May 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Quietly and Effectively, Pakistanis Address Development Challenges

Zahed Amanullah

A May 2012 poll for the BBC World Service that asked respondents to rate the influence of certain countries on the world as positive or negative identified Pakistan—along with Iran, Israel and North Korea—as one of the most negatively rated countries. For Pakistan’s poverty-stricken regions, this outlook has meant belt tightening among Western donors who mistrust Pakistan’s government to deploy aid and Western development agencies who find their workers under threat. Last month’s kidnapping and murder of Khalil Dale, a British Muslim employee for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was the latest in a string of such incidents that have caused foreign aid workers to consider suspending operations.

Pakistan, however, also had the curious distinction of rating its own influence on the world as negative. This self-deprecation may explain why the recent successes indigenous Pakistani development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have had in rural tribal areas, especially among women, where threats from natural disasters, military conflicts and crime seem never-ending, are so rarely publicized. They deserve to be.

Consider the 2010 floods, which placed one-fifth of Pakistan’s landmass underwater. Much of the devastation was in the Swat Valley. There, the Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP) instituted a series of drinking water projects led, not by bureaucrats from a foreign capital, but the social mobilization of villagers who formed community organizations to manage the process and determine priorities.

After presenting such options as gravity flows, hand pumps, irrigation channels, sanitation and street pavements, entire villages would assemble in what SRSP called a “third dialogue” where audit and maintenance committees were formed and projects signed off on. This sense of ownership was crucial to the project’s long-term success. In terms of efficiency, 33 projects benefited 3,630 households with more than 25,000 people with an average cost of US$30 to US$80 per household.

Further to the south, in one of Pakistan’s poorest regions, the Sindh Rural Support Organization (SRSO) began a community investment fund (CIF) to provide loans to poor women. As with the Swat project, women collectively manage the fund, distributing loans for investment in income-generating activities only. This participation builds the confidence and capabilities of poor rural women whose concerns are often brushed aside by male tribal elders.

To ensure the fair distribution of funds, SRSO developed a unique “poverty scorecard,” which uses 10 simple indicators that field workers can collect, verify and compute by hand, on paper, in real time. Using these methods, SRSO distributed more than US$4 million in funds to 1,568 villages within Sindh, directly affecting 44,684 of the poorest beneficiaries.

Many of these organizations have been coordinated or inspired by two Pakistanis in particular.

The first is rural development pioneer Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, who developed an agricultural development scheme in 1959 called the Comilla Model in which output was stimulated through grassroots cooperatives. Khan was inspired by the rural credit unions of German cooperative pioneer Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen. The bottom-up approach that SRSP and SRSO used to implement relief work owes much to these efforts to adapt Western development models for Pakistan’s unique rural environment.

The second, Shoaib Sultan Khan, was mentored by Dr. Khan. He chairs the Rural Support Programs Network (RSPN), which has coordinated many of the country’s independent development agencies since its inception in 1982. RSPN has since become Pakistan’s largest NGO and has named Shandana Khan as its CEO. She was recently named one of Newsweek magazine’s “100 Women Who Shake Pakistan.”

In 1994, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) asked Shoaib to train people in seven other South Asian nations, including India. By 2011, India announced plans to spend more than US$5 billion (with US$1 billion from the World Bank) on its own programs inspired by RSPN in 12 states, benefiting more than 350 million people. This cooperation between traditional rivals is encouraging.

Although Shoaib Sultan Khan was a 2009 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and addressed the U.N. General Assembly twice on these issues, few outside—or even within—Pakistan are aware of his work. Yet this work is important now more than ever as Pakistan’s development NGOs face decreasing support from Western donors. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced it will reduce the number of programs that it supports in the country (while maintaining current spending), but recently, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations voted to cut aid to Pakistan in half from what President Barack Obama had proposed for the next year. With foreign aid becoming less dependable, it will be up to domestic NGOs such as these to fill the gaps.

Organizations like these, along with Pakistan’s many other indigenous rural development NGOs, demonstrate that Pakistan has the ability to solve its own problems, inspiring the world in the process. They deserve our support.

* Zahed Amanullah is chief media officer at Unitas Communications, a London-based strategic communications consultancy, and a visiting program director at Wilton Park. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, May 29, 2012, <>.
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