Effectively, Pakistanis Address Development Challenges
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
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
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
* 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, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.