AS Ramazan draws to a close we have seen again a splendid facet of the Pakistani people: their spontaneous willingness to give generously to those who suffer or those in need. A wide range is covered: destitute, sick, physically disadvantaged, victims of disasters, terrorism, orphans, education and emergency care.
A credible survey conducted by the Aga Khan Foundation several years ago showed that Pakistanis are amongst the most caring and compassionate nations on earth. Though the rich obviously give more, the poor give more frequently than the rich. Pakistanis can also be justifiably proud of creating and operating some of the world’s most efficient welfare organisations. This valuable philanthropy should now be extended and enhanced to other, new spheres.
There are at least 10 such spheres of critical importance. They presently either do not receive any local funds whatsoever or only negligible sums. Overseas aid sustains some of them. This is welcome and should continue. But Pakistanis are obliged to take primary responsibility.
The 10 subjects that require interest by Pakistani philanthropy begin with capacity-building of individuals and organisations, training of groups for both good citizenship and effective leadership. Only then can we catalyse social transformation and improved management of community-based institutions, including conflict-resolution abilities. In a society of which many parts are still mired in primitive practices, especially anti-women actions, in which violence is rife, this subject requires urgent attention.
The second priority is to build advocacy skills to enable the public to be mobilised on a timely basis about regressive policies and measures. With such work would also come increased ability to monitor the functioning of institutions such as police stations, hospitals, educational facilities.
Children’s rights, including the right to be enrolled and to complete school education, and to be protected from abuse both within households and in workplaces deserves high ranking as the third subject.
While curative healthcare receives large amounts, preventive healthcare receives little or no funding from private sources. Health education campaigns are conducted periodically by government departments. But some essential aspects deserve special attention. For example, female and maternal health. With a shamefully high maternal mortality rate (276 per 100,000 births compared to 39 per 100,000 births for Sri Lanka), Pakistan needs to educate men and families in particular about the merits of birth spacing, nutritional requirements of expectant mothers, ensuring trained assistance at delivery times, etc.
A fifth subject is specialised literacy. The evolution of new phenomena, products and policies in the legal, technical, financial, information and media fields is swift and complex. People at large, already disadvantaged by lack of education, are further removed from knowledge about new rights, responsibilities and opportunities. A sixth area is mental healthcare, including psychological, non-drug-based counselling. Therapy processes can wean addicts away from substance abuse, from alcohol or heroin. Social stigmas and ignorance about mental health and internal stress condemn thousands to extreme distress.
The seventh would be preservation of our spectacular human-made heritage of architecture and landmarks. These monuments embody thousands of years of priceless history. In villages and in cities, they are crumbling through neglect and insensitivity.
An eighth priority is to promote a new paradigm by which the health of the environment is recognised as the framework within which all development should be constructed, rather than the pursuit of a destructive Dubai model, irrespective of ecological cost.
The ninth area which deserves funding is promoting respect for all religions and belief systems to facilitate interfaith dialogue, reduce prejudice against non-Muslim creeds and offer alternative texts and approaches to existing textbooks and mindsets that project only the majority community’s ethos.
The 10th sector would be support for research centres, particularly in the social sciences and for independent think tanks, able to resist overt or covert agendas of overseas donors or of our own governments. Certain universities, public and private, do afford some such space. But contrived religiosity, official pressures and private distortions prevent full-blooded, robust debate. Pakistani society is going through tumultuous change.
Opinion polls reveal only the rim of this cauldron of ferment. Comprehensive inquiry and candid analysis can facilitate timely, effective responses. Empowered by secure endowment funds, able to analyse trends in foreign affairs, defence and armaments, public policy, internal security and in political institutional development, the output of independent think tanks would energise discourse and support legislatures in the formulation of improved policies.
Affluent Pakistani citizens, residing in their own country or as overseas residents — a fairly large number with large hearts for conventional charities — may recognise the validity of the so-far-neglected sectors listed here. If they begin to donate small or substantial sums to these new sectors as well, they will find two factors ready to supplement and strengthen their contributions.
One is the existence of dozens of NGOs and public-interest forums across the country with a proven track record in some of the above fields. These forums will be able to promptly undertake innovative programmes. The other factor is the enormous amount of time, skills and other resources given on a voluntary basis by hundreds of persons who lead and guide such forums, in rural and in urban areas, a treasure of expertise available for free.
Philanthropy in Pakistan faces a major challenge: to sustain its excellent traditions and to extend its reach in the 21st century to new vistas of change and critical needs of the people.
On a voluntary basis, the writer is a founder/co-founder of several public interest organisations covering development, research, welfare, media and the environment.