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Innovative Thinker

Fahad Punjwani uses creativity to help local organizations deliver on their mission statements.

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Fahad Punjwani (photo by John Parrillo)

Fahad Punjwani’s creative spirit has always dominated his life, and he is now using his ingenuity to help shape Houston’s future.

Punjwani is the founder and creative director of SUCH, a Houston-based consulting firm that works with community leaders to help them deliver on their mission statements and agendas. SUCH (which is a play on the Urdu word for truth) has helped nonprofit and social-justice organizations like the Houston Land Bank, the Greater Houston Community Foundation, and the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee.

It was a natural progression for Punjwani to start the organization after he moved to Houston more than ten years ago, as he was yearning for a meaningful way to use his creativity to foster positive change.

“It was something I could rally behind, and something that could give me energy,” he says. “That led to the creation of an organization that could help on a wide variety of projects. We design transformative experiences—dialogues, workshops, retreats, and multi-month-long projects.”

I feel a deep sense of comradery with those working [to create] a better Houston for everyone—especially for our most vulnerable

Fahad Punjwani

Punjwani, who is openly gay, helps people create dialogue through a process that encourages individuals to become more transparent and open.

“At SUCH, it is all in the art of asking powerful questions,” he explains. “Our ideology at SUCH is grounded in frameworks of design thinking, systems dynamics, Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and, more recently, transformative justice and disability justice. Asking powerful questions, for us, means four things: being rooted in empathy, leading with creativity, bringing the subconscious to conscious, and creating generative disequilibrium.”

Punjwani always strives to anchor SUCH’s work in empathy when working with clients. “Empathy, in our work, means focusing on nuanced human experience,” he says. “It even shows up in how we run our meetings.”

For Punjwani, it has been exciting to help foster dialogue among Houston’s nonprofit leaders, because Houston is a city built on community and inclusivity.

“Through my work here, I feel a deep sense of comradery with those working [to create] a better Houston for everyone—especially for our most vulnerable,” he says. “Through our work, we are a part of the team that is building Houston and pushing forward the social-justice agenda for our city. We are not identifying who has the [single] best idea and organizing around that. We see it as a space with multiple ideas, all of which are needed.”

Punjwani is currently working on helping Houston organizations manage and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted cities across the nation.

“In response to COVID-19, we see many rushing toward action,” he says. “We see a lot of people trying to do new things: sewing masks, organizing fundraising, and [providing direct] aid. It is such incredible work that is so necessary. However, one thing that we are missing is a space for individuals to grieve.”

As the virus disrupts people’s lives in so many ways, Punjwani’s goal is to guide individuals through that deeply emotional process.

“We are slowly organizing virtual spaces where the point is to check in with ourselves, to connect with ourselves and others,” he says. “That is the most important work we can do right now.”

Punjwani notes that his work at SUCH is guided by creativity—which, in his opinion, is the truest form of human expression.

“I do not see creativity as [something that only an] artist needs,” he says. “Creativity is about going inside ourselves to find the answers. It is about an organization or a person looking inward to find what is unsettling for them, or what is really meaningful for them. That is creating.”

For more information on SUCH, go to theprocessissuch.com.

This article appears in the May 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.

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