Costa Rica, home of eco-tourism, I got curious. Most of the time, it wasn’t clear what ‘eco’ actually meant. Years of exploring had me realize how damaging travel can be for local communities and environments. It was during this time that I wrote down a few ideas that would change the course of my life:
- Grow real food the real way.
- Build structures from natural and recycled materials.
- Connect travelers with people from the local communities.
In order to pull something like this off, one would need some business and travel experience coupled with the popular sentiment of making the world a better place. My calling was looking for me. One thing led to the next, and I was off down the rabbit hole into Pandora’s box of sustainable living and travel.
I began as a volunteer on eco-lodges and permaculture farms in Central America and, eventually, worked my way around the world helping to build sustainable and regenerative projects in Australia, Philippines, Chicago and Peru. I focused on the intersection of business, nature, and community.
The culmination of my experiences and research is now evident in the Círculo Initiative, a family of eco-focused, for-purpose businesses in Nicaragua that are built on a mission to give more than they take – a model of conducting business and life in a way that our world desperately needs, one that is truly regenerative.
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